Genesis 25:1-6 “Abraham Took Another Wife”

Posted on January 23, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

 Read Genesis 25:1-11

Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6 But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi

Introduction:

When we come to texts like the one we face today, the temptation is to either bypass it or treat it lightly. Some would say, “how could I possibly get a gospel message or anything good for my sanctification out of this text!” But I have learned that if we but take the time to study the text faithfully and diligently we will discover the spiritual gold that lies beneath the surface.

This text draws a fitting close to all that we have studied in the past year about Abraham. It takes us back to the call of Abram in 12:1-3

Now the Lord said  to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

There is a threefold promise in this call: land, descendants, and to be a blessing. In our text in ch.25 we see that he has lots of descendants who formed nations, the land is passed on to Isaac who also receives the blessing of God. Land, descendants, blessing! THE MAIN IDEA OF THE TEXT is that God kept his promises to Abraham, and Abraham successfully passed the blessings down to his son, Isaac. The MAIN APPLICATION for us today is that we can trust God to keep his promise of salvation to us and we must be sure to pass our spiritual heritage down to the next generation.

There are some Key Questions about the text: (1) When did Abraham take Keturah as a wife? (2) Does this contradict Rom.4:19 “when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old.”? (3) Is there a moral problem with Abraham having a second wife along with Sarah-or-taking a young wife after Sarah’s death? (4) The phrase, “gathered to his people”- what concept of life after death did Abraham have? Key Points of the text: (1) God kept his word: Abraham had lots of descendants, and he lived to “a good old age” 15:15; (2) The Land- “sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country”, a safeguarding of the covenant.

Literary Analysis:

When we look at the structure of the text there are a few things that stand out. First, there is a structure here that resembles other portions of Genesis. Gordon Wenham shows us (p.156):

“Although this section looks like a ragbag of traditions about Abraham that have been appended here because they do not really fit anywhere else, it should be noted that the three major cycles of patriarchal stories, about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all end similarly:

Death and burial of wife            23:1-20;    35:18-20;   48:7

Son’s marriage                           24:1-67;    35:21-22;   49:3-4

List of descendants                    25:1-6;      35:22-26;   49:5-28

Death and burial of patriarch     25:7-10;    35:27-29;   49:29-50:14

List of descendants                    25:12-17;  36:1-42;     

This is the family history of      25:19;       37:2

Wenham, “These parallels suggest purposeful editorial activity. Furthermore, the material here appears to be old and reflects a situation in which Israel enjoyed good relations with her neighbors in Arabia and the desert lands to the east. But, significantly, the passage never calls them Arabs, a term that did not come into use until the ninth century BC. From the time of the wilderness wanderings through the period of the judges, the Midianites troubled Israel, but earlier Moses had fled to Midian and married the daughter of a Midianite priest. No trace of the later animosity between Midian and Israel is detectable in this genealogy; this suggests it is old.”

I would certainly disagree with Wenham’s belief in a detailed editing of vast amounts of Genesis; I think that Moses edited his own work. But the structure is there and that is clearly a part of the inspiration process that God did through the author, Moses. I presume that Moses had some oral tradition and some written works as sources, but it is the end result that I am most concerned about.

There is some minor confusion over whether Keturah was a wife or a concubine when you compare vss. 1 and 6. 1Chron. 1:32 says concubine. What’s the difference? Gleason Archer, p.98, writes:

“There is really no discrepancy in 1 Chronicles 1:32, even though the term pileges is used there rather than ‘issah. Genesis 25:6 also refers to Keturah by implication as a pileges to Abraham; for after v.5 has made it clear that God had confirmed Isaac, Sarah’s son, as his principal heir, v.6 records: ‘But to the sons of his concubines [the plural pilagesim presumably includes Hagar as well as Keturah], Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward…’ Obviously the term pileges was used to indicate that although Keturah was the only lawfully wedded wife Abraham had (hence his ‘issah) during this twilight period of his life, she had a secondary status in relationship to Sarah, since only Sarah had been chosen by God to be the mother of Isaac, Abraham’s only heir under the promise of the covenant.”

