The Life of Esau and Jacob
Chapter 35 told the story of Isaac and Rebekah and the arrangement of their wedding. A significant factor about this chapter was that it contained the types for Christ and the church in Isaac and Rebekah.
Another type in the story was that of the Holy Spirit and the church seen in the actions of Abraham's messenger and how he found and brought the bride to Isaac, much like the Holy Spirit seeks the church (through the gospel) and prepares her to be brought to Christ on the last day.
In the end, Isaac and Rebekah are married and the chapter closes out with this scene.
The next chapters in Genesis will lead us through the final days of Abraham and the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise as Isaac and Rebekah begin having children.
The Death of Abraham – 25:1-10
Abraham was 140 when Isaac married Rebekah and moved southward to Lahai-roi. He is now left alone and so he remarries. His new wife's name is Keturah (covered with incense). The Bible records that they had six sons in the next 35 years. The descendants of these eventually merged with other tribes to form the Arab nation.
5Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; 6but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east.
7These are all the years of Abraham's life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. 8Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. 9Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, 10the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife.
Note that although they are his children and he provides for each of them, the bulk of his wealth and the promise goes to Isaac.
Abraham dies at 175 and is buried by his two sons who have since reconciled. "Gathered to his people" suggests that he went to be with other believers that came before him. It cannot mean the Jewish race because he is the first; it cannot mean his family because he has left them and disassociated himself from them. He is buried with Sarah in the burial spot that he purchased.
Transition – vs. 11-18
The next six verses list the generations of Ishmael and his death at 137. Isaac's record ends here and another writer begins to record the history of the family and God's dealings with it. We probably begin reading Jacob's record from this point on. Isaac writes Abraham's record, Jacob writes Isaac's, etc.
Esau and Jacob – vs. 19-34
19Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22But the children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is so, why then am I this way?" So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23The Lord said to her,
"Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger."
Again the mother of the promised seed needs prayer to conceive (God wants us to pray even for things promised). There is more fetal activity than normal and God reveals that it is because each child represents a nation that will struggle with the other.
The custom was that the older son receive a larger portion, be head of the home when the father died and be first to receive the inheritance.
God chooses the younger son to receive the promise in this case, which is nothing new. Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David were younger sons who were chosen by God because God knew their character and abilities in advance and offered them the opportunity to serve. They could have refused (Saul refused; Judas refused).
24When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.
The twins are born and are named in accordance with their appearance:
- Esau means hairy because of his robust and strong appearance.
- Jacob means heel catcher, supplanter, which refers to his tenaciousness and toughness (never give up type).
Isaac is 60 years old (20 years after his marriage) when they are finally born.
The Birthright – vs. 27-34
The following is a brief but telling description of the development of these two brothers:
- A cunning hunter
- No virtue here because there was plenty of food and meat, no game overpopulation or wild beasts threatening.
- He was a sportsman (and later we find out, a fornicator).
- Uninterested in spiritual things, the family business, leadership.
- Isaac favored him in the same way a father may favor a son who is a general goof-off but is a good athlete.
- Plain does not mean dull or uninteresting, it means serious-minded, responsible, mature.
- He lived at home, took care of the family business, was a believer in God and the promise (he wanted it so he believed in it).
- His mother, a spiritual woman, recognized this in him and knew that God had said that Jacob would inherit the promise so she favored and encouraged him.
29When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30and Esau said to Jacob, "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished." Therefore his name was called Edom. 31But Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." 32Esau said, "Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?" 33And Jacob said, First swear to me"; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Esau returns from his hunting trip hungry and smells the stew cooking. He could have taken a moment to cook and prepare something but when Jacob offered food in exchange for his birthright he agreed.
The birthright was the blessing on the older son that included a double portion of wealth, leadership in the family, responsibility as spiritual head as well. Esau was not interested in leadership, responsibilities or spiritual things, only the double portion which he figured was so far off as to not be of any use so he agreed to trade the blessing for food. Note that the Bible does not condemn Jacob, it condemns Esau: he despised his birthright. Jacob wanted it so he was willing to deal for it. Esau did not care so he gave it away.
God does not condemn Jacob because his fault was a lack of faith in allowing God to work out His promise. Esau is condemned because he had no faith (better weak or impatient faith than no faith at all).
Jacob wanted the right thing for the right reasons but he went about it in the wrong way and as a result deepened the estrangement that already existed between himself and his brother, and with time between himself and his father.
Isaac vs. the Philistines – Chapter 26
1Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2The Lord appeared to him and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. 3Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. 4I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws."
- Genesis 26:1-5
Isaac lived in the south and as a famine covered the land, he moved closer to the coast where the Philistines lived with the intention of going to Egypt.
God's appearance to him suggests several things:
- A warning that he is not to leave the land of Canaan (he did not leave to find a wife, and should not leave now).
- A word of encouragement in the repeating of the original promise made to Abraham. Isaac had lived an abundant life and this suffering was new to him, he needed reminding of God's promise, the circumstances had changed but God's promise remained the same. Perhaps Isaac's attitude towards Esau was an indication of his weak faith and this episode was a way of bolstering it.
- A word of rebuke. God refers to Abraham's faith and obedience and not Isaac's as a basis for what he is doing. When Abraham was alive, God referred to his own obedience and faith not that of his predecessors.
Verses 6-11 recount an interesting episode where Isaac lies to protect himself. He uses the same deception as Abraham by telling the Philistine king that Rebekah is his sister. The king finds out and rebukes him for endangering his people in this way but offers him protection.
12Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the Lord blessed him, 13and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; 14for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. 15Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. 16Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us."
What is more interesting is that even after this lapse, God blesses Isaac, not for his weakness but because he said that He would take care of him and despite Isaac's fear and failure, God cared for him anyway by blessing him in an abundant manner, to the point where Isaac grew more powerful than the king who protected him. Perhaps the point being that when the Lord protects you, you do not have to lie and cheat in order to obtain the king's protection.
In verses 17-22, Isaac was asked to leave the Philistine country because he was so powerful. In this passage you see him slowly edging away from Philistine land.
He would move and dig a well but the locals would claim it. Instead of fighting, he would move further away. When a second well was also claimed he moved until he could dig a well that no one would claim. This well he named "the well of ample room."
23Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24The Lord appeared to him the same night and said,
"I am the God of your father Abraham;
Do not fear, for I am with you.
I will bless you, and multiply your descendants,
For the sake of My servant Abraham."
25So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants dug a well.
This is the only time Isaac is seen building an altar and calling upon God.
His comfortable life interrupted by famine; moral failure before Abimelech; the necessity of having to move over and over again drives Isaac to his knees in prayer and he calls upon God for help. His prayer is answered as God appears and confirms His blessing and protection of Isaac.
In verses 26-33, Abimelech, the king of the Philistines comes to Isaac to make a peace treaty with him.
- Isaac is rich and growing more powerful.
- Recent frictions may create resentments that he wants settled.
- He has treated them well and wants this to be the basis for their treaty.
They agree and make a covenant of peace together at the same spot where Abraham and a former Philistine king had done so a hundred years earlier.
34When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
This verse serves as a bridge to get back to the family story which we will continue in chapter 27.
1. Be careful what you give away
Esau did not recognize the value of what he had and foolishly traded it away for a bowl of stew. Young people sometimes give away their opportunities for a moment of sexual or mental pleasure through drugs (we are always warning them about that). However, we need to be careful that we not give away some of our advantages too. Adults have a natural respect and influence quotient but sometimes trade that away because what we say is inconsistent with what we do. Christians sometimes give away their peace of mind with God because they are curious or nostalgic about worldliness. Salvation is free but if you throw it away you cannot buy it back.
2. You never suffer in vain
When trouble and suffering comes, we may not deserve it, understand it or even be well equipped to deal with it. However, it is never in vain. God had a purpose for Isaac's trials and He has a purpose for all of our trials as well. The suffering or trial may not make sense in itself, but God can make sense of it; in His hands suffering will take on purpose and meaning as well as a blessing, in many cases.
3. A promise is a promise
God made a promise to both Abraham and Isaac and He continued to honor it. God's promises are not based on our performance or ability, they are guaranteed by God's power and goodness. Both father and son failed in the same way. God continued to keep His promise to them, nevertheless. The key is to never stop trusting that God will provide, and that trust will become evident in your life as you grow in faith and obedience.
- How was the writer of Genesis able to describe Abraham's life as, "an old man and satisfied with life" or "full of years" (Genesis 25:7) and how can we achieve that in our lives?
- Which phase or event in Abraham's life stands out most to you as one that you can identify with or learn the most from?
- Discuss how Isaac praying for his wife to conceive demonstrates faith, and how this differs from Sarah's plan to resolve her inability to conceive.
- Why would God choose Jacob to inherit the birthright of Isaac rather than the first-born son, Esau?
- Review Genesis 26 and answer the following questions:
- Why did Isaac enter into an agreement with the King of the Philistines?
- What was the result of Isaac living in Gerar?
- What was the ultimate blessing provided by God to Isaac and why?
- What can we learn from this?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?