Genesis 25 – Sibling Rivalry

Study Date -

Study Type - Message

Fellowship - Calvary Chapel - Leesville

Series - Genesis 2020-21

Book - Genesis

birthright, Esau, Isaac

Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC – Wednesday Evening Service – September 9th, 2020


Last time we looked at the amazing story of Abraham’s servant whom Abraham sent to the land of his people to seek a wife for his son Isaac. We saw that God prospered the mission of the servant who returned to Canaan with Rebekah – Abraham’s great niece – as a wife for Isaac.

Genesis 25 – Sibling Rivalry

As we know, God promised the childless Abram and Sarai an heir who would come from their own bodies – Isaac, the son of promise. But Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands in their impatience waiting for God to fulfill the promise. Abraham took Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant Hagar as a wife, and she bore a son – Ishmael. Now here in Genesis 25, we read of the children Abraham fathered by his third wife Katura after Sarah died.

NOTE – In the interest of time, we will limit our discussion of the names found in this chapter to those who are mentioned later on in the history of Israel or the writings of the prophets apart from mere listing in various genealogies.

WARNING – Proper names of people and places are frequently reused throughout God’s Word. The diligent Bible student who wishes to undertake a deeper study of these genealogies must keep this in mind.

1Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah. 2And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4And the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

Genesis 25:1-4 – NKJV

Midian [מִדְיָן Midyan – strife] – Abraham and Keturah’s son Midian became the progenitor of the Midianite people dwelling in the Sinai and the northern Arabian peninsula. Fearing the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses fled to Midian after murdering an Egyptian. Moses took a Midianite wife, and while he was tending the flocks of her father Jethro, God first spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 2-3). Later on, the Midianites conspired with the Moabites to oppose the passage of the Israelite people into the Land of Promise following their forty-year wilderness wandering, but the Israelites defeated them in battle (Numbers 22, 25, and 31). After the conquest of Canaan, Gideon defeated the Midianites again in battle with only three hundred soldiers (Judges 6-8).

Sheba [שְׁבָא Sheba’ – seven or oath] – Sheba is a commonly re-used name in the Bible. The Queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon (1 Kings 10) ruled over a nation in southern Arabia. She was descended from Noah’s son Ham and grandson Cush, not from Abraham’s son. Recall that Abraham (and thus Jesus’ mother Mary) was descended from Noah’s son Shem, not Ham.

Dedan [דְּדָן Dedan – low country] – This is another name that has been re-used. The Dedan mentioned here as a grandson of Abraham should not be confused with the Dedan first mentioned in Genesis 10:7, who like Sheba was a grandson of Noah and forefather of a people who lived in southern Arabia. That Dedan figures in the prophecy of Jeremiah (25:23 & 49:8) and in Ezekiel’s prophecy, particularly in the future prophecy of the attack on Israel by Gog of Magog (Ezekiel 38).

5And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. 6But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.

Genesis 25:5-6 – NKJV

Abraham knew that Isaac’s descendants were to be the ones who would inherit the land of Canaan in accordance with God’s promise. So he sent his other children out of the land. Nevertheless, Abraham provided an inheritance for his other children as we see here.

7This is the sum of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one hundred and seventy-five years. 8Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, 10the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth. There Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife. 11And it came to pass, after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac dwelt at Beer Lahai Roi.

Genesis 25:7-11 – NKJV

So now after some 14 chapters in Genesis we come to the end of the story of Abraham’s life. God had called Abram to leave the house of his father in Haran and journey to the land of Canaan when he was seventy-five years old. Apart from brief sojourn in Egypt, Abraham had lived as a stranger and a nomad in Canaan for a century. During that time, although he was very prosperous, Abraham had always lived in tents, never owning any part of the land itself apart from the cave of Machpelah in Hebron near Mamre in which he and his wife Sarah were buried. Nevertheless, as we have seen, Abraham believed the promise of God that He would give the land to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:7), and Abraham’s faith in that promise has been credited to him as righteousness.

The story of Abraham provides us an answer to a challenging question – Are the Old Testament saints who believed in and followed the LORD saved even though they lived and died before Jesus was ever born? Jesus Himself provides the answer to that question in His response to a ridiculous hypothetical question that the Sadducees who didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead at all posed to Him in an attempt to trip Him up with His own words…

26But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”

Mark 12:26-27 – NKJV

Exactly how the Old Testament saints receive their salvation has been the subject of some debate down through the centuries, since none of these patriarchs ever had the opportunity while they were still alive in the flesh to believe in their hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, and confess with their mouths the Lordship of Jesus as we are told in Romans 10:9 that all who would be saved must do. Some have proposed that during the two days between His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus Himself descended into Hades and preached the Gospel to these Old Testament believers who then had the opportunity to either accept or reject that preaching. I personally reject this idea. It seems to conflict with Jesus’ own teachings – particularly the one we just looked at in Matthew 12, and Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Exactly what provision God has made for the salvation of His followers who died prior to Jesus’ birth in the flesh must remain unknown until we ourselves are transformed in an instant and join together with our LORD and all of our brethren who have gone before us in Heaven.