Basically then, when comparing Keturah to Sarah, Keturah is a secondary wife or concubine and the words “wife” and “concubine” are interchangeable.

Gordon Wenham writes: p.156, “The final comment about God’s blessing on Isaac and his dwelling near Beer-Laha-roi anticipates the theme of the next major section, ‘the family history of Isaac’ (25:19-35:29). It is typical of the editor’s method to include a trailer for the next section toward the end of the previous one.” Do you remember Beer-Laha-roi? It goes back to ch.16 when Hagar fled Sarah and the LORD found her. Some say that the inclusion of Isaac dwelling at Beer-Laha-roi in 24:62 (thus linking this chapter with the previous) and now here in ch.25:11 is to supplant Ishmael/Hagar.

Exposition:

  1. I.                   Abram to Abraham- Father of Many Nations, Vss.1-4
    1. A.                 Abraham took another wife, vs.1
      1. 1.      Keturah- historically there has been much discussion about who Keturah was and where she came from. While the best answer seems to be that she was the daughter of one of his other servants (some would say Eliezer) in Luther’s time, and earlier, many thought it was just another name for Hagar due to the unseemly nature of a man 140 years old marrying a young woman/teenager and fathering more children. WE will see that, textually, this is quite impossible, but that goes to show you how distressed many commentators were that Abraham had married again. Luther writes, p.300f,

“Some maintain that Keturah is Hagar herself, whom he again received into favor after the death of his wife Sarah and later on took to wife, since she had now humbled herself and repented. ….the most general opinion, of which Lyra, too, approves, is that Keturah is Hagar, although he sees that contrary to this the text states that gifts were given to the children of the concubines, of whom Hagar has to be one and Keturah has to be the other.”

“It is my opinion that Keturah was not Hagar, and the reason that induces me most of all to hold to this view is to be found in the fact that the computation of the years does not agree with the notion that has been mentioned. For Hagar bore Ishmael when Abraham was 86, and she was married to him when she was about 30 (?). Since her fifteenth year she had been reared by Sarah, who then took her into the house for the first time. There she remained until she was 30, when she became the mother of Ishmael. But Isaac is born 14 years after Ishmael’s birth. When these years are added up, they make 44 years, or at least 40. To these should further be added the 40 years of Isaac, who marries Rebecca in his fortieth year. Consequently, Hagar’s age adds up to 84 years, more or less, when she, too, in accordance with nature, had to be exhausted. And it is impossible to conclude that she bore six sons at that age.”

Gordon Wenham writes, p.158 “Keturah” means “to burn as incense”. An association with incense seems probable in that several of her sons seem to be involved in the international spice trade. Although this trade is associated with Arabia in the OT (e.g., 1Kgs 10:2, 10; Isa.60:6), not all the sons can be located there….”

  1. 2.      Abraham took another wife- when? This part of the account of Abraham is not necessarily chronological; there are some valid arguments for Abraham having taken Keturah much earlier and there are sound arguments for him taking her as wife after Isaac’s marriage. John Sailhamer writes, 1994, (p.38), “After the death of Sarah, Abraham took another wife, Keturah.” Ibid, 1990, writes, (p.179), “The picture that emerges of Abraham’s life after the death of Sarah is that of a complete rejuvenation of the old man of the previous narratives. He continued to be rewarded with the blessing of many offspring.” But it seems to me that Sarah should have been rejuvenated just as much if not more than Abraham because bearing a child is more vigorous than fathering a child.
  2. 3.      Joyce Baldwin writes, p.102-103, “Abraham’s concubines had not been relevant to the narrative and therefore had not so far been mentioned, but some of the children of Keturah, another wife of Abraham, will feature in the history, so they are listed as in family annals….Though Keturah and Hagar are mentioned after the death of Sarah, we are not necessarily to infer that Keturah, any more than Hagar, became a member of the household only after the death of Sarah.”
  3. 4.      Luther, p.300, “Let us bury the most saintly patriarch Abraham, whose example very much deserves to be preserved forever in the church of God. But this chapter presents a matter and a seemingly very bad example that gravely offends everybody. For Abraham, an old man, decrepit, near the grave, and altogether moribund, before whose eyes and mind there can be nothing more than death, marries a young girl and begets more children.”

