Genesis 25:12-35:29 “Overview”

Posted on February 13, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

 Read Genesis 25:12-28

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled  over against all his kinsmen.

19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?”  So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you  shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”

24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.  Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.



WE are going to briefly look at the toledoth of Ishmael and then move into an overview of the toledoth of Isaac and of Jacob which shall take us through the rest of Genesis but we will focus the toledoth of Isaac which ends in Gen. 35:29. In the previous section about Abraham, the toledoth of Terah, we saw the themes of Land, Descendants, and Promise of Blessing, with some side issues of conflict along the way. There was a conflict with Pharaoh in ch.12 over Sarai, a conflict with Lot over the lack of pasture land in 13 and a conflict with the kings of the east over Sodom in 14. In 15 Abram complains to God about his lack of descendants and in 16 there is conflict between Sarai and Hagar over Hagar’s pregnancy and attitude. In 18-19 God has a problem with Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham intercedes on behalf of Lot. In 20 Abraham and Abimelech have a conflict over Sarah and in 21 there is conflict between Ishmael and little Isaac and between Sarah and Hagar again, and another conflict with Abimelech, this time over a well. In 22 God requires Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but stays his hand at the last minute. In 23 Sarah dies and in 24 Abraham’s servant has a conflict with Rebekah’s family after they agreed to let her go marry Isaac. Finally in 25 we see that Abraham dies.

In the Isaac toledoth we have some of the same themes but a lot more about conflict. There is some conflict between Isaac and Rebekah in 25:28 and ch.27 over their favorite child: Isaac loves Esau and Rebekah loves Jacob. There is the famous conflict between Jacob and Esau that began in the womb and there is conflict between Jacob and Laban, Rachel and Leah, and between Jacob and the Angel of the LORD at the Jabbok. Simeon and Levi bring a harsh judgment against Shechem for the rape of their sister, Dinah. Certainly this section of Genesis has some of the most action oriented stories in the Bible! Overall we see the sovereignty of God as He works out the passing down of the Promise from Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob.

The toledoth of Shem in 11:10-26 is 17 verses long, but in 11:27 begins the toledoth of Terah, which tells Abraham’s story for the next 14 chapters. In the final four toledoth sections of Genesis there is a pattern of presenting the line that lies outside the covenant first, then going to the covenant line and spending a considerable amount of space presenting the material. In Genesis 25:12-18, just 7 verses, we have the toledoth of Ishmael; then, in 25:19 we begin the toledoth of Isaac which ends in 35:29, a total of 11 chapters. The toledoth of Esau picks right up in 36:1-43, a full chapter of 43 verses, but then in 37:1 the toledoth of Jacob begins and extends until the end of the book, Genesis 50:26, a total of 14 chapters.

  1. I.                   The Account of Ishmael, Literary Analysis of Genesis 25:12-8

In looking at the account of Ishmael we see first that it is quite brief compared with the accounts of Terah or Isaac, with only 7 verses. These verses begin with the typical toledoth (These are the generations of) and is arranged in an A, B, A’ pattern. A is the list of the twelve tribes of Ishmael in vss.13-16. B is the death notice of Ishmael in v.17. And v.18 has the geographical location of the descendants of Ishmael. Waltke says, p.343, “By this structure the narrator features the Ishmaelites rather than Ishmael without slighting him.”

What sticks out immediately from the list of descendants of Ishmael is the number 12. Contrast that with the number of sons Abraham had with Keturah- 6. But, look back to the number of sons born to Nahor in 22:20ff and you find 8 by his wife Milcah and 4 more by his concubine Reumah, giving a total of 12. Now look forward to the sons of Jacob (Israel)  in 29:31-35:26 and you get- 12.

Notice also the similarity in structure with the genealogy of Abraham’s sons through Keturah which is also segmented (vv.2-4 compared with 13-16). They both end describing the settlement of the sons (vv.5-6 “he sent them away…to the east” and v.18, “they settled from Havilah to Shur”). Both sections include the death notices, Abraham in v.7-8 and Ishmael in v.17. Both sections include a statement of what the sons do in relationship to each other: vs.9 Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham together, and in vs.18 “He settled over against his kinsmen.” It is unusual for the Bible to list the years of one outside the covenant; Ishmael lived 137 yrs.

 One other surprising thing about this toledoth is the fact that it is essentially the genealogy of a concubine, Hagar. Not only are women’s names included in the genealogies, but with this one it is all predicated on the promise God gave to Hagar in 16:10-12.

  1. II.                The Account of Ishmael, Exposition
    1. A.      The Main Idea is that God Keeps His Promises!
      1. 1.        When you look back to Gen. 16:10-12 and see what God promised Hagar in regards to her unborn child you realize that 25:12-18 fulfills that promise. God is true to his Word.
      2. 2.        In 17:20 God promises that Ishmael will father 12 princes; that very specific promise is shown to be fulfilled in our text.
      3. 3.        But you have to also ask the tough questions. Every indication is that Ishmael was outside the covenant, despite his circumcision in 17:26. So why is he so blessed? Why did the LORD give so much mercy to Hagar and her son? Because of his promise to Abraham. This points us back to 12:1-3. Look also at Lot who was blessed by his association with Abraham.

