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On Genesis, Part 36: The Children of the Flesh
In Genesis chapter 24 we observed A Proper Marriage and the lengths to which Abraham had gone in order to assure a fitting wife for his son Isaac. But here we must also note the lengths to which Yahweh God had gone in order to demonstrate, both for Abraham himself and as an example to Christians, that Abraham should also have had children born from his own proper wife, from a woman of his own kindred, an heir who was fitting to receive the inheritance and the promises of God. So in spite of the birth of Ishmael by a bondwoman, who was also apparently a descendant of Adam, Isaac was the son of the promise, and in Isaac would Abraham’s seed be called, as Paul of Tarsus had later explained, in Romans chapter 9 and in Galatians chapter 3.
But Abraham, with all of his noble spirit, was also only a man with his own fleshly desires, urges, and needs. So in accordance with those, there was not only the child who was born to him which was of the Spirit, which is, the son born in accordance with the promises of Yahweh God, but also children of the flesh, born after the desires of man. When the promises were made to Abraham it was clear that he would have an heir, but not heirs, and that was the express will of Yahweh found in Genesis chapter 15 where Abraham had tried to appoint a replacement heir, having thus far had no son of his own, and we read: “3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.” Abraham could not substitute his servant for an heir from his own bowels, and therefore neither can anyone else make any such substitution.
For this same reason, because Abraham was told that one, and only one of his children would be his heir, and that the heir would come from his own bowels, Paul of Tarsus had explained in Galatians chapter 3 that “15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is [anointed, not Christ]. 17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” The anointed of verse 16 is Israel, since God would not have needed to confirm a covenant with Himself, through Himself, Christ being God incarnate. Although the word seed is always a collective noun in Scripture even when it is singular, and the plural rarely occurs unless the subject consists of diverse kinds, here Paul used the plural form of the Greek word, seeds, in order to distinguish Isaac from Abraham’s other sons. Therefore Isaac alone was Abraham’s heir, the anointed seed, and no man could annul or add to that fact, which stands even to this very day. Moreover, where Isaac is referred to as the seed of Abraham, the reference is not only to Isaac as an individual, but rather, to Isaac and all of his own collective offspring.
In that passage, the denominational translations render the word χρίστος in verse 16 as Christ, thereby also making Paul contradict himself, where in verse 29 the word for heir is plural, the context having been changed from Isaac to the children of Isaac through Jacob, to whom the law had come. Therefore, in other places in his writings where Paul mentions the heirs of the promise, as he does in Galatians 3:29 and in Hebrews 6:17 and 11:9, he uses a plural word, heirs and not merely one single heir, so he cannot justly be interpreted as having referred to Christ alone where he used the word which means anointed here. In Romans chapter 9, Paul had described the children of Israel as the children of the promise, and not merely Christ alone. So for that reason, here in Galatians the word χρίστος, which is an adjective that simply means anointed, cannot refer to Christ alone, and it must refer to the children of Israel collectively.
The children of Israel are described as the anointed of Yahweh in this sense in the 105th Psalm, in chapter 4 of Jeremiah’s Lamentations, and in Ezekiel chapter 16. In the 105th Psalm, the reference is clearly to Israel where we read “13 When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; 14 He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; 15 Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” Then in Lamentations chapter 4, following the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, the prophet cried: “19 Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness. 20 The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.” Finally, in Ezekiel chapter 16, where Yahweh described Israel as His bride it says in part: “8 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine. Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.” None of Abraham’s other sons were anointed in this manner, so the children of Israel are the anointed to which Paul of Tarsus had referred in that passage of Galatians chapter 3.
