Abraham didn’t have the fertility problem that Sarah did. In today’s reading (Genesis 25-26:33), we discover that he married Keturah some time after Sarah’s death – when he was 137 years old – and fathered six sons. And while he gave gifts to these sons, when he finally passed away at age 175, he left it all to Isaac and was buried in the cave tomb he bought for Sarah.
I don’t know whether the custom of leaving an entire inheritance to the firstborn son began with Abraham or not, but it persisted. I also don’t know whether his choice was based on a preference for Isaac over the others, or the hope that under the patriarchy of a much older brother, they would work together to maintain his shepherding empire.
Ishmael remained pretty much out of the picture. With the wife his Egyptian mother secured for him in Egypt, he fathered the twelve sons God had prophesied.
“And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.” ~ Genesis 25:18b
That just seems to be a running theme throughout this section of Genesis.
Cain murders Abel. Ishmael scorns Isaac. And, in the verses to come, fraternal twins Jacob and Esau will develop a fraternal rivalry so intense that it eventually becomes the subject of a Jewish proverb (Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13).
It was so from the start. Within Rebekah’s womb, they jostled each other to the point where she inquired of the Lord, and His answer was:
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.” ~ Genesis 25:23
Esau (“Hairy”) came out first, but Jacob (“He Grasps”) came out ahead.
The rivalry may have begun with their parents:
“The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” ~ Genesis 25:27-28
You know, that’s probably never a good idea. Had Rebekah ever shared God’s prophecy with her husband? Was she secretly backing a winner? Here’s how it played out …
Once, when Esau came in from hunting empty-handed and starved, he found Jacob cooking red stew. Jacob agreed to sell him some in exchange for his birthright, the inheritance. Esau reasoned that if he starved, everything would pass to his brother anyway, and sold it.
Isaac went on to the same kind of maturity as his father. Fearful of his life over his gorgeous wife Rebekah, he lied to the same king (or heir with the same name), Abimelech, about her being his sister (when, in fact, she was more of a cousin). This time Abimelech’s household dodged the bullet of God’s punishment by illness and barrenness (or worse). Abimelech, king of the Philistines, happened to look down from a window and saw Isaac caressing Rebekah – apparently in an un-brotherly fashion – and reached the right conclusion.
Quarrels over Abraham’s wells separated the two, and at the as-yet unnamed Beersheba the Lord confirmed His promise to Isaac.
“Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.” ~ Genesis 26:25
Abimelech came there and made a peace covenant with Isaac – perceiving that God was with him. They swore an oath on their treaty, enjoyed a feast together, and the new well turned out wet. Everything was going along pretty well, except …
“When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” ~ Genesis 26:34-35
Did I already say “probably never a good idea”?