The Book of GENESIS
James J. Barker
THE BIRTH OF ESAU AND JACOB
- On the wall of the south choir aisle of Westminster Abbey, there is a memorial to John and Charles Wesley, and at the base of the beautiful marble tablet are the words of Charles Wesley: "GOD BURIES HIS WORKMEN, BUT CARRIES ON HIS WORK."
- And so it was with Abraham. His death is recorded here in Genesis 25. God buried His workman, but carried on His work (cf. 25:11).
- Abraham dominates the book of Genesis from Genesis 11—25. Genesis 25 begins with Abraham’s marriage to Keturah, and their offspring (25:1-4).
- Abraham had a son with Hagar, named Ishmael. And Abraham had six sons with Keturah. But Genesis 25:5 says, “And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac” (cf. 24:36).
- Isaac was the son God had promised Abraham.
- Back in Genesis 17:19, God said to Abraham, “Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.”
- Genesis 25:11 says, “And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac…”
- Isaac alone was the heir. The others received only gifts (25:6). This is the first time we see the word “gift” in the Bible. After they received their gifts, Abraham sent them away “eastward, unto the east country” (i.e., Arabia).
- Abraham made these arrangements in order to maintain Isaac's position and to keep it free from as many difficulties as possible.
- One of his sons with Keturah was Midian (25:2), whose descendants became bitter foes of the descendants of Isaac and Jacob.
- We know nothing of the other five sons and their descendants. The others were absorbed among the various Arab tribes.
- Having six sons with Keturah indicates that Abraham's “closing years were marked by a fresh accession of bodily and mental vigor” (W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis).
- Keturah did not occupy the same rank of equality as Sarah did. Both Genesis 25:6 and I Chronicles 1:32 refer to her as Abraham’s “concubine.”
- Abraham died at the age of 175 (25:7). He survived Sarah by thirty-eight years, so it is not surprising that his loneliness on the death of Sarah may have prompted him to seek a companion in his old age.
- Abraham died thirty-five years after the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, and when Abraham died, his grandsons Jacob and Esau were 15 years old.
- The phrase “gathered to his people” (25:8) is found only in the Pentateuch, and is used only of six persons.
- Abraham (Genesis 25:8).
- Ishmael (Genesis 25:17).
- Isaac (Genesis 35:29).
- Jacob (Genesis 49:33).
- Aaron (Numbers 20:24, 26).
- Moses (Deuteronomy 32:50).
- The phrase “gathered to his people” refers to their reunion in the unseen world. This phrase cannot possibly refer to Abraham’s burial, since only Sarah's body was in that tomb (25:10; cf. 23:19, 20).
- Abraham’s sons, Isaac and Ishmael, met to bury their father and to pay their respect.
- It has been said that, “Death is the great healer of family differences and personal feuds” (W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis).
- ABRAHAM’S SONS ISHMAEL AND ISAAC
- THE TWINS IN THE WOMB
- THE SALE OF THE BIRTHRIGHT
ABRAHAM’S SONS ISHMAEL AND ISAAC
- Genesis 25 records “the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son” (25:12-16), and “the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son” (25:19-26).
- The Biblical record deals very briefly with the lives of Ishmael and Esau. The focus is on Isaac and Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons.
- The book of Genesis emphasizes God’s purpose in fulfilling His promises to Abraham and his seed.
- Isaac led a quiet and peaceful life. His personality was quiet and passive. W.H. Griffith Thomas said, “Except as a link in the chain of fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise, he is of no special importance in the patriarchal history” (Genesis).
- While his father Abraham dominates Genesis 12 – 25, and his son Jacob dominates Genesis 27 – 50, very little is said about the life of Isaac.
- Theodore Epp has described Isaac as “the ordinary son of a great father, and the ordinary father of a great son.”
THE TWINS IN THE WOMB
- After nearly twenty years of marriage, Isaac and Rebekah were still childless. Many couples in their situation would be disappointed, but they even more so since God had promised that His covenant with Abraham would be fulfilled in Isaac and his seed.
- It has often been said, “God’s delays are not denials.” Just as He had tested his father Abraham, the LORD was testing Isaac. God wanted Isaac to learn to depend completely on Him.
- So Isaac prayed (25:21).
- There are several similar stories in Scripture. When Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die” (Genesis 30:1).
- “And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:2).
