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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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GENESIS 25

Toledoth VII (Genesis 25:12)

Toledoth VIII (Genesis 25:19)

The great importance of this chapter is evident, first of all, by its inclusion in the inspired record, but it receives emphasis in the fact that two of the ten toledoths of Genesis begin here -- that of Ishmael in Gen. 25:12, and that of Isaac in Gen. 25:19. Ishmael's "generations," standing without the covenant, are naturally treated very briefly. The birth of Jacob and Esau is given in Gen. 25:19-26, and the sale of his birthright by Esau is recorded in Gen. 25:27-34.

One of the "problems" associated with the chapter concerns Abraham's marriage to Keturah. Did that occur before or after the death of Sarah? The interest usually focused on this question has prompted us to include an Excursus on Keturah at the end of the chapter.

The scant attention given to Isaac in this and succeeding chapters seem to suggest that it is possible for a man to have too great a father. Living as he did, under the colossal shadow of the greatest of the patriarchs, Isaac, by comparison, appears somewhat weak and insignificant.

Of his life there was little to record, and what was recorded was very much a reproduction of some of the least of the glorious passages of his father's career. The digging of wells for his flocks was among the most notable events of his commonplace life, and even in this he only re-opened the wells his father had dug.F1


 
Verses 1-4
And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim. And the sons of Midian: Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

And Abraham took another wife…
We believe that Keturah was one of the concubines of Abraham, whom he made a secondary wife (as later, in the case of Hagar), possibly while still living in Haran. (See the Excursus on Keturah at the end of this chapter.) Let it be said here that the Bible seems to say that this taking of Keturah was an event that took place AFTER the death of Sarah, but it should always be remembered that it is a notable feature of the Bible that it seems to say many things which it does not say.

We give two examples:

  1. The Bible SEEMS TO SAY that John the Baptist denied that he was "that prophet which was to come," as foretold by Malachi, but this is not the case at all. What he denied was that he was "Elijah the Tishbite," a far different thing.
  2. The Bible also SEEMS TO SAY that Christ promised to "come in the glory of the Father with the holy angels" within the lifetime of some of them who heard him (Mark 8:38; 9:1), but the passage says no such thing. The mistaken impression that it does so is solely due to Mark's characteristic style of roughly grouping "independent sayings" of Jesus.F2 This is given here as background material for the Excursus on Keturah. We shall see that the most convincing reasons lie behind the conclusion that the "marriage" to Keturah did not occur AFTER Sarah's death.
Richardson's comment on the names of Keturah's posterity states that, "They were related to Israel, but a step further removed than the Ishmaelites. The tribes are those to the east or southeast of Palestine."F3 He went on to add that: "Midian is the best known in the list and the most important, because he supplies a link from the Abrahamic family to Moses' Midianite contacts in the desert before the Exodus."F4

The arrangements of these successive lists of names pertaining to Keturah, Ishmael, and to Isaac in that order, similar to the sequence followed in 1 Chr. 1:32, where the sons of Keturah are listed BEFORE the listing of Isaac's sons, falls little short of a declaration that the sons of Keturah PRECEDED the birth of Isaac. Note also that in that place Keturah is called Abraham's "concubine," not his wife.


 
Verses 5-8
And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts. And he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country. And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, a hundred threescore and fifteen years. And Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full [of years], and was gathered to his people.

All that he had unto Isaac…
In all things of importance, Isaac was the sole heir of Abraham, and Abraham did not wait and leave that inheritance in the form of a bequest, but he transferred the total wealth of his estate to Isaac while he was still living. The gifts to the sons of the concubines were a gesture of good will, as well as some small measure of justice to those in his family of inferior standing.

The sons of the concubines…
The word concubines (plural) here is of very great importance; and we should not permit interpreters to change it. Kline suggested that, Perhaps the plural is abstract, i.e., `concubinage'.F5 Speiser tells us that the text here is literally, the sons that Abraham had by concubines,F6 but he then denied that plural should be allowed on the basis that, only one concubine is mentioned in this context, unless Hagar is included.F7 Such views are in error. A plurality of concubines is the required meaning of the plural here, and we cannot believe that either Keturah or Hagar is included. Right here is the explanation of those 318 men born in Abraham's house (Genesis 14:14) who went to war with him in the rescue of the King of Sodom. Both comments cited here are nothing but ingenious denials that the sacred author used the correct word. Of course, he did. Thus it appears that Abraham had three classes of children:

