The Death of Abraham

25:1 Abraham had taken another wife, named Keturah. 25:2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 25:3 Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. The descendants of Dedan were the Asshurites, Letushites, and Leummites. 25:4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.

‘In Genesis 25-36 the focus shifts from Abraham to his grandson Jacob with a few side glimpses of Isaac. The lengthy Jacob cycle is framed by the genealogies of two individuals who are not a part of the chosen  line-Ishmael (25:12-18) and Esau (36:1-43). Hamilton sees a basic theme in this cycle: (1) the need for transformation (25:19-28:9); (2) preparation for transformation (28:10-32:21); (3) transformation (32:22-32); and (4) the results of the transformation (33:1-36:40).’ (OT Survey)

Another wife, named Keturah – According to 1 Chron 1:32, Keturah was Abraham’s concubine.  One solution to this apparent discrepancy is to acknowledge that there were different levels of marriage, with ‘concubine’ representing a lower level.

‘This is the only passage in Genesis that mentions Keturah. Here she is called Abraham’s wife, but in 1 Chr. 1:32 she is identified as “Abraham’s concubine.” This coidentification is comparable with Bilhah, who is called both Jacob’s concubine (Gen 35:22) and Jacob’s wife (Gen 30:4). By contrast, Zilpah is identified as Jacob’s wife (Gen 30:9) but never as his concubine. If “by concubines” in Gen 25:6 is a reference to Hagar and Keturah . . . then again both Hagar (Gen 16:3) and Keturah (Gen 25:1) are called “wife” in one place but “concubine” in another (Gen 25:6).’ (Hamilton)

25:5 Everything he owned Abraham left to his son Isaac. 25:6 But while he was still alive, Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them off to the east, away from his son Isaac.
25:7 Abraham lived a total of 175 years. 25:8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man who had lived a full life. He joined his ancestors. 25:9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar, the Hethite. 25:10 This was the field Abraham had purchased from the sons of Heth. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 25:11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac. Isaac lived near Beer Lahai Roi.

v9 Notwithstanding the oft-repeated promise to Abraham, he himself did not any more of the Promised Land than a grave.

The Sons of Ishmael

25:12 This is the account of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham.
25:13 These are the names of Ishmael’s sons, by their names according to their records: Nebaioth (Ishmael’s firstborn), Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 25:14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 25:15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 25:16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names by their settlements and their camps—twelve princes according to their clans.
25:17 Ishmael lived a total of 137 years. He breathed his last and died; then he joined his ancestors. 25:18 His descendants settled from Havilah to Shur, which runs next to Egypt all the way to Asshur. They settled away from all their relatives.

Jacob and Esau

Wenham observes that this account is indispensable for understanding some of the later stories.  ‘Even before birth they are locked in conflict, a feature that will dominate much of the following narratives (chaps. 27, 32–33). And into this conflict will be dragged their parents, as the father favors Esau and the mother Jacob (vv 27–28; cf. chap. 27). Finally, the carelessness of Esau in selling his birthright to Jacob both shows a preliminary fulfillment of the divine promise that “the older will be a slave of the younger” (v 23) and anticipates the much greater victories Jacob will win in the years ahead (vv 29–34; cf. chap. 27; 32–33).’

25:19 This is the account of Isaac, the son of Abraham.

Wenham remarks that this heading covers a major section of Genesis, right up to Gen 35:29 (even though Isaac, though nominally the head of the family up until that point is himself is barely mentioned after chapter 27).

Concerning Isaac, we read relatively little in Scripture.  ‘Isaac seems not to have been a man of action, nor much tried, but to have spent his days in quietness and silence.’ (MHC)

Abraham became the father of Isaac. 25:20 When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.
25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 25:22 But the children struggled inside her, and she said, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!” So she asked the LORD, 25:23 and the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples will be separated from within you.
One people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”

Isaac prayed to the Lord…The Lord answered his prayer…[Rebekah] asked the Lord, and the Lord said to her… – The Lord appears only in the first part of the narrative.

