SynopsisVerses 1–7 recount Abraham’s passing. Before he died, he took another wife, and had more children. However, verses 5–6 say that he gave his other children gifts while he was still alive, and sent them to the land of the east, and when he died, everything that was left went to Isaac. He died at 175, “…at a good old age, an old man and full of years…” (verse 8)
Verses 12–18 simply recount Ishmael’s genealogy—remember Ishmael?—and mention that he died at the age of 137. Verse 18 also tells us that Ishmael’s offspring “lived in hostility toward all their brothers.” Sounds like foreshadowing, to me—except that the NIV footnote says that this verse could also be translated “they lived to the east of all their brothers” (emphasis added).
And finally, verses 19–34 recount the birth of Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s twin sons.
Similar to Isaac’s mother, Sarah, Rebekah was barren. But Isaac prayed to the LORD, who answered his prayer, and so Rebekah became pregnant with twins. She felt them jostling inside her, and inquired of the LORD why this was happening. And His response was:
The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
When they were born, Esau was born first, and was red and covered in hair. (“Esau” means “hairy”; he was also nicknamed “Edom”, which means “red”.) Second came Jacob, who was grasping Esau’s heel. (“Jacob” means “he grasps the heel”, which figuratively means “he deceives”.)
As they grew up, Esau became a hunter, while Jacob “was a quiet man, staying among the tents” (verse 27).
And then comes the famous story where Esau sells Jacob his birthright. (Well, okay, when I say “famous”, I’m using that in a very relative way. Christians talk about this event a lot, and Jews probably do too, but it hasn’t exactly made it into mainstream consciousness, the way the flood story or the creation story did.)
Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Then there is another footnote, saying that “Edom” means “red”. I’m not sure why this nickname is relevant to this particular episode.
ThoughtsAs is usual, these days, I don’t have much to say about this chapter; it all seems so straightforward.
The writer of Genesis (tradition says it was Moses) seems to have a pretty low opinion of Esau, for selling his birthright. And so does the writer of Hebrews (a New Testament book); in Hebrews 12:15–17, he says
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 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.
We’ll be reading about the tears later in Genesis.
I think there is partially a cultural thing going on, that modern-day North Americans might not fully get, but the deeper lesson is that Esau gave up something lasting for something temporary. He gave up his inheritance, which would have lasted the rest of his life, for a meal, when he could have simply waited a bit longer, and made his own food. (How’s that for over-simplifying?)