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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ genesis-25.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Genesis 25:1. Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. “Keturah is called a concubine in 1 Chronicles 1:32. It is usually assumed, but merely on the assumption of the history following in chronological sequences, that Abraham espoused Keturah after Sarah’s death. And the words ‘Then again,’ of the A.V. leave this impression on the English reader. But there is nothing in the original to bear this out. The literal sense is, ‘And Abraham added and took a wife.’ i.e., took another wife besides Sarah: but when is not said. Indeed, from Genesis 25:6, which says that he sent away the sons of his concubines during his lifetime, it would be most improbable that they should all have been born after Sarah’s death.” (Alford.) Murphy and others hold that Abraham took this wife after the death of Sarah. “These sons were in any case born after the birth of Isaac, and therefore after Abraham was renewed in vital powers. If this renewal of vigour remained after the birth of Isaac, it may have continued some time after the death of Sarah, whom he survived thirty-eight years. His abstinence from any concubine until Sarah gave him Hagar is against his taking any other during Sarah’s lifetime.”—
Genesis 25:2. Shuah.] The tribe to which Bildad, Job’s friend, belonged. (Job 8:1.)—
Genesis 25:3. Sheba.] These were probably the Sabeans who plundered Job. (Job 1:5.)—
Genesis 25:6. Eastward, unto the east country.] Arabia, which was east of Beersheba, in the south of Palestine, where Abraham dwelt.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 25:1-6
THE LAST YEARS OF ABRAHAM
Abraham’s eventful life was now drawing towards its close. The former part of it is described with much detail, as it was necessary to show how the Church took its beginning and how carefully it was separated from the world. The line of history on which the Messiah was at length to appear had also to be clearly laid down. The proportions of this history are regulated by God’s redeeming purpose. In this chapter, the remaining portion of the life of Abraham is described with great brevity. The events of many years are crowded into a few sentences. The last years of Abraham, as their story is told here, may be considered from two points of view.
I. On their natural side. We may consider Abraham simply as an ordinary member of the human race, who by a life of moral purity had preserved his health and was spared to old age. His old age, we find, was marked by great natural vigour. It is true, that when, in the words of the Apostle, “he was as good as dead” his strength was miraculously renewed so that he became the natural fountain of life to the chosen family. But that, we find, was not a transient gift. This renewed strength was continued to him to the end. We have a proof of this in the fact that he contracts a second marriage, and begets a numerous offspring (Genesis 25:1-4.) As a proof also of the energy of health that remained in him we find that he had power to recover his feelings after the shock of Sarah’s death. His natural strength triumphed over the prostration caused by his great grief. Abraham had also full energy for the business of life. We find him active to the last in the management of all his concerns. He arranges the portions of his children, giving all his principal property to Isaac, and unto the sons of the concubines gifts. Thus he was able to arrange his family affairs before his death. All this is the picture of a hale old man whose mind and faculty remain clear and strong to the last. But the latter years of Abraham may also be considered:—
II. On their Spiritual side. We are here dealing not merely with the life of a man, but also of a saint. And all the way through his life, since God first called him, Abraham appears as a saint. He had the glory of God and His covenant purposes ever in view. By these he regulated his disposal of family matters. Therefore he “gave all he had unto Isaac,” but only “gifts” to the sons of the concubines. For Isaac was the Covenant child in whom his seed should be called. He never forgot the relation of this line to God’s redemptive purposes. The will of God had been clearly made known to him in this matter, and he carried out the purposes of that will with devotion and a strong sense of duty. It was in this spirit that he provided for the purity and peace of the chosen family. As to the sons of the concubines, “he sent them away from Isaac his son.” He did this
(1), to prevent confusion of race. He would prevent intermarriages, and thus preserve the stream pure along which God had determined the life of the chosen nation should flow;
(2) to avoid disturbance and quarrels. He took every possible care to preserve peace. “The particulars of Abraham’s final settlement of his affairs are not here detailed. The Divine decree constituted Isaac his principal heir, but the other parties having claims upon him were by no means overlooked. The patriarch was careful, not only to make suitable provision for them during his own lifetime, but also to leave such instructions as might prevent uncertain disputes and heart-burnings after he was gone. Thus the patriarch passed the latter stage of his troubled journey—in privacy, apparently, and in peace, waiting till his change came.”—(Candlish).
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 25:1. It was after Sarah was dead, and Rebekah had come to occupy her vacant tent, that Abraham lawfully, and for Godly ends, entered into a second matrimonial alliance. It would appear, indeed, that this marriage stood, in some respects, on a somewhat different footing from the first. At the sixth verse, Keturah, as well as Hagar, is referred to as Abraham’s concubine. But that name is certainly intended here, as well as elsewhere, according to the customs of these early times, to intimate merely inferiority of rank or condition on the part of the wife, in respect of her having been one of her husband’s household;—without necessarily denoting any irregularity, in the nature of the connection itself.—(Candlish).
Abraham may have taken this step because he was a lonely man, on the death of Sarah; and especially now that Isaac was married, and therefore separated from him.
There is no stain cleaving to this second marriage. Even the relation to Keturah promotes, in its measure, the divine scheme of blessing, for the new life which came upon the old exhausted nature and strength of Abraham, and the word of promise, which destined him to be the father of a mass of nations, authenticates itself in this second marriage.—(Delitzsch).
We remark here the arising of new hopes in the declining years of Abraham. Sarah is dead; and when Abraham bowed himself before the sons of Heth his heart seemed buried in Sarah’s grave. Isaac was married, and all Abraham’s care seemed to centre in him. Yet here we find Abraham contracting a new alliance, busied about life, entering with energy into a fresh sphere of duties. We collect from that the imperishable nature of hope. No natural sorrow is eternal. When Paul and Barnabas parted, one would have thought that their hearts so violently torn asunder would have been long ere they had healed, but soon we find each twining round a new friend with as much warmth of affection as before. Out of the grave fresh hopes bloom; for our affections are not meant to rest in their objects, but to pass on from one thing to another. They are prospective. They exist here in training for nobler uses. They are perennial, and unless exhausted by misuse grow fresher and stronger to rest on God at last.—(Robertson).
Genesis 25:2-4. The Abrahamites in the wider sense, who partially peopled Arabia, must form the broad basis for the theocratic faith of Abraham, and become a bridge between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand, and heathenism on the other.—(Lange).
In order that literally as well as spiritually the promise might be fulfilled, he became, by Keturah, “the father of many nations” after the flesh;—even as in Isaac, and his seed through Isaac,—the seed which is, “not many, but one, that is Christ” (Galatians 3:26),—he was destined to be the “father of many nations” by faith;—the father of the innumerable company, “out of all kindreds, and peoples, and nations, and tongues”—all of whom through faith are the children of faithful Abraham.—(Candlish).
Genesis 25:5. Abraham established the right of primogeniture. He gives all that he had unto Isaac, gifts only to the rest. Two nations only among the ancients kept up the notions of family, the Romans and the Jews. In all other nations a man rested on his own title to consideration, on his own merits. In these two a man gathered family associations and national ones, as his race went on. The Jews said, we are Abraham’s seed, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and there was an advantage in their feeling children of this long ancestry, because those who have a great past get out of self. They are pledged not to dishonour their ancestors. Many, by the mere stirring of such a memory are dignified. They who have no past have a certain vulgarity; or uneasiness, or else personal pride differs from the dignity which knows whence it comes. And this, in a way is the Christian’s advantage. We have a past. We stand upon a past; it is a righteousness not our own which has shed its lustre upon us. We do not make our own destiny or heaven. These are gifts given us, advantages and privileges, but we have no merit in possessing them. Hence the Christian’s sense of dignity is humble, for it is not personal but derived.—(Robertson).
Genesis 25:6. He gives portions to the sons of the concubines during his lifetime, and sends them away to the East. Ishmael had been portioned off long before. (Genesis 21:14.) The East is a general name for Arabia, which stretched away to the southeast, and east of the point where Abraham resided in the south of Palestine. The northern part of Arabia, which lay due east of Palestine, was formerly more fertile and populous than now. The sons of Keturah were probably dismissed before they had any children. Their notable descendants, according to custom, are added here before they are dismissed from the main line of the narrative.—(Murphy.)
Abraham is the man of faith all the way through. In the disposal of his family he has an eye to the prosperity of the Church of God.
Genesis 25:8. Gave up the ghost, and died.] “The two verbs are identical in meaning: the repetition belongs to the solemnity of the narrative.” (Alford.) In a good old age. Not as to length of years, but in the sense of a happy old age, being blessed both outwardly and inwardly. Full of years. The Heb. has merely “full.” The meaning is that he was satisfied with his experience of life, and ready to depart. Was gathered to his people “This does not relate to burial, for this was not so: Abraham’s “people” dwelt at this time in Haran, and he was buried at Hebron. Besides which, the fact of burial is here, and in many other places, specified over and above. (Genesis 15:15; Genesis 35:29; 1 Kings 2:10; 1 Kings 11:43.) Nor is it a mere synonym for dying: for in many places, as here, it is specified over and above the fact, here repeatedly expressed, of death. (Genesis 25:17; Genesis 35:29; Genesis 49:33; Numbers 20:26; Deuteronomy 32:50.) The only assignable sense, therefore, is that of reference to a state of further personal existence beyond death; and the expression thus forms a remarkable testimony to the O.T. belief in a future state.” (Alford.)—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 25:7-11
THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF ABRAHAM
1. It was the peaceful close of a long life. “An hundred threescore and fifteen years” were “the days of the years” of Abraham’s life. It was a life which had not attained to the days of the years of the life of his father, still it was one of great length. His life’s mortal day was tranquil at the close. “He gave up the ghost and died.” Such is the simple account of the sacred historian, suggesting to us that it was not by a sudden shock, or by sharp disease, but by slow natural decay that Abraham drew to his end. His long life was according to God’s promise made to him many years ago, “Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace: thou shalt be buried in a good old age.”
2. It was the close of a satisfied life. He died “an old man, and full.” Not simply full of years, but satisfied with his experience of this life. Life is not only a length which is measured by the course of years, but it is also a capacity which is to be filled up. It is what we think, enjoy, and feel that makes life rich, and not the mere length of time during which we have lived. The full life is to be satisfied with the loving favour of God.
3. It was an introduction to a new and better life. “He was gathered unto his people.” This expression is distinguished from departing this life, and also from being buried. His fathers had died, but they were not then dead. Their souls were still living. He was about to join that assembly of departed spirits. The first step in the history of the body after death is burial, but the first step in the history of the soul is its introduction to the companionship of those who have passed through death into the invisible world. Thus do these words speak to us of immortality: the faith of the patriarchs could not be satisfied with the short span of life allotted to man on earth. It looked for an eternal life.
II. His burial.
1. It was an honourable one. He was buried in a family sepulchre which was purchased for a large sum of money. His vast possessions, his venerable age, and noble character would cause him to be held in great estimation of all the people. They would bring their honour and veneration to the newly-opened grave of such a man. High in the admiration of all who knew him, Abraham had such a burial as can only be accorded to a great and good man.
2. It was an occasion for peace among the members of his family. “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him.” Whatever enmities were between these brothers, these were silenced in the presence of death. They met together at the grave of their father to render him the last offices of filial affection. Thus death brings together those who will not associate as friends, at other times, and will bring us all together sooner or later.
3. It was the occasion of further blessing to the living. “After the death of Abraham, God blessed his son Isaac.” Abraham was dead, but God was still carrying on His work. Individuals perish from amongst men, but God was still accomplishing His purposes throughout the ages of human history. When one good man dies, the blessing of God departs not, but rests upon those who are left behind. They inherit the promises made to the great and good who are gone, and the precious memories of their sainted lives. And the very place where Isaac dwelt reminded him of the Divine source from whence he was to expect every blessing. It was Lahai-roi, which means the well of the Living One who seeth me.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 25:7. His years were an hundred and seventy-five. He survived Sarah thirty-eight years, and Isaac’s marriage thirty-five. His grandfather lived a hundred and forty-eight years, his father two hundred and five, his son Isaac a hundred and eighty, and his grandson Jacob a hundred and forty-seven; so that his years were the full average of that period.—(Murphy).
