Tag Archives: genesis 25

Esau’s Stolen Birthright

It was the heist of a millennium: Rebekah and her second-born son Jacob conspired to rob her first-born, Esau, of his birthright. At stake wasn’t just gold or silver, servants or sheep, but rather the patriarchy for the whole future nation of Israel. To complete the theft, they would have to manipulate a blind and crippled Isaac, husband and father, into confusing his children and blessing the wrong one. It was an inauspicious start to the tribe of Israel, to say the least.

Rightly or wrongly, Rebekah was persuaded to do this by a vision from God given to her in pregnancy. But what led Jacob down this dark path? Was it greed? Did he, too, have a vision from God? The bible is mostly silent, but for me it comes down to one bowl of delicious soup. Read on for more.

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Rebekah’s Sacrifice

Isaac Blesses JacobLet me set the scene: Rebekah peered through an open doorway at her husband, Isaac. Age had wilted the once proud man, the son of Abraham, until he was only a shadow of his former self. His eyes had failed and he could no longer look upon his home or the people that he loved. He could no longer even walk. But Isaac was loved: his twin sons, Jacob and Esau, remained close to him even as they entered their fourth decades. Although Esau’s Canaanite wives caused some consternation, he remained Isaac’s favorite son. At 100 years of age, Isaac had lived a long and good life and he felt that it was time to pass on his blessing, the inheritance of God’s promise, to one of his children.

As Rebekah watched unseen, Isaac called his eldest son, Esau, to his deathbed to make his request:

Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”
Genesis 27:2-4

As she heard these words, Rebekah’s heart hardened. In a few short minutes, she would betray her eldest son and her husband. She knew her actions could drive her family apart and that she may never see her sons together again.

Why did she do it? Because God had told her a secret. Read on for more.

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Isaac in Abraham’s Shadow

Christians and Jews both refer to God as the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”– the big three patriarchs of Genesis. But while the bible goes to great lengths to teach us about Abraham and Jacob, Isaac is almost a mystery. So much of his story is told through other eyes: we know of his torment by Ishmael through Abraham’s and Sarah’s reaction to it, we know of Abraham’s anguish at being asked to sacrifice his only remaining son, and later in the story we will see his granting of the birthright to Jacob through his and Rebekah’s eyes. Isaac is rarely a doer in Genesis, only one that reacts to things being done.

Timeline of Key Figures in Genesis (after Abraham)
Timeline of Key Figures in Genesis (after Abraham)

Fortunately for us, the Genesis narrator is crafty: several of the events in Isaac’s story closely parallel events in his father’s life. This grants a certain narrative economy, but more importantly allows us to learn who Isaac is by underscoring how he is or is not like his father. What kind of man do you think Isaac is? Read on for my view.

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Ishmael’s Children and Descendants

Ishmael by James Tissot (Source: Wikimedia Commons)The story of Ishmael is the next to come to a close, in the middle of Genesis 25. But before he passes away at the ripe old age of 137, the bible tells us a bit more about his children. Ishmael’s family, like Abraham’s children with Keturah, don’t factor into the biblical story directly. Instead, they are the founders of twelve more tribes of Canaan that the post-exodus Hebrews will have to deal with upon their return.

These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps.
Genesis 25:13-16

I thought it would be fun, just like I did with Abraham’s kids, to look at what the bible says about each of these twelve tribes and how they impacted our story, in big and small ways. One omission from this list, is Ishmael’s daughter (Mahalath, otherwise known as Basemath), but that story is complicated enough that I’m going to save it for another time.

I know that genealogies bore some of you to tears, but I love them and the way little connections are sprinkled throughout the bible, if you care to look for them. They make me feel like it’s all part of one connected story, rather than   bumps along the road to Jerusalem. Every story is important, though some are more fun than others.

Twelve more tribes for Ishmael! Read on for more.

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My Favorite Moment in Genesis – Isaac and Ishmael at Peace

In the bible as in life, sometimes the best things come in small packages. Hidden between two boring genealogies in Genesis 25 is a three line mini-story that is one of my favorite moments in Genesis. Here it is:

Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.
Genesis 25:8-10

The story is profound in its simplicity: Isaac and Ishmael, two half-brothers who did not get along, come together in peace to bury their father. It’s an amazing story of forgiveness that I think says a lot to us still today. Read on for more.

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Keturah and Abraham’s Other Children

His story being told, God grants Abraham something of a retirement for a job well done: roughly 35 years where he can settle down with a new wife, have six more children, and generally just stay out of the way. Isaac and his descendants will take the stage in a moment, but before that happens let’s take a brief look at Keturah, his new wife, and what the bible says about his new children. It’s not much, but anything the bible can do to flesh out the final days of the first great patriarch is welcome.

A mysterious new wife (that may have been an old wife)? New children who will lead great nations? Read on! Continue reading Keturah and Abraham’s Other Children

Errata: Isaac in the East

Oh, the troubles a little comma can make! Yesterday’s post on the separation of Abraham’s family after the Binding of Isaac had an error: I mistakenly said that Isaac had gone eastward between the time his mother died and when his father did. It’s a simple mistake and it’s because I was reading Genesis 25 using an archaic translation:

But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

Genesis 25:6 (JPS, 1917 Edition)

Somehow in my reading and my note-taking, I got confused by the clauses. It was the sons of the concubines that were “unto the east country” and not Isaac. While the bible doesn’t say, Isaac was probably at Beer-lahai-roi, where he was both before and after this passage.

This doesn’t change my explanation much, except to say that Isaac didn’t choose this as his special place to go when his father passed away. It does drive home me a lesson for me that I should know already: translations matter. I use the 1917 JPS for this blog because it’s so cut-and-paste-able, but it is also not the most modern of translations. The meaning of words drift over even a hundred years and I like to be sure that words mean what I think they mean. Still, this is more a case of misreading than a text gone bad.

The New International Version (1984) gives a clearer translation:

But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.

Genesis 25:6 (New International Version, 1984)

Much more understandable!

Up next: Back on Moriah!

Abraham’s True Sacrifice – His Family

We’re up to one of those famous stories in the bible. The “Binding of Isaac”, as it is generally called, is almost as well known as Noah’s Ark or the Parting of the Red Sea and it does so without cute animals or Charlton Heston. In this story, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him, only to relent at the last moment and provide a ram to use instead. Because of his commitment to God, Abraham proves himself worthy again to be the patriarch of the future Israel.

This test and validation narrative is a good one, but a careful reading shows that God wasn’t demanding an empty sacrifice of Abraham. Although Isaac was spared the knife, God dealt Abraham a tremendous hidden sacrifice: a family, a father and son, walked up the mountain together but two strangers walked down. In one stroke, Abraham’s family was shattered. He, his son, and his wife would never be together again.

Read on for more.

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