The mention of Isaac’s prayer ‘is surely an understatement, representing years of persistent intercession.’ (Baldwin)

Baldwin observes that, just as Abraham and Sarah had to wait many long years for a child, so did Isaac and Rebekah.  We should not suppose that to be recipients of God’s promises means that the receipt of his blessing will be plain sailing.  ‘It is no vain thing to trust the Lord, but faith involves being shut up to God’s way and God’s time, and demands much patience.’  Christians young and old need to learn this lesson, in order to save frustration and disappointment.  Like the writer of Psa 89, we must learn to live by faith, and not by sight.

‘Though God had promised to multiply his family, he prayed for its increase; for God’s promises must not supersede, but encourage, our prayers, and be improved as the ground of our faith.’ (MHC)

The Lord answered his prayer – but only after a 20-year wait!

She was childless – once again raising the question of how the Lord would fulfil his promise to Abraham, that he would become the father of many nations.  What had happened to the blessing of Gen 24:60?

‘she is childless, and that, as chaps. 12–20 showed, is a miserable condition for any woman in ancient society, let alone one who has been promised a multitude of children. For nearly twenty years she suffered until the LORD heeded her husband’s prayers and she conceived. But the happiness of motherhood was clouded by the agonies of carrying twins, so that she wondered if life was worth living.’ (Wenham)

The children struggled inside her – It was a violent struggle.  The same word is used for heads beings smashed together, Judg 9:53; Psa 74:14).

She said, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!” – And this after 20 years of childlessness.  The unborn babies’ battle foreshadowed their lifelong antagonism toward each other.

Be careful what you ask for!  ‘Before, the want of children was her trouble, now, the struggle of the children is no less so.’ (MHC)

‘The comforts we are most desirous of are sometimes found to bring along with them more occasion of trouble and uneasiness that we thought of; vanity being written upon all things under the sun.’ (MHC)

‘How often it has occurred since that day that God’s children have received answers from him very different from what they have expected, and have experienced perplexity as to the meaning of the Divine discipline!  Sometimes in the pathway of duty, when the soul is sincerely conscious of uprightness and whole-hearted consecration to God, there is trouble, trial, difficulty and anxiety.  A man believes he has been right in following a certain pathway, only to find himself surrounded by almost overwhelming anxieties and difficulties.  the forces of evil seem more active than ever, and he begins to wonder whether he was right, after all, in doing what he has done.  Like Rebekah, he must again resort to God and seek out the divine will.’ (Griffith Thomas)

She asked the Lord – no doubt by consulting a prophet.

The Lord said – ‘This prefacing of each ‘family history’ with a word from God thus serves to highlight that every stage of the patriarchal history was guided by God. Despite the appalling mistakes of these fallible men, God’s purposes were ultimately fulfilled.’ (Wenham)

‘Through prophecy on the threshold of histories, God displays his sovereign control of Adam and Eve (3:15), of Noah’s descendants (9:25–27), of Abraham’s career (12:1–3), of Jacob and Esau (see also 27:27–29, 39–40), and of Joseph (37:1–11).’ (Waltke & Fredricks)

Candlish argues that this prophecy to Rebekah must have become widely known in the family.  ‘And the knowledge of the decree was really, to all the parties concerned, a proclamation of the gospel. It directed them to the quarter from whence the Saviour was to come. It pointed out Jacob as virtually for the time the representative of the Redeemer; and in him, the far-reaching eye of faith might have seen, with more or less distinctness, the day of Christ afar off. By that faith, accordingly, the household might have been regulated. If it had been so, all would have been benefited.’  Jacob, Candlish suggests, would have accepted the honour with humility, rather than with pride.  Esau would have accepted it without envy.  Indeed, ‘favouritism, partiality, rivalry, deceit, strife—all might have been averted from this house, if only the declared and revealed counsel of God had been believed and acted upon.’

But (Candlish continues) it was not so.  ‘In Jacob, a selfish and self-righteous spirit appropriated the covenant-blessing as a matter, not of grace, but of right. It became, in his eyes, a personal distinction, to be vindicated by the usual methods of worldly force or fraud. The fitful mind of Esau alternated between moody and sullen discontent on the one hand, and those softer relentings on the other—those gushes of childlike tenderness—those outbursts of passionate grief—to which the most rugged nature is often most easily moved and melted. A mother’s fond partiality made Rebekah turn the oracle, given as a ground of spiritual faith and hope, into a warrant for gratifying her own natural affections;—and tempted her to believe that in accomplishing God’s ends by her own craft, she was doing God service. While in regard to the patriarch Isaac himself—a man of God from his youth—a man of prayer—-what shall we say?