The days of the years. A peculiar and impressive mode of computing time, as if intended to intimate that we are creatures of a day, whose life is to be reckoned rather by “the inch of days than the ell of years.” Thus died this venerable patriarch, the father of the faithful, after having sojourned as a stranger and pilgrim in the land of promise one hundred years. His life, though shorter by far than that of his illustrious predecessors, was yet much fuller of incidents and events. The event of his decease is but briefly related. Most instructive would it have been to have stood in imagination by the side of his dying bed, and to have heard his assurances of the mercy and faithfulness of Him in whom he had believed, and who had led him through the mazes of so long a pilgrimage. Nothing of this, however, has been vouchsafed to us, and, except for the purpose of our gratification, nothing more of it was needed. After such a life of faith and piety, there is little need of inquiring into the manner of his death; we know that it could not have been otherwise than full of peace and hope. From the earthly, he no doubt looked believingly forward to the heavenly Canaan, the land of immortal rest, and thither, after a long and honourable course below, we have every assurance that he was graciously received. (Luke 16:22).—(Bush).
The years of human life come to a matter of days at the last.
Let us hastily recapitulate his history, so chequered by vicissitudes. He began his wanderings at Chanan; then seeking a new country, he entered Canaan, feeding his flocks there as long as pasture lasted, and then passed on. After that we find him still a wanderer, driven by famine to Egypt; then returning home, parting with Lot, losing his best friend, commanded to give up the dearest object of his heart, and at the close of life startled almost to find that he had not a foot of earth in which to make for his wife a grave. Thus throughout his life he was a pilgrim. In all we see God’s blessed principle of illusion by which He draws us on towards Himself. The object of our hope seems just before us, but we go on without attaining it; all appears failure, yet all this time we are advancing surely on our journey and find our hopes realised not here but in the kingdom beyond. Abraham learnt thus the infinite nature of duty, and this is what a Christian must always feel. He must never think that he can do all he ought to do. It is possible for the child to do each day all that is required of him; but the more we receive of the spirit of Christ, the larger, the more infinitely impossible of fulfilment will our circle of duties become.—(Robertson).
Genesis 25:8. We also observe this in Abraham, that he was not a hero but a saint. There have been three ages of the world.
1. That in which power was admired, when strength, personal prowess, was the highest virtue; then God was described as a “man of war.”
2. That in which wisdom was reverenced. Then we have Solomon the wise, instead of Saul the strong; and then the wisdom of God is felt to be in contrivance, rather than in power.
3. That in which goodness was counted best. Then God and nature were felt to be on the side of right, and virtue was counted better than wisdom, that is the age in which Christianity can begin, the fulness of times is come. And it is three such seasons that we personally go through. In boyhood we reverence strength; in youth, intellect; in riper years, the milder graces of the heart. Now what is remarkable is, that Israel began with, not a hero, nor a wise man, but a saint. Abraham is not the warrior, nor the sage, but the father of the faithful. Hence the perennial progressive character of the Jewish religion. It is not a thing that can come to an end. Abraham, the man of faith, is the forerunner of the Lord of Love.—(Robertson).
Full of days. The Heb. has simply “full.” Our translators have supplied the word “years.” The Targ. Jon. renders it, “saturated with all good.” The previous expressions would seem sufficient to denote the fact of his longevity, the present we think to be better understood of his having had in every respect a satisfying experience of life; he had known both its good and its evil, its bitter and its sweet, and he now desired to live no longer; he was ready and anxious to depart. It seems to be a metaphor taken from a guest regaled by a plentiful banquet, who rises from the table satisfied and full. Thus Seneca, remarking in one of his Epistles that he had lived long enough, says, Mortem plenus expecto, “fully satisfied, I wait for death.”—(Bush).
Mere length of days cannot give a man Divine wisdom. Age has only a real value when it is dignified by piety, and strong in the hope of immortality. What has time done for that man who has come to hoary hairs, and yet has not learned wisdom, which is the knowledge of what is the true end of life! The lapse of years, to eat, to drink, to sleep, to pace the weary round of habit and of mortal labours, is not life. Life must be measured—as geometricians would say of solid bodies—in three dimensions. It must enclose some substantial good. Life has a capacity which must be filled with knowledge, truth, and love. Every day is a measure which we should fill up with holy feelings and deeds. Our true worth before God depends upon what we have filled our lives with. By our spiritual diligence we become “rich towards God,” and not by any claim derived from the honours of age. The true age of the soul must not be reckoned by time, but by the books we have read, the agreeable objects we have seen, the sublime impressions we have derived from the grand works of nature around us or from this scene of man, and the spiritual thoughts and joys which have stirred our heart.
“Life’s more than breath and the quick round of blood;
’Tis a great spirit and a busy heart.
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs.
He most lives, who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”—(Festus.)
Thus there is in man’s life a certain capacity into which a great mass of thought and feeling may be compressed. The study of a single science may be said to prolong our existence—or, to speak more correctly—to deepen and widen it; for we become conscious of a thousand pleasant thoughts, while slow and indolent minds who only measure life by our clock time are conscious of only one. The ingenuity of the human mind has invented devices which can economise power, so that we can press matter of greater density into the capacity of life. La Place has said that “the invention of logarithms has lengthened the life of the astronomer.” In like manner, spiritual life depends upon the wealth a man has in him, and not upon the question of years. Elihu, who stands up as a spokesman on behalf of God, in his disputation with Job, tells us how that one inexperienced youth having the Spirit is wiser than the most venerable age without the teaching of that Spirit. (Job 33:7-9).
“He was satisfied with length of days, for his eyes had seen the salvation of God.” (Psalms 91:16). He had experienced enough of the Lord’s loving kindness in the land of the living. For it is not by the common and ordinary measures of the successive seasons as they roll on, that this fulness of years in a spiritual point of view, is to be estimated;—nor even by those public and domestic events which men often set up as landmarks beside the stream of time, or the beaten path of life;—but by what the faithful and patient pilgrim has seen of the salvation of God, and what he has tasted of the Divine goodness on the earth. Is he full? Is the pilgrim satisfied? Is he ready to depart? It is not because he can reckon some threescore and ten revolutions of the sun; or it may be fourscore; or even like Abraham, “an hundred, threescore, and fifteen.” Nor is it because he can say of the various sources of interest and pleasure upon earth,—I have drunk of them all. But it is because he has eaten of the bread of heaven and drawn water out of the wells of salvation; because he has been partaker of the unsearchable riches of Christ. He has lived long in the earth—his days may have been many in the land;—not in proportion to the anniversaries of his birth which he has celebrated, but in proportion to the tokens of Divine love that he has received, the gracious dealings of God with his soul that he has noted, and the wonders of grace and mercy that he has witnessed in the church of the redeemed,—does the believer reckon himself to have lived long on the earth! This, and this alone, is the godly man’s real test or criterion;—this is his scriptural and spiritual standard of old age,—his scriptural and spiritual measure of “length of days.”—(Candlish).
To be gathered is not to cease to exist, but to continue existing in another sphere. His peoples, the departed families, from whom he is descended, are still in being in another not less real world. This, and the like expression in the passage quoted, give the first fact in the history of the soul after death, as the burial is the first step in that of the body.—(Murphy).
Genesis 25:9-10. Thus his body took possession of the Promised Land, as his soul went to take possession of that heavenly land which Canaan typified.
At the grave of Abraham,—
1. Ishmael appears in a favourable light. He shows filial affection, an interest in the destiny of his family, submission to that Almighty power which is above all.
2. Enmities are buried. Disputes are now forgotten before this opened grave. Hope is gathered for the future. Ishmael could not but wish that the blessings of his father might fall upon him. He was shut out from many favours of the Covenant; still he too was God’s creature, and there were reserves of blessing even for him.
Isaac and Ishmael in brotherly cooperation. Ishmael was the eldest son, dwelt in the presence of all his brethren, and had a special blessing. The sons of Keturah were far away in the East; very young, and had no particular blessing. Ishmael is therefore properly associated with Isaac in paying the last offices to their deceased father. The burying place had been prepared before. The purchase is here rehearsed with great precision as a testimony of the fact. This burial ground is an earnest of the promised possession.—(Murphy).
Abraham, therefore, in purchasing a grave for Sarah was merely providing a final resting place for himself. How certain, and often how sudden, the transition from the funeral rites, we prepare for others to those which others prepare for us! Were we to leave out of view the spiritual and eternal blessings confered upon Abraham, how humble would be the conclusion of so grand a career. Vision upon vision, covenant upon covenant, promise upon promise, conducting only to a little cave in Hebron! But from the Divine declaration uttered three hundred and thirty years after this event, “I am the God of Abraham,” it appears that his relation to God was as entire at that time as at any former period in his whole life. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living;” and the faithful of all past ages live with God, and their dust is precious in His eyes, in whatever cavern of the earth, or recess of the ocean it may be deposited. Isaac and Ishmael were now present at the burial of their father. Though previously at variance, they now unite in sympathetic sorrow at the grave of Abraham. The latter must have been “a wild man” indeed not to have been tamed at least into a temporary tenderness by such an event. A wise Providence often works a forgetfulness of past resentments by the common calamities visited upon families and kindred. They tend to reconcile the alienated, to extinguish bitterness and strife, to rekindle the dying embers of filial duty and brotherly love. Isaac and Ishmael, men of different natures, of opposite interests, rivals from the womb, forget all animosity, and mingle tears over a father’s tomb. Let the lesson thus afforded be carefully learned by all who bear the paternal relation, and let them be admonished to go and do likewise.—(Bush).
Genesis 25:11. The death of God’s saint’s does not interrupt the flow of His mercy towards those who are left behind in the world.
It was necessary in those countries to fix their residence by a well, and it is no less necessary, if we wish to live, that we fix ours near to the ordinances of God. The well where Isaac pitched his tent was distinguished by two interesting events;—
1. The merciful appearance of God to Hagar, from whence it received its name; the well of Him that liveth and seeth me. Hagar or Ishmael, methinks, should have pitched a tent there, that it might have been to them a memorial of past mercies: but if they neglect it, Isaac will occupy it. The gracious appearance of God in a place, endears it to him, let it have been to whom it may.—
2. It was the place from the way of which he first met his beloved Rebekah; there therefore they continue to dwell together.—(Fuller).
This verse is an appendix to the history of Abraham, stating that the blessing of God which he had enjoyed till his death, now descended upon his son Isaac who abode at Beer Lahai-roi. The general name God is here employed because the blessing of God denotes the material and temporal prosperity which had attended Abraham in comparison with other men of his day. Of the spiritual and eternal blessings connected with Jehovah, the proper name of the author of being and blessing, we shall hear in due time.—(Murphy).
THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF ABRAHAM
The notice of the death of a distinguished man is usually regarded as incomplete without at least an attempt to analyse and sum up his history, as well as to delineate his character.
The recorded life of the patriarch might almost seem to be left to the church as an exercise and trial of the very faith upon which he himself was called to act. In every view he is a test as well as an example of believing loyalty to God. The outward aspect of his course is exhibited in a few of its most striking particulars, but we have no key, or scarcely any, to the inward interpretation of it. We have little or no insight into his private and personal experience. There is no access behind the scenes; no unfolding of those hidden movements of soul which have their external types, and nothing more, in the vicissitudes of a strangely chequered history. But we have a general principle under which the whole is to be classed. Abraham lived and walked by faith. We should endeavour to trace the workings of that believing reliance upon God which furnishes the solution and explanation of his history. The eras of his history may be classed under two comprehensive heads,—the one reaching from his first call to the remarkable crisis of his full and formal justification (Ch. Genesis 11:27; Genesis 15:21); and the other from his unsteadfastness in the matter of Hagar to the final trial and triumph of his faith in the sacrifice first, and then in the marriage of his son Isaac (Genesis 16:1 to Genesis 24:67). During the first of these periods, his faith is chiefly exercised upon the bare promise itself made to him by God. During the second, it has to do mainly with the manner in which the promise is to be fulfilled.