12Now this is the genealogy of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Abraham. 13And these were the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: The firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16These were the sons of Ishmael and these were their names, by their towns and their settlements, twelve princes according to their nations. 17These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. 18(They dwelt from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt as you go toward Assyria.) He died in the presence of all his brethren.

Genesis 25:12-18 – NKJV

Recall (Genesis 17:15-21) that even until the year before Isaac was born, Abraham was still promoting Ishmael as a viable “plan B” for God to bring about His promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, but God was adamant that Isaac – the son of promise – was to be the one whose descendants would inherit the land. Nevertheless God said He would also bless Ishmael and that he would be the father of twelve princes. Here in Genesis 25:13-16 we find a listing of them. Of the twelve, six are mentioned elsewhere outside the genealogies found in Chronicles.

Nebajoth [נְבָיוֹת Nebayowth – heights] – mentioned specifically in Genesis 28:9 as the brother of Esau’s wife – Mahalath – but of course all twelve of Ishmael’s sons were her brothers. The capital city of Nebajoth’s descendants was the rock city of Petra in what is now southern Jordan.

Kedar [קֵדָר Qedar – dark] – Mentioned in the prophecies of Isaiah (21:16-17, 42:11 & 60:7), Jeremiah (2:10 & 49:28), and Ezekiel 27:21, which all foretell the downfall of Kedar’s descendants who were Bedouin people living in the Arabian peninsula.

Dumah [דּוּמָה Duwmah – silence] – Mentioned in Isaiah 21:11 in association with the downfall of Edom.

Tema [תֵּימָא Teyma’ – desert] – Mentioned in Isaiah 21:14 and Jeremiah 25:23 in conjunction with their prophecies of the defeat of Arabia.

Jetur [יְטוּר Yetuwr – enclosed] and Naphish [נָפִישׁ Naphiysh – refreshment] – The descendants of these two sons of Ishamael were defeated by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh in conjunction with their conquest of the lands east of the Jordan that they took as their allocations in the Promised Land of Canaan (1 Chronicles 5:19-22). Jetur’s lands included what is now known as the Golan Heights, but called Bashan in God’s Word.

19This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac. 20Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. 21Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

Genesis 25:19-21 – NKJV

Here once more we see an example of a recurring theme that we find throughout God’s Word – infertility. In virtually all ancient cultures when a couple was childless, it was assumed that the problem rested with the woman. Recall that when Sarai gave her Egyptian maidservant Hagar to Abram so that he could father a son through her, there was never any question whether the couple’s childlessness might be due to Abram’s impotence. Infertility was a shameful thing for a woman. The infertile woman was shunned by the mothers of her community as if infertility were a communicable disease. It was considered a curse from God, and people (even and especially the woman herself) speculated about what she might have done to cause God to curse her in this way. Tragically, those superstitions continue even today in “enlightened” modern society.

Here in this passage, we find an example of how we should respond to infertility, and to every other issue that arises in our lives. Just as Isaac did here in Genesis 25:21, we need to seek the LORD’s aid and guidance in all things. Sadly, most of us only turn to God for help after we’ve exhausted all the other avenues available. Foolishly, we forget that no matter how the issues in our lives work out, God’s will in them is always sovereign. Our own feeble efforts to solve our problems are never effective unless they are guided and empowered by God Almighty. We must be continually “plugged in” to God’s power and will, diligently seeking Him in prayer and searching His Word daily for the guidance we need in our lives just as Isaac does here with regard to Rebekah’s childlessness.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

John 15:5 – NKJV

22But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23And the LORD said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.”

Genesis 25:22-23 – NKJV

Just as God blessed Isaac’s plea to allow Rebekah to conceive, so He honored Rebekah herself when she sought His counsel about the problems she was having with her pregnancy. Notice that God did not “heal” the physical problems Rebekah was going through, but instead He explained what was going on and gave her this amazing prophecy regarding her twin sons so Rebekah could have some peace of mind about it.