Then in that same chapter of Romans which we cited in reference to that passage, in chapter 9, we read, in part: “7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. 10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
So where Paul had attested in Romans chapter 9 that “the children of the promise are counted for the seed”, children being plural, and “in Isaac shall they seed be called”, without a doubt Paul himself reveals to us what precisely he had meant in Galatians chapter 3 where he wrote “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is [anointed].” The collective of Isaac’s descendants through Jacob Israel are the anointed seed, the anointed heirs of Abraham, distinguished from the other seeds, or collective families, which had also sprung from Abraham. The apostle John spoke of this same anointing in chapter 2 of his first epistle, first informing his readers that “20 … ye have an unction from the Holy One” and then making a reference to “27 … the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” Nowhere had Christ Himself anointed His disciples, but Yahweh anointed the children of Israel for whom He had come.
Therefore in Romans chapter 9 and Galatians chapter 3, Paul was explaining the same circumstance in different ways. Where he said “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is [anointed]” he was explaining that only Isaac, of all of Abraham’s other children, had inherited the promises. So Ishmael along with all of the children of Keturah are excluded from the promises, and of the sons of Isaac, which are Esau and Jacob, only Jacob inherited the promises while the children of Esau are vessels of destruction. This is seen in the words of Isaac himself in Genesis chapter 28: “1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother. 3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; 4 And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” This alone is the seed of Galatians chapter 3 and Romans chapter 9, the seed of inheritance having been blessed with the promises of Abraham.
Now until this point Abraham had only Ishmael and Isaac, and he is about 140 years old, since Isaac is said here in this chapter to have been forty when he was married, and Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born, and a hundred and thirty-seven when Sarah had died. But now, in spite of his age, Abraham takes another wife, evidently suffering from the same fleshly needs and desires which are suffered by all men, and he has more sons in his old age than he ever could have imagined. Although this is only conjecture, perhaps it is indicative of the rewards which shall ultimately be reaped by those men who fulfill the will of God and carry it to its completion, and therefore Abraham also serves as a type in that respect.
This we see in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 25:
1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.
The Hebrew word קטורה, or qeturah (# 6989), means incense, and it is used in that manner elsewhere only in Deuteronomy 33:10. Much more frequently, the word for incense is from slightly different forms of this Hebrew word, קטרת or qetoreth (# 7004) or קטר qetar (# 6999). We never learn where Keturah was from, and she may have even been one of Abraham’s own household servants, or even from one of the several women which Abraham’s servant had brought back with Rebekah. But in any event she could not have been a woman of the Canaanites, as Abraham had despised them and warned his own son not to intermarry with them. The meaning of the name Keturah being incense, it is related to the concept of an offering, or sacrifice, but also to the concept of a sweet or pleasant odor. This may represent the comfort which Abraham must have found in her after the death of Sarah.
2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.
Aside from where the sons of Keturah are mentioned again in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles chapter 1, all of these sons are rather obscure, with the exception only of Midian, and most of them are not mentioned again. Where Asshurim are mentioned, the word is essentially the same as that which is elsewhere translated as Assyrians, except that the Hebrew word אשור which is translated as Asshur, Assyria, and Assyrians, is never affixed with a plural suffix in any of those contexts. Here the form is an explicit plural, אשורים or asshurim, and by that alone it is distinguished. By this time in history, the Assyrians of Mesopotamia are already a notable kingdom which is well attested in ancient inscriptions, although it had fallen subject to the more powerful empire of the Mitanni before the time of the Exodus for over two centuries, so it is certainly not related to these Asshurim.
Where Sheba is mentioned, the form is the same as that found of Seba in Genesis 10:7, a son of Cush the son of Ham, as Sheba, the son of Raamah the son of Cush in that same passage, and of Sheba in Genesis 10:28, a son of Shem. Where Dedan is mentioned, the form is the same as that of Dedan the son of Raamah the son of Cush, who is also mentioned in that same passage in Genesis 10:7. But since those sons of Japheth and Shem were already established in their own lands long before this time, we cannot confuse the corresponding kingdoms with these sons of Keturah who were born about fifteen hundred years later. It is more likely that Abraham had, for some reason, named some of these sons after the names of the earlier patriarchs, or the kingdoms which bore their names. It is odd, however, that the sons of Dedan are listed here in plural forms as the names of clans, while the others are all of individuals. Of them all, apparently only Midian is known in later Scriptures, unless the references to Dedan and the Dedanim found later in the prophets are to this Dedan, which is less likely, the Dedan of the sons of Cush being the more likely candidate. Midian was the eponymous father of the tribe of the Midianites, from which Moses had later obtained his wife, but which had ultimately become hostile to Israel after the time of the Exodus.