THE FIRST PERIOD
This consists of an almost dramatic series of events,—beginning with a very humble and commonplace transaction, but ending in what elevates the patriarch to a high rank in the sight both of God and man.
I. Abraham comes before us as an emigrant. But he is an emigrant, not of his own accord, but at the call and command of God (Genesis 11:31; Genesis 12:5). The first stage from Ur to Haran is accomplished without a breach in the family. But at Haran the oldest member of the company is cut off, for “Terah died in Haran.” Why should the very commencement of Abraham’s movement be so ordered as to imply that he must leave his father’s bones to rest,—neither in the place from which he goes, nor in the place which God has promised to him,—but as it were by the wayside, on the very outset of his pilgrimage? Surely it is not for nothing that he is appointed to set up as his first milestone his parents’ tomb. It is an emphatic initiation into his calling as destined henceforth to be a stranger on the earth.
II. Abraham comes before us as a stranger. We find him entering Canaan, and beginning his migratory sojourn in that country (Genesis 12:6; Genesis 13:4). It is not an ordinary movement or transition from one settled habitation to another. The peculiarity here is that the emigrant arrives at the place of his destination, and finds it a place of wandering still. He is warned, the very instant he sets his foot in the land, that he is to have but a wayfarer’s passing use of its accommodation, although ultimately, in connection with it, a rich inheritance awaits him. A partial famine in Canaan is appointed that he may be driven down into Egypt;—that perpetual type of estrangement and bondage, from whence it is a standing rule of the Divine procedure that all the Lord’s chosen ones shall experience a signal deliverance,—as it is written, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” (Genesis 12:10-20; Matthew 2:13). Nor is it wonderful that in such circumstances the incidental failure as well as the habitual firmness of his holy trust in God should be made manifested. Wherever he went Abraham “built an altar unto the Lord.” (Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 13:4). Everywhere and always he openly observed the worship of the true God, to whatever misunderstanding or persecution it might expose him, in a land in which his God, as well as himself, was a stranger. The transaction in Egypt was the one blot which disfigures the picture. We can understand and feel how that faith which could thus ordinarily sustain unshaken so frail and fallible a man, must have been beyond any exercise of mere human resolution, and how truly it may be said to have been “the gift of God.”
III. Abraham comes before us in an aspect of bright moral beauty. (Genesis 13:5-18). Never does Abraham appear in a more attractive light than in his courteous and kindly dealing with his kinsman Lot. The wisdom of his attempt to allay domestic strife by the proposal of an amicable separation, is cleared from every suspicion of a sinister or selfish policy, by the admirable disinterestedness with which Abraham leaves the choice of the whole land to Lot, and the cheerfulness with which he acquiesces in Lot’s preference of the better portion. In a worldly point of view, it was no inconsiderable sacrifice that Abraham made. When we find him frankly consenting to his kinsman’s evident desire to found a colony for himself,—nay more, willingly surrendering to him the choicest vales of which the country could boast, and retaining only the ruder and wider outfields as his own,—we may well admire the generosity and self-denial of this entire transaction. And we may well trace these noble qualities to no ordinary motive of mere human virtue, but to that Divine grace which alone enabled Abraham, as a stranger and pilgrim on the earth, to sit loose to the attractions of earthly possessions and earthly privileges, and to have his treasure and his heart alike in heaven. (Matthew 6:21). This instance of heavenly-mindedness is owned and blessed of God at the time. For no sooner does Abraham manifest his willingness to forego present good for the sake of peace, and out of the confidence he has in God, than he reaps a present reward. The Lord graciously renews to him, and in more emphatic and explicit terms than ever before, the promise of an inheritance for himself and for his seed;—“And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, lift up now thine eyes” etc. etc. (Genesis 13:14-17). Thus by the example of His gracious dealing with Abraham, the Lord ratifies the assurance which His believing people in all ages may have, that they shall fare none the worse, either in this world or in the next, for any sacrifices they may make or any sufferings they may endure. (1 Timothy 4:8; Luke 18:29-30).
IV. A more open and signal evidence of the Divine countenance awaits the patriarch. The plot of that moral drama which opens with Abraham’s offer and Lot’s choice very speedily developes itself. The war of the kings (Genesis 14:0) is a striking commentary on the previous narrative. The plain where Lot settles, watered by the Jordan, sheltered by sunny hills on either side, and basking in the full smiles of a most genial clime, has become populous and rich. The highest cultivation has clothed the fields with luxuriant fruitfulness; cities of no mean name crown the heights along the banks of the river; and the valley has proverbially got the name of the “garden of the Lord.” But the moral does not keep pace with the material improvement of the land. Unheard of profligacy characterises their manners. Crime and effeminacy are in the ascendant. (Genesis 13:13). Thus the country of Lot’s choice presented a tempting object to the cupidity of the surrounding tribes, while the slothful and sensual corruption of its inhabitants seemed to expose them as an easy prey to their less civilised, perhaps, but more hardy neighbours. A war of petty principalities broke out. A few chieftains, allured by the riches and encouraged by the luxury of the far-famed cities of the plain, made a predatory incursion into the territories where Lot had fixed his home, defeated the native chiefs in a pitched battle, and swept away the persons and the property of the vanquished, in the indiscriminate plunder of a successful fray. That Lot and his household should suffer in the turmoil, was but too natural a result of his covetousness in grasping at a share of the prosperity of the wicked. And it might have seemed no more than just that he should be left to reap the fruits of his own sin and folly. But the instant he hears of his nephew’s calamity; he rushes to the rescue. Forgetful of all past unkindness, unmoved by Lot’s undutiful and unworthy preference of his own interests to those of his benefactor and friend, Abraham thinks only of the plight into which his brother’s son had fallen. Collecting the members of his numerous and well-ordered household, he suddenly organises a powerful army, places himself as a general for the emergency at their head, pursues the triumphant host, and recovers the spoil. It is a noble retaliation and reply on the part of Abraham to Lot’s selfish want of consideration. It is a glorious revenge. It is truly “heaping coals of fire upon his head.” But the transaction has a further meaning, as an instance and example of Abraham’s faith. Not only is it an illustration of the generosity of his character, but also of his deep spiritual insight into the promises of which he was the heir. For
(1), his right to take up arms, even in defence of his kinsman, depended upon his possessing a sovereign authority in the land. There is deliberation and dignity about this whole adventure, as far as Abraham is concerned. His is the port of royalty. For once he asserts the prerogative which consciously belongs to him. He interposes as ruler and owner of the promised inheritance. And
(2), how anxious he is, while declining any recompense that might stamp his enterprise with the least taint of a mercenary motive (Genesis 14:22-24), to render at the same time most marked and studious homage, and that of a religious kind, to one mysteriously bearing the joint offices of king and priest, and the joint appellations of righteousness and peace. (Genesis 25:18-20). For we cannot fail to see, especially with the light which the apostolic commentary sheds upon it, (Hebrews 7:0), how strong must have been the patriarch’s faith, at once in the promised inheritance and in the promised Saviour. It was faith which moved Abraham to assure so strangely the unwonted character of a prince entitled to levy war. It was faith which also led him to give so remarkable and unequivocal an expression of his willing subjection to the illustrious Being whom Melchisedec prefigured;—and to whom, as “priest upon His throne,” all the spiritual seed of Abraham are ever willing to give the undivided glory of every victory achieved by them, or for them, over those enemies who would be spoilers of the spiritual heritage which God has in the families that call upon His name.
V. Consider Abraham in his private communion with God. In the case of Abraham, great in the contrast between his public and his private life. On the one side you see a brave general, at the head of a conquering army, and playing a right royal part among this world’s potentates and princes. On the other hand, you seem to see a moping and melancholy recluse, idly wandering alone at midnight, a star-gazer, a dreamer, imagining ideal glories in some visionary world to come. The transition is most startling, from the hostile din of tumultuous strife to the serene solitude of a colloquy with God beneath the silent eloquence of the starry heavens! But Abraham is at home in either scene. The object of his one singular and abrupt appearance on the stage of public affairs being attained, and his right as the royal heir of the land being once for all asserted, he retires again into the seclusion which as a pilgrim he prefers. And he gives his undivided care to the carrying forward of the Divine purposes. But Abraham is found in secret communion with God as to certain thoughts which vex him in connection with the promised blessing. He complains not unnaturally of his still desolate condition as regards the future. (Genesis 15:2-3). And the complaint is wonderfully and graciously met in that transaction under the midnight starry sky, on which, all throughout scripture, the assurance of Abraham’s acceptance, as justified by faith, is made to turn. (Genesis 15:4-6). It is the hour of universal slumber. But near that silent tent two figures are to be seen; the one like unto the Son of God—the other a venerable form bending low in adoration of his Divine companion. And as we listen and overhear the strange colloquy that ensues,—in which apart altogether from any corroborative sign on which he might lean, the patriarch simply believes the Divine assurance, that childless and aged as he is, a progeny as numerous as the stars awaits him,—we cannot but own that it is indeed a mere and simple exercise of faith alone, without works or services of any kind whatever, that is the instrument of his salvation, and the means of his finding favour with God. And we cannot but acquiesce in the Divine testimony respecting his justification,—so frequently repeated with reference to this single and solitary incident in this history:—“Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Romans 4:9; Romans 4:22; Galatians 3:6). But though faith alone is the “hand” by which Abraham on this occasion appropriates the justifying righteousness pledged to him, it is not a faith that is content indolently to acquiesce in the darkness of entire ignorance respecting the ways of that God upon whose mere word it so implicitly relies. The patriarch follows up his believing submission with the earnest enquiry, “Lord whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (Genesis 25:8). And in reply, he has the covenant of his peace ratified by a very special sacrifice (Genesis 25:9; Genesis 25:12; Genesis 25:17). And he obtains also an insight both into the future fortunes of his seed, and into the destiny awaiting himself. As to his seed, he is informed, that though the delay of four centuries is to intervene, through the long suffering of God, until “the iniquity of the Amorites is full.” (Genesis 25:16),—they are at last to possess the whole extent of the land reaching “from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” While as to himself, he is to understand that his inheritance is to be postponed to the future and eternal state, and that the utmost he has to look for in this world is a quiet departure when his pilgrimage is over. (Genesis 25:15). Thus, justified by faith, the patriarch is made willing to subordinate all the earthly prospects of his race to the will of Him in whom he has believed; and as for himself, to live by the power of the world to come. We may look upon this midnight scene,—with the remarkable covenant transaction which closes it, unfolding to the patriarch, with a clearness and precision altogether new, the Divine purpose respecting his own and his seed’s inheritance of the land,—as the climax of what we may call the first part of Abraham’s walk of faith. Abraham acquiesces in the purposes of God with unhesitating confidence, though he knows not how it is possible, old and childless as he is, to have them ever brought to pass and made good.
THE SECOND PERIOD
Abraham has shown how unreservedly he can give credit to God for the fulfilment of His mere word, however incredible it might seem to the eye of sense. Will he also and equally give credit to God for the fulfilment of it in his own way?
