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Gen 25:19-34

Genesis 25:19-34
Background to the Book of Genesis

Literary Features:
Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these
eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

  • Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
  • Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
  • Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
  • Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
  • Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but also extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. The relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text). Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves. After the story of Abram in Gen 11:27-25:18 the next block, Gen 11:19-36:43, tells us about Jacob and finally about Joseph in Gen 37:1-50:26. At the end of the book we are placed ready to begin the story of Moses, the release of the Hebrews from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness.

We know something of this period from the discoveries of the Mari Tablets - 20,000 tablets in old Akkadian of which 5,000 were official correspondence (J.Bright. A History of Israel. London: SCM Press, 57). Mari was a great city with highly sophisticated living conditions and the centre of trade. Terah and his family would have travelled through Mari to get to Haran. Mesopotamia was a centre of civilisation in the Far East in the same way that Egypt was in the Near East.

It is a period in which some people lived in cities and others lived a semi nomadic life travelling with their herds and stopping for periods, but rarely settling to an agrarian life style. We seem to have examples of both these life styles within the story of Abraham.

Context of Genesis 25:19-34
Gen 25:1-11 tells us that Abraham remarried and had several more children whose genealogies are named in Gen 25:1- 6. The names appear to belong to Arabian tribes and Keturah is the name of the "Syro-Arabian desert east of the Jordan" (Westermann: Genesis 12-36, 396).The genealogy of Abraham's son Ishmael is noted in vv.12-18, followed by the story of Isaac's sons in Gen 25:19 - Gen 33:20. The lectionary reading begins the story about Rebekah and Isaac and the birth of their twins, Esau and Jacob. Their story is interrupted by the story of Isaac repeating the events of going into a foreign land like Abraham and offering his wife to the local king. In this case it was Abimelech king of the Philistines. The story has some different aspects to the previous two which involved Abram and Sarah. Abimelech sees Isaac fondling his wife and confronts Isaac who makes the excuse that he thought he would die. Even although they have been there a long time (v.8) it appears that no man had lain with Rebekah and Abimelech warned his people not to touch Rebekah on the pain of death. This incident is not referred to again and the story continues with Isaac staying in the land with great success in his farming ventures. This success cause Abimelech to expel Isaac from his lands who moved then to Gerar and unplugged the wells which had been dug in the days of his father. Conflict occurred between the local peoples when each of the wells was unplugged. When Isaac moves to Beersheba, God speaks with him repeating the promise which was given to Abram in Gen 12:1-3. Moreover, the reality of the promise is demonstrated in the following verses (Gen 26:26-33) when Abimelech acknowledges that God must indeed be with Isaac (seen in the success of finding water and reaping large crops). They seal a covenant together by joining in a meal. The final verses (vv.34-35) provide the link which will continue the story about the twins begun in Gen 25. The story of how Jacob usurps his elder brother and the consequences is narrated in Gen 27-33.

Insights/Message of Genesis 25:19-34
Literary:This week's lectionary reading and the three following are all part of the Jacob saga (Gen25:19-36:43). Both Scullion (194) and Brueggemann (213) have diagrams of a possible literary structure for the Jacob saga. It is easier to see as a diagram.

Conflict with Esau (25:19-34; 27:1-45; 27:46-28:9)

Meeting at Bethel (28:10-22)

Conflict with Laban (29:1-30)

Births (29:31 -30:24)

Conflict & Covenant (30:25-31:55)

Meeting at Penu'el (32:22-32)

Reconciliation with Esau (32 -33:17 xxx(Brueggemann:213)

The first reading (Pentecost 7) is the prologue for the events which follow. It begins with a brief genealogy in Gen 25:19, followed by a succinct statement concerning Isaac's marriage to Rebekah. Verse 21 is equally terse but contains extremely important information. Rebekah is barren like her mother-in-law, Sarah, but after Isaac prays his wife conceives. Rebekah speaks with the Lord about the babies in her womb and receives a message (vv.22-23) which is lived out in the next eleven chapters of Genesis. "The oracle in v.23 specifies that national issues are at stake," (Fretheim:520), because Esau is the founder of Edom and a later enemy of Israel. When the twins are born, Esau is described as hairy and this aspect of his physical features plays an important part in the deception of Isaac later in the narrative. Jacob's name describes his character - "either he grasps his heel or he supplants". The word for "hairy" in the Hebrew se'ar is a play on the word Seir, the region where the Edomites live (Fretheim:521). Each verse is essential to the ongoing saga of events which follow. Esau is the hunter and favourite of Isaac, while Jacob is the stay at home guy who is the favourite of his mother. Verses 29-34 give us the reason for Esau later to be called Edom with another play on the Hebrew adjective for red 'adom'. Esau is red at birth (v.25), the pottage is red (v.30) and indeed the word for pottage is very close to 'adom' (Brueggemann: 218). The prophecy of v.23 has begun to be played out when Jacob takes advantage of Esau's hunger and Esau is stupid enough to sell his birthright. Indeed the final comment by the narrator tells us his attitude towards Esau - Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Message:We have no reason given for God's chose of the younger over the elder but we do know it will lead to constant conflict between the brothers. Furthermore, it foreshadows the conflict which will occur between the nations of Israel and Edom (Scullion:196). The picture of God is one in which we have to accept this inversion of the natural birth rights (Brueggemann: 204). It is not the first time conflict occurs between brothers because of some action by God. In Gen 4 God had no regard for the offering of Cain which resulted in the death of Abel. Conception and prayer to God are closely linked. Hannah prays and conceives and as God spoke with Hannah so Rebekah speaks with the Lord. For the divine promise to Abraham to come true Rebekah has to conceive. The nature of the people in these narratives is very real: the favoritism given by a parent to a particular child will touch our lives. Jacob is an opportunistic who makes use of a situation to benefit from it. We could name those people in the world who benefit from the people who are desperate - women offering their bodies or selling children to survive poverty and hardship. The description of Esau could be interpreted as those which will belong to a certain group of people, namely, the Edomites. It can be come a pejorative way of dismissing a nation and it is trait with which we are familiar today. We assign a certain negative characteristic to a people and they are then dismissed as evil or bad. It is also true of our hedonistic society that we live for the day and fail to be responsible to future consequences as did Esau with his birthright. We cut down forests and denude the land which is then susceptible to mud slides etc. Many of us have used modern white goods which emit noxious gasses that have affected the ozone layer. We could go on and on with examples of our short sighted actions. The listeners or readers of this story know that it has a long way to go as the various characters interact with one another on this journey which will eventually result in their nation of Israel. What the listeners are always aware of is the presence and force of God in the lives of their ancestors, and will be there for them in what ever situation they find themselves. They and we know that God will use all sorts of people as part of the purpose in bringing salvation and hope to people. Brueggemann talks abouth both God and Jacob as people who scandalize the world ( Brueggemann:209).

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 13:1-9, 18-23 there are no direct allusions or quotes in these sections from the Old Testament.

Resources/Worship for Genesis 25:19-34

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Genesis, the author is R.W.L.Moberly, 1992. (Genesis 12-50)

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
---. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Fretheim,Terrence E. "The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
---. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
*Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
*Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
---. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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