Now, in spite of his having had all of these other sons, we read:
5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac.
As we have already discussed, in Genesis chapter 15 Abraham had been told that Isaac alone would be his heir, and in Genesis chapter 17 we read: “19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” So, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 21, Abraham understood that Sarah was justified “10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.”
Now, like he had done with Ishmael, Abraham acted similarly with the sons of Keturah, although it is not apparent that Ishmael, the son of a bondwoman, had even received any gifts:
6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.
We are not told precisely when Abraham had taken Keturah as a wife, but in the context in which this account is given, where the age of Isaac is mentioned later in this chapter, it appears as if Abraham took Keturah around or shortly after the same time that he had procured a wife for Isaac, and then Moses decided to finish the account of Abraham’s life, and then the account of the life of Ishmael later in this chapter, before resuming with that of Isaac from the time when he was married. So this is not written chronologically, but rather, it is written in a sequence that closes the book on Abraham’s life and those of his other sons, figuratively speaking, before the dawn of a new day in the lives of Isaac, Jacob and Esau.
Here it must also be noted that the word concubines is plural, as it is in both the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, and even in the Latin Vulgate. This could not have included Hagar, who had already been sent off nearly forty years before the marriage of Isaac. So if Abraham had any other women here besides Keturah, this is the only indication of that, and we can only wonder. Abraham was a hundred and thirty-seven years old when Sarah had died, and three years passed before Isaac had a wife, so Abraham lived for as many as another thirty five years with the sons of Keturah:
7 And these are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years. 8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.
We cannot help but mention repeatedly how concisely the accounts in Scripture are written, and it is difficult to resist the temptation to conjecture in many respects. According to the Scriptures, Abraham lived for one hundred and seventy-five years, so Isaac was seventy-five years old when Abraham had died. But Jacob and Esau were born when Isaac was only sixty years old, which is twenty-three years after the death of Sarah, according to verse 26 of this chapter. So Jacob and Esau were already fifteen years old by the time when Abraham had died, and we can only imagine that they must have met, and perhaps had even gotten to know their grandfather before he had passed. But there is no account of it in Scripture. In our chronology, based mostly on the Greek Septuagint, we reckoned the birth of Abraham to have been around 1955 BC, and now his death is about 1780 BC.
Note that the word people at the end of verse 8 is implicitly plural, from the word עם or am (# 5971) which is primarily people or nation. It cannot be a reference to the cave at Machpelah, as only Sarah had been buried there thus far, from what we may know from Scripture. Therefore the phrase better represents a gathering in the spirit, and not a mere graveyard or ossuary in a cave. Where the text of verse 8 has the phrase “gave up the ghost”, it is from a single Hebrew word גוע or gava (# 1478), which is literally to expire or breathe out, as the original Strong’s Concordance defines it, which is to exhale, and where it has “and died” the word died is from the Hebrew word מות or muth (# 4191) which is literally to die.
9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 10 The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.
We cannot imagine that Isaac had remained in Sarah’s tent with his newlywed wife for thirty-five years since they were first married. In the closing passages of Genesis chapter 24, we read that when Isaac had come to Hebron and met Rebekah, that he “came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country.” So it is fair to imagine that he had returned there with his wife. However where the account of the birth of Jacob and Esau is told at the end of this 25th chapter of Genesis, very scant information of their early lives is given, and suddenly at the end of Genesis chapter 26, Esau is a full-grown man, old enough to despise and sell his birthright to his brother after returning from a hunt.