I. In this new trial, the patriarch’s faith appears at first to fail. He is waiting for some step to be taken with a view to his having that heir “out of his own bowels,” (Genesis 15:4)—whom God has told him of. And this mere waiting becomes a sad weariness to flesh and blood. Can no expedient be adopted for giving effect to the Divine decree? To try something—to try anything—is easier than to “be still.” So Abraham, growing impatient of the Lord’s delay, listens to the plausible suggestions of his partner; and complying with her fond desire “to obtain children,” he suffers himself to be betrayed into that sin in the matter of Hagar which brought so much domestic evil in its train. For the offence, though not in his case prompted by carnal appetite, bore nevertheless the fruit which the like offence always bears;—blunting the conscience, hardening the heart, and unfitting the whole inner man for the Divine fellowship and favour. And in the dreary blank of the long interval that elapses between the birth of Ishmael and the next recorded communication from on high,—a period of thirteen years (Genesis 16:16; Genesis 17:1), during which a dark cloud seems to rest upon the patriarch, such as nothing short of a fresh call and new revival can dispel,—we trace the miserable fruit of his backsliding. But,
II. The manner of the patriarch’s revival is eminently gracious. (Isaiah 64:7-8; Psalms 118:18). First, there is a mild rebuke of his former unbelief and guile, in the announcement and invitation, “I am the Almighty God, walk before me and be thou perfect.” (Genesis 17:1). The Almighty God. Why didst thou then distrust My ability to make good My own promise at My own time and in My own way? Why didst thou walk in the crooked path of carnal policy? Rather walk before Me. Live as in My sight, and as having all that concerns thee safe in My hands. “And be thou perfect.” Stoop to no doubtful compromise or plausible proposal of human sublety and skill. With this gracious censure hinted, the interrupted intercourse on the part of God with His friend is resumed. There is a relenting tenderness in the Lord’s assurance, (Genesis 17:2), as if He could no longer refrain from returning to visit and bless his faithful servant. Yes! In spite of all that has passed, “I will make my covenant between me and thee.” It is indeed a reconciliation that may well overwhelm and overpower the receiver of so great a kindness under a sense of unutterable humiliation, gratitude, and awe;—“And Abraham fell on his face, and God talked with him.” (Genesis 25:3). The interview that follows is one of the spiritual epochs in Abraham’s life. The covenant is renewed with more explicit promises than ever (Genesis 25:3-8). The patriarch is henceforth to be known not as Abram merely, but Abraham,—not “the father of elevation,” but “the father of a great multitude.” And still further to confirm his faith and hope, the significant seal of the covenant, the rite of circumcision is ordained. (Genesis 25:9-14). This whole procedure was fitted to recover Abraham out of the depths into which he had been falling, bringing him back to the safe and simple attitude of waiting patiently for the Lord’s own fulfilment of His purposes.
III. The culminating point of Abraham’s exaltation in connection with his conduct towards Lot. He has power as a prince to prevail with God, and affords a signal instance and evidence of the acceptableness of intercessory prayer (Genesis 18:19). The particulars of this great incident give us the most elevated idea of the place Abraham has in the Divine heart. He is treated by God as His “friend.” Thus the Lord visits him as a friend, and along with two attendant angels, accepts his hospitality and sits familiarly at his table (Genesis 18:1-8). The Lord converses with him as a friend not only of those things concerning the patriarch himself—such as the terms of the Covenant and the near approach of the time when Sarah shall have a son—but, what is a more special proof of friendship, the Lord opens up to him His purpose as governor among the nations;—as if He could not hide from Abraham what He was about to do, but must admit him to His councils, and confer with him with regard to them (Genesis 25:16-22). Thereafter, in the unprecedented and unparalleled liberty of speech granted to the patriarch as he pleads for the doomed cities, and in assurance that what was done for the deliverance of Lot was done in remembrance of Abraham (Genesis 19:29); we see the highest honour conferred on him of which human nature can well be considered capable.
IV. The next scene presents to us the patriarch grievously humbled. After the catastrophe of Sodom, which broke up his family, Abraham is cast abroad as a wanderer again. He is brought into fresh contact with the people and the princes from whose lawless corruption of manners he has so much to apprehend (Genesis 20:1). The new “strength” which “through faith” Sarah is at this time receiving to “conceive seed” (Hebrews 11:11) implying probably the supernatural return of somewhat of her former attractive fairness (Genesis 12:11)—is an additional embarrassment to the wanderer, and makes the present exposure of his family among strangers peculiarly unseasonable. In such circumstances, his old expedient unhappily suggests itself to him again (Genesis 20:2). He is betrayed into a repetition of the mean and cowardly offence which on a former occasion not only provoked the Lord’s displeasure, but dishonoured Him before the heathen. And though the same overruling hand that had brought good out of evil before, interposes now to avert the calamity, still the patriarch himself is sufficiently rebuked. (Genesis 25:8-10). For his own name’s sake, indeed, the Lord will not suffer His gracious purposes to be frustrated, as by the sinful timidity of His servant they might have been. The holy race must be beyond insult or suspicion. The manner in which Abraham and his household escape is enough to show that it is the Lord’s sovereignty; and not any virtue in the creature, that secures the purity and permanence of a seed to serve Him while sun and moon endure. (Genesis 25:11-18).
V. The actual fulfilment of the promise does not completely abolish all strife between the flesh and the spirit. We find traces of a hesitancy and halting as to the acceptance of the heir. Abraham halts between two opinions, manifesting a sort of lurking preference for “the son of the bond-woman, born after the flesh,” over “the son of the free-woman, born after the spirit.” (Galatians 4:22-30). He is scarcely reconciled to the suggestion of his partner, even by the interposition of God Himself, and the repetition of the Divine decree that by this time ought to have been familiar, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Genesis 25:12). But the patriarch makes a final surrender of the confidence he had been tempted to build upon his first born and now well-grown child Ishmael. It is a strong exercise of faith to which he is thus called;—such as would be needed when the Saviour of mankind lay a helpless infant in the manger, with tyrants plotting His destruction,—and when a spiritual mind must, notwithstanding, apprehend the whole weight of God’s eternal purposes and man’s everlasting welfare as hanging on the single and slight thread of that little child’s preservation!
VI. The scene on Mount Moriah forms the climax of Abraham’s walk of faith. Abraham is now required in more trying circumstances than before “against hope to believe in hope.” For to believe before Isaac’s birth was not really so hard a thing as to continue to believe in spite of Isaac’s death. Then he had to believe before a sign was given—now, he has to believe although the sign once given is withdrawn. Before Abraham got Isaac, it was difficult for him to realise the possibility of the promise being fulfilled; and now that Isaac is to be lost to him, he might almost be expected to utter such words of melancholy despondency as fell from the lips of the two disciples journeying to Emmaus, “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel.” (Luke 24:21).
God’s people may find themselves in an hour of darkness and season of trial with no “child of promise” in their heart or life to which they may cling. The fairest and most promising evidence of grace may be giving way. Again is the believer cast back upon that simple trust in the mere word of God that sustained him at the first. Nor in such an emergency will anything suffice to uphold him but a firm reliance on the omnipotence of God. The most startling contradictions that perplex the eye of sense cannot stand in the way of His faithfulness and truth. In spite of the failure of many an Isaac, the God of grace is able to make good all that He has spoken;—not now perhaps, or even in this world, or on this side of death at all,—but at all events in that resurrection state to which, after all, faith chiefly looks. The aged believer, like Abraham, may have many a sad and searching trial, cutting off all his former experiences, and leaving him without sign. But his God and Saviour are still the same. He may still say, “I know whom I have believed.”
VII. The closing incidents in Abraham’s eventful life. His grief for the death and care for the burial of Sarah,—the successful plan that he adopted to secure a suitable wife for Isaac,—his own entrance a second time into the marriage state,—his becoming thus literally as well as spiritually the father of many nations,—his timely settlement of his worldly affairs,—his quiet death in a good old age,—his burial at which both his sons, Ishmael and Isaac took part;—these might well demand particular notice. But a single general remark will suffice. The quiet domestic chronicle of death and marriage comes in with a sad yet soothing charm to wind up the wanderer’s agitated career. The crisis is now over, and he has a comparatively easy task to fulfil, as he calmly makes preparation for his own removal, and for the accomplishment of the Lord’s will when he is gone. One feature of his faith is illustrated as his life closes in. It is the remarkable combination of the highest heavenly-mindedness with the most thorough practical wisdom in ordering his earthly concerns. On the occasion of burying Sarah, he acts as if he had no part or lot in any inheritance here below, beyond what he could claim as awaiting him and his after death. (Genesis 23:0). While again in his adoption of the most decided measures to ensure the pure transmission of the covenant promise through Isaac (Genesis 24:0), he acts as if it were in this present earthly scene that all his duty and all his interest were concentrated. The trial of Abraham’s faith in the command to offer up Isaac brings out his entire willingness to have all his hopes postponed to the future state, and prepares us for the manifestation of his reverential concern respecting the dust of his beloved Sarah, and its due consignment to a tomb that he can call exclusively his own, in the midst of a country in which he is a pilgrim. But on the other hand, his care in taking the needful steps for the settlement of his son in life, as well as his seeking for himself during the remainder of his days the benefits and comforts of domestic fellowship, and his wise and timely adjustment of his earthly affairs, so as to do justice to all his descendants and prevent misunderstandings among them (Genesis 25:5-6),—all this illustrates the entire consistency that there is between the most heavenly-minded preference of the world to come, and the most faithful discharge of duty in the world that now is; and shows how he who has his inheritance in heaven is only the better fitted, on that very account, for giving due heed to all the claims which earthly obligation and earthly relationships have upon his regard. We close the survey with a deeper impression than ever of the majesty with which, in the hands of a spiritual and poetic painter, this great example of faith might be invested. Of the original and natural temperament of Abraham, independently of his call as a believer, but few traces can be discovered in the narrative. He was already an old man when he received the summons to forsake all for the Lord’s sake; and of what he was, and what he did before that era, Scripture says not a word, beyond the bare intimation that he was beginning, at least, to be involved in the growing idolatry of that age. (Joshua 24:2-3). We are persuaded, however, that if the devout students of God’s word and ways would throw themselves into this history of Abraham’s pilgrimage, with more of human sympathy than they sometimes do,—and with less of that captious spirit which a cold infidelity has engendered,—they would see more and more of the patriarch’s warmth and tenderness of heart, as well as his loyalty to that God whose call and covenant he so unreservedly embraced. It is not of any material consequence to speculate on the amount of knowledge which Abraham may have had, with regard either to the righteousness which he appropriated, or to the inheritance which in hope he anticipated. How far he had a clear and definite view of the great principle of substitution, still more how far he had any conception of the actual person and work of a substitute who was, in the fulness of time, to live on the earth, and die, and rise again,—may be matter of very doubtful disputation. And it may be impossible to determine with absolute certainty, whether he specifically identified the inheritance promised to him with the land in which he sojourned, or merely looked in a general way for a portion in the resurrection state, or in the world to come, that might fairly be regarded as an equivalent. The main facts, as to his faith and hope, are these two:—first, that Abraham trusted in a righteousness not his own for his justification in the sight of God,—and secondly, that he sought his rest and reward in a heritage of glory beyond the grave. We may have clearer light on both these points. If so, then so much the greater is our responsibility. And it will be good for us if, by the grace of God, we are enabled to live up to our clearer light, as conscientiously as Abraham lived up to his more imperfect illumination; walking before God in uprightness, as he did,—and as strangers and pilgrims on the earth declaring plainly that “we seek a better country, even a heavenly.”—(Candlish.)
