Genesis 25 - 7 questions

John Ronning ronning at
Mon Oct 30 12:10:32 EST 2000

Brian Tucker wrote:
> I am working through Gen 25 and I have some questions about it:
> 3. Why did the editor place this section here? Is it simply to bring the
> Abraham cycle to a close?

Some interesting and important material in this section
bringing the life of Abraham to a close:
1. Abraham's fathering of six more sons after the death of
Sarah, thus about forty or more years after he considered
himself too old to become a father, gives us a hint of what
kind of miracle it was that led to the birth of Isaac; i.e.
Abraham was rejuvenated (also Sarah, as other evidence
indicates, i.e. her desirability to Abimelech (chapter 20)
after her description of being old and wrinkled (chapter

2. His provision for these sons - sending them to the east
with gifts, so that they would not settle and intermarry
with the Canaanites, to be destroyed when the iniquity of
the Amorite was full, but rather they would be enabled to
participate in the blessing of Abraham that would come to
all nations.

3. An interesting exception to the "rule" in Genesis that
only the males in the line from Adam to Joseph have their
life span given (the other exception is Sarah).  We are told
that Ishmael lived for 137 years.  This is also
approximately the age of Isaac when he is close to death in
chapter 27.  A contradiction in the mind of some, since
elsewhere we are told that Isaac lived 180 years - 43 years
is a bit long to be on one's death bed!  The life span of
Ishmael, however, provides a clue to the theological
solution to the contradiction.  Isaac had been favoring Esau
over Jacob; a hazardous proceudre in light of the promise "I
will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse
you."  We need not be surprised that Isaac was going to die
"young" for favoring the one whom God had rejected.  So he
was going to die at about the same age as his older brother
Ishmael had died.  For treating Esau like he should have
treated Jacob, God was treating Isaac like he treated
Ishmael (in terms of life span).  But once Isaac of his own
will blesses Jacob (chapter 28), the penalty is released and
he goes on to live another 40 plus years.  (Makes source
critical investigations seem like a waste of time doesn't

> 4. The toledot formula is 15:12 - is it just the switch to Ishmael? I read
> in the archieves about Wiseman's idea that toledot ends a section not
> begins a section? What is the toledot doing, if anything abnormal?
The death notice followed by the toledoth formula is the
standard way to close the account of one patriarchal
generation and open the next. Typically after the death
notice there is a chronological regression, so that "these
are the generations of Isaac" reverts to the time when
Abraham is still alive, though he is not brought into the
history any more.  This point and others makes Wiseman's
theory vary dubious.

Also noteworthy is that the addition of the phrase "the son
of Abraham" in "these are the generations of Ishmael, the
son of Abraham" and "these are the generations of Isaac, the
son of Abraham" seems to compensate for the fact that there
is no statement in Genesis "These are the generations of
Abraham."  Analysis of the other toledoth formulas shows
that such a phrase, if it had been used, would have been at
12:1 (after the notice of Terah's death).

Which raises the question, "why no toledoth Avraham notice
in Genesis?"  My own view is that it makes 12:1 parallel to
the other major section of Genesis that begins without a
toledoth formula, i.e. Genesis 1:1.  Or maybe it has
something to do with the suspense in the question of who is
going to be the heir of Abraham, or the issue of who are the
true children of Abraham.

Genesis 25 also follows the pattern of giving the non-elect
line first, as in Genesis 4, 10, 36.

The list of Ishmael's 12 sons/princes/tribes corresponds to
the promise to bless Ishmael in Genesis 17, and is quite
important theologically, in terms of what is the nature of
the Abrahamic covenant.  It's apparent that if God simply
intended to make of Abraham a great nation of twelve tribes,
Ishmael would have sufficed; but Genesis 17 is quite
emphatic that Ishmael is outside the covenant.  On an
individual level it shows Israelites that being descended
from Abraham is not enough to be in the covenant; on a
national level, it shows Israel that being a great nation of
twelve tribes does not fulfill the intent of the covenant.

There are also eschatological implications for the nature of
the Abrahamic blessing - it is not the exiled Ishmael but
covenant son Isaac who is almost put to death on Mt. Moriah;
likewise it is not the non-covenant Ishmaelites, Midianites,
Edomites, etc. who are oppressed in Egypt but the covenant
people Israel.


John Ronning

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