Therefore, because so much is left wanting in the lives of the patriarchs, we must assume that Isaac returned to the south country with his new wife, where he had dwelt, and therefore it is evident that Isaac must have also known the location of Ishmael, or, at least, that the servants of Abraham must have known how to contact both Isaac and Ishmael upon the death of Abraham. Here we also cannot know whether Isaac’s sons, who were fifteen years old when Abraham died, had accompanied him to help bury their grandfather, but all of these things are plausible.
11 And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi.
This does not mean that Isaac did not dwell by the well Lahairoi for the thirty-five years before this time. But as we said, it seems that Moses is closing the book, so to speak, on Isaac’s past as well as on the life of Abraham, before he proceeds with the account of the birth of Jacob and Esau, which actually must have happened fifteen years before Abraham had died. So for now, the focus temporarily shifts to back to Ishmael, and the figurative book is also closed on him:
12 Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham:
Because Ishmael was just mentioned as having helped bury Abraham his father, it was evidently a convenient opportunity for Moses to have also briefly described his descendants here. After this, there is one more mention of Ishmael in Genesis chapter 28, which is repeated in the genealogy of Esau in chapter 36, where Esau had taken one of his daughters to wife, and then outside of the repetition of the genealogies in 1 Chronicles, Ishmael is virtually forgotten. Later, in the books of the prophets, some of the places in which his descendants had dwelt are doomed, namely those of Kedar and Dumah, where Tema is also mentioned. In 1 Chronicles chapter 5 Jetur, Naphish and “Hagarites” are mentioned.
13 And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, 14 And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, 15 Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: 16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations.
The word translated as towns is a plural form of חצר or chatser (# 2691), and can refer to a mere settlement or village. The word translated as castles, a plural form of טירה or tiyrah (2918), can describe a walled encampment, or an encampment of tents. So neither of these words necessarily suggest that the sons of Ishmael had their own castles, at least at this early time, and neither suggests that they were permanently settled, as opposed to having been nomadic.
Like the sons of Keturah, many of these sons of Ishmael are also obscure, and it is not certain what, if anything, had become of them. But that does not mean that they did not have a presence and a role in later history under other names. However the firstborn son of Ishmael, Nebajoth, must have been the eponymous ancestor of the Nabataean arabs, and after Esau had taken his niece to wife, it seems that the history of the Nabataean arabs and the Edomites would be intertwined, and even if Nabataeans are not named specifically in later Scripture, they are know from European histories as early as the Hellenistic period.
The view of Edomites and Nabataeans from an ancient Greek perspective is certainly not perfect, but it does help to reveal that their history was intertwined. In Book 16 of his Geography, Strabo of Cappadocia wrote: “As for Judaea, its western extremities towards Casius are occupied by the Idumaeans and by the lake. The Idumaeans are Nabataeans, but owing to a sedition they were banished from there, joined the Judaeans, and shared in the same customs with them.”  So of course, while the Edomites, or Idumaeans, are not actually Nabataeans, Strabo could not distinguish them in history until the Idumaeans had moved northwards into Judaea. The prophet Ezekiel gives what is certainly a more accurate perspective, where he prophesied that Esau had coveted the lands of Israel and Judah, and had voluntarily moved into them from the south after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Much later, Flavius Josephus in Book 13 of his Antiquities of the Judaeans would corroborate these accounts.
In later times, after the Babylonian captivity, a so-called Qedarite Confederation, evidently named for Kedar here, presumably held the territory of what was formerly Edom, the southernmost part of Palestine and part of Gaza, and much of the Sinai peninsula. By the 3rd century BC that confederation evolved into the Nabataean Kingdom. But it cannot be taken for granted that all of the inhabitants of the region were of Ishmael, since they were mingled through intermarriage with Edomites and branches of the Canaanites and others throughout practically their entire history.