In the section now completed, the sacred writer descends from the general to the special, from the class to the individual. He dissects the soul of a man, and discloses to our view the whole process of the spiritual life from the new born babe to the perfect man. Out of the womb of that restless selfish race, from whom nothing is willingly restrained which they have imagined to do, comes forth Abraham with all the lineaments of their moral image upon him. The Lord calls him to Himself, His mercy, His blessing, and His service. He obeys the call. That is the moment of his new birth. The acceptance of the Divine call is the tangible fact that evinces a new nature. Henceforth he is a disciple, having yet much to learn before he becomes a master in the school of heaven. From this time forward the spiritual predominates in Abraham; very little of the carnal appears. Two sides of his mental character present themselves in alternate passages, which may be called the physical and the metaphysical, or the things of the body and the things of the soul. In the former only, the carnal or old corrupt nature sometimes appears; in the latter the new nature advances from stage to stage of spiritual growth unto perfection. The second stage of its spiritual development now presents itself to our view; on receiving the promise, “Fear not Abraham; I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward,” he believes in the Lord who counts it to him for righteousness. This is the first fruit of the new birth, and it is followed by the birth of Ishmael. On hearing the authoritative announcement “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be perfect,” he performs the first act of that obedience, which is the keystone of repentance, by receiving the sign of the covenant, and proceeds to the high functions of holding communion and making intercession with God. The last great act of the spiritual life of Abraham is the surrender of his only son to the will of God. It is manifest that every movement in the physical and ethical history of Abraham is fraught with instruction of the deepest interest for the heirs of immortality. The leading points in spiritual experience are here laid before us. The susceptibilities and activities of a soul born of the Spirit are unfolded to our view. These are lessons for eternity. Every descendant of Abraham, every collateral branch of his family, every contemporary eye or ear-witness might have profited in the things of eternity by all this precious treasury of spiritual knowledge.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 25:12. These are the generations.] Forms the eighth document so commencing.—
Genesis 25:16. By their towns, and by their castles.] “The former are unwalled collections of houses or perhaps tents; the latter fortified keeps or encampments.” (Murphy.) Kalish renders the clause, “By their villages and by their tents.” The Arabs are divided into two classes, the wandering Bedouins, living in tents; and those who dwell in towns and villages.—
Genesis 25:17. The years of the life of Ishmael; an hundred and thirty and seven years; and he gave up the ghost and died, and was gathered unto his people.] Ishmael’s death is here recorded by anticipation. It happened forty-eight years after Abraham’s death, and when Isaac was one hundred and twenty-three years old.—
Genesis 25:18. He died in the presence of all his brethren.] Heb. He fell, or, it fell to him. The meaning seems to be, he had settled down, or, fallen into the lot of his inheritance, according to the prediction. (Genesis 16:12.) He was unsubjugated by his brethren though dwelling beside them.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 25:12-18
THE GENERATIONS OF ISHMAEL
This history illustrates the following truths:—
I. That those who are not appointed to the most honourable place are yet cared for by Providence. Ishmael was rejected as heir to the birthright, yet God was providing great things for him in the future. A mighty nation ruled by princes was to spring from him. Their roving and military character, their persistence, in spite of enemies and perpetual wars, is an evidence of their wonderful vitality. The control and the favours of Providence were not confined to the chosen people. God’s dealings with the human race reveal the benevolent equity of Providence.
II. That Providence affords encouragements for the support of faith and virtue. The full accomplishment of the prophecies regarding Ishmael was not yet, for they stretched over long periods of time. But they were in course of being fulfilled. Events were opening up and pointing to the end indicated by prophecy. Already twelve princes, with their sovereignties, had sprung from Ishmael (Genesis 25:16). According to the promise made to Hagar, Ishmael died in the presence of all his brethren (Ch. Genesis 16:12). Thus the first steps were taken towards the fulfilment of those promises made to his mother to sustain her drooping spirits, and to his father to reconcile him to the casting out of his first-born son (Genesis 16:10-12; Genesis 21:18; Genesis 17:20; Genesis 21:13). God fulfils so much of His word as is necessary for the encouragement of his people. They have an earnest of their inheritance, and find that in keeping, as well as after keeping His commandments there is great reward.
III. That the faithfulness of Providence may be proved on different lines. We point to the past and present condition of the Jews as proofs of the truth of the Bible. We have a proof equally strong in the past and present condition of the descendants of Ishmael. The inextinguishable life of this people is a perpetual witness to the faithful word of God. These are converging lines, all pointing to the truth of Revelation.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 25:12. The historian, having adverted to the blessing of God upon Isaac, here pauses before proceeding with the sequel of his history to show how exactly the promises made to Ishmael (Ch. Genesis 17:20) were also fulfilled. His descendants, like those of Isaac, branched out into twelve tribes, and constituted the bulk of the population which spread over the Arabian peninsula.—(Bush.)
Genesis 25:13-16. Twelve princes, princes of their tribes, as was promised (Genesis 17:20). See here what God can do for a poor boy sent out with a bottle of water on his back. God “setteth the solitary in families” (Psalms 68:6). “He raiseth the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set him among princes” (1 Samuel 2:8).—(Trapp.)
Genesis 25:17. Ishmael lived an hundred and thirty-seven years. His death is here recorded by anticipation. It took place forty-eight years after Abraham’s death, and when Isaac was one hundred and twenty-three years old. We may suppose that Ishmael died in the faith of his father Abraham, according to the patriarch’s prayer for him.—(Jacobus.)
Genesis 25:18. He had his dwelling and the territory of his descendants alongside of his brethren, and unsubjugated by them.—(Jacobus.)
Genesis 25:19. These are the generations.] The ninth document here begins with the usual phrase, and continues to the end of the thirty-fifth chapter. It contains the history of the second of the three patriarchs, or rather indeed, as the opening phrase intimates, of the generations of Isaac, that is, of his son Jacob.” (Murphy.)—
Genesis 25:21. And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren.] This barrenness lasted twenty years, as may be inferred from Genesis 25:26. For his wife. Lit. before his wife, it is the same term as occurs in ch. Genesis 30:38, where Jacob laid the rods before, i.e. in front of, the flocks. But there can be no doubt here that the word has the force of for or in behalf of: acquiring this meaning through that of “having reference to,” “in regard of.” (Alford.) “The term means before, opposite to, his wife, which Luther understands as referring to his intent desire for his object; having nothing in his eye but this.” (Jacobus.)—
Genesis 25:22. And she went to inquire of the Lord.] Kalisch interprets this of her having recourse to God’s prophet, Abraham, who still survived. Knobel and Keil understand that she went to some place where Jehovah was adored, and where priests were wont to give responses in His name. But there is no sufficient evidence for either of these opinions, and it seems more likely to suppose that she inquired of the Lord directly in the way of immediate prayer.—
Genesis 25:23. Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels: and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.] This response is in the form of poetical parallelism. The two nations were the Edomites and the Israelites. Their hostility commenced at the time of the Exodus, at the very beginning of their national existence. The Israelites in the end subjected the Edomites.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 25:19-23
THE RELIGIOUS CHARACTER OF ISAAC
I. It is chiefly distinguished by the patient and retiring graces. He was not a man of activity and heroic boldness, like his father Abraham. He was rather a man of a patient, obedient spirit, of quiet meditative habits, altogether docile, gently susceptible to impressions, and retiring. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews notices him only as “blessing Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Hebrews 11:20). His child-like enquiries and patient silence upon Moriah (Ch. 22), his love to Rebekah (Ch. 24), his communion with Isaac at the burial of his father, his residing at the well Lahai Roi (Ch. 25), his mourning three years for his mother,—such characteristic acts and events in his life show what manner of man he was. He was distinguished by those graces and virtues, which, though in the sight of God are of great price, yet make but little noise in the world. Isaac does not fill any large place in the history. The patient side of the saintly character is here portrayed. There are few exciting incidents in the lives of such men, and therefore the world is heedless of their worth.
II. It was not exempt from great trial. He had heard of the promise that the family, of which he was now the chief, should multiply and become a great nation; yet he was still childless though he had been married for twenty years. It seems that he must be taught that the promised blessing is to come not as a matter of course, but as a gift of special favour. He must be exercised in the patience of faith. The great trial he now endured drives him to God (Genesis 25:21). In earnest supplication he tells the Lord of his perplexity. It speaks well for the quiet confidence of his faith that he did not resort to any carnal expedient like his father Abraham. His immediate trial is removed, but only to make way for another. The very blessing which is granted in answer to his prayer becomes itself a new source of anxiety (Genesis 25:22). But that anxiety is relieved by further revelations of the future (Genesis 25:23).
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 25:19. The ninth document here begins with the usual phrase, and continues to the end of the thirty-fifth chapter. It contains the history of the second of the three patriarchs, or rather indeed, as the opening phrase intimates, of the generations of Isaac, that is, of his Son Jacob. Isaac himself makes little figure in the sacred history. Born when his mother was ninety, and his father a hundred years of age, he is of a sedate, contemplative, and yielding disposition. Consenting to be laid on the altar as a sacrifice to God, he had the stamp of submission early and deeply impressed upon his soul. His life corresponds with these antecedents. His qualities were those of the son, as Abraham’s were those of the father. He carried out, but did not initiate; he followed, but did not lead; he continued, but did not commence. Accordingly the docile and patient side of the saintly character is now to be presented to our view.—(Murphy.)
The history now returns to the Son of Promise. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament, though the history may diverge to notice other interests and peoples, yet it invariably returns to the chosen family whence the Messiah was to spring. That “the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus” is the internal principle of Revelation.
Genesis 25:20-21. Sarah was barren for at least thirty years; Rebekah for nineteen. This drew forth the prayer of Isaac in regard to his wife. The heir of promise was to be a child of prayer, and accordingly when the prayer ascended the fruit of the womb was given.—(Murphy).
When Bethuel, and Milcah, and Laban took leave of Rebekah, saying, “Be thou the mother of thousands of millions,” they doubtless expected to hear of a very numerous family. And she herself, and her husband would, as believing the Divine promise, expect the same. But God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways. Abraham’s other sons abound in children, while he in whom his seed is to be as the stars of heaven for multitude, lives childless. In this manner God had tried his father Abraham; and if he be heir to his blessings, he must expect to inherit a portion of his trials. Isaac had received Rebekah in answer to prayer; and let him not expect to receive seed by her in any other way.—(Fuller.)
Isaac entreated the Lord constantly and instantly, as the word signifies; he multiplied prayer, which (as those arrows of deliverance, 2 Kings 13:19) must be often iterated, ere the mercy can be obtained. And the Lord was entreated of him. Though it were long first, even full twenty years. God knows how to commend His mercies to us, and therefore holds us long in suspense. Manna, lightly come by, was as lightly set by.—(Trapp).
Under similar circumstances the husband and wife fast and pray, and make a vow before the temple that, should their desire be granted, they will make certain gifts (specifying their kind), or they will repair the walls, or add a new wing to the temple; or that the child shall be dedicated to the deity of the place, and be called by the same name; or they go to a distant temple which has obtained notoriety by granting the favours they require. I have heard of husbands and wives remaining for a year together at such places to gain the desire of their hearts.—(Roberts.)
Prayer leads the way to the ultimate solution of all the perplexities of God’s people.
The trials of faith bring about that entire dependence upon God which prayer requires.
Genesis 25:22. She is no less troubled with the strife of the children in her womb than before with the want of children. We know not when we are pleased; that which we desire ofttimes discontents us more in the fruition; we are ready to complain both full and fasting. Before Rebekah conceived, she was at ease; before spiritual regeneration, there is all peace in the soul: no sooner is the new man formed in us, but the flesh conflicts with the spirit. There is no grace where is no unquietness. Esau alone would not have striven: nature will ever agree with itself. Never any Rebekah conceived only an Esau, or was so happy as to conceive none but a Jacob; she must be the mother of both, that she may have both joy and exercise. This strife began early; every true Israelite begins war with his being. How many actions which we know not are not without presage and significance.—(Bishop Hall.)
Even the very answers to prayer may give rise to new sources of perplexity.
There are very different opinions as to the manner in which she went to inquire of the Lord. Some think it was simply by secret prayer; but the phrase, “to inquire of the Lord,” in general usage signifies more than praying; and from its being said that she went to inquire, it is more probable that she resorted to some established place, or some qualified person for the purpose of consultation. We are told, 1 Samuel 9:9, that “Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake:—‘Come and let us go to the seer’; for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer.” As Abraham was now living, and no doubt sustained the character of a prophet (Genesis 20:17), she may have gone to him, and inquired of the Lord through his means. The Rabbinical writers, as usual, abound with fanciful conceits on this subject, but they are not of sufficient importance to deserve recital; nor can anything beyond conjecture be advanced upon this passage.—(Bush).
Under the pressure of trials we may even become discontented with our mercies.
