Chapter 25

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The Genesis account does not reveal when Abraham took Keturah (Chettoura [LXX]) as a wife. Her position was that of a concubine (1 Chronicles 1:32) and differed from that of Sarah, the mistress of the household. In the culture of that time, concubinage was common. Josephus appears to have understood that Keturah came to be a concubine while Sarah was still alive. He wrote that “Isaac married [Rebekah], the inheritance having now come to him; for the children of Keturah had gone to their own remote habitations.” (Antiquities, I, xvi, 3) The marriage of Isaac to Rebekah occurred about three years after Sarah’s death and, according to Josephus, the sons of Keturah already lived in their own regions. If this was the case, Sarah did not object to Abraham’s having Keturah as a concubine, for the sons of Keturah would in no way have threatened the position of Isaac as Hagar’s son Ishmael had. Therefore, it appears that the miraculous revival of Abraham’s reproductive powers did not end with the birth of Isaac. By Keturah, Abraham had six sons — Zimran (Zemran or Zembran [LXX]), Jokshan (Iexan [LXX]), Medan (Madan [LXX]) , Midian (Madiam [LXX]), Ishbak (Iesbok [LXX]), and Shuah (Soye [LXX]). (25:1, 2)

One conjecture places the descendants of Zimran in a region on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. Tribes that descended from Joktan, his sons Sheba and Dedan, and Dedan’s progeny (the Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim) lived in various parts of Arabia. Medan may have been the forefather of an Arabian tribe that occupied an area to the south of Tema. The descendants of Midian, including those of his sons Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah, were nomadic tent dwellers who lived in the northwestern part of Arabia to the east of the Gulf of ‛Aqaba. According to one view, Ishbak’s descendants resided in the northern part of Syria. Shuah’s descendants may have lived along the right bank of the Euphrates River. (25:2-4)

Abraham constituted Isaac the heir of all his property but gave gifts to the sons of his concubines (apparently Hagar and Keturah) and sent them away to the east, to the “land of the East” (Arabia). He died at the age of 175, being “gathered to his people” or joining his ancestors in the realm of the dead at a “good old age.” His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah located in the field that Abraham had purchased for a burial site for his wife Sarah from Ephron the son of Zohar of the “sons of Heth.” The presence of Ishmael at the burial of Abraham indicates that contact with him had continued after he was dismissed from the household with his mother Hagar. (25:5-10)

After the death of his father Abraham, Isaac lived in the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi between Kadesh (a city on the western extremity of the region that later became Edomite territory) and Bered. (16:14) He continued to enjoy God’s blessing. (25:11)

Before the birth of Isaac, YHWH’s angel had revealed to Abraham that his son Ishmael by Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian maid, would become the father of twelve princes or chieftains. (17:18-20) This was fulfilled, for Ishmael came to have twelve sons — the firstborn Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel (Nabdeel [LXX]), Mibsam (Massam [LXX]), Mishma (Masma [LXX]), Dumah (Idouma [LXX]), Massa (Masse [LXX]), Hadad (Choddad [LXX]), Tema (Thaiman [LXX]), Jetur (Ietour [LXX]), Naphish (Naphes [LXX]), and Kedemah (Kedma [LXX]). Their descendants appear to have lived a nomadic existence in the Sinai Peninsula, in northern Arabia, and in land as far north as the border of Assyria. Ishmael died at the age of 137 and “was gathered to his people,” joining his ancestors in the realm of the dead. (25:12-18)

Isaac the son of Abraham by his wife Sarah was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, the “daughter of Bethuel, the Aramean of Paddan-aram [Syrian from Mesopotamia (LXX)],” and the “sister of Laban the Aramean [Syrian (LXX)].” Paddan-aram was a region in northern Mesopotamia, where the city of Haran was located. Years passed, and Rebekah did not become pregnant. Therefore, Isaac prayed for his wife that she might be able to conceive. When she did become pregnant about nineteen years after the marriage, she perceived intense struggling in her womb. The extreme discomfort caused her to raise the question, “Why do I live?” Rebekah prayed to YHWH about the situation. How she received the answer to her prayer is not revealed in the account. The message was that the offspring of “two nations” were in her womb, two peoples would be separating, one of them would be stronger than the other one, and the older would serve the younger. (25:19-23)