Waltke, p343 on Ishmael, “This book, which features the descendants of Ishmael, follows up God’s promises to Abraham and Hagar (16:10-12). Because he is a descendant of Abraham and Sarah’s maidservant, Ishmael is not a man without a future and a destiny.”

  1. 4.        Application. God blesses even those outside of his covenant; he causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. Not one of us deserves his blessings; it is all of grace. Our response should not be envy at those who have more blessings than we, it should be joy and rejoicing at the goodness of the Giver of all gifts. Worship and thanksgiving not envy and complaining.
  2. 5.        Application. Being close to Abraham tends to increase the likelihood of being blessed yourself. I am convinced that the closer you are to Christ, the offspring of Abraham, the more blessings you will partake in because Christ is the Savior the source of all blessings for the Redeemed. One reason the Christian West prospered so much more than other regions of the world, despite our many failures and sins, is that the West had Christ. And when you compare the Protestant West with the Catholic West you see an even greater difference. In other words, biblical Christianity has brought a spiritual legacy to Western Civilization that has led to scientific and economic prosperity because of the spiritual and moral effects of the Christians in those societies.
  3. 6.        Conversely, as Christianity declines in the West, so will our prosperity. China today has more Christians living in its borders than any other country than America. I find it interesting that the Chinese are ascending so quickly and that they are our creditors.
  4. 7.        Waltke writes, p.347, “Surely the mention of the twelve tribes of Arameans, of Ishmaelites, of Edomites, and of Israelites is not fortuitous. Christ even chooses twelve apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel….The number twelve seems to represent God’s ordering of creation and history, demonstrating by the fact that twelve is a basic unit for measuring time and organizing history (e.g. 24 hours [12×2] and 144 as the ideal number of the eschatological kingdom [12×12]). This suggests that all these tribes, one from Abraham’s brother Nahor and three from his own loins, participate in God’s common grace and elective purposes. The merciful God increases all of them and uniquely blesses Ishmael with longevity and a great nation….Moreover, the Sovereign will later use these tribal confederacies to discipline his elect people (cf. Isa. 21:13-17; Jer.49:28-33). Ultimately, the gracious Sovereign will bring al under the sway of the kingdom of Jesus Christ (cf. Amos 9:11-12 with Acts 15:16-17; Isa. 42:11; 60:1-9).”
  5. 8.        Despite the two primary sons of Abraham cooperating in the burial of their father, and despite the blessing of God upon both, the word “blessing” is primarily reserved for Isaac (except for 17:20) and it is prophesied and fulfilled that Ishmael shall live over and against his brothers. There is animosity that is very deeply spiritual that lingers to this day. The muslims live over and against the Jews and Christians.
  6. 9.        Waltke, p. 344, “The twelve tribes of Ishmael correspond in number to the twelve tribes of …Israel….If the rejected Ishmael and the twelve tribes that spring from him have a future and a destiny, how much more is that true of Isaac, through whom Abraham’s lineage will be reckoned? In this sense, Ishmael is a foil to Isaac. Whereas God gives the Israelites land and makes them a light to the nations he promises the Ishmaelites no land (though they settle from Havilah to the Egyptian border), and they live in hostility with all their brothers. Nevertheless, although the tribes of Nahor, of Keturah, and of Ishmael later fight against the tribes of Israel, Israel is chosen to become a blessing to them.”
  7. 10.    Wenham writes, p.165, “Through all the stories about Ishmael, there runs a schizophrenic streak. On the one hand, these tribesmen are viewed as intimately related to Israel; on the other hand, these tales relate that tension between Israelites and Ishmaelites can be traced right back to the squabbles of Isaac and Ishmael in Abraham’s household.”


  1. III.             Literary Analysis of Genesis 25:19-35:29

With the toledoth of Isaac we begin the Jacob stories that will continue until the end of Genesis. Jacob’s story can be divided into two main parts

A. The Birth of Jacob and Esau to Isaac’s Death, 25:19-35:29

B. The Stories of Joseph, 37:1-50:26

Notice that the toledoth of Esau separates these two halves with ch.36. Wenham says that the stories of Joseph are “the sequel of the Jacob story” (p.168).