Genesis 25:23. A question might here arise as to the measure of light which such a communication, made in such circumstances, was fitted to throw on the plan and purpose of God, and the extent to which it was a revelation of His will, for the guidance of the parties interested at the time. It plainly established a distinction between Jacob and Esau while the children were not yet born, and it made that distinction hereditary. Moreover, it put the distinction upon a principal altogether opposed to that which naturally would have approved itself to the minds of the men of that generation—a principle only to be explained by its being resolved into an act of sovereignty (Isaiah 55:8). Farther, as to the amount of the distinction, it conveyed to Jacob and his descendants, not only the national but the religious pre-eminence, which was attached to the divinely-recognised seed of Abraham. It made him the heir, not only or chiefly of the temporal prerogatives and possessions usually centred in the first-born, but of the spiritual privileges also, whether associated with these or not, that belonged to the chosen race. It constituted him the father of the Saviour—the ancestor and head from whom He was to come, who, as the seed of the woman, was to bruise the serpent’s head, and in whom, as the seed of Abraham, all the families of the earth were to be blessed.—(Candlish.)
Undoubtedly, she herself is the prophetess to whom God reveals the manner and future of her delivery. Jehovah speaks to her. The word of revelation, though dark, infuses into her an earnest yet hopeful feeling of joy, instead of maternal sadness and despondency. Two brothers, as two nations—two nations, to contend and fight with each other from the very womb of the mother. The larger, or elder, and externally more powerful, governed by the smaller, the younger, and apparently the more feeble. In these three points the antithesis between Ishmael and Isaac is reflected again. The apostle (Romans 9:12) dwells upon this passage as affording a striking illustration and proof of the doctrine he was then teaching. Isaac was chosen over Ishmael, but further still, Jacob was chosen over Esau, though they were of the same covenant mother, and prior to their birth. The choice, election, was of grace.—(Lange.)
Observe here how the Jewish race is divided. All the previous history has been a division into two lines. First, the line of Abraham divides into that of Israel and Ishmael: Israel is chosen, Ishmael rejected. Then the line of Israel subdivides into those of Esau and Jacob. Jacob is chosen, and Esau rejected. And such is God’s way. Of the Jews carried away captive into Babylon, only a remnant returned. All those belonging to the visible Church are not members of the true invisible Church. There will be at the end of the world, we are told, one taken and the other left. Many are called but few chosen—a chosen few like the few separated from Gideon’s army. Of these two boys, Esau and Jacob, we see in one the gross man of the world, in the other a character far higher, though mixed with a certain craft or cunning. This sin was not repressed in youth, and it grew up with him into manhood. It is always so; unless the evil propensity is checked in childhood it will increase as life goes on, and that most wise saying is verified—“the child is father to the man.” Esau is called in the Epistle to the Hebrews a profane—that is, a worldly person. His life was one of impulse, wanting in reverence, without any sensitive appreciation of things not level to his senses. Imprudent, incontinent, unable to restrain himself, he sacrificed the future to the present; he looked not beyond the passing hour; he sold his soul for pottage. We can scarcely account for his being the best beloved of his father, except on the principle of like joining to unlike.—(Robertson.)
Genesis 25:25. Esau.] Signifies hairy. Some understand the word to be derived from a verb meaning done, or finished, and therefore describing one who was prematurely developed.—
Genesis 25:26. Jacob.] This name means he shall hold the heel. (Hosea 12:4.) Hence the other meaning follows: to grasp the heel as in wrestling, so as to trip one up—the supplanter. (Genesis 27:36.) The boys were born fifteen years before Abraham’s death.—
Genesis 25:27. A cunning hunter, a man of the field.] Takes to the field for his occupation, is cunning at catching game, and brave in facing danger. The general idea is, that he was to be a man of wild and lawless habits. Jacob was a plain man. Heb. a perfect, blameless man. The same word which is elsewhere applied to a God-fearing character. His gentleness is set over against Esau’s fierce disposition. Dwelling in tents. Their different habits also indicate a difference of disposition. Jacob was a homely, an orderly, and contented man. Esau was an out of doors man, not caring for social pleasures.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 25:24-28
BIRTH OF ESAU AND JACOB
In this account of the birth of these two boys we observe—
I. Their marked individuality. These children were most unlike in their characters and dispositions. They seem as if they belonged to different races altogether. There was an antipathy between their characters even before birth. Tendencies develop themselves even before intelligent consciousness, and before there can be any personal responsibility. Thus there may be dark foreshadowings of a man’s future history, even in the silent womb. In the first germs of man’s physical life lie hid those potentialities which time and circumstance will afterwards develop. Though the individual himself commences a new life, yet he is complicated with the past. “Esau seems to have inherited from his mother the rash, sanguine temperament, but without her nobility of soul; from Isaac he derives a certain fondness for good living—at least of game. Jacob inherited from Isaac the quiet, contemplative manner; from Rebekah, however, a disposition for rapid, prudent, cunning invention. Outwardly regarded, Jacob, on the whole, resembled more the father,—Esau the mother.” (Lange.)
II. How hereby is pointed out their future destiny. Esau comes into the world in a kind of hunter’s skin. (Genesis 25:25). Here was the cunning hunter—the man of the field—the dexterous taker of game. Jacob was a smooth man, designed for a gentler kind of life. He was essentially the domestic man, “dwelling in tents.” (Genesis 25:27.)
III. How their characters, so early developed, affected the preferences of their parents. (Genesis 25:28.) “Isaac loved Esau.” Perhaps because in him the opposite of his own character. Isaac himself was a quiet, contemplative man. Esau, on the other hand, was rash, wild, impulsive, and active. Also, Esau was his first-born son, and this conviction of his pre-eminence in birth may have weighed with his father more than all other claims. He might, too, have supposed that Esau was physically and mentally the most fitted to promote the promised prosperity and to achieve the assured victories of his race. Esau was a strong, bold man, and would therefore be the best fitted to secure Canaan for the family of Abraham. It is true that the oracle, pointing out a different destiny for the brothers, had spoken to Rebekah. But Isaac may have doubted its reality, or explained it away, or interpreted it according to his own temper or wish. We all know how our desires and feelings affect our beliefs. The reason for the father’s preference, however, is given here, “because he did eat of his son’s venison” (Genesis 25:28). Esau was like his father, in that he had a fondness for the pleasures of the feast. This matter of the venison may have been only one reason amongst others; it shows a tendency, and altogether points to the fact that the father’s preference was founded on nature, not on grace. “Rebekah loved Jacob.” She believed fully in the oracle which had been given to her. The character of Jacob was well suited to carry out her designs; for though he was a quiet man, he had a certain prudence and cunning.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 25:24-25. The difference is manifest in the outward appearance. The first is red and hairy. These qualities indicate a passionate and precocious nature. He is called Esau the hairy, or the made up, the prematurely developed. His brother is like other children. An act takes place in their very birth, foreshadowing their future history. The second has a hold of his brother’s heel, as if he would trip him up from his very birth. Hence he is called Jacob the wrestler, who takes hold by the heel.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 25:26. Brothers unlike, hostile; twins even at enmity, whose physiological unconscious antipathy shows itself already in the womb of the mother—dark forebodings of life not yet existing, bearing witness, however, that the life of man already, in its coming into being, is a germinating seed of a future individuality. This cannot be meant to express a mutual hatred of the embryos. Antipathies however, as well as sympathies may be manifested in the germinating life of man as in the animal and vegetable kingdom.—(Lange.)
Genesis 25:27. The boys grew, and it would seem that, as they grew, they were suffered very much to follow the bent of their inclinations in the choice of their respective occupations or modes of life. Their natures were different, and the difference, apparent in their very birth, was significantly indicated in their names. The rough and ruddy aspect of the first-born—more like the coarse robustness of a man than the smooth soft fairness of a child—led to his being called by a name denoting rugged strength, as if he were already full grown and mature; while on the other hand the seemingly accidental circumstance attending his brother’s entrance into the world suggested an appropriate appellation. It is to this appellation, and its import, that Esau afterwards so bitterly alludes in his angry disappointment at the final settlement of the birthright (Genesis 27:36). And to the same appellation, for a very different purpose, the prophet Hosea refers, as an instance or emblem of Jacob’s favour with God and his destined superiority, worthy to be cited along with his wrestling with the angel (Hosea 12:3-4). With these names, the brothers as they grew up soon began to show that their natures remarkably correspond.—(Candlish.)
Esau’s occupation was, perhaps, determined not only by his disposition, but also by his position in the family. He was the elder son and heir, and seems to have kept that position during his father’s lifetime. The pursuits which he had taken up were of a noble character, and had ever been aspired to by the first-born of the earth. Jacob, on the other hand, seems to have been condemned to the drudgery of domestic service. He really occupied a subordinate place in the household, while his brother assumes the air of a prince and engages in princely sports. Instead of receiving a double portion of the inheritance, Jacob went forth a poor man from his father’s dwelling.
In the dispositions of these two brothers there were
1. Sources of strength. In Esau there were the elements of courage, manly principles, practical power and energy. These might have made a strong character. In Jacob we have all that is quiet, modest, and retiring. These qualities, too, give strength to the religious life.
2. Sources of temptation. Esau was exposed to the danger of becoming coarse and impetuous, rash and ungovernable; while Jacob was likely to degenerate into a character that was timid, sly, and full of low cunning. Strongly marked elements of character may be made a power for good, but they may also become a power for evil.
Genesis 25:28. The children please their parents according as they supply what is wanting in themselves. Isaac, himself so sedate, loves the wild, wandering hunter, because he supplies him with pleasures which his own quiet habits do not reach. Rebekah becomes attached to the gentle, industrious shepherd, who satisfies those social and spiritual tendencies in which she is more dependent than Isaac. Esau is destructive of game; Jacob is constructive of cattle.—(Murphy.)
There is “a dead fly in the ointment.” “Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Alas, that the parents should be so shortsighted! Do they not perceive that a single blemish or mistake may make all their care and toil fruitless? Do they not especially note the quick kindling of the proud eye, or the sudden swelling of the indignant bosom, as the flattery of capricious fondness and the injustice of wanton cruelty and coldness by turns inflame and exasperate the feelings? Set not up, ye Christian parents, one child above another, but set up Christ above all. Let not Isaac love Esau because he “eats of his venison,”—sympathising in his venturous trade, and enjoying the fruits of it. Let not Rebekah love the more peaceful Jacob because, dwelling in tents, he gives her more of his company and fellowship. But let both learn to love their children in the Lord.—(Candlish.)
This preference of the father for Esau was,—
1. A weakness unworthy of such a man.
2. It was the source of many troubles which afterwards arose in his family. Many of the distresses and vexations which embittered the remainder of Isaac’s life are to be traced to this.
3. It kindled the flames of jealousy and resentment between the members of his family.
4. It was contrary to that principle of equity which should guide all conduct. Children of one family should be regarded with equal love.
How humiliating the reason assigned for Isaac’s preference of his elder son! By what grovelling and unworthy motives are wise and good men sometimes actuated. How mortifying a view of human nature to see prudence, justice, and piety controlled by one of the lowest and grossest of our appetites!—(Bush.)
Genesis 25:29. Sod pottage.] “That is, seethed or boiled—a soup. This pottage is a very common dish in that country. It is made up of different grain or lentiles, bruised and boiled as a broth. There was a red pottage, made chiefly of a red grain.” (Jacobus.)—
Genesis 25:30. Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage.] The words run in the Hebrew, “Give me to eat, I pray thee, of the red, the red, the this.” In the weakness and impatience of his hunger, he omits the name and merely describes the dish by its outward appearance. Edom, meaning red, was given to him as a name from this incident. At least, that name might from hence be confirmed which was first given to him on account of the complexion of his hairy skin. “Therefore was his name called Edom.—
Genesis 25:32. Behold I am at the point to die.] “This may be understood in three ways: the words may have
(1) a general meaning—I care only for the present: I shall die, and the birthright will pass on and be of no use to me;
(2) a particular one, referring to his way of life—I am meeting death every day in the field, and am not the man to benefit by the birthright, constantly exposed as I am to the risk of life; or
(3) one belonging to the occasion then present;—“I am ready to die of faintness and fatigue, and so hold a present meal of more value than a distant contingency.” Of these the A.V. by rendering, “I am at the point to die,” chooses the third.” (Alford.)—
Genesis 25:34. Bread and pottage of lentiles.] Heb. “Food, even pottage of lentiles.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 25:29-34
THE SALE OF THE BIRTHRIGHT
In this transaction Esau is the marked man,—the warning example to all ages. His conduct has given rise to the established expression which denotes the barter of honour and fame for some passing pleasure, some present satisfaction of gross appetite; and in a higher application it denotes that worldly temper by which a man parts with eternal treasures for the sake of the fleeting treasures of this present world. Esau may be regarded as the founder of the Epicurean sort, of all whose motto and philosophy of life is, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” Such is the chief lesson of this history. But this history, considered in itself, shows us that both the parties to this bargain are to blame. It was an unrighteous business, and altogether discreditable to the two brothers engaged in it. This is evident if we,—
I. Consider the parties engaged in this transaction as ordinary members of society.
1. As to Jacob’s conduct.
(1) It was marked by unkindness unworthy of a brother. Esau came tired and hungry from the violent toil of the hunter’s field. The food which so seasonably appealed to his appetite, and for which he craved so pathetically, was prepared by his brother’s hands who did not need it now. It was natural and seemly that one brother should ask food of another; and surely no one worthy of that name would refuse, especially in the extreme of necessity. To drive a hard bargain at such a time was most infamous. And even if it was necessary at all to bargain, surely something less might have been demanded. Jacob might have been contented with some portion of the proceeds of the day’s chase. He grossly failed in the duty due to a brother. His conduct was most unfeeling.