In 1 Chronicles chapter 5, there is mention of a tribe called the Hagarites, and there, because they are mentioned along with Jetur and Naphish, spelled Nephish there, it is evident that at least some of the sons of Ishmael had maintained the name of Ishmael’s mother in order to identify themselves. Doing that, it is also apparent that they may have followed a system of matriarchy, which was not uncommon among the Canaanite pagans. So in that chapter, where it is speaking in reference to the tribes east of the River Jordan in the days of king Saul, it first mentions how they made war against the Hagarites in verse 10, and then later on we read: “18 The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, of valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war, were four and forty thousand seven hundred and threescore, that went out to the war. 19 And they made war with the Hagarites, with Jetur, and Nephish, and Nodab. 20 And they were helped against them, and the Hagarites were delivered into their hand, and all that were with them: for they cried to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them; because they put their trust in him. 21 And they took away their cattle; of their camels fifty thousand, and of sheep two hundred and fifty thousand, and of asses two thousand, and of men an hundred thousand. 22 For there fell down many slain, because the war was of God. And they dwelt in their steads until the captivity.” Where it says “they dwelt in their steads”, it indicates that the Israelites of those tribes had taken the land of these descendants of Ishmael until they themselves had gone into Assyrian captivity, which is also mentioned early in that chapter. The two-and-a-half tribes were for the most part, at least, taken into Assyrian captivity around two decades before the fall of Samaria, during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III.
[1 Geography, Strabo, 16.2.34]
Dumah, a son of Ishmael here, is mentioned in the prophets only in Isaiah chapter 21, but along with his brothers Kedar and Tema, where we read: “11 The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? 12 The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come. 13 The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim. 14 The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty, they prevented with their bread him that fled. 15 For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. 16 For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail: 17 And the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished: for the Lord God of Israel hath spoken it.” In that passage, the Dedanim may be a reference to the descendants of Dedan the son of Cush, or to Dedan the son of Abraham through Keturah. Tema and Dedan are mentioned together again in Jeremiah chapter 25, along with “24 … the kings of Arabia, and all the kings of the mingled people that dwell in the desert”.
Tema is mentioned in a surviving but fragmented inscription of the annals of Tiglath-Pileser III, dating to the middle of the 8th century BC, in the context of Arabia where we read in part: “Samsi, the queen of Arabia who had acted against the oath (sworn) by Shamash and had ____ town … to the town I'zasi … Arabia in the country of Sa[ba'…] in her camp . . . she became afraid [of my mighty army] and [sent] to [me camels, camel-mares], … [I p]ut [an official/regent over her] and made (also) [the Bir'aians] bow to my feet. The inhabitants of Mas'a, of Tema (and) the inhabitants of Saba', Haiappa, Badana, Hatti, the tribe of the Idiba'ileans … whose countries [(are) far away], towards West, [heard] the fame of my rule [ … and brought]—without exception (lit.: like one man)]—as their tribute: gold, silver, [male and female ca]mels and all kinds of spices to [me and kis]sed my feet …. I established] a palace as be [fitting for my position as their king in …] and appointed Idibi'lu as governor over [the country Musru].”  Dedan is mentioned in a Minaean inscription, the Minaeans being antecedents in modern Yemen, and although the inscription is difficult to date precisely, it does predate the Islamic period.  But as I have already explained, the historical Dedan is more likely to have been of Cush, rather than of Ishmael.
[2 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament 3rd edition, James Pritchard, editor, 1969, Harvard University Press, p. 283; 3 ibid., p. 665.]
17 And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
According to our chronology, Ishmael was born around 1869 BC, when Abraham was 86 years old, and therefore he died circa 1732 BC, which was actually about 48 years after the death of Abraham. That aligns with the age of Isaac when Abraham died, which was seventy-five years, since Abraham lived thirty-five years after Isaac was married. Ishmael was fourteen years old when Isaac was born. So once again we see that Moses did not write the events which he described here in a perfectly chronological order, but rather, he described them in a logical order. As another interesting digression, while expected lifespans are still getting progressively shorter, Isaac would outlive Abraham by five years, and Jacob would outlive Ishmael by ten years. Now there is one more brief description of the descendants of Ishmael:
18 And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria: and he died in the presence of all his brethren.
The word shur means wall in Hebrew, and evidently it described the land that lie before the Prince’s Wall, a fortification of the Egyptians which protected Egypt against invasions from Asia, and which was evidently built even before the time of Abraham. Havilah was first mentioned anachronistically in Genesis chapter 2, where the first river of Eden is described as the Pison, “11 … which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold”. In our commentary for that chapter, we associated it with a river bed that has long since dried up, which ran from the mountains of Western Arabia, near the Red Sea, and flowed eastward to the Euphrates. As we had also explained, modern archaeologists usually call this bygone river the Kuwait River. Havilah, a son of Cush as he is mentioned in Genesis chapter 10 (10:7), must have been long established in this region, in order for Moses to have used his name to describe the location of that first river of Eden. So now this also helps to identify the location of the northernmost extent of the sons of Ishmael in their early centuries, and it is consistent with the account of their defeat by the Israelites in that same region in 1 Chronicles chapter 5. But by this time, however, it is not entirely clear as to whether there had remained any of the actual descendants of Havilah in the land which bore his name. In the next mention of Havilah, which is found in 1 Samuel chapter 15, the Amalekites, who had descended from Esau, are described as having dwelt there. So in that respect also, it becomes evident that the lines of Esau and Ishmael were intermingled. By the time of Solomon in 1 Kings chapter 10, the lands to the south and east had come to be known as Arabia, because all of the tribes of the Canaanites, Edomites, Ishmaelites and Hamites who had dwelt there had all come to be mingled together, which we have seen mentioned explicitly here in the words of the prophet Jeremiah.
This is also why it is utterly ridiculous to follow the many early Christian Identity commentators, such as Wesley Swift or Bertrand Comparet, who each claimed that the Arabs were Ishmael. Swift made a very specific claim in this regard in his December, 1965 sermon titled Times, The Measures And The Climax Of This Age, and Comparet did the same, for example in his sermon on Russia in Bible Prophecy.” We will not fully critique their claims here, but would only state that this is a result of the Jewish gaslighting which has been passed off as history for nearly two thousand years. There are not three Abrahamic religions, but one only, which is Christianity. The Israelites of the Old Testament were pre-Messianic Christians, and properly, the Christians of the New Testament are Israelites who have been redeemed by the Messiah whom had been promised in the Old Testament.
But Ishmael was cast out by Abraham with no inheritance, and no gifts, and Esau was rejected for the birthright and inheritance by his own parents, Isaac and Rebekah. So Judaism, which is of Esau, and Islam, which is purported to be of Ishmael but which is truly also of Esau, are not and can not be legitimate heirs of anything which belonged to Abraham. Moreover, the seed of both Ishmael and Esau, as well as that of the sons of Keturah, had indeed been thoroughly intermingled with the seed of Canaan, the Rephaim and others of the Nephilim, and the remnants of Cush and of Joktan over the centuries of their dwelling in Arabia. If there were any who were still pure before the rise of Islam, which is highly doubtful, then Islam would ensure that they would not remain pure. So today, they are all accursed, and none of them can possibly have any claim or stake in the righteousness of Abraham and the promises inherited exclusively by Jacob.
Aside from Jacob, who inherited the promises, all of these others are the children of the flesh, and even Paul of Tarsus had excluded them from the prospects of being included in any of the promises which are in Christ, in Romans chapter 9 and in Galatians chapters 3 and 4. So Paul wrote in Romans chapter 9 that “7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Now, after centuries of race-mixing with the enemies of God, the children of the flesh are all ostensibly also the children of the devil. As the flesh ultimately comes to nought, the children of the flesh shall all follow, because only the Spirit can survive this world, and the children of the promise are born from above.
So now that Abraham and Ishmael are both in the past, and little more needs to be said about them, Moses moves on to the lives of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, where Isaac now becomes the central character of the narrative:
19 And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac: 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan-aram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.
