Most of the details recorded in the book of Genesis are presented in chronological order. This has allowed us to progress through this series sequentially, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, without having to jump back and forth from one passage to the next. However, the various scenes discussed in chapter 25 are not written in the correct order. In today’s message, I will rearrange them so that they can be better understood in the proper alignment.
We have already met Abraham and Isaac. This morning we will be introduced to the last of the “patriarchs”. We will read about the birth of Jacob, and see him grow into early adulthood. For historical perspective, the events described in this chapter occurred around 2,000 BC.
I. ABRAHAM REMARRIES (v1-6)
After Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah, Abraham took another wife during the latter years of his life. Her name was Keturah. There is some debate among scholars as to whether she was his wife or his concubine, seeing that she is described as both in differing passages. Nevertheless, she bore him 6 sons. The most notable of these was Midian, whose descendants became known as the Midianites and eventually played a major role in Jewish history. While Abraham’s entire inheritance was left to Isaac, he did give Katurah’s sons gifts while he was still alive. Over time, their offspring settled to the east of Canaan/Israel.
It is rather common for widows and/or widowers to remarry after the death of their first spouse. While this typically applies to older people, all ages can be impacted. The Bible permits this practice, and even encourages it in some cases (1 Corinthians 7:8-9; 1 Timothy 5:14). The Biblical view on the binding nature of wedding vows is summarized in the traditional phrase “til death do us part.” Therefore it is totally acceptable for the surviving spouse to remarry after the death of their husband or wife.
II. REBEKAH HAS TWINS (v19-26)
Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, and she was barren. So he prayed for her and she conceived. That said, her pregnancy was quite difficult and the babies struggled in her womb. Rebekah cried out to the LORD in her pain. He explained that she was carrying the fathers of 2 contentious nations, and that the oldest son would serve the younger.
When the time came, Rebekah gave birth to twin boys. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born. The first son to be delivered was covered with red hair, and they named him Esau. The younger son came forth holding on to his brother’s heel, and they named him Jacob. Their grandfather Abraham was still alive at the time of their birth. Jacob and Esau are the most famous pair of twins in the Bible.
A generation earlier, Abraham and his wife Sarah waited many years before their first child was born. Sarah was barren, just as Rebekah was. Thus, the births of Esau and Jacob were equally miraculous to that of their father Isaac. This amazing pattern would continue a generation later through Rachel, as we’ll discover later in this series. The LORD is almighty, and is able to make a barren woman into the joyful mother of children (Psalm 113:9).
III. ABRAHAM DIES (7-11)
Jacob and Esau were only 15 years old when their grandfather Abraham died at the age of 175. He had lived a full, satisfying, and faithful life. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which he had purchased almost 40 years earlier from Ephron the Hittite. Abraham was buried there with his wife Sarah. Following his father’s death, God blessed Isaac and he lived in the Negev by Beer-lahai-roi.
It seems somewhat surprising that Ishmael would show up to bury his father Abraham. He and his mother Hagar were last mentioned almost 75 earlier, when Ishmael was just a teenager. Abraham had kicked them out of the house, at Sarah’s urging, and they had eventually settled in the Wilderness of Paran (Genesis 21:9-14). Perhaps Isaac wanted him there and sent word to him concerning their dad’s death. These brothers didn’t seem to have any lingering animosity toward one another.
IV. ISHMAEL’S DESCENDANTS (v12-18)
The Bible does not give many details about Ishmael’s life, but it does say that he had 12 sons. They became the fathers of 12 tribes which over time developed into a great nation, just as God had promised to both Abraham and Hagar. The Ishmaelites were closely associated and intermingled with the Midianites. They lived east of Egypt, in modern day Saudi Arabia. Ishmael, who was in his late 80’s when Abraham died, lived another 50 years before passing away at the age of 137. Therefore he was still alive, though distant and not involved, for the first half of Jacob and Esau’s life.
V. ESAU DESPISES HIS BIRTHRIGHT (v27-34)
Jacob and Esau grew up to become very different from one another as adults. Esau was an outdoorsman and hunter, while Jacob preferred to stay inside and work at home. Because of these traits, their father Issac had a natural affinity for Esau and their mother Rebekah had particular affection for Jacob.
One day Esau came in from the field, where presumably he had been hunting, and was completely famished. Jacob had prepared a delicious red stew while he was gone. When Esau (who is also called Edom) saw and smelled it, he asked Jacob for some. Seizing the moment, Jacob told Esau that he’d give him the stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright. Esau could have easily refused or went and found something else to eat, but instead he foolishly and hastily swore over his birthright for a measly bowl of stew.
The birthright was traditionally given to the eldest son, though it could be transferred to a younger one. This practice was later defined and limited by the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). The possessor of the birthright received a double portion of their father’s inheritance - a greater share than his brothers. Not to excuse Jacob’s opportunistic behavior, but the fact that Esau would trade this tremendous honor away for a single meal was unbelievable. Apparently he did not value or appreciate the great privilege he had, and mindlessly let it slip away.
I see this same thing happening throughout America today. People are quick to give up their fundamental rights and God-given blessings (which have great worth) in exchange for temporary pleasures and provisions (of little value). Rather than accepting responsibility for themselves and their families, they’d rather be taken care of. This is foolishness! As long as people are willing to give away their rights and freedoms, power hungry leaders will gladly delight in taking them away. But I digress...
In today’s message we’ve touched on a few varied topics such as the remarriage of widows and widowers, the power of God to give childless couples families of their own, and the human tendency to undervalue one’s rights and privileges while overvaluing trivial, temporal things. I will close this morning by citing John 1:12 which tells us that those who trust in Jesus Christ have been given the “right to become children of God.” This includes, among other things, the right to live in freedom from sin and bondage, the right to live without fear or worry, and the right to live victoriously in all circumstances. What will we do with this right? How will we regard it? Will we despise and underappreciate it like Esau did with his birthright, or will we esteem and cherish it like Jacob did?