(2) It was marked by low cunning. To take an unfair advantage of his brother’s need was a mean device.
2. As to Esau’s conduct.
(1) He abandoned himself to the delights and temptations of appetite. He saw the savoury food, and the language he used in asking for it shows how eager and craving was his hunger,—“Give me to eat, I pray thee, of the red, the red, the this” (Heb.). “Let me swallow some of that red, that red there” (Delitzsch). The present satisfaction of appetite overwhelmed all higher considerations, and sunk the nobility within him. We can scarcely regard him as being in very great straits for food, or really perishing for want. He was simply a tired and hungry man. There was surely some other food in his father’s house which he could have provided himself with. But he would have, at all costs, this savoury dish. He had, probably, been accustomed to indulge in the pleasures of the palate so much as to render his principle weak in the hour of temptation from this source.
(2) He was lacking in a true sense of honour and nobility. Had he possessed the honour of a man of the world, such as he was, he would have spurned such a pitiful proposal as this, and preferred a crust of bread and a cup of water to dainties offered to him on such conditions. He would have indignantly rebuked the meanness which dared to make such a proposal. If he had any nobility left in him he should have maintained his position in the family, at any inconvenience to himself.
(3) He was unconcerned for the peace of the future. The transaction of this day could not fail to be a source of endless trouble for his family in the future, giving rise to disputes and bitter recriminations. It would tend to perpetuate enmities, and revive continually the flames of jealousy.
II. Consider the parties engaged in this transaction as religious men.
1. As to Jacob’s conduct.
(1) It was irreverent. This birthright was a sacred thing, dignified with a religious importance; yet Jacob, in a most profane manner, mixes it up with things secular. He makes it a commercial business of the meanest order. And this irreverence is all the more manifest if we consider (what is highly probable), that Jacob does not appear, from the subsequent history, to have enjoyed the rights of the firstborn in any temporal sense. If he then considered the birthright as a spiritual privilege, why does he think to purchase it with money? Is the inheritance of the heavenly Canaan to be bought for a mess of pottage?
(2) It showed a want of faith in God. By the Divine oracle Jacob knew that he was the chosen heir to the highest privileges of the birthright. But he used human means for bringing about the purposes of God. He showed a want of faith in not trusting God to accomplish His own designs. Infinite wisdom has no need of our crude suggestions and poor help. Faith is content to rest upon the promise, and to wait. It is no part of our duty to go out of our way for the purpose of fulfilling prophecy.
(3) It was contrary to the broad free spirit of true piety. No truly pious soul could think of making a purely spiritual matter the subject of bargain and sale.
2. As to Esau’s conduct.
(1) It showed a powerlessness to resist temptation. He was tired and hungry, and this savoury dish meeting his eye at such a time became a strong temptation. When he hears the artful conditions proposed, instead of resisting the tempter, he yields easily and speaks contemptuously of his birthright (Genesis 25:34). Such men may have much good nature in their dispositions, and be equal to the practice of easy virtues, but they are weak in the hour of temptation.
(2) It was profane. This is the special point upon which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews insists (Hebrews 12:16). He regards Esau as the type of a “profane” or worldly man. (a) He preferred the present to the future. The mess of pottage was there before him, all ready for his enjoyment. The high privileges of his birthright were far away in the future. The claims of the future are vague and indistinct in worldly minds; but those of the present are vivid and powerful, prevailing over every other. This preference of the present to the future is the very essence of worldliness. (b.) He preferred the sensual to the spiritual. The sense of the pure and exalted blessings of the birthright was weak in him, but the desire for carnal indulgence was strong. Such is the temper of the children of this world, and such their choice. The claims of the flesh are paramount. (c.) He preferred the near and certain to the distant and probable. The mess of pottage was before him. There was no question but that it was a present and certain good. He could make sure of it. But the promised advantages of the birthright were far away. He might not live to enjoy them. “Behold,” he said, “I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” (Genesis 25:32.) A distant and spiritual good can only be realised by a strong faith. With most of the children of this world the things of heaven are either not thought of at all, or they come to be regarded as a great perhaps. The things of this world have the important advantage that they are sure. We know beyond all chance of mistake when we possess them. Such is the tyranny which this present world exercises over its children. Unless a strong deliverer comes to our rescue and saves us, we cannot escape from this house of bondage.
ESAU’S CONTEMPT OF HIS BIRTHRIGHT IMPROVED
“Lest there be any profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.”
A “profane” person is one who despises or makes light of sacred and Divine things,—as the name, day, or Word of God, His ways and people. “As Esau,” who, though the firstborn of Isaac, circumcised, and partaking of the worship of that holy family, was yet profane. His sin was his making light of the birthright and the blessings annexed to it. “The firstborn, as the root of the people of God, conveyed to his posterity all the blessings promised in the Covenant; such as a right to possess the land of Canaan, and to be the father of Him in whom all the nations were to be blessed, and to explain and confirm these promises to his children in his dying blessing to them.” (Macknight.) These great advantages did Esau profanely despise, and when afterwards “he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected.” Having lived, it seems, forty or fifty years in careless unconcern, he at length began to perceive how unwise a part he had acted, and sought to alter his father’s mind but found no means of doing it, though “he sought it carefully with tears” (Genesis 27:38). Let us consider—
I. Whether there be not a birthright, which we may sell; or blessings to the enjoyment of which we are born, but which we may forfeit. If we compare our state with that of the inferior creatures, and consider ourselves first as human beings, we shall find we are born to privileges far beyond any they are capable of possessing. We are rational, and capable of that knowledge of God, of His nature and attributes, His works and ways, which they have no capacity of attaining; knowledge which enlightens and enlarges, refines and purifies, entertains and delights; nay, and even feasts the mind. But this blessing we may sell. We are capable of loving Him, and being beloved by Him peculiarly, which they are not. The felicity of fixing our esteem and love on an adequate and worthy object, and of knowing ourselves to be noticed, regarded, and loved by a Being infinitely great and good!—this also we may sell. We are born capable of resembling Him, of bearing His image and likeness, which no inferior creature is. (Genesis 1:26-27.) The glory and happiness of resembling the first and best of Beings!—this also we may sell. We are born capable of fellowship with Him; but how many rest contented without it? Compare our state with that of the fallen angels, and consider us as sinners fallen, but redeemed by the life and death of the Son of God: in consequence of which we are born to enjoy blessings which they are precluded from. (Hebrews 2:16.) Compare our state with that of the heathen, and consider us, called Christians, as born within the pale of the visible Church; and we are born to the privilege of having the Word and ordinances of God, and all the means of grace, in which the heathens have no share. Compare the condition of such as are the children of religious parents, or whose lot is cast among the wise and pious with those who are not so: and consider the privileges of a religious education. Compare the state of those who have obtained a spiritual birth with that of the rest of mankind. And yet these various birthrights, and all the blessings included in them, may be sold.
II. For what consideration they who sell this birthright part with it. “For one morsel of meat”—For sin,—perhaps for one single besetting sin,—as drunkenness, uncleanness, injustice, defrauding, over-reaching, or dishonest gain.—There may be in the carnal heart a desire for this, as in the body an appetite for food, and it may appear desirable, useful, and even necessary; but it is only “one morsel of meat,” its pleasure unsatisfying, and of short duration. The appetite returns as eager as before, and the vicious principle is nourished and increased, and becomes daily more unruly.—For the world, “the desire of the flesh.” The gratifications of sense, the appetite and passion, in eating, drinking, and such like animal gratifications. This is parting with our birthright; which we have above the inferior creatures, viz., the dignity, glory, and felicity of our rational and immortal nature, for the pleasures of brutes; nay, for pleasures which many of them enjoy in greater perfection than we.—“The desire of the eye;” pleasing the eye of the body or of the mind with laying up money, with dress, furniture, planting, building, etc., with things grand, new, and beautiful. This is also unsatisfying, and of short duration. It is parting with heaven for earth, eternity for time, the Creator for the creature. It is parting with an infinite good for what is only at best finite, but is very small, if it be not rather an evil than a good; an eternal for a temporal one; a good belonging to, and necessary for, the soul, the better part of man, for one belonging to the body, the worse part. In other words, it is selling our birthright for “one morsel of meat.”—“The pride of life:” the pomp, show and glitter of the present world; glory, honour, preferment, the praise of men; the gratification of pride, self-will, discontent, impatience, anger, malice, envy, revenge. This is parting with the pleasures of the saint or angel, for (not the pleasures, for pleasures they have none), but for the miseries of a devil. It is selling our birthright, not for one or many morsels of meat, but doses of poison; for what is sure to disorder, enfeeble, and destroy us. Now all this proceeds from, and manifests PROFANENESS. To be profane, taking the word actively, is, to make light of, and despise spiritual and Divine things, which men do because of their ignorance of them; their unbelief; their insensibility, and hardness of heart (Romans 2:4-5); their carnal, earthly, and devilish mind. To be profane, taken passively, implies a person or place separated, or cast out from the society of things sacred. So holy things are said to be profaned when the veneration due to them is taken off, and they are exposed to common use and contempt. Thus those who reject, neglect, or treat with contempt their spiritual privileges and blessings, are already, like things common or unclean, cast out from the society of things and persons sacred and holy. Continuing to be so, they shall be everlasting outcasts from God, and shall find “no place of repentance, though they seek it with tears” (Matthew 7:22-23; Matthew 25:11; Luke 13:25-28).—[Rev. J. Benson’s Sermons, and plans.]
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 25:29. What a trifing circumstance in human life may lead to the greatest consequences!
Jacob had become a sage in the practical comforts of life. This pottage is a very common dish in that country. It is made of different grain or lentiles bruised and boiled as a broth. There was a red pottage, made chiefly of a red grain. While Jacob had this pottage fresh Esau comes in from hunting, and is faint and weary.—(Jacobus.)
Our appetites expose us to the dangers of temptation, both when they want and when they are satisfied. The greater portion of the trials of human life arise from this question of food.
The people of the East are exceedingly fond of pottage. It is something like gruel, and is made of various kinds of grain, which are first beaten in a mortar. For such a contemptible mess, then, did Esau sell his birthright. When a man has sold his fields or gardens for an insignificant sum, the people say, “The fellow has sold his land for pottage.” Does a father give his daughter in marriage to a low caste man, it is observed, “He has given her for pottage.” Does a person by base means seek for some paltry enjoyment, it is said, “For one leaf (i.e., leafful) of pottage he will do nine days’ work.” Has a learned man stooped to do anything which was not expected from him, it is said, “The learned one has fallen into the pottage pot.” Has he given instruction or advice to others, “The lizard which gave warning to the people has fallen into the pottage pot.” Of a man in great poverty it is remarked, “Alas! he cannot get pottage.” A beggar asks, “Sir, will you give me a little pottage?” Does a man seek to acquire large things by small means, “He is trying to procure rubies by pottage.” When a person greatly flatters another, it is common to say, “He praises him only for his pottage.” Does a king greatly oppress his subjects, it is said, “He only governs for his pottage.” Has an individual lost much money by trade, “The speculation has broken his pottage pot.” Does a rich man threaten to ruin a poor man, the latter will ask, “Will the lightning strike my pottage pot?”—(Roberts.)