 

  1. 5.      “In the previous chapter Abraham concluded his span of life, drew up his testament, and made Isaac the heir of all his goods. Now however, after his son’s wedding, he himself also takes a wife. It is not sufficiently evident what one’s reaction should be….But if we follow the order of the text, a strange question arises. Paul himself explains in Rom. 4:19 that ‘Abraham’s body was as good as dead and unfit to procreate, because he was now 100 years old.’ Hence it seems somehow that this part of the chapter should have been inserted earlier and that Abraham married the girl Keturah before he begot Isaac. Perhaps it would be possible to answer that pressing question in this manner. But I am not making a positive statement.”

 

  1. 6.      “For even though we assume that Abraham married Keturah after he had driven out Hagar, yet at that time he was not far from 100 years old; for Hagar gave birth to Ishmael when Abraham was 86….Therefore this answer does not yet satisfy, but the question is still left in doubt.”

 

  1. 7.      Luther brings up two very good arguments against Abraham marrying Keturah after Isaac marries. First of all it seems to contradict Romans 4:19 and secondly, it seems to go against nature to think a man of that age could father children. Also, Luther brings up in his further discussion the argument of some that the moral element would be unseemly for Abraham to marry such a young woman at his age. But he answers these objections:

 

“…it is likely that God had given Abraham strength beyond what is natural and that he gained much vigor both of mind and body after the birth of Isaac, the son and heir of the promise.”

P.303 “Therefore one should not suppose that Abraham married Keturah because he was prompted by lasciviousness, for previously indeed, while the barren Sarah was living, he waited long enough for the blessing of God, and there was never any suspicion of lust in him. Therefore he did this because of his eager desire to obtain offspring, especially since he had heard in the promise (Gen.17:4): ‘You shall be the father of many’- not only of Isaac but of many nations, through which God would multiply him not only spiritually but also physically.”

  1. 8.      Waltke, p.335 “The text safeguards against the misinterpretation that  this scene chronologically follows Scene 3. In the preceding scene, Abraham’s servant asserts that Abraham has already given everything he owns to Isaac (24:36), a statement that assumes Abraham has other children. Also, Abraham already judged his body too old to beget children when he was one hundred years old (17:1, 17); it is biologically unlikely he fathered six sons when he was forty years older and ‘well advanced in years’ (24:1). It is possible that God rejuvenated his body, but if he fathered them after 140 years of age, then they are even more supernatural than Isaac, which is theologically unlikely.”
  2. 9.      Everything in the text seems to point to the marriage with Keturah being much earlier in his life, except for one thing. Abraham does live to 175 years of age, old enough to see Jacob and Esau turn 15. We cannot expect that he was weak, decrepit, and bedridden that long, he had to have been reasonably healthy to survive that long and still be called “blessed” and have a “good old age”. That means he would have been healthy enough to marry again and father more children. This conundrum in the text does not rise to the level of a formal contradiction, however, but it does make the text very difficult, if not impossible, to interpret.

10.  Is it immoral for Abraham to take another wife? There are three issues here: (1) did he take another wife while Sarah was alive? (2) Did he marry Keturah after Sarah’s death and why would some consider that immoral? (3) Is the huge age difference immoral? WE have already discussed question 1 when we discussed chapter 16 and the Hagar episode. Abraham and Sarah acted according to the flesh, abiding by their culture’s mores instead of trusting in God. The Bible is clear in Gen. 1-4 that God’s intentions are for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. This is not codified until Moses’ day, but even then, polygamy was allowed. Even today in some African countries, Christian men can have more than one wife. In America we allow for serial monogamy through multiple divorces and remarriages in a very sinful way.