‘…Would that he had used his influence, and exerted his parental authority, to enforce compliance with the oracle in its true spiritual meaning! Then he might have removed all occasion of self-righteous complacency on the part of Jacob, as well as of dark jealousy on the part of Esau. Then he would have superseded, by a timely and equitable settlement, the whole wretched train of plots, stratagems, and wiles that make his household history so sad.

‘And at last, in his old age, he might have had something better than a remnant of earthly good to give, in answer to Esau’s pathetic pleading, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” True, he had but “one blessing,”—one real blessing worthy of the name—the blessing of Abraham with which he had just blessed Jacob. But the salvation that was to come through Abraham’s seed, though it was to be of Jacob, was yet to be for all that would believe. And in Jacob’s blessing—as the patriarch might have taught his weeping and groaning son—even he need not despair of having a share, if he will but believe. For “it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ cometh into the world to save sinners,” and thee, too, Esau, if thou canst but bring thyself to add,” of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. i. 15).

Candlish concludes: ‘The true secret of family peace is to be found in setting up Christ, and Christ alone, as all in all. Let father, mother, sisters, brothers, all submit themselves to Christ; and they will be ready in Christ to submit themselves to one another. Members of Christ’s body, and members one of another, they will together, as a household,” keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”’

“Two nations are in your womb” – Israel and Edom.

“One people will be stronger than the other” – Israel will dominate Edom.

“The older will serve the younger” – This will be seen in Jacob’s wily exploitation of a hungry Esau in order to secure the latter’s privileges as first-born.

This motif of the superiority of the younger over the older is also seen in the relationship between Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-5) and Joseph and his brothers (Gen 37:5-11).  ‘In directing human experiences in these ways God expressed his sovereignty, thereby countering human presumption and arrogance.’ (Hartley)

Greidanus (Preaching Christ From Genesis): ‘God has a history of choosing the younger over the older. He chose the younger Abel over Cain, the younger Isaac over Ishmael, here the younger Jacob over Esau, next the younger Joseph over his brothers, then the younger Ephraim over Manasseh, the younger David over his brothers, and the younger Solomon over the older Adonijah. This trail continues into the New Testament when God chooses Jesus—born in a stable, raised in despised Nazareth, poor and lowly—to be the Seed of the woman. And Jesus in turn chooses lowly disciples to be his representatives to the nations.’

Geidanus directs our attention to Jesus’ teaching: “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mt 19:30) and the accompanying parabolic teaching (Mt 20:1-16).  God’s choice of unlikely people extends even to us!  See also 1 Cor 1:26-31.

‘God is a free agent in dispensing his grace; it is his prerogative to make a difference between those who have not as yet themselves done either good or evil. This the apostle infers hence, Rom. 9:12.’ (MHC)

‘The oracle is against all conventional wisdom. It makes a profound theological claim. It affirms that we do not live in a world where all possibilities are kept open and we may choose our posture as we please. It does not deny freedom. But it requires us to speak also about destiny.’ (Brueggemann)

‘Why the younger son should have been chosen instead of the elder we do not know.  It is, however, very striking to find the same principle exercised on several other occasions.  It is pretty certain that Abraham was not the eldest son of Terah.  We know that Isaac was the younger son of Abraham, and that Joseph was not the eldest son of Jacob.  All this goes to emphasize the simple but significant fact that the order of nature is not necessarily the order of grace.  All through, God desired to display the sovereignty of his grace as contrasted with that which was merely natural in human life…Divine election is a fact, whether we can understand it or not.  God’s purposes are as certain as they are inscrutable, and it is perfectly evident from the case of Esau and Jacob that the Divine choice of men is entirely independent of their merits or of any pre-vision of they merits or attainments (Rom 9:11).’

25:24 When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 25:25 The first came out reddish all over, like a hairy garment, so they named him Esau. 25:26 When his brother came out with his hand clutching Esau’s heel, they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.

