Genesis 25:19–34: The Birthright of Jacob
In the second half of Genesis 25, we turn the page from the life of Abraham to the lives of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob. These new generations will deal with many of the same problems that Abraham faced. Indeed, the narratives of Genesis deliberately portray the many similarities between Abraham, his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. At the close of Abraham’s life, we have seen God fulfill only part of his promises to Abraham. The rest of the Genesis—and the rest of the Bible—will detail God’s work to fulfill all his promises to Abraham.
For as many ways as these new generations follow in the footsteps of Abraham, they also take their own paths. They lead their own lives, making their own choices for their own reasons. We must recognize the generational continuity in Abraham’s offspring after him, and yet we must study each of these figures on their own. Right from the beginning of the “generations of Isaac” (Gen. 25:19), the narratives put forward not only Isaac and Rebekah (the second generation), but Esau and Jacob (the third generation). Therefore, while we considered Abraham extensively on his own, the Scriptures now want us to evaluate and learn from Isaac and Rebekah in the light of their children, especially Jacob.
In these opening introductions to the generations after Abraham, we find a critical, basic distinction: heavenly-mindedness versus earthly-mindedness. Ever since God put enmity between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), we have seen this enmity divide brothers (e.g., Gen. 4:1–26; 21:8–21) and even nations (e.g., Gen. 10–11; 25:5–18). This basic struggle comes once again to the forefront in the sharp distinction between Esau and Jacob—that is, between brothers who will become the fathers of two nations (Gen. 25:23). Although our Lord Jesus was not speaking about this passage, he articulated the main lesson we should glean from Genesis 25:19–34 in his Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
1. What do you pray for? Do you pray more for things that God has promised, or for the things that God has not promised? In prayer, are you seeking to lay hold of what God wants, or to manipulate God into giving you what you want? What does Isaac’s twenty years of prayer for the promised offspring (Gen. 25:20–21, 26) teach us about how we should pray?
2. Why do you think the Bible places such an emphasis on God’s election? Here, why does God tell us that he chooses Jacob to serve Esau, even before either of them have been born, or done anything good or bad (Gen. 25:23; cf. Rom. 9:11)? How should the doctrine of election humble us? How should the doctrine of election shape our prayers and our worship?
3. How would you define heavenly-mindedness? How do we see heavenly-mindedness in Isaac? In Rebekah? In Jacob? Do we see any heavenly-mindedness in Esau? Where might someone see heavenly-mindedness in your life? Where do you need to repent in order to seek after God’s kingdom and righteousness? Is it worthwhile to forsake this world for God’s kingdom?
4. How would you define earthly-mindedness? How do we see earthly-mindedness in Isaac? In Rebekah? In Jacob? In Esau? Where might someone see earthly-mindedness in your life? What makes earthly-mindedness so alluring to us? Why are we willing to sell eternal goods for temporal goods? How might you seek to protect yourself from what is profane in this life?