These chapters portray the covenant family in transition. Ever since God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15, obstacles had arisen and threatened the fulfillment of God’s word. Although at each occasion God superintended to prevent His plans from being thwarted, the question remained as to how Abraham’s descendants would respond to the promises God had made to Abraham.
Sarah’s passing in Genesis 23—though marked by sadness and remorse—shows the progress of God’s promises to Abraham. In purchasing a burial plot for Sarah, Abraham came to have a stake in the land God had promised him (Gen 23:14-20). In the flow of the narrative, the author initially dealt with how Sarah’s death would affect her son, Isaac. Genesis 24 is the lengthy and detailed account of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah. Abraham was steadfast in his requirement that Isaac enjoy a bride from within the covenant family (Gen 24:1-9). Abraham’s servant was prayerfully dependent upon God to display His providence in connecting the relationship of Isaac and the woman who greeted him at the well in Canaan (Gen 24:12-30). The literary structure of the text is an inclusio, pointing the reader back to Sarah’s passing in Genesis 23. Through his relationship with Rebekah, Isaac was “comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen 24:67).
In time Isaac also had to deal with the loss of his father (Gen 25:1-10). While Isaac was the