  1. The highest class was composed of Isaac, the head of the Messianic line after Abraham.
  2. This second class was made up of the sons of secondary wives such as Hagar was and as we believe Keturah to have been. The singling out of Hagar for so much more attention was due to her having been the personal maid of Sarah through whom Abraham and Sarah had sought to produce the promised seed.
  3. Then there were the sons of an undetermined number of concubines, unknown, unnamed, and disposed of finally by parting gifts when Abraham sent them away. Any full understanding of the life of Abraham requires recognition of these three classes and their differentiation.
Abraham gave up the ghost…
This quaint expression simply means that, he died. The expression entered our versions from the Genevan Bible.F8 This was the Bible published in 1560 and known popularly as the Breeches Bible, due to the rendition of Gen. 3:7.F9 From that date until after 1660, the English word ghost meant exactly the same thing as the word spirit later came to mean, the two words, in fact exchanging their denotations, hence the confusion regarding Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit. Thus, this means exactly what was indicated by the words of Jesus who said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46).

And was gathered to his people…
The normal expression for this thought is, gathered to his fathers; but since Abraham's burial was not with his fathers, but with his posterity, the Holy Spirit used a different expression here. However, even more is meant than merely being buried where they were interred. As Keil expressed it:

"This phrase is constantly distinguished from departing this life and being buried. It denotes the reunion in Sheol with friends who have gone before, and therefore presupposes faith in the personal continuance of a man after death.F10 Unger pointed out this expression is used of only six persons: Abraham (Genesis 25:8); Ishmael (Genesis 25:18); Isaac (Genesis 35:29); Jacob (Genesis 49:29-33); Aaron (Numbers 20:24); and Moses (Deuteronomy 32:50)."F11

Abraham's death at age 175 years means that he lived until Jacob and Esau were about fifteen. That so little appears in Genesis concerning the intervening years between the marriage of Isaac and the death of Abraham, derives from the changed focus of the narrative, which is primarily that of the history of the promised Messiah and the line through whom he was delivered. Thus, Abraham here fades out of the picture, and Isaac and Jacob take center stage. Except for the few references here, nothing is known of the last thirty-five years of Abraham's life. (See Gen. 25:22).


THE BURIAL OF ABRAHAM

Verses 9-11
And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre. The field which Abraham purchased of the children of Heth. There was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife. And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac dwelt by Beer-lahai-roi.

Isaac and Ishmael…
It is obvious that if Keturah had been a more RECENT wife of Abraham than either Sarah or Hagar, that her sons would have surely been represented in the funeral arrangements; and the fact that they were not bestows full credibility upon the comment of Josephus that, At the time of the marriage of Isaac and the transfer of Abraham's wealth to him, the children of Keturah were gone to their remote habitations.F12

It is satisfying that here Ishmael and Isaac, united in their common love of their great father, should have cooperated in the funeral. How often it is, even today, that funerals are the occasion for the reunion and reconciliation of relatives long estranged. Death is a great antidote for the pride, passion, and hatreds that mar men's lives. It is without doubt that Abraham had given instructions that would cause his body to be laid beside that of the beloved Sarah, in the same cave of Machpelah which he had purchased for that very purpose.

Beer-lahairoi…
This residence of Isaac was at the same well where Hagar had been greeted by the Angel of Jehovah and was refreshed after her expulsion from the household of Abraham.


THE TOLEDOTH OF ISHMAEL

Verses 12-18
Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bare unto Abraham. And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the first-born of Ishmael, Nebaioth, and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, and Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadad, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their villages, and by their encampments. Twelve princes according to their nations. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, a hundred and thirty and seven years. And he gave up the ghost and died, and was gathered unto his people. And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria. He abode over against all his brethren.

These seven verses are all that are devoted to Ishmael's posterity, the chief focus of the sacred narrator's concern being, not the posterity of Ishmael, but that of Isaac, to which he turned at once. The information here was given to show how God fulfilled His promise to Abraham that Ishmael would be blessed, and even that he would dwell "over against," that is, adjacent to the Israelites, a phenomenon that has continued to the present day.

It is hardly profitable to follow each of these names into the racial history that followed. As a matter of fact, Morris correctly discerned that:

Through millennia of migrations and intermarriages, it seems likely that all of these peoples, the descendants of Keturah, together with the descendants of Ishmael, Lot, and Esau, along with earlier descendants of Shem, and, in some cases, Ham, have gradually merged and become the modern day Arabic peoples.F13

At the time Abraham was buried, Ishmael was nearly ninety years old; and by that time his sons were all grown into strong and powerful leaders with strongholds and villages of their own, so they were called, "Twelve princes according to their nations."


THE TOLEDOTH OF ISAAC

Verses 19-24
And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son. Abraham begat Isaac. And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian, to be his wife. And Isaac entreated Jehovah for his wife, because she was barren. And Jehovah was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her. And she said, If it be so, wherefore do I live? And she went to inquire of Jehovah. And Jehovah said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels. And the one people shall be stronger than the other people. And the elder shall serve the younger. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
This is one of a number of interesting parallels between the lives of Isaac and Abraham. Things never run smoothly for God's elect. There will always be problems and trials that discover and test faith in the Lord. We may readily believe that both Isaac and Rebekah sought the prayers and counsel of the mighty Abraham who lived for another sixteen years after Rebekah's conceiving twins.

