Genesis 25-26: Every Generation Must Learn Its Own Lessons

While it probably sounds a little clichéd, it is in one sense true that the church is “only one generation away from extinction.”  This sort of thinking was drilled into my mind as a student in ministry and I have heard friends in ministry repeat it many times.  While this is true in some sense, in another, we obviously know that it isn’t the entire story.  This is because we know that God will always reserve a remnant for himself and because of this, we can be sure that  no matter how bleak things may appear at one time of history or another, the gospel will never die away because the power behind the gospel is God himself.  God has a plan for the world, and it is impossible to thwart what he intends to do.


With this being said, it does not mean; however, that there are no guarantees that successive generations of Christians will embrace the gospel.  Simply because a person has a mother who is a Christian, it does not mean that the next generation will.  While this is the sad fact, it is entirely the truth.  Each generation must learn its own faith lessons.  While a certain degree of understanding may be passed down from one generation to another, the truth of the matter is that each one of us will stand before God and will be called to account for our own deeds and in that moment, our parents and extended family won’t be applied to our account.


In this text we say “good bye” to one generation and we are greeted by two more.  Abraham had begun his journey as a pagan far removed from God and he ended it as a mature man of faith who was now legendary in his rock solid in his faith.  At the end of his life, he was tested and unlike his earlier years in his walk with God, he trusted God for the impossible.  As Abraham departs from the scene, we now are introduced to the notion that the generations that followed him had to learn the very same lessons he learned all over again.


We are all given a series of choices and we all face various temptations in life and those who choose to walk with God are often more the exception than the rule.  Abraham, as we know, had two sons with a special promise from God.  Isaac and Ishmael would both become the fathers of great nations.  Isaac carried on the family which would one day become the Jewish nation and Ishmael would become, according to many scholars, the father of the Arab people groups.  The text fills us in that Ishmael had twelve sons who became twelve powerful rulers as had been previously predicted and the telling of this promise fulfilled is the last glimpse we get into the life of Ishmael in this narrative (25:16).


We are also introduced to the very famous story of the great twin rivalry of Jacob and Esau.  These two brothers were accustomed to pushing each other around right from the beginning.  In 25:22 the NIV says that the babies were “jostling” within her and she could not understand why this was happening to her given that she had waited so long to become pregnant and have a child.  The interesting thing here is that the NIV is understating the matter with the word “jostling” as the Hebrew word actually means “to crush.”  These little babies were going at it in her womb and it felt as though they were actually crushing each other.  It is no wonder that she wondered to herself, “why is this happening to me?” (25:22b).


Very early on we begin to get a flavor for the boys personalities.  Esau, the older son was extremely undisciplined as he proved  himself to be a little bit of a “wild man.”  He was born with hair all over his body and he grew to love the outdoors.  He became a hunter and in some ways became a “man’s man.”  Jacob, on the other hand, liked to hang out around the house and cook with his mother. He was not the type to go out and spend his time hunting down game but enjoyed more of a domesticated life.  Knowing that Esau was impulsive, one day Jacob prepared a meal about the time that Esau was returning home from a hunting trip.  Esau was hungry and wanted his brother to share some of his food with him.  Jacob would give him some on one condition, that he would exchange the food for his birthright.  We learn from the text that the birthright was something that Esau despised (25:34).  Although the birthright carried with it a double portion of the family inheritance, Esau probably didn’t want it because he did not like the idea of all the responsibility that went along with it.  For the son who was given the birthright, he was also expected to become the family patriarch and priest.  In the following, I have found a nice explanation of the significance of the birthright in the ancient world.


“BIRTHRIGHT Right or privilege belonging to the firstborn son in a Hebrew family. The eldest son ranked highest after the father and in the father’s absence had the father’s authority and responsibility, as illustrated by Reuben’s relationship to his younger brothers (Gn 37:19–22, 28–30). However, because he later committed incest, Reuben forfeited his birthright (Gn 49:1–4). Next in line were Simeon, Levi, and Judah (Gn 29:31–35), but Jacob, their father, passed over Simeon and Levi because of their lack of character (Gn 49:5–7). Although he praised Judah (Gn 49:8–10), Jacob gave the birthright to his favorite son, Joseph (Gn 49:22–26; 1 Chr 5:1–2; cf. Gn 37:2–4).Tablets recovered from Nuzi in Mesopotamia have shown that the birthright could be exchanged among members of the same family (cf. Gn 25:19–34). The holder of the birthright appears to have been in possession of the “teraphim,” or household idols (31:19, 32, 34), which were small terra-cotta images, presumably of the particular deity worshiped locally. These tokens would reinforce the position and authority of the firstborn. The birthright meant not only the honor of family leadership but also an inheritance of twice the amount received by every other son. In polygamous Israelite society the birthright belonged to the actual firstborn of the father and could not be transferred to the son of a favorite wife without just cause (Dt 21:15–17).[1]


So we notice here, that while Abraham had grown to become an exceedingly godly man by the time of his death; yet, there seemed to be a great disconnect between the level of his faith and the level of his grandsons.  We are learning from this text that godliness is not something that is inherited like ones hair or skin tone.