There were twins in her womb – ‘Long had Isaac prayed for a son; and now his wife is with child of two, to recompense him for his long waiting. Thus God often outdoes our prayers, and gives more than we are able to ask or think.’ (MHC)

The first came out reddish all over, like a hairy garment – There is a word-play here on ‘Edom’.

His brother came out with his hand clutching Esau’s heel – Already, Jacob is trying to gain an advantage over his brother.

‘In the  womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God.’ (Hos 12:3)

They named him Jacob – ‘One who grasps another’s heel; a supplanter’.

Summary of Jacob’s Life.  ‘Jacob’s life had four stages, each marked by a personal encounter with God. In the first stage, Jacob lived up to his name, which means “he grasps the heel” (figuratively, “he deceives”). He grabbed Esau’s heel at birth, and by the time he fled from home, he had also grabbed his brother’s birthright and blessing. During his flight, God first appeared to him. Not only did God confirm to Jacob his blessing, but he awakened in Jacob a personal knowledge of himself. In the second stage, Jacob experienced life from the other side, being manipulated and deceived by Laban. But there is a curious change: the Jacob of stage one would simply have left Laban, whereas the Jacob of stage two, after deciding to leave, waited six years for God’s permission. In the third stage, Jacob was in a new role as grabber. This time, by the Jordan River, he grabbed on to God and wouldn’t let go. He realized his dependence on the God who had continued to bless him. His relationship to God became essential to his life, and his name was changed to Israel, “he struggles with God.” Jacob’s last stage of life was to be grabbed  —  God achieved a firm hold on him. In responding to Joseph’s invitation to come to Egypt, Jacob was clearly unwilling to make a move without God’s approval.’ (Life Application)

‘Their descriptions poke fun at both: a hairy monster and a heel-clutcher.’ (Waltke & Fredricks)

Isaac was sixty years old when they were born – having been childless for the first 20 years of his marriage.

‘Though the accomplishment of God’s promise is always sure, yet it is often slow, and seems to be crossed and contradicted by Providence, that the faith of believers may be tried, their patience exercised, and mercies long waited for may be the more welcome when they come.’ (MHC)

‘The birth of the first child was a most significant event in a man’s life, so his age at the time is often recorded (Gen 5:3, 6, 9, 32; 11:26; 16:16; 21:5). It also shows, contrary to one’s initial impression on reading Gen 25:21, how long a period elapsed between Isaac’s intercession and Rebekah’s conception.’ (Wenham)

25:27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open fields, but Jacob was an even-tempered man, living in tents. 25:28 Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for fresh game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

The boys grew up – They were fifteen when Abraham has died.  So, as Waltke and Fredricks suppose, we can imagine the aged patriarch pointing to the the sky and to the land and telling them of God’s promises for the nations.  How significant it is, then, that we are led to picture Esau as compulsive, and Jacob as a schemer.

Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open fields, but Jacob…living in tents – Another indication of the conflict between then.

An even-tempered man – ‘civilised’ (Waltke & Fredricks).  What is described here is a ‘level-headed quality that made Jacob, at his best, toughly dependable, and at his worst a formidably cool opponent.’ (Kidner)

Isaac loved Esau…but Rebekah loved Jacob – Yet another indication of rivalry between the two brothers.  The parents have a preference for the child who is most like themselves.

‘The reason for [Rebekah’s] favoritism is not stated; it is left to our surmise. Was it his lifestyle, that he was easier to manipulate than his brother, that he was more often at home? Whatever her motives, the scene is now set for chap. 27, where Rebekah uses her husband’s appetite and Jacob’s tractability to acquire the blessing for the son she loves, yet thereby losing him. The brothers are already moving inexorably toward realizing the prophetic announcement of their division.’ (Wenham)

‘The silence of the Holy Spirit respecting all except this single fact is a solemn and emphatic warning. It is as if the Spirit meant to indicate that all the good of the godly rearing which these parents gave to their children was marred by the indulgence of their favouritism.’ (Candlish)

25:29 Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. 25:30 So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

This episode shows how the younger Jacob begins to make a slave of the older Esau. (Wenham)

This episode probably took place away from home (otherwise, Esau would have appealed to his parents for food).  Jacob was likely in charge of the shepherds, who would have been witnesses of the oath about to be made. (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

“Feed me some of the red stuff…because I’m starving!” – Why did Esau not ask his parents?  Possibly because this incident took place away from home.  It seems that Jacob was a herdsman, moving around from one grazing place to another (living, as v27 tells us, in tents).  Esau, the hunter, came across the camp.