Bethuel, the sons, and Laban, the grandson of Abraham’s brother Nahor, must have been Hebrews, as Nahor was a descendant of Eber, and as Abraham as identified also as a Hebrew. However the Syrians, which are of Aram, the son of Shem, were closely related to the Hebrews, and Jacob is even described as such where we read in Deuteronomy chapter 26, where Jacob is the subject, that “5 … A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” So here we see that Aram is used in a geographical sense, and not in a tribal sense.
The word Syrian is itself a late Greek and Roman word, which was used as early as the time of Herodotus. So it is unfortunate that it was chosen to translate the Hebrew words ארם, or Aram, and ארמי, Aramiy or Aramaean, in Scripture, especially since the land called Syria from Roman times did not all belong to Aram in more ancient times. Rather, large parts of what is now Syria were long occupied by various Canaanite, Shemitic and Hamitic tribes. The Hebrew name of the ancient city of Tyre, which also had come to rule over parts of the mainland, is only two letters in Hebrew, צר or tsor (# 6865), and the word for Tyre in Greek is Τύρος, while the word for Syria in Greek is Σύρος or also in some writers, Συρία. Both of these words originated in Greek transliterations of the Hebrew word Tsor, as the Greeks did not use a ts or tsadi sound although sometimes, in other words, frequently they replaced the tsadi with a z or zeta. Laban was a Hebrew, Haran seems to have originally been a city of Aram, but he was not a Syrian in the way that the Greeks and Romans had used that term. As we explained in part 17 of this commentary, titled The Shemites, the term Padanaram means Plain of Aram, and it was located in northern Mesopotamia, where Haran was near its western edge.
21 And Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord.
In verse 26 of this chapter we learn that Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth, so she had been barren for nineteen or as many as twenty years. Here it is evident that Yahweh God had more mercy on Rebekah than He had on Sarah, who remained barren until she was ninety and had long ceased from even hoping to have children. However Sarah became an example of the ability of Yahweh God to raise up men, and even nations, from what was dead in the eyes of men, as Paul of Tarsus had later explained in Romans chapter 4.
Furthermore, it is implicit here that Isaac was a pious man, as he sought Yahweh to resolve the barren condition of his wife, and Rebekah was a pious woman, since once she had problems with her pregnancy, she also turned to God. Therefore now she receives an answer, as Christ had said, as it is recorded in Luke chapter 11: “9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Now for the answer which she had received:
23 And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
When she had first inquired of God, Rebekah could not have known that she had twins in her womb, but only felt the resulting discomfort when they had struggled within her. So in His answer, Yahweh told her that reason, and when she gave birth, she found that it was true.
We shall read two more verses relating to the birth of Esau and Jacob before we comment further:
25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.
Since Isaac was sixty years old when his sons were born, the year is about 1795 BC. Jacob would go down to Egypt at the age of a hundred and thirty years, in 1665 BC. But Isaac, who lived to be a hundred and eighty years old, would not die until 1675 BC, only ten years before Jacob went to Egypt, and therefore, although it is not recorded, he must have seen all twelve of Jacob’s sons, since he certainly had that opportunity. In Genesis, there is no more mention of Esau after his own descendants are listed in chapter 36.
Here, the prophecy that “two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels” certainly does not mean that Jacob and Esau were not both of the line of Adam, or that they had any irreconcilable genetic differences. They were twins, but there are different types of twins, and we do not know if they were conceived of one egg which had split, which we call paternal twins, or of two eggs, or ova, which are called maternal twins. The understanding of these different types of twins is fairly recent in the history of Man. However the character of the two sons would be very different, and for that reason, the younger certainly did prevail over the older, because Jacob inherited the promises which were given to Abraham, and not Esau.
However one thing is certain: since Isaac entreated Yahweh God concerning his wife’s barren condition, and since Yahweh God opened the womb of Rebekah on account of his petition, there should be no question at all that both sons are indeed the sons of Isaac as well as Rebekah. Furthermore, while it is evident that Esau was a hairy man when he was older, here it is not evident that he was born hairy. The text only says that he was born ruddy or of a reddish hue all over, like a hairy garment, or more properly, like a cloak of hair.