And the children struggled within her…
The concern and distress which were felt by Rebekah must indeed have been a sore trial, so great indeed that she questioned whether or not she desired to live. It must be remembered in this that Rebekah is a type of God's church in the world, and her severe trial in containing within her womb at the same time an Esau and a Jacob are a beautiful prophecy indeed of a Judas within the Twelve, and the great Apostasy itself in the womb of the historical church.

And she went to inquire of Jehovah…
Speiser's affirmation that she did so at an oracleF14 is preposterous. To speak of her as resorting to `an oracle' imports heathen notions into the Hebrew text.F15 Nothing is more natural than that the Hebrew author intended to intimate that Rebekah inquired of God through Abraham the prophet, her father-in-law, who still survived.F16 If the latter opinion by such scholars as Dummelow and Kalish should be allowed, then his prophecy in Gen. 25:23 should also be allowed as the final recorded words of Abraham.

The function of Abraham as a prophet was evident in his promise that God would send his angel to guide the servant in finding Rebekah, and here again, in the comprehensive prophecies involving for thousands of years to come the history of mighty nations upon the earth. The prophecy included this:

  1. There were to be twins.
  2. They were to be sons.
  3. Each son would produce a nation.
  4. The nation from the younger son (Israel) would be the stronger.
  5. The nation from the older son would be in subjection to that of the younger. Who but Jehovah could have given such a prophecy? And who is more likely than the prophet Abraham as the one through whom God gave it? And whom would Rebekah have been any more likely to consult than Abraham?
It is most obvious that the prophecy here pertains more to the peoples who would descend from Jacob and Esau than to the brothers themselves. Concerning the great N.T. doctrines of Election, Predestination, Foreknowledge, Foreordination, etc., reference is here made to the ninth chapter of Romans in my commentary on Romans, Rom. 9:10-15, where a full discussion of these questions may be found. Long, long afterward, in Malachi, it was recorded that God said, "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated," but that has no reference whatever to them prior to their birth, but resulted from what the descending nations from the two brothers did. God's indicating his choice between them at this point in time (to Rebekah) was due to His foreknowledge of all that would ensue. There was nothing capricious, haphazard, partial, or unfair about this.


THE NAMES OF THE TWINS

Verses 25, 26
And the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment. And they called his name Esau. And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau's heel. And his name was called Jacob. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.

Esau. Jacob ..…
For many centuries, all of the dictionaries gave the meanings of these two names as hairy and supplanter (or heel-catcher)F17 respectively; but recently, critical denials based upon all kinds of arcane and unprovable grammatical and linguistic considerations have been lodged against these traditional definitions; but to no avail. The sacred text itself clearly relates the names to the hairy covering of Esau and the hand on the heel of his brother by Jacob. There can be no intelligent way to cloud the meaning of these names. As Leupold said, Esau means hairy.F18

Furthermore, the very names were prophetic. One may see the animal appetites of the glutton and the fornicator in the hairy skin (like an animal) of Esau, and the deceit, trickery, fraud, and cunning in the heel-catcher.


ESAU SELLS THE BIRTHRIGHT

Verses 27-34
And the boys grew. And Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field. And Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison. And Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob boiled pottage. And Esau came in from the field, and he was faint. And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red [pottage]. For I am faint. Therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me first thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am about to die. And what profit shall the birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me first. And he sware unto him. And he sold his birthright unto Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils. And he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.

No one can read this simple account without pitying the foolish and reckless son who bartered the incredible blessings of his birthright for a mess of pottage (a single meal). But let all men feel pity also for themselves when tempted to barter life's treasures for a moment of indulgence or pleasure. How strongly do sensual appetites assert their influence over us! The Arabs themselves have a story of, "Abu Gabshan, the governor and guardian of the temple at Mecca, but also a weak and silly man, who was checkmated and removed from his post by Cosa, an ancestor of Mohammed, who bought from him the keys of the temple, and with it the presidency, for a single bottle of wine!"F19 The N.T. tells us that Esau was a "profane person and a fornicator," which, of course, only fills in the picture of the man controlled and dominated by his appetites. There can be no doubt that the Bible, both O.T. and N.T., places the greater blame for what happened here upon Esau. Nevertheless, there is something also very unlovely in what Jacob did. Knowing his brother's weakness, coldly calculating how he might take advantage of it, and mercilessly insisting that his brother "swear away" his birthright, are traits that make the heart sick to contemplate. However, one should not fault the Divine judgment. God's Chosen People could not have been developed through a man like Esau; it was difficult enough for God to do so through Jacob; but it would have been impossible through Esau.