- First Samuel 1:5 says the LORD had shut up Hannah’s womb. Hannah prayed to the LORD and He gave her a son, the prophet Samuel.
- While pregnant, Rebekah was distressed, and in her distress she also took her problem to the LORD in prayer (25:22).
- Rebekah’s distress had nothing to do with her individually. It was part of God’s great plan for the world (cf. Genesis 17:4-6).
- Those nations would be in conflict, just as the two babies were in conflict in Rebekah’s womb. “Their struggles in the womb are a prelude to their future history” (Barnes’ Notes).
- Their striving in the womb foreshadowed later conflicts.
- Because the firstborn was hairy, he was called "Esau," which means "hairy." Esau is the father of the Edomites.
- The second son was named "Jacob," which means "supplanter" or “heel-grabber” (25:26). Jacob is the father of the Israelites.
- The Edomites (25:30) were fierce enemies of the Israelites. They figure prominently in both Bible history and Bible prophecy.
- The Greeks called the land of Edom “Idumea” (Isaiah 34:5, 6; Ezekiel 35:15; 36:5).
- After the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D, they decided to name the region “Palestina.” Eventually the name Idumea disappeared from future maps and from history.
- The Edomites, also known as the Idumeans, became assimilated into the people known today as the “Palestinians.” Some believe that “the tabernacles (tents) of Edom” mentioned in Psalm 83:6 refer to the Palestinian refugee camps of today.
- In any event, Psalm 83 is still future, as is most of Obadiah’s prophecy about the judgment of Edom and the restoration of Israel.
- The LORD answered Rebekah’s prayer by telling her that she was carrying twins (25:23).
- Rebekah’s two sons would represent two nations, the Edomites and the Israelites, which would be opposed to each other right from the very beginning.
- Furthermore, “the elder shall serve the younger” (25:23b).
- Normally, the younger son would serve the older son. But God in His sovereignty chose Esau to serve Jacob (cf. Romans 9:10-12).
- “The order of nature is not necessarily the order of grace” (W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis).
- God in His sovereignty often chooses the younger son. For example, Jacob’s first born son was Reuben, but Joseph, the eleventh son, received the birthright.
- The Lord Jesus Christ is descended from Judah, who was Jacob’s fourth son.
- First Chronicles 5:1, 2 says, “Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph's” (cf. Genesis 48:14-19).
- There is no question but that the Holy Spirit directed Jacob’s hands. “The order of nature is not necessarily the order of grace” (W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis).
- Divine election is a fact emphasized all throughout the Bible. God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, and His thoughts than man’s thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
- God does everything “according to the good pleasure of his will,” and works all things out “after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:5, 11).
- However, God’s sovereignty never interferes with man’s responsibility (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28).
- Though it was God’s plan for Esau to serve Jacob (Genesis 25:23b), Isaac and Rebekah brought upon themselves a great deal of their trouble by playing favorites (25:28).
- Whenever there is favoritism in the home, there will be jealousies and quarreling and unrest, etc.
- From the moment of their birth, Jacob and Esau differed in their appearance, and their outward appearance reflected the vast differences in their character (25:24-26). In fact, brothers could not differ more widely than Esau and Jacob.
- Esau was a great outdoorsman, “a cunning hunter, a man of the field.” But Jacob was just the opposite – “a plain man, dwelling in tents” (25:27).
- Their names describe them. Esau (“hairy”) was a hairy man. Edom means “red,” because he sold his birthright for a mess of red pottage (25:30; cf. vs. 25).
- Jacob means “supplanter” or “heel-grabber” (25:26). Interestingly, the name James is the English equivalent for Jacob.
- Jacob’s heel-grabbing is referred to a few times in Scripture (Genesis 25:26; 27:35, 36).
- Hosea 12:3 says, “He took his brother by the heel in the womb.” When Jacob came out of the womb, he took hold of Esau's heel. This was symbolic of his life, for Jacob went through life taking advantage of others – tripping them up so he could get ahead.
- It was God’s will for Jacob to receive the birthright, but he went about it the wrong way. “The end justifies the means” is not a Biblical teaching.
- Right ends must always be accomplished by right means.
THE SALE OF THE BIRTHRIGHT (25:27-34)
- The LORD’s revelation to Rebekah (25:23) must have been known by Jacob and Esau. This revelation is the key to understanding the story of the birthright, as well as the stolen blessing in chapter 27.