Rebekah gave birth to fraternal twin boys. The first baby to be born had red hair, like a hairy garment, all over his body. This came to be the basis for his name Esau, meaning “hairy.” The brother was born while holding on to the Esau’s heel. Therefore, he was named Jacob, meaning “heel grabber” or “supplanter.” At the time the twins were born, Isaac was 60 years old, and his father Abraham was about 160 years of age. (25:24-26)

After the twins grew up, Esau became an expert hunter, and Jacob pursued the more peaceful occupation of a tent-dwelling keeper of flocks and herds. Isaac loved Esau, for he brought him tasty game from his hunting. Rebekah, however, loved Jacob, preferring him over her older son. It appears that Esau was more like his energetic mother Rebekah, whereas Jacob was more like Isaac, the husband whom she dearly loved. (25:27, 28)

On one occasion, Esau appears to have returned from the field after an unsuccessful hunt. He was exhausted and hungry. At the time, Jacob was boiling a red lentil stew, which appeared very appealing to Esau. He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of the red, the red here, for I am famished.” This incident came to be the basis for his name “Edom,” meaning “red.” Aware of his brother’s impulsive nature and flaws, Jacob opportunistically used the occasion to get from Esau what he wanted. He asked him to sell him his birthright in exchange for the stew. Esau replied, “Look, I am about to die, and of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob was not satisfied with a mere statement from his brother. He wanted him to first swear to him that he was selling the birthright to him. Esau did swear to the transaction, and Jacob then gave him bread and lentil stew. After having satisfied himself with food and drink, Esau got up and went his way as a man who had disdain for his birthright. (25:29-34)

Notes

Targum Jonathan identifies Keturah as being Hagar, but this does not agree with Genesis 25:6, where the plural “concubines” is found. The apparent reference is to the concubines Hagar and Keturah. The name Keturah is thought to have been drawn from a root that is linked to incense, and this is the basis for the ancient Jewish view that “her deeds were as beautiful [or delightful] as incense.”

In verse 3, the names Asshurim (Assouriim [LXX]), Letushim (Latousiim [LXX]), and Leummim (Loomim [LXX]) are plural and probably designate specific peoples or tribes. The Septuagint indicates that Iexan (Jokshan) had three (not two) sons — Saba (Sheba), Thaiman, and Daidan (Dedan). Additionally, the Septuagint includes two other sons of Daidan (Dedan) — Ragouel and Nabdeel.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 4 identifies the sons to Madiam (Midian) to have been Gaipha or Gaiphar (Ephah), Apher (Epher), Enoch (Hanoch), Abira (Abida), and Elraga (Eldaah).

In his letter to the Romans (9:10-13), the apostle Paul mentioned the twins Jacob and Esau as an example establishing that God’s choosing of individuals is independent of works. In his foreknowledge, God selected the twin that would best serve his purpose. This choosing was revealed when God declared before the birth of the twins that the younger one would be the one whom the older one would serve. The later history confirmed that Esau and his descendants would not have been suitable to serve as the line of descent through which the promised “seed,” the Messiah, was to come. They chose not to have a relationship with God, and merited the divine judgment expressed centuries later in Malachi 1:2, 3, “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.”

Esau is an example of a profane man, one who lacked a spiritual focus. To satisfy his immediate hunger, he sold his birthright to his brother Jacob, manifesting no appreciation for the privileges and future blessings bound up with a firstborn’s birthright. Targum Jonathan represents Esau as denying any hope respecting future life. “Look, I am going to die, and in another world I shall have no life; and what then is the birthright to me, or the portion in the world of which you speak?”