NOTE – The popular narrative in today’s schools, governments, and media is that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was caused when the Jewish people returned to Canaan after World War II to establish the modern state of Israel, displacing the Palestinian people who were living there. But this conflict actually began thousands of years before as we see here in this passage. The twin boys who struggled with each other in Rebekah’s womb were the forefathers of the Israeli and Jordanian people. Jacob, who was later renamed Israel by God (Genesis 32:28) had twelve sons who became the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Esau who was also called Edom (as we shall see later in this study) became the forefather of the Edomites who occupied much of the area now known as the nation of Jordan from which the present-day Palestinian people living in Canaan originally came. Of course, the conflict between these peoples that started even before these two boys were born continues to rage today. It figures prominently in the history of Israel, and in the prophecies found in God’s Word. Many of the prophecies concerning it have been fulfilled, but some remain for the future…

‘therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Surely I have spoken in My burning jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave My land to themselves as a possession, with wholehearted joy and spiteful minds, in order to plunder its open country.”‘

Ezekiel 36:5 – NKJV

24So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. 25And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau [עֵשָׂו `Esav – hairy]. 26Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob [יַעֲקֹב Ya`aqob – heel catcher; supplanter]. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

Genesis 25:24-26 – NKJV

So now with the death of Abraham and the marriage of Isaac, we find the next step along the line of Jesus the promised Messiah. The book of Genesis guides us along that line that began with God’s promise of a Redeemer to come who would defeat our enemy Satan first given to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). The line leading to Jesus has been traced so far through Adam and Eve’s son Seth, to Noah’s son Shem, to Abraham’s son Isaac. Now at last we come to the establishment of the nation of Israel – God’s chosen people through whom the Messiah was to come – with the birth of Isaac’s son Jacob.

Like many of the proper names in God’s Word, the names given to Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons have prophetic and symbolic significance. The significance of Esau’s hairiness will be revealed in Genesis 27 with regard to Isaac’s dying blessings of his sons. In that we will also be reminded of the significance of Rebekah’s name – רִבְקָה Ribqah meaning “ensnarer.” Like his mother, Jacob was also a schemer who was never above pulling a dirty trick to trip up someone ahead of him. As we shall soon see, Jacob schemed to take Esau’s birthright as the firstborn from him. Hence Jacob’s name יַעֲקֹב Ya`aqob means “heel catcher” or “supplanter.”

27So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. 28And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Genesis 25:27-28 – NKJV

How tragic it is when parents allow themselves to have favorites among their children – particularly when the favorite child of the father differs from the mother’s favorite. How shameful too that Isaac loved his son Esau better just because he enjoyed eating the game that Esau killed for him. This playing of favorites within Isaac and Rebekah’s family has had repercussions that continue to this very day, and impact not just the people of Canaan, but the entire world! It is a cautionary tale that all parents would do well to heed and take a lesson from – Don’t play favorites with your children! Instead love them all identically, savoring the unique character of each one.

29Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. 30And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom [אֱדֹם ‘Edom – red]. 31But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.” 32And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” 33Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34 – NKJV

As in many other cultures around the world, Hebrew tradition gives a special place of honor to the firstborn sons of a family. The firstborn son of the family received a double portion of the inheritance. The father’s last will and testament was often given by the father with the pronouncement of a dying blessing upon his sons. All of this has special significance in the case of Isaac’s sons – Esau and Jacob – as we shall see in the upcoming chapters. Interestingly, this tradition is not formally codified in the written Law of Moses except in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 where God directs that if a man has more than one wife, he is not to give the firstborn’s birthright to the firstborn of a second, better-loved wife in preference to the firstborn of a first, less-loved wife. This principle – which would not be handed down in the law for hundreds of years after Jacob’s death – would be significant when it came time for Jacob to bless his own twelve sons (Genesis 49).

Having said all that, we find throughout the Word of God that this tradition of the double-blessing birthright of the firstborn is often ignored or modified – often with significant undesirable consequences. Of Jacob’s own sons, Joseph – the second-youngest – received the double-portion through his own sons Manasseh and Ephraim. King David was not the firstborn, but the youngest of his father Jesse’s sons. When David died, he directed that his kingdom would go to his son Solomon rather than any of Solomon’s older brothers. Thus we see that this story of Esau giving up his birthright to his younger twin brother Jacob isn’t that unusual.

Nevertheless, since this was a private conversation between the two brothers, Jacob would have had no way to prove that his brother had sold his birthright for a single meal. But as we shall see in Genesis 27, Jacob the supplanter and his mother Rebekah the ensnarer played a little trick to make double-sure that Jacob received the double-portion when it came time for Isaac to give his dying blessing to his sons.


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