The difference between Abraham and his grandsons is understandable to some degree, but the details of Isaac’s story in chapter 26 is a little more difficult to digest.  On two occasions in this narrative we read that Abraham went to Egypt and to a city among the philistines called Gerar.  In both of these instances Abraham, fearing for his life, told Sarah to pretend to be his sister because she was beautiful. He feared that the pharaoh or the king would kill him and take Sarah for themselves.  As the story goes, God divinely interceded and protected Sarah from being brought fully into the harem with either king.  What makes all of this even more interesting is that the King of Gerar during Abraham’s life was a man named Abimelech. 


At the beginning of chapter 26 we are told that there was a famine in the land which forced Isaac to go to Gerar as Abraham had for the same reason.  The name of the king in Gerar was Abimelech as it had been during Abraham’s time.  I have no idea if this is the same Abimelech or one who may have been the junior of the one associated with Abraham, but the similarities of the two stories continue to remain obviously striking.  After going to the city for refuge from the famine, Isaac became worried that because Rebekah is beautiful, the philistines will kill him and take her away to be someone else’s wife.  So he said to her that she should pretend to be his sister in order to save his own skin.  There is one significant piece to this text that we sometimes forget.  Isaac concocted this plan after God had come to him and reaffirmed the covenant he made to his father Abraham.  “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands and through your offspring all nations of earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws” (26:4-5). So right after the affirmation of the promise, Isaac seems to forget what God has told him, just as Abraham had once done, and he decided to follow his own schemes rather than simply walk upright with his trust in the promises of God. 


Yet in spite of Isaac’s unfaithfulness, God revealed the truth to Abimelech, who you have to believe was on his toes after what Abraham had done in chapter 20.  In the text we note that God does not condemn Isaac, just as he did not condemn Abraham.  We also notice that God blessed Isaac just as he had blessed his father Abraham.  While his life was not without problems, as he constantly found himself in great disagreement with many philistines; at the end of the narrative, Abimelech came to him to sign a covenant that they would leave each other in peace (26:28-31). 


It seems that in this story that there are a number of clear lessons for all of us.  We cannot rely on the faith of the generations who have gone before us.  God will continue to challenge us as he had challenged them.  We also must make note of the fact that God is a patient God.  For a human being, it would be very frustrating to have a father and son make the exact same mistake even thought God had promised his protection for their families.  Yet, God was patient when each man stumbled as he understands that growth is a process for each one of us and very often we repeat the same errors that others have made.  Even when we fail God, it doesn’t change his love for us and the fact that he will continue to help us grow.  Finally we learn from this text how easy it is to repeat the same sins of our fathers.  Certain sins often run in families and we must be careful to take a very close inventory of our lives and do all we can to stop the cycle of certain kinds of sins that go from generation to generation in our families. Finally, we can’t assume that those generations which follow us will be faithful.  We must make training in righteousness and living by example a great priority so that we might faithfully be imitators of Christ for the next generation. God calls each generation to stand up on its own and I pray that each one of us will remain faithful to him and to the generations that will follow so that they may have the opportunity to learn their own lessons through a life of faithfulness to Him.

[1]Elwell, Walter A. ; Comfort, Philip Wesley: Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (Tyndale Reference Library), S. 224


4 Responses to “Genesis 25-26: Every Generation Must Learn Its Own Lessons”

  1. John Says:

    Its hard to understand the practices that were so common in the days of Abraham and Isaac. The thought that men would kill another to take his wife is horrible. Not that those things don’t still happen today, but it seemed to be acceptable and expected then.
    Regarding your last post: Have you ever wondered what you would do if told to sacrifice one of your own children as a burnt offering? The very idea runs counter to every instinct in me and its probably fair to say that’s a test I would fail. I would, at least, need proof that it was actually God telling me to do it and, even then, the pain would be too much to bear.
    Wonderful and descriptive commentary on your part. Thank you.

  2. Derek Taylor Says:

    This is a great reminder- particularly in light of what we are finding out from Barna’s most recent research project.
    Here’s a sobering summary. Read and tremble at the implications:

    Half of Americans who call themselves “Christian” don’t believe Satan exists and fully one-third are confident that Jesus sinned while on Earth, according to a new Barna Group poll.

    Another 40 percent say they do not have a responsibility to share their Christian faith with others, and 25 percent “dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches,” the organization reports.

    Pollster George Barna said the results have huge implications.

    “Americans are increasingly comfortable picking and choosing what they deem to be helpful and accurate theological views and have become comfortable discarding the rest of the teachings in the Bible,” he said.

  3. Bruce Smith Says:

    Thanks John for writing. I wonder if there may have been something about Abimelech’s particular kingdom that left the patriarchs thinking that living there was dangerous if you had an attractive wife? It makes one suspect that the man may have had a reputation for this type of behavior in the past. On another note, I am also grateful that I will never be in Abraham’s position. What we do know about Abraham’s thinking process from this text is that he had the firm conviction that God would make sure that his son would return from Moriah alive and well. I’ll bet you’d love to read the classic Fear and Trembling, by Kierkegaard. I have it in my office if you’re interested.

    Thanks Derek for your comments as well. If Barna is correct, the next generation will have some huge hurdles to overcome. There is no doubt that Christians are losing a commitment to some of the core doctrines of the Faith. This stat stunned me: “40 percent say they do not have a responsibility to share their Christian faith with others . . .” Given the statistics you have cited, it makes one really think about what the American church may look like in 30 years from now.

  4. John Says:

    Thanks Bruce. I probably would enjoy the book if you’re recommending it.

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