- Genesis 25:27 says, “And the boys grew…” Verse 29 says that one day, Jacob was cooking some stew (“pottage”), when his brother Esau came in from the field, and he was faint (tired, exhausted).
- Being tired and hungry, Esau asked Jacob for some of his red pottage (25:30). Verse 34 tells us it was lentils.
- Jacob took advantage of the situation and told Esau he would feed him on one condition – Esau was to sell him his birthright (25:31-34).
- The blessings of the birthright included the father’s blessing, and the place of the son as the priestly head of the family.
- The blessings of the birthright also included the honor of being in the direct line of the promised Messiah, the right of heirship to the promises of the Abrahamic covenant.
- The birthright constituted a link in the line of descent by which the Messiah was to be born into the world. Jacob sincerely wanted to stand in the spiritual line of Abraham and Isaac, and in the coming Messiah.
- All these great blessings Esau despised for a bowl of stew.
- Today we are surrounded by a world of modern-day “Esaus,” men and women who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
- The birthright was a spiritual heritage, and it also included temporal as well as spiritual blessings. Deuteronomy 21:17 says the firstborn was to be given a double portion of all that the father had because he was “the beginning of his strength.”
- All throughout the Bible, the true God of heaven is referred to as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” It was God’s will for Jacob to receive the birthright, but Jacob went about it the wrong way to get it.
- God could easily have given the birthright to Jacob, without Jacob having to resort to crafty schemes.
- Jacob’s methods were not ideal. Since God had already promised him the birthright he should have waited. But Jacob was not yet sanctified. This was many years before Peniel, when he saw God face to face.
- He wasn’t Israel, Prince with God, yet. He was still Jacob the heel-grabber.
- F.B. Meyer said, “We are too apt to outrun Him; to forestall the quiet unfolding of His purposes; and to snatch at promised blessings before they are ripe” (Israel: A Prince with God).
- The birthright gave the holder the privilege of being the spiritual head of his people. Though Jacob was crafty and carnal, he recognized the importance of the birthright, and he appreciated its value. “Jacob, with all of his frailties and all of his faults and all of his crookedness, was a man who at least had one priority right. He was a man who trusted in Jehovah” (S. Lewis Johnson).
- The Scofield Study Bible says, that although Jacob was carnal, his desire for the birthright “evidenced true faith.”
- On the other hand, Esau had no interest in his birthright (Genesis 25:31, 32).
- “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (25:34b). The word "despise" here means "to regard as worthless” (cf. Hebrews 12:14-17).
- His contempt for the birthright is seen in his words – “what profit shall this birthright do to me?” (25:32b).
- Let us learn from the story of the despised birthright (25:34)!”
- C. H. Mackintosh said, “The more clearly I see the vanity of man's present, the more I shall cleave to God's future.”
- Hebrews 12:16 describes Esau as a “profane person.” The word means “ungodly” and “unholy.”
- Both “profane” and “profanity” come from the same Latin word, meaning “contempt for God and contempt for Biblical holiness” (cf. Hebrews 12:14).
- Esau was profane, worldly, and sensual. God was not in all his thoughts. Esau was only interested on present gratification, not only spiritual blessings.
- Esau was godless. He lived for the present, not for the future. He lived for things physical, not spiritual. He lived for time, not for eternity.
- W.H. Griffith Thomas said, “To him future blessings were intangible and unreal, and as he thought he was going to die he did not see any reason why he should grasp at blessings which could never be personally enjoyed. Everything about the present was real to him, while everything about the future was unreal, vague, and misty…To him this world was everything and God nothing” (Genesis).
- To put this in modern terminology, Esau was a secular humanist.
- Thomas Carlyle said this about Esau, “He is the kind of man of whom we are in the habit of charitably saying that he is nobody's enemy but his own. But, in truth, he is God's enemy, because he wastes the splendid manhood which God has given him. Passionate, impatient, impulsive, incapable of looking before him, refusing to estimate the worth of anything which does not immediately appeal to his senses, preferring the animal over the spiritual, he is rightly called a ‘profane person.’”
- Genesis 25:34 says Esau “did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way.” He “went his way,” the worldly way.
- When you get right down to it, there are really only two ways – the way of Esau and the way of Jacob.
- These two ways lead to two different destinies – it is either the way that leads to eternal life or the way that leads to eternal damnation.
- The way that leads to eternal life is the way that has been made possible by the blood of Christ.
- He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).