Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week’s lesson began with Eliezer, Abraham’s most trusted servant, praying to God. He seeks a sign from God in order to know who Isaac’s wife should be. Before he can finish his prayer Rebecca arrives on the scene. She offers him a drink of water and very graciously volunteers to water his camels also. That was the sign Eliezer needed to know whom God had chosen.
Eliezer meets Rebekah’s family, negotiates for her marriage to Isaac, and after her family realized this was the work of God, they agree to the marriage. Isaac takes Rebekah as his wife and he loves her. We noted Rebekah’s hospitality and Isaac’s genuine love of Rebekah. Last week’s lesson connects to this week by showing how God’s covenant with Abraham will be fulfilled through Jacob and Esau. Keep in mind, this text is assembled during the monarchic period. The writer is telling the reader how and why the people of Israel came to be so divinely blessed as the people of God.
Boyd’s and Townsend Title the lesson “A Troubled Birth”. Standard titles the lesson “Sibling Rivalry”. The Scripture text is Genesis 25:19-34.
Chapter 25 begins with Abraham taking Keturah as another wife. It is listed in the text after the death of Sarah and the marriage of Isaac. Abraham is perhaps 140 years old. Isaac is born when Abraham is 100 and Isaac marries when he is 40 years old. After listing the six children Keturah bare for Abraham the text mentions how Abraham gave all he had to Isaac, but to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts. Of all Abraham’s children, Isaac would be the one true heir to the promise. The text then transitions to the death of Abraham at 175 years old. Note that the text mentions both his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him. Verse twelve begins the description of Ishmael’s descendants and note also the text described Ismael’s sons as twelve princes. Soon the text will also lead us to the twelve tribes of Israel. Again, Abraham is the father of many nations. Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. He is sixty years old when Rebekah gives birth to the twins. So Rebekah has been barren for twenty years.
What takes place in this passage:
The text begins by listing the descendants of Isaac and informing us that Isaac is forty years old when he married Rebekah. Isaac prays to the Lord because Rebekah is barren. Rebekah’s barrenness is similar to her mother-in-law Sarah. And likewise, after some time, Rebekah conceives. Her twin babies struggle within her and she asks “if it is to be this way, why do I live”? After inquiring with the Lord, the Lord tells her “two nations are in your womb. Two peoples who shall be divided, one stronger than the other and the elder shall serve the younger”. When Rebekah gives birth, the first twin (Esau) came out red and hairy. The second twin (Jacob) came out with his hand gripping Esau’s heel. Isaac is sixty years old when the twins are born. As the boys grew Esau would become a skillful hunter, a man of the field. Jacob would become a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Next we learn how Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. While Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came from the field famished. He asks for some of the stew and Jacob tells him “first sell me your birthright”. Esau decides that the birthright would do him no good if he were to die of hunger so he agrees. Jacob tells him “swear to me first”. So Esau swears to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.
“This chapter provides the transition from one ancestral generation to the next. It contains the concluding episodes of Abraham’s life and introduces the families of his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac” – New Interpreters Study Bible (NISB). It is important to also note the importance of being the first born. The first born is ordinarily entitled to a double portion (or the major portion) of the inheritance and leadership of the clan after the patriarch dies. Yet this was not the case with Isaac. Ishmael was Abraham’s first born and now it is not the case with Jacob as Esau is the first born to Isaac. This sets the stage for sibling rivalry between Esau and Jacob.
This sibling rivalry is a theme in Genesis. Cain and Able, Noah’s sons, Isaac and Ishmael and now Esau and Jacob are examples. The NISB tells us “in the majority of these cases, conflict is introduced when a younger son is favored over an older son who is the legitimate heir”. In this text we see struggle from the very beginning of Esau and Jacob. Even before birth Esau and Jacob struggle in the womb of Rebekah. They struggle so much so, that Dr. Wilda Gafney in Womanist Midrash describes it as “a pitch so violent in Rebekah’s womb that one is crushing [the life out of] the other”. This struggle in the womb foreshadows struggle that is to come for these twin brothers.
Key Characters in the text:
Isaac – He is the second great patriarch of the Hebrew people, born when his mother was 90 years old and his father 100 years old. Isaac marries Rebekah at 40 years old and his twin sons Esau and Jacob are born when he is 60 years old.
Rebekah – She becomes the matriarch of Abraham’s clan. Like her mother-in-law Sarah, she is barren for at least 20 years until the birth of Esau and Jacob.
Esau – He is the first born twin in the Bible and the first son of Isaac and Rebekah. He eventually sells his birthright to Jacob and would come to serve his younger brother. He is also the father of the Edomite clan.
Jacob – He is the second born son of Isaac and Rebekah. Like his father Isaac, he is also the second born son and would become the favored and chosen son.
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
- Birthright – a right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled by birth.
- Impulsiveness – a sudden spontaneous inclination or incitement to some usually unpremeditated action.
- Selfishness – concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.
- Favoritism – the showing of special favor or partiality.
Themes in this Lesson:
- Conception, Conflicts, and Consequences.
- Why Me?! – See Rebekah verse 22
Isaac loved Esau. Rebekah loved Jacob. I have five daughters. My wife and I raised them the same yet each one is completely different. While they are all very different each one will lovingly say she is my favorite. Yet, they each know my wife and I show no favorites. Think of the hurt it must cause to feel less than fully loved by one of your parents.
Esau sold his birthright but it was Jacob that took advantage of his brothers’ desperation. Which one is more guilty?
Rebekah waited twenty years for her twins. Even their birth foreshadowed struggle and tension. The point is, even when God blesses us it does not mean the blessing will be trouble free.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week’s lesson is taken from Genesis 27 and continues the saga of Jacob and his brother Esau as their father Isaac is tricked into blessing the younger brother. Rebekah participates in the deception and God’s promise through Jacob is continued.