11.  Luther mentions that some consider it adulterous if a widower remarries. Luther doesn’t mind that, however, as long as the man isn’t marrying for lascivious reasons. He focuses on Abraham’s longing to fulfill the promise of God for offspring and to be the father of nations, as his name implies.

12.  We see December-May weddings once in a while here, frequently with the Hollywood set. In the rural parts of our country not many decades ago it was not unusual for a man in his twenties or even thirties to marry a teenage girl. The great Scottish preacher, John Knox, married a 17 year old girl when he was 50. But I think that most of us feel this practice to be disgusting. It is common amongst muslims.

 

  1. B.                 Vss.2-4 Descendants through Keturah
    1. 1.      Some of these names are clearly linked to the Arabs later. But one of the internal attestations to the ancient nature of this text is that the name “Arab” is actually not used. That name came to be used in about 900BC. Furthermore, the name Midian is used and the Midianites did become enemies of Israel later. Keep in mind that when Moses fled Egypt he went to Midian and married the daughter of a Midianite priest, Jethro. It wasn’t until the Midianites joined with the Moabites in opposing Israel in the Exodus that there developed a problem. See Numbers 25.
    2. 2.      Dr. Baldwin writes, p.102-103, “The six sons of Keturah and the twelve sons of Ishmael became the ancestors of peoples who lived on the eastern borders of Israel’s territory, ‘over against them’, as the Hebrew idiom puts it, in more ways than one….The picture of Abraham as the father of nations is thus enlarged and defined….In salvation history Isaac, the child of Sarah, is the one to be reckoned with.”

 

  1. C.                 Vss.1-4  God Kept His Promise to Abraham
    1. 1.      These verses show clearly that the word from the LORD in 17:5-6 are being fulfilled.
    2. 2.      Application: When Jesus promises us eternal life in John 3:16 or in John 14:1-2 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” We can trust the God of Abraham to keep his promise of giving us an inheritance!
    3. 3.      Gordon Wenham writes, P161 “Finally, as always in Genesis, the material draws attention to the divine promises. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham to assure him that he would be father of a multitude of nations (17:4-6). 25:2-4 lists some of the nations descended from Abraham; implicitly this list reminds us of the fulfillment of the promises. The point is made explicitly in v.11.

Bibliography:

Archer, Gleason L. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI. 1982 (pp.98-99).

Baldwin, Joyce G. The Message of Genesis 12-50 From Abraham to Joseph in The Bible Speaks Today commentary series. Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England 1986 (pp. 102-103).

Boice,  James  Montgomery.  Genesis,  An  Expositional  Commentary,  Volume  2. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp. 252-257).

Francisco, Clyde T. “Genesis” in Broadman Bible Commentary, vol.1 Revised. Nashville: TN 1969 (pp.197-199).

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament. Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, IL. 1992 (pp.57-60).

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Volume 4, Lectures on Genesis Chapters 21-25, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and translated by George V. Schick. Concordia Publishing  House: Saint Louis, MO.1964, (pp.300-331).

Meyer, F.B. Abraham. Christian Literature Crusade: Fort Washington, PA 1979 (pp.155-160).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis.  Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1998 (pp.424-427)

Sailhamer, John H. “Genesis” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 2. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 1990 (pp. -).

Sailhamer, John H. NIV Compact Bible Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1994 (p.38).

Waltke,  Bruce  K.  Genesis:  A  Commentary.  Zondervan:  Grand  Rapids,  MI.  2001 (pp.334-341).

Walton, John H. and Matthews, Victor H. The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Genesis-Deuteronomy. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill. 1997 (pp.53-54).

Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 2: Genesis 16-50. Word Books: Dallas, TX 1994 (pp.155-161).

Wiersbe,  Warren  W.  Be  Obedient:  Learning  the  Secret  of  Living  by  Faith.  SP Publications: Wheaton, Ill. 1991 (pp.133-137).

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