‘Brotherly affection would surely demand that Jacob freely meet Esau’s needs.’ (Wenham)

Character is tested by little things

‘The supreme test of character is found in little things.  It seemed but a small matter, a feeling of hunger and a desire for food, and yet it was the means of testing and revealing Esau’s real character…How often in history have insignificant events been turning points of human lives!’ (Griffith Thomas)

‘The imperative necessity in life is to subdue the flesh to the spirit.  Esau failed to see, because he had lost the power to see, that the mind and soul need food as well as the body…No part of our complex nature must remain unnourished, but we must see to it that physical and even intellectual enjoyments do not dwarf and eventually kill the spiritual side of our being.  When the animal and spiritual collide, it will involve sacrifice if the spiritual is to be considered.  The little girl’s explanation of St. Paul “keeping under his body” was not far wrong: “by keeping his soul on top.”‘ (Griffith Thomas)

In this connection we may observe that it is often easy to see that a person has neglected, or over-indulged, his or her physical needs.  It is less easy to recognise a person has neglected his or her spiritual needs. Yet how much more important!

25:31 But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 25:32 “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?” 25:33 But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.

First sell me your birthright – Matthew Henry regards Jacob’s desire as ‘pious’.  However, Henry does not seeks to justify the exploitative way in which Jacob drove the bargain.  The point, surely, is that neither Esau nor Jacob deserved God’s grace.

Jacob sought to achieve a godly end (a birthright that he was entitled to) by ungodly means.  We are reminded of one who sought to to obtain the Holy Spirit’s power with money.

Wenham comments that Jacob’s reply is not only brusque but also ‘suggests long premeditation and a ruthless exploitation of his brother’s moment of weakness.’  Matthew Henry thinks it probable that ‘there had formerly been some communication between them about this matter, and then it was not so great a surprise upon Esau as here it seems to be; and, it may be, Esau had sometimes spoken slightly of the birthright and its appurtenances, which encouraged Jacob to make this proposal to him. And, if so, Jacob is, in some measure, excusable in what he did to gain his point.’

‘The birthright consisted of the special privileges that belonged to the firstborn male child in a family. Prominent among those privileges was a double portion of the estate as an inheritance. If a man had two sons, his estate would be divided into three portions, and the older son would receive two. If there were three sons, the estate would be divided into four portions, and the oldest son would receive two. The oldest son also normally received the father’s major blessing. Indeed, the Hebrew word for blessing (berakah) is virtually an anagram of the word that means both birthright and firstborn (bekorah). Legal continuation of the family line may also have been included among the privileges of the firstborn son. Deuteronomy 21:15-17 prohibited a father from playing favorites among his sons by trying to give the birthright to other than the firstborn.’ (Holman)

According to Wenham, the birthright only concern material possessions.  Chapter 27 will make it clear that Esau’s rank and position were not affected by this transaction.  However, the statement that Esau ‘despised’ his birthright strongly intimates that something more than money and land were involved.

‘Jacob, the master manipulator, perceived that Esau was too exhausted to value something as abstract as a birthright over tangible food at that moment. The skill with which Jacob handled the opportunity suggests that he had been pondering for some time how he might get the birthright.’ (Hartley)

Kidner cites some evidence that indicates that birthrights could be transferred, but scarcely for the price of a simple meal!

‘Jacob was an opportunist, not unlike those who run the lotteries, casinos, and pawn shops of our day. He had no scruples about taking advantage of someone’s foolishness or desperation and sucking the life out of him or her.’ (Strassner, Opening Up Genesis)

‘Esau was one of the most inconstant of men, everything by turns and nothing long, a shallow nature full of impulse and ungoverned feelings; today despising his birthright, tomorrow wanting it back’ today absolutely indiffierent, tomorrow sorrowing over his loss.  Jacob on the other hand was tenacious and persistent, and possessed a reserve of strength which, even though it was often directed into wrong channels, was in itself one of the most valuable features of human life.’ (Griffith Thomas)

Jacob said, “Swear and oath to me now” – ‘Confirming that he is cold and calculating, determined to cash in on his brother’s folly.’ (Wenham)

Rash decisions

‘Common sense isn’t all that common. In fact, the common thread in many decisions is that they don’t make sense. Esau’s life was filled with choices he must have regretted bitterly. He appears to have been a person who found it hard to consider consequences, reacting to the need of the moment without realizing what he was giving up to meet that need. Trading his birthright for a bowl of stew was the clearest example of this weakness. He also chose wives in direct opposition to his parents’ wishes. He learned the hard way.

