These chapters portray the covenant family in transition. Ever since the promises were given to Abraham in Gen 12.1-3, obstacles had arisen and threatened the fulfillment of God’s word. Although at each occasion God had superintended to prevent His plans from being thwarted, the difficulty of death in the patriarchal family had yet to be addressed; upon the death of Abraham and Sarah, what would come of the promises?

In Genesis 23 we read of the first hurdle addressed in these chapters: the passing of Sarah. While human loss is marked by sadness and even remorse, the death of Abraham’s wife actually shows the progress of God’s promises as it provided the patriarchal family a small claim in the land of Canaan (vv. 14-20). In the progression of the narrative, the author initially dealt with how Sarah’s death would affect her son, Isaac. Genesis 24 is the lengthy and detailed account of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah. The flow of the chapter provides insights that may prove practical even in our day: First, Abraham was steadfast in his requirement that Isaac enjoy a bride from within the covenant family (vv. 1-9); Second, his servant was prayerfully dependent upon God to display His providence in connecting the relationship of Isaac and the woman who greeted him at the well in Canaan (vv. 12-30). The literary structure of the text is an inclusio, pointing the reader back to Sarah’s passing in ch 23; in his relationship with Rebekah, Isaac was “comforted after his mother’s death” (24.67).

In time Isaac also had to deal with the loss of his father (Gen 25.1-10). These chapters may thus be arranged to answer the question: “how will the promises of God overcome the passing of those who initially received them?” The text not only answers these questions, but does so in a way that provides a literary exclamation point:

  1. While Isaac was the child of promise—the one through whom both lineage and land would be realized—the text does not turn directly to a restatement of these to him, as we might expect, but rather to the account of the birth of his sons (25.19-34)! The promises to Abraham would carry on through Isaac, the child of promise. The word of the LORD came to Rebekah concerning the future of Isaac’s line. Jacob, the younger of Rebekah’s twin boys was favored of God even from the womb (vv. 19-23). Esau’s character pointed to the reality that he was not favored of God; the young man lacked an enduring spirit in his time of hunger. Esau’s failure became an example for the author to the Hebrews, who wrote: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God…And see that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal” (Heb 12.15-16). So, the death of Abraham and Sarah did not prove sufficient to conquer the promises of God—indeed, their surety was manifested in the fact that God is even concerned with Abraham’s grandchildren, especially Jacob
  2. But in due time the LORD turned directly to the child of promise, promising him land and lineage just as He had Abraham (26.3-4). Sadly though, upon this affirming revelation, Isaac failed a test of faith (26.7-11)—eerily resembling his father’s man-fearing spirit before the Pharaoh of Egypt, and Abimelech king of Gerar (Gen 12.10-20; 20.1-18). Oh that Isaac would have heeded the wisdom of Proverbs 2 and avoided his father’s failure! But just as Abraham’s falter did not frustrate God’s plan, neither would Isaac’s carnality compromise the covenant (26.23-25).

The birth of Jacob and Esau is foundational in the development of the storyline of Scripture. In their birth the apostle Paul observed a difference between the children of promise and Abraham’s descendants. That is, not all of Abraham’s offspring are actually children of the promise. This was not just a matter of debate for Paul; in his day many wondered how it could be that so many Jews, the physical descendants of Jacob, were rejecting Messiah—with the result that the Gentiles dominated the church. Paul looked back to the events of Genesis 25 to provide an answer; he wrote:

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, ‘in Isaac your seed will be called.’ That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered seed. For this is the statement of the promise: ‘At this time I will come, and Sarah will have a son.’ And not only that, but also when Rebekah became pregnant by Isaac our forefather (for though they had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand, not from works but from the One who calls) she was told: ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written: ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’” (Rom 9.6-13; cf. Mal 1.2-3).

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