Genesis 25:30. Let me feed now on that red, red broth. He does not know how to name it. The lentile is common in the country, and forms a cheap and palatable dish of a reddish brown colour, with which bread seems to have been eaten. The two brothers were not congenial. They would therefore act each independently of the other, and provide each for himself. Esau was no doubt occasionally rude and hasty. Hence a selfish habit would grow up and gather strength. He was probably wont to supply himself with such fare as suited his palate, and might have done so on this occasion without any delay. But the fine flavour and high colour of the mess, which Jacob was preparing for himself, takes his fancy, and nothing will do but the red, red. Jacob obviously regarded this as a rude and selfish intrusion on his privacy and property, in keeping with similar encounters that may have taken place between the brothers.—(Murphy).
Esau becomes Edom, and therefore, still the more remains Esau merely; Jacob, on the other hand, becomes Israel (Ch. Genesis 32:28). Jacob is the man of hope. The possession that he greatly desires is of a higher order; hopes depending on the birthright. He never strives alter the lower birthright privileges. Esau’s insight into the future extended to his death only. But Jacob is as eager for the future as Esau is for the present.—(Lange).
Esau gained a second title to his name, as Jacob did afterwards (Genesis 27:36). Thus the same name may owe its application to more than one occasion; and it is most important to remember this fact in reading these early histories.
Genesis 25:31. These are the principal privileges which constituted the distinction of the firstborn:
(1) They were peculiarly given and consecrated to God (Exodus 22:29).
(2) They stood next in honour to their parents (Genesis 49:3).
(3) Had a double portion in the paternal inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17).
(4) Succeeded in, the government of the family or kingdom (2 Chronicles 21:3).
(5) Were honoured with the office of the priesthood, and the administration of the public worship of God. The phrase “firstborn,” therefore, was used to denote one who was peculiarly near and dear to his father (Exodus 4:22), and higher than his brethren, (Psalms 89:28); and typically pointed to Christ and all true Christians, who are joint heirs with Him to an eternal inheritance, and constitute the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). It should be understood that previously to the establishment of a priesthood under the law of Moses the firstborn had not only a preference in the secular inheritance, but succeeded exclusively to the priestly functions which had belonged to his father, in leading the religious observances of the family, and performing the simple religious rites of those patriarchal times. It is certainly possible, but not very likely, that in the emergency, Esau bartered all his birthright for a mass of pottage; but it seems more probable that Esau did not properly appreciate the value of the sacerdotal part of his birthright, and therefore readily transferred it to Jacob for a trifling present advantage. This view of the matter seems to be confirmed by St. Paul, who calls Esau a “profane person” for his conduct on this occasion; and it is rather for despising his spiritual than his temporal privileges that he seems to be liable to such an imputation.—(Bush.)
This brings to light a new cause of variance between the brothers. Jacob was no doubt aware of the prediction communicated to his mother that the elder should serve the younger. A quiet man like him would not otherwise have thought of reversing the order of nature and custom. In after times the right of primogeniture consisted in a double portion of the father’s goods (Deuteronomy 21:17), and a certain rank as the patriarch and priest of the house on the death of the father. But in the case of Isaac there was the far higher dignity of chief of the chosen family and heir of the promised blessing, with all the immediate temporal and eternal benefits therein included. Knowing all this, Jacob is willing to purchase the birthright, as the most peaceful way of bringing about that supremacy which was destined for him. He is therefore cautious and prudent, even conciliating in his proposal. He availed himself of a weak moment to accomplish by consent what was to come. Yet he lays no necessity on Esau, but leaves him to his own free choice. We must therefore beware of blaming him for endeavouring to win his brother’s concurrence in a thing that was already settled in the purpose of God. His chief error lay in attempting to anticipate the arrangements of Providence.—(Murphy.)
The weakness and exhaustion of the body is a time of temptation. Jesus was tempted when He was “an hungred;” so was Esau. Jesus kept His birthright; Esau sold it away.
All temptations to worldliness resolve themselves into solicitations to sell our birthright. We were made for God and to show forth His glory, and to gain the distinctions and heritage of His children. If we serve the world we forfeit all this.
We have liberty to sell our heavenly birthright. It is a glorious gift this of liberty, but still an awful one.
Genesis 25:32. Just because of the faintness that came over him, and his extreme desire to partake of this food, he sees nothing in the future so pleasant as his present repast would be. It seems amazing that he should so have seriously judged and acted. But it is no more amazing than the conduct of men every day, who put their present trifling gratification before eternal blessings. Often, indeed, in more temporal matters, men will sell a promise to pay, or a bond that has a long time to run, for a very small sum, to expend upon present indulgence. They argue as Esau did. Perhaps the idea was included that he could not live on promises. He might die soon, and then the birthright would do him little good; and hence he would prefer a small pleasure in hand. Esau seems to have set no estimate upon the spiritual privileges of the birthright.—(Jacobus.)
1. The good things of this world are present—those of the other, remote and distant. Now, we know that a present good has a great advantage above a far distant and late reversion. A candle that is near affects us more than the sun a great way off. So it is in regard to distance of time—there is more force and virtue in one single now than in many hereafters. The good that is present opens itself all at once to the soul, and acts upon it with its full and entire force. But that which is future is seen by parts and in succession, and a great deal of it is not seen at all; like the rays of a too distant object which are too much dispersed before they arrive at us, and so most of them miss the eye. This makes the least present interest outweigh a very considerable reversion, since the former strikes upon us with the strong influence and warmth of the neighbouring sun, the latter with the faint and cold glimmerings of a twinkling star.
2. The good things of this world are sure and certain. That is, as far as we are concerned. Our senses inform us of this. As for the place of happiness, we have heard the fame thereof indeed with our ears, but have neither seen it ourselves, nor discoursed with those who have; and although it is assured to us with as much evidence as is consistent with the nature and virtue of faith, yet darkness and fear commonly go together, and men are generally very jealous and distrustful about things whereof they are ignorant. Though the principles of faith are in themselves as firm and firmer than those of science, yet to us ’tis not so evident; nor do we ever assent so strongly to what we believe as to what we know.
3. The good things of this world strike upon the most tender and impressible part of us—our senses. They tempt us, as the devil did Adam, in our weaker part, through the Eve of our natures. A sensible representation even of the vanity of the world would work more with us than the discourse of an angel about it; and I question not but that Alexander the Great was more inwardly affected when he saw the ruins of the grave of Cyrus, when he saw so great power reduced to such narrow limits, such majesty seated on such a throne; the monarch of Asia hid, or rather lost in an obscure cave, a stone for his bed, cobwebs for his tapestry, and all his pomp and glory turned into night and darkness; I say, he was more convinced of the vanity of greatness by this lively appeal to his senses than he ever was or could be by all the grave lectures of his master, Aristotle. The Devil, when he tempted the Son of God, might have entertained him with fine discourses about the wealth and glory of the terrestrial globe, and have read Him a geographical lecture upon the kingdoms and empires of it, but he knew his advantage better than that, and chose rather to draw a visionary landscape before him, and present him with a sensible idea of all this, knowing by old experience how much more apt the senses are to take impression than any other faculty of man.—(Norris).
These two lads are figures—Passion, of the men of this world, and Patience of the men of that which is to come; for, as here thou seest, Passion will have all now, this year; that is to say, in this world. So are the men of this world: they must have all their good things now. They cannot stay till next year, that is, until the next world, for their portion of good. That proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” is of more authority with them than all the Divine testimonies of the good of the world to come. But as thou sawest that he had quickly lavished all away, and had presently left him nothing but rags, so it will be with all such men at the end of this world.—(Bunyan.)
Men seldom abstain from anything they are anxious to do for want of some excuse, on the ground of expediency or necessity to justify it. So it was with Esau. He was willing to part with his birthright to obtain this food, though he was too well aware of the value of his inheritance to alienate it without presenting to himself the semblance of a reason for so unequal a barter. He therefore makes the exposedness of his condition a pretence for the step. With this flimsy apology he endeavours to hide from himself the infatuation of his conduct. The spirit of his language was, “I cannot live upon promises; give me something to eat and drink, for to-morrow I die.” Such is the spirit of unbelief in every age; and thus it is that poor deluded souls continue to despise things distant and heavenly, preferring to them the momentary gratifications of flesh and sense.—(Bush.)
Genesis 25:33. With fickle men make all firm and fast.—(Trapp.)
Jacob will make a serious transaction of it, because he is alive to its import, and knew and valued what he was getting, as Esau did not value it. And so the transaction was solemnly concluded. Jacob held the birthright by a lawful tenure, and the transfer was valid. How many baptized youth sell their Christian birthright for such a mess of pottage! For present indulgence they turn their back upon Church privileges, and their covenant heritage, and barter away their future all.—(Jacobus.)
There was never any meat, except the forbidden fruit, so dear bought as this broth of Jacob: in both, the receiver and the eater is accursed. Every true son of Israel will be content to purchase spiritual favours with earthly, and that man hath in him too much of the blood of Esau who will not rather die than forego his birthright.—(Bishop Hall.)
Genesis 25:34. It would have been a strong proof of his indifference to religious privileges had he sold them for all the riches that Jacob could have given him in return; but what can be thought of the infatuation of throwing them away for so very a trifle? How justly does the Apostle, writing as moved by the Holy Ghost, affix the epithet “profane” to the character of the man who “for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” It may, indeed, be said that it was unjust and unkind in Jacob to take advantage of his brother’s necessity and thoughtlessness, but still this affords no real palliation of the conduct of Esau. The scriptures nowhere represent Jacob as a perfect character. There is no apology for Esau, whose criminality was enhanced by his evincing no remorse on account of what he had done. He expressed no regret for his folly, nor made any overtures to his brother to induce him to cancel the bargain. On the contrary, it is said that “he did eat and drink, and rose up and went his way,” as if he were perfectly satisfied with the equivalent, such as it was, which he had obtained. But let us not forget how many there are that virtually justify his deed by following his example. Though living in an economy of light and love, yet what numbers are there who manifest the same indifference about spiritual blessings, and the same insatiate thirst after sensual indulgence as did Esau! The language of their conduct is, “Give me the gratification of my desires; I must have it, whatever it cost me. If I cannot have it but at the peril of my soul, so be it. Let my hope in Christ be destroyed; let my prospect of heaven be for ever darkened; only give me the indulgence which my lusts demand.” Thus they go on in their worldly career regardless of consequences; they do not acknowledge and bewail their sin and folly; they do not repent and pray for pardon; they do not resort to the means which God in mercy has provided for the forgiveness of offenders. Alas, what a fearfully close resemblance in all this to the mad career of their prototype. We can only earnestly beseech all such to reflect deeply on their folly and danger, and to contemplate that moment when they shall be “at the point to die.” Let them think what judgment they will then form of earthly and eternal things. Will they then say contemptuously, “What profit will this birthright be to me?” Will it then appear a trifling matter to have an interest in the Saviour, and a title to heaven?—(Bush.)
Esau was the type of the carna man. He is the man of unbelief, as Jacob is the man of faith. He proves himself by his conduct to be unfit for the birthright, and so the plan of God is justified. We are all, like Esau, heirs of the election until we forfeit it.
Frivolity is the mark of the carnal mind. The children of this world “eat and drink, and rise up to play,” regardless of the claims of God, and of the future.
“Thus Esau despised his birthright.” He counted all the precious blessings of the covenant, both temporal and spiritual, as of less value than a mess of pottage. And thus men despise their spiritual birthright by practically reckoning it as nought.
The privileges of our election are not taken away from us until we learn first to despise them.