‘What are you willing to trade for the things you want? Do you find yourself, at times, willing to negotiate anything for what you feel you need now? Do your family, spouse, integrity, body, or soul get included in these deals? Do you sometimes feel that the important parts of life escaped while you were grabbing for something else? If so, your initial response, like Esau’s, may be deep anger. In itself that isn’t wrong, as long as you direct the energy of that anger toward a solution and not toward yourself or others as the cause of the problem. Your greatest need is to find a focal point other than “what I need now.” The only worthy focal point is God. A relationship with him will not only give an ultimate purpose to your life; it will also be a daily guideline for living.’ (Life Application)

25:34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew; Esau ate and drank, then got up and went out. So Esau despised his birthright.
Mal 1:2f “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.”

Rom 9:10-13 ‘Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”’

Heb 12:16f ‘See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.’

Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew – Wenham says that Jacob did not give Esau the rich meaty stew he had seen and asked for, v30 (the word ‘red’ there implies just such a meaty meal), but a mere vegetarian dish!  ‘Fancy trading all those treasured rights of inheritance for a mere bowl of lentil soup. We are left to admire Jacob’s sharpness and wonder at Esau’s folly.’

Other commentators, however, do not draw a distinction between what Esau asked for and what his brother gave him.

Esau ate…drank…got up…went out – ‘This string of four verbs in succession, unusual in Hebrew, communicates that he ate the food quickly and left immediately.’ (Hartley)

‘Embracing the present and the tangible at any cost, going through with the choice (33) and walking away unconcerned (34)—incidentally far from dead, in spite of 32a—he earned the epithet of Hebrews 12:16: a ‘profane person’.’ (Kidner)

This meal was ‘as dear a morsel as ever was eaten since the forbidden fruit; and he lived to regret it when it was too late.’ (MHC)

Esau despised his birthright – This may include the meaning that Esau brought down a curse upon himself for his careless attitude towards his birth privileges.  This then contrasts with the blessing that Jacob received.

Wenham says that such outright moral comment is rare in the Bible.  It emphasises that Esau has despised something of great worth.

Kidner observes that the text does not say that ‘Jacob supplanted his brother’.  It is Esau’s fecklessness, rather than his brother’s ruthlessness, that is highlighted here.  Esau is presented here as ‘the antithesis of the pilgrims of Hebrews 11.’

Hartley comments: ‘The fame of this story is in inverse proportion to its length. By selling his birthright so cheaply, Esau became the epitome of folly. He symbolizes those who place satisfying the feelings of the moment above valuing issues that matter over time (Heb. 12:15–16).

This passage briefly but clearly sketches the opposite characters of the two twin brothers:

Jacob is ‘self-seeking, unbrotherly, an opportunist who takes advantage of someone else’s need, unscrupulous, manipulative, scheming, and having good business sense (by making Esau swear, Jacob makes sure that the transaction is legally binding). Jacob is the archetypal trickster in this story.’

‘Esau possesses virtually the opposite temperament and therefore displays virtually opposite traits to those of Jacob. Esau lives for the moment and is the slave of his appetites. He cannot delay physical gratification, and he has no capacity for spiritual reality (as represented by the blessing that accompanied the birthright). Esau’s emotions are close to the surface (in contrast to Jacob’s coolly calculating approach to life), and he is given to overreaction: being hungry becomes exaggerated into the feeling that he is “about to die” (v. 32).’ (Leland Ryken, How Bible Stories Work)