Regarding this sordid sale, Jamieson commented: "Never was any meat, except the forbidden fruit, so dearly bought, as this broth of Jacob!"F20

THE EXCURSUS ON KETURAH

The reasons which underlie the conviction that Keturah's being the secondary wife of Abraham was an event antedating even his taking Hagar are as follows:

  1. She is called in the Bible, the "concubine," not wife, of Abraham in 1 Chr. 1:32. This proves the secondary status of Keturah.
  2. No representative of Keturah appeared at Abraham's funeral.
  3. The word "wife" used in this chapter (Genesis 25:1) is [~pilgash],F21 a Hebrew word also used to describe Jacob's concubine, Bilhah.
  4. That she was a secondary wife, also called a concubine, appears in Gen. 25:6.
  5. The indication that Keturah was a "secondary wife" could not be true at all had Sarah been dead when he took her. Any marriage contracted by the patriarch AFTER the event would have made her a full wife in the highest sense. She has to be either that, or a concubine elevated to the status of secondary wife, as was Hagar, although Hagar was not a concubine.
  6. The Bible says that Abraham was "as good as dead" at the time God enabled him to beget Isaac, which flatly denies his ability to marry after Sarah's death and beget six sons. But the scholars insist that "he was rejuvenated." Where does the Bible say that? See Romans 4:19.
  7. They also say that Abraham's strong preference for monogamy was only overcome "reluctantly" in the matter of his taking Hagar, but again we find no such reluctance mentioned. Furthermore, that Abraham already had begotten many sons from his slaves could easily have been the reason Sarah herself sought to have her OWN special child "by her own private maid." It is that factor regarding Hagar which clouds some of the allegations.
  8. The order of arrangements of the sons of Keturah both in this chapter and in 1 Chr. 1 clearly places them PRIOR TO Ishmael and therefore PRIOR TO Isaac. As Jamieson said, "It is improbable that he married after Sarah's death ... This marriage is here related out of its chronological order, in order to form a proper winding up of the patriarch's history."F22
  9. Many scholars have discerned these things: "This must have occurred many years before the death of Sarah."F23 "Keturah had not been mentioned before this verse, but her status seems to have been the same as Hagar's. And we may well suppose that this union, like Hagar's, had taken place at a much earlier date in Abraham's life."F24 Even Adam Clarke agreed with this and suggested that, "Abraham took another wife," (Genesis 25:1) should have been translated, "Abraham had taken another wife."F25
  10. In the notes above, we referred to Josephus' declaration that Keturah's sons were all grown and that they had removed to their remote habitations at the time of Abraham's funeral, a tradition difficult to account for as having been based on anything except the truth.
Admittedly, the question is perplexing, and we do not propose that the above citations in any sense achieve a final settlement of it, but they are added here because of the invariable interest that always attaches to this problem.

One thing we feel very sure of, however, is that such an allegation as the following could not possibly be accepted as having any merit:

Abraham's marriage to Keturah, which took place after Isaac's marriage, shows that after the church is completed, and the present age ends, all families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). This is prefigured by Abraham's descendants from Keturah. These prefigure millennial nations!F26

Such a view is cited here, not through any agreement with it, but because it shows some of the important issues that pivot upon the proper understanding of the status of Keturah.


Footnotes for Genesis 25
1: Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis (New York: Eaton and Mains), p. 254.
2: C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to St. Mark. (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1959), p. 285.
3: Alan Richardson, Twentieth Century Bible Commentary (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932), p. 114.
4: Ibid.
5: Meredith G. Kline, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 101.
6: E. A. Speiser, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1964), p. 187.
7: Ibid.
8: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 31.
9: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 3 (Chicago: William Benton, Publisher, 1961), p. 533.
10: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 263.
11: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the O.T. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 74.
12: Flavius Josephus, Life and Works of, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 52.
13: Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), p. 408.
14: E. A. Speiser, op. cit.,, p. 194.
15: H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), p. 701.
16: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 32.
17: F. N. Peloubet, Peloubet's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: The John C. Winston Company, 1925), pp. 185, 285.
18: H. C. Leupold, op. cit., p. 707.
19: Marcus Dods, op. cit., p. 261.
20: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown's Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), p. 32.
21: Thomas Whitelaw, op. cit., p. 313.
22: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown's Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), p. 32.
23: Kyle M. Yates, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 30.
24: David F. Payne, The New Layman's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 153.
25: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1 (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 150.
26: Merrill F. Unger, op. cit., p. 73.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 25". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ge&chapter=025>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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