A. Births and genealogy, rivalry, 25:19-34

       B. Digression: Rebekah in foreign palace, pact with foreigners, 26:1-33

          C. Jacob steals Esau’s blessing 26:34-28:9

               D. Covenant blessings on Jacob and exile 28:10-32:32

                  1. First encounter with Angel at Bethel, 28:10-22

                    2. Conflict with Laban in Haran 29:1-30

                      3. Marriage and offspring, 29:31-30:24

                    2’. Jacob prospers but flees Laban 30:25-31:55

                  1’. Angelic encounters 32:1-32

             C’. Reconciles with Esau 33:1-17

          B’. Digression: Dinah in foreign palace, pact with foreigners, 33:18-34:31         

      A’. Births and deaths 35:1-29

(The above analysis came from Waltke, p.352, with some modification)

Within the broader story and chiastic structure is another chiasmus in 29:1-31:55

      A. Jacob meets Laban in peace 29:1-14a

         B. Laban deceives Jacob 29:14b-30         

            C. God blesses Jacob with offspring in spite of conflict 29:31-30:21

               X. Birth of Joseph, turning point to leave 30:22-24

            C’. God blesses Jacob’s property in spite of conflict 30:25-31:30

         B’. Rachel deceives Laban 31:31-42

       A’. Jacob and Laban part in peace 31:43-55

(Waltke, p.353).  Notice what is at the center of this toledoth: Jacob’s offspring. God’s promise to Abraham continues down the line.

 The plot is driven by conflict which remains a central theme in the history as I have mentioned before, but notice the conflicts that Isaac and Jacob have with the Lord and with culture. Isaac loves Esau, the firstborn (25:28) but Rebekah loves Jacob. God has chosen Jacob the second born, and Isaac does not see it at birth nor when he is blind and it is time for the blessing (ch.29). The concept of primogeniture is overturned as Jacob supplants Esau by bargaining for his birthright in 25:34 and steals his blessing in ch.29. Rebekah is barren (25:21) as was Sarah, and so is Rachel in 30:1. Just as Isaac’s father, Abraham, had a problem passing his wife off at a pagan king’s court as his sister, so Isaac does the same in Abimelech’s court in ch.26, causing yet another conflict.

 Have you ever wondered why there was no, “This is the account of Abraham” followed by a sizeable section on Isaac? Compared with Abraham and Jacob, Isaac actually gets very little press. Why is that? Waltke perhaps goes too far, or is too harsh on Isaac when he writes, (p.351), “Instead of the account of Abraham’s line (the narrative of Isaac), this book presents the account of Isaac’s line (the narrative of Jacob). Isaac’s account has been gapped, and his life must be pieced together from other accounts. Considering that even the non-elect such as Ishmael and Esau are given separate, even if brief, accounts…isaac’s gap seems deliberate. Why would Isaac, who had such miraculous beginnings, be gapped? The first half of Isaac’s life is full of God’s providence and Isaac’s faith….In his old age, Isaac has become sedentary and stubborn, unwilling to lead the family through conflict and unwilling to submit to plans of God that differ from his own desires. Isaac’s gapping likely reflects his failure to remain faithful.”

There is a disturbing aspect to Isaac’s life that comes out in the conflicts in Isaac’s life. He shows favoritism, missing the Lord’s direction as to where the covenant line is passing, and he seems passive. We see the instance where he prays for his wife’s barren condition, and the Lord does answer his prayer, and we see one instance of the Lord speaking to Rebekah. We do see Isaac avoid the sin of his father by listening to the Lord and not going to Egypt during a famine (26:1-3) but then he does repeat Abraham’s sin Gerar (26:6ff). The LORD appears to Isaac in 26:24-25 and he does build an altar there. But perhaps something did happen along the way that left Isaac’s faith cold. There was clearly a leadership problem but we see that in Jacob’s family as well.

  1. IV.              Isaac’s Family’s Conflicts in Canaan 25:19-28:9

These chapters cover the period from Isaac’s marriage to Jacob’s flight, all in Canaan. The major events which form the outline are:

  1. 1.        the prayer for Rebekah to bear children, 25:19-21
  2. 2.        the struggle of the twins in her womb and their birth, 25:22-26
  3. 3.        the favoritism within the family, 25:27-28
  4. 4.        Esau selling his birthright, 25:29-34
  5. 5.        God’s covenant with Isaac, 26:1-5
  6. 6.        Isaac Repeats Abraham’s sin with Abimelech, 26:6-11
  7. 7.        Isaac receives blessings and a problem with a well, 26:12-33
  8. 8.        Esau’s wives grieve Isaac and Rebekah, 26:34-35
  9. 9.        The Conflict over the Blessing 27:1-45
  10. 10.    Jacob’s flight 27:46-28:5
  11. 11.    More conflict over Esau’s wives, 28:6-9


Notice that in 25:20 Paddan-Aram is mentioned as the home of Rebekah. This is information we already know, so Moses is now linking the present story to what transpired in ch. 24, and he is pointing forward to the next series of geographical stories in 28:10ff which take place in Paddan-Aram, mentioned again in 28:2. This is a typical Moses inclusio. Notice the character development of Isaac: in 25:21 he is interceding for his wife but in 27 he is blind to what God wants. Much later, in 48:8-20 we see a blind Jacob blessing Joseph’s second born  deliberately and it upsets Joseph.

 Next week:

Next week we will begin the exposition of 25:19-28.


 Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1996 (pp. 429-432).

 Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1991 (pp.343-360).

 Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books: Dallas, TX 1994 (162-170).


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