The general perceptions of Genesis 25:25 found in many denominational translations are little but ridiculous elaborations on the actual text. For example, the New International Version has the verse to read “The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.” The New Living Translation says “The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau.” The supposedly Berean Standard Bible says “The first one came out red, covered with hair like a fur coat; so they named him Esau.” The English Standard Version adds a word for body, and has the adverb modify the added word, where it has “The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.” But in the Hebrew here, there is no word for covered in the text, no nouns for coat or body, no adjective for thick, and no preposition meaning with. All of these translations are patently dishonest and add ideas to the Word of God which are not found in the text. The Hebrew text, reading it word-for-word, says only that “And came out the first ruddy all like a cloak of hair and they called his name Esau.” In English translation, out of necessity we would change the word order from “the first ruddy all like” to “the first all ruddy like”, because we order our adverbs and adjectives differently than in Hebrew.
Throughout the Exodus account, there are references which are usually translated as “ram’s skins dyed red”, but the dyed part is only an assumption. The text actually only described reddish-colored ram’s skins. The word translated as “dyed red” in those passages is the same word for red which is found here, which is an adjective of which the root is the word adam, and which means ruddy. In the opening verses of Numbers chapter 19 Yahweh commands the children of Israel to sacrifice a red heifer, and there the word for red is also a Hebrew word derived from the word adam. So there were animals in the Levant which the ancient Hebrews perceived were of a reddish color, and here the redness of Esau is likened to one of them. But the text explicitly says that he was born red “like a hairy garment” and that does not necessarily mean that he was born hairy, or with thick hair, even if he was hairy later in life.
In Strong’s original Concordance, the name עשו or Esau (# 6215) is defined as being a participle of a verb עשה or asah (# 6213) which means to do or to make, and which has a wide range of uses, none of which have anything to do with hair. So Strong’s defined עשו or Esau as a “passive participle of 6213 in the original sense of handling; rough (i.e. sensibly felt)”, but even that seems like a conjecture. In his own lexicon, Gesenius does not venture his own definition of the word, but only repeats how it has been traditionally described, as “rough” or “hairy” and then he says “more used with regard to his posterity than of the man himself.”  So he basically denies that the name Esau means hairy, as more modern lexicons define it, and the Strong’s definition seems to be based on conjecture considering the original meaning of the verb from which it is derived. Finally, the Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon does not venture to define the meaning of the name Esau at all.  Examining all of the words for hair in Scripture, and all of the words related to the Hebrew form of the name Esau, there is no reason to believe that the name means hairy, or even rough, and therefore we reject those definitions, which are also innovations found in later lexicons, but they are not substantiated by sound inquiry. The concept of hairiness and roughness is found in a later word related to the posterity of Esau, which is Seir, the place where he later chose to live. But that is where the association belongs, and not in the circumstances of his birth.
[3 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 658; 4 The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, 2021, p. 796.]
Very often in the Old Testament, the name of a child, or certain attributes or circumstances of its birth, were in themselves prophetic of the destiny of the child or of some role which it would fulfill in life. So it is with the name Jacob, which means usurper, and he would usurp his older brother in the inheritance, even though, as we shall see, his usurpation of Esau was wholly righteous. But it shall become evident that Esau sought to make his own way, to do things on his own, with his own mind. Perhaps for that he was named, since his name certainly seems to have been derived from that verb to which Strong attributed its derivation. Esau was also only a child of the flesh, and all of his posterity are only children of the flesh with no claim to any inheritance from Abraham, because he had despised his birthright and the associated promises of God, and as Paul had written in Romans chapter 9, his posterity are only vessels of destruction, whereas the posterity of Jacob are vessels of mercy, the mercy which is of God.
This is only the first of what shall hopefully become a long series of discussions on Jacob and Esau in these next several chapters of Genesis, and Yahweh willing, we shall resume at this point in the very near future.