‘[Esau’s] couldn’t-care-less attitude disqualified him, and became a warning to others (Heb 12:16f) who might equally flippantly forfeit their spiritual heritage.  Esau’s oath could not be revoked because it was legally binding, and though the door of salvation stands open to welcome those who truly repent, and long to inherit the status Christ died to bestow (Mt 5:3-10), it is possible, even so, to forfeit spiritual privilege by despising God’s promises and by stubbornly rejecting God’s way till the door shuts.’ (Baldwin)

No injustice

‘The story of Esau’s rejection of his birthright is a narrative example that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau did not run contrary to the wishes of either. Esau “despised” his birthright, while Jacob went to great lengths to gain it. Esau, though he had the right of the firstborn, did not value it over a small bowl of stew. Thus, when in God’s plan Esau lost his birthright and consequently his blessing, there was no injustice dealt him.’ (EBC)

Rivalry of nations

As Wenham remarks, ‘The account of the bitter feud and its consequences will take up most of chaps. 27–33.’

‘But the story of the conflict between Jacob and Esau does not end with Genesis. As their names and the oracle make apparent, Jacob and Esau are the forefathers of two nations, Israel and Edom, who were bitter rivals throughout the OT period. Edom’s traditional home was south and east of the Dead Sea. When Israel wandered through the wilderness on the way to Canaan, they had to skirt the land of Edom because of their refusal to allow the Israelites to pass through their territory (Num 20:14–21). Throughout the monarchy period there was conflict between Edom and Israel. Sometimes Edom was incorporated into the Israelite empire (1 Sam 14:47; 2 Sam 8:14); sometimes it enjoyed independence and used every opportunity to assert itself against Israel (2 Kgs 8:20, 22). At the fall of Jerusalem, Edom sided with the Babylonians and helped cut off those Judeans trying to escape from the Babylonians. This unbrotherly action is recalled bitterly in the prophets (e.g., Ezek 25:12–14; Obad 10–14; Ps 137:7). It is, therefore, predicted that Edom will be destroyed once and for all and incorporated into the kingdom of Israel (e.g., Obad 18–21; Mal 1:4). That would represent the ultimate fulfillment of the prediction that “the older will be slave of the younger.”’ (Wenham)

The antagonism between the two families would extend to the time of Jesus.  Herod was a descendant of Esau.

Don’t be like Esau!

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who might be tempted to revert to Judaism in order to avoid persecution.  ‘Like Esau, they were ready to swap long-term blessing for immediate relief, so Hebrews warns “See to it … that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Heb 12:15–17).  Hebrews thus sees Esau as a type of the backslider or unbeliever.’ (Wenham)

The mystery of election

In Romans 9-11, Paul uses this story in order to illustrate the mystery of election.  God’s choice, he says, has nothing to do with human merit (Rom 9:10-12).  In Genesis, the failures of the chosen line are clear enough: ‘Noah stumbles. Abraham goes astray more than once. Isaac and Rebekah are partisan. Jacob is at times positively obnoxious, and the author of Genesis does not disguise his disapproval of such conduct. Yet despite all their sinfulness, God’s chosen are preserved and blessed’ (Wenham).

Wenham concludes: ‘The fact that God was able to use men like Jacob to forward his purposes may shock us, but it should surely encourage us, too, for at times we fall as badly as he did. If God could use him, may he now graciously use us.’

Waltke & Fredricks: ‘God’s continual overturning of primogeniture rights in Genesis signifies God’s sovereign control and gracious election, witnessed in the words of Christ to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). On this basis Paul explains the election of the Gentiles over the Jews, who had all the natural advantages to appreciate Christ (Rom. 9–11). ‘

‘What is striking in all this is that Jacob was not morally superior to Esau. Both were rascals. Yet God chose to set his love on the younger rather than the older brother. God’s love does not seek out those who are intrinsically worthy of it. Indeed, no one is intrinsically worthy of God’s love. This is what it means for grace to be grace. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Rom. 11:6).’ (Gospel Transformation Bible)

An irrevocable choice

‘May not one who has long been hesitating between God and Mammon be brought at some anxious moment to a point at which the irrevocable choice must be made? Can any one be sure that his very next choice may not be that irrevocable one? Dare any one, considering this, trifle with such scriptural exhortations as these?—“Choose ye this day whom ye will serve;” “How long halt ye between two opinions: if the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him;” “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” lest the sentence go forth against you, “I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.”’ (Candlish)

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