Genesis chapter 25 covers a lot of ground. In verse 1, we see that Abraham marries another wife and goes on to have several children with her. And then, at the end of the chapter, in verse 34, we see Esau, Abraham’s grandson, trading his birthright for some soup! So how did we get from one end of this chapter to another? I know that when I was younger, I used to skim most of this chapter to get to the “good parts,” but now, as an adult, I find so much richness and depth in these verses.
Let’s go back to the beginning here. Verses 1 through 11 give us a description of the time leading up to Abraham’s death. We learn about Abraham’s new wife, Keturah, and the descendants that came from their marriage. We see six sons listed here: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. We then follow Jokshan and Midian’s lines down a few generations.
Are any of these names familiar to you? One in particular stands out to me: Midian. We would rightly assume that this is the ancestor of the people group who became known as the Midianites, who we meet again in Exodus. (Here’s a refresher for you, in case you need it: Moses’ father-in-law was the priest of Midian.)
Remember the promise that God gave to Abraham about him being the father of many nations? Well, we can see this list of his descendants through Keturah as a partial fulfillment of that promise. However, in the very next paragraph, we see that Abraham, though he cared about his other sons, gave everything he had to Isaac when he died. He knew that Isaac was the son promised to him by God, and therefore he knew that the promise of total fulfillment of that promise rested with Isaac.
And when Isaac dies, we see a really interesting little tidbit here. Let’s read verse 9: “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite.” Wait, Ishmael? I thought he was sent away and never knew Isaac! Well, clearly there was enough of the family tie left for him to come back to help his brother bury their father.
This brings me to another often overlooked passage. Immediately after Ishmael and Isaac bury Abraham, we pause from the narrative to read a list of Ishmael’s descendents. Now, remember, God also blessed Ishmael and promised Abraham that Ishmael would also have nations descended from him, and we see that here. There are twelve sons of Ishmael listed here, which is another symbol of the fulfillment of God’s blessing.
We’ll spend the next several chapters walking through the story of Isaac’s descendents, so I want to camp out here for a bit. So often we gloss over sections of Scripture that we don’t quite understand or that don’t seem important to us in our current setting, so I want us to pause in this first half of Genesis 25 and look deeper into what we can learn about the nature of God from this.
Ishmael was not the promised son. Ishmael was a product of Abraham and Sarah trying to make the promise of God happen on their terms, in their timing. As a result, Hagar was sexually abused, and she and her son Ishmael were sent away when he was a teenager. Abraham, naturally, still loved Ishmael, but when Isaac was born…well, Ishmael was no longer needed as a backup in case God didn’t come through.
But God is love. And God loved Ishmael, even though he was not the son he was talking about when he promised Abraham a child. God loved Ishmael, and so he blessed him anyway. The number twelve here is significant; there are twelve tribes of Israel, twelve close disciples of Jesus…twelve sons of Ishmael.
This passage, to me, speaks clearly of God’s redemptive nature. Sure, the descendents of Ishmael and the descendents of Isaac will go on to be at odds with each other for a long time. Ishmael couldn’t help the circumstances he was born into, and he was still seen by God Almighty. And you, friend, are seen by God Almighty. His nature is redemption, and his desire is redemption for all.