Genesis 25 - Abraham's Death; Jacob and Esau Born to Isaac
A. Abraham's latter life and death.
1. (1-4) Abraham marries again and has many children by Keturah.
2. (5-6) Abraham is careful to set Isaac apart as the child of promise.
a. Abraham gives his wealth to Isaac (all that he had), and he gives the land God had promised to him to Isaac (he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son).
3. (7-11) Abraham's death and burial.
a. Abraham passes from the scene, being one of the most important men of the Bible. He is mentioned 70 times in the New Testament alone (only Moses is mentioned more times in the New Testament [80 times]).
b. Clarke gives a good eulogy of Abraham: "above all as a man of God, he stands unrivaled; so that under the most exalted and perfect of all dispensations, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he is proposed and recommended as the model and pattern according to which the faith, obedience, and perseverance of the followers of the Messiah are to be formed. Reader, while you admire the man, do not forget the God that made him so great, so good, and so useful. Even Abraham had nothing but what he had received; from the free unmerited mercy of God proceeded all his excellences; but he was a worker together with God, and therefore did not receive the grace of God in vain. Go thou, believe, love, obey, and persevere in like manner."
4. (12-18) The life and descendants of Ishmael.
B. The children of Isaac: Jacob and Esau.
1. (19-26) The conception and birth of Jacob and Esau.
a. Even the son of promise does not come into the promise easily. It only comes through waiting and prayer. But the prayers of a husband for his wife have a special power.
i. Even so, it was some 20 years until they had children (Genesis 25:20, 26), and these were the only children born to Isaac and Rebekah.
ii. Jewish legends say Jacob and Esau tried to kill each other in the womb. Also, every time Rebekah went near an idol's altar, Esau would get excited in the womb, and when she would go near a place where the Lord was worshipped, Jacob would get excited.
b. As Rebekah seeks God, the Lord speaks to her regarding the sons within her womb.
i. It is good to desire that the Lord would speak to us, but we must realize we do not hear perfectly from God. We can become far too confident in our ability to hear from the Lord, and forget that it is easy for us to stop listening when God wants to keep speaking. We may add to what the Lord is saying, or hear it clearly but misunderstand the timing or application of what the Lord says to us.
ii. In connection with God's eternal word (as is the case with Rebekah here), God gives a unique gift to perfectly listen, a gift given only in connection with the revealing of His written, eternal word.
c. What God says is simple. She has twins within her. The twins will each father nations. One shall be greater than the other, and the younger will be greater than the older.
d. The truth of the unseen promise is fulfilled by something that could be seen. God's word was true. When the time came for them to be born, there were in fact twins in Rebekah's womb.
e. Circumstances surrounding the birth of each child were responsible for their names. Esau refers to the hairiness of the first-born child. Jacob refers to the way the second born was holding on to the heel of his brother.
i. Additionally, the idea of a "heel-catcher" meant something in that day. It had the idea of "trickster," "con-man," "scoundrel," or "rascal." It wasn't a compliment.
f. In Romans 9:10-13, Paul uses this choosing of Jacob and Esau before their birth as an illustration of God's sovereign choosing.
i. God's choice of Isaac instead of Ishmael seems more "logical" to us. Yet His choice between Jacob and Esau, regarding which one would be the heir of God's covenant of salvation, is just as valid, though it "seems" to make less sense.
ii. Paul points out God's choice was not based on the performance of Jacob or Esau. The choice was made when they were not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil.
iii. God announced these intentions to Rebekah before the children were born (The older shall serve the younger), and repeated His verdict long after Jacob and Esau had both passed from the earth (Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated, Malachi 1:2-3).
iv. Is it fair for God to love one and hate another, and to choose one and not choose another, before they are even born? We should regard the love and the hate God speaks of here as having to do with His purpose in choosing one to become the heir of the covenant of Abraham. In that regard, God's preference could rightly be regarded as a display of love towards Jacob and hate towards Esau. The real thought here is much more like "accepted" and "rejected" more than it is like our understanding of the terms "loved" and "hated."
v. "A woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, 'I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.' 'That,' Spurgeon replied, 'is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob.'" (Newell in Romans, Verse by Verse)
vi. Our greatest error in considering the choices of God is to think God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if He were sort of an "eeny-meeny-miny-moe" chooser. We may not be able to fathom God's reasons for choosing, and they are reasons He alone knows and answers to, but God's choices are not capricious.
2. (27-28) The different characters of Jacob and Esau.
a. Like so many siblings in a family, Jacob and Esau were very different from each other in their personality and tastes. And as is sometimes the case, each parent had a "favorite" child.
b. The Hebrew word for mild has the idea of "wholeness" instead of someone who is weak or effeminate. The Hebrew word tam (mild) is used of Job in Job 1:8: Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?"
3. (29-34) Esau sells his birthright to Jacob.
a. Here, each son is acting in consistency with his own natural inclination. Esau is hunting and Jacob is cooking.
b. What was the birthright, and why did Jacob want it? Passages like Deuteronomy 21:17 and 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 tell us the birthright involved both a material and a spiritual dynamic. The son of the birthright received a double portion of the inheritance, but he also became the head of the family and the spiritual leader upon the passing of the father. And, in the case of this family, the birthright determined who would inherit the covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant of a land, a nation, and the Messiah.
c. I am about to die shows Esau's thought isn't that he is so hungry that he will die without food. Instead, the idea is "I will die one day anyway, so what good is this birthright to me?"
d. Was this unfair of Jacob? Certainly, he is acting like a "heel-catcher." He is being a trickster or a rascal in taking advantage of his brother.
i. Jacob was guilty of scheming in the flesh to gain something God said was already his. Yet we should remember the far greater blame is placed on Esau, who despised his birthright.
ii. Luther draws attention to an important fact: this was not a valid transaction, because Jacob was buying what was already his, and Esau was selling something that didn't belong to him. (Leupold)
e. Why did Esau sell out? "History shows that men prefer illusions to realities, choose time rather than eternity, and the pleasures of sin for a season rather than the joys of God forever. Men will read trash rather than the Word of God, and adhere to a system of priorities that leaves God out of their lives. Multitudes of men spend more time shaving than on their souls; and multitudes of women give more minutes to their makeup than to the life of the eternal spirit. Men still sell their birthright for a mess of pottage." (Barnhouse)
i. What birthright might we despise? Ephesians 1:3-14 shows us a treasury of riches ours by birthright in Jesus: every spiritual blessing, the blessing of being chosen in Jesus, adoption into God's family, total acceptance by God in Jesus, redemption from our slavery to sin, true and total forgiveness, the riches of God's grace, the revelation and knowledge of the mystery of God's will, an eternal inheritance, the guarantee of the indwelling Holy Spirit right now. Will we sell out this birthright for a night of television?
f. Esau's character as a fornicator and profane person (Hebrews 12:16) shows God was entirely correct in choosing Jacob over Esau to carry on the birthright, even though Jacob was younger. Though Esau's character was not the basis for God's choosing (He chose Jacob over Esau before they were born), Esau's character showed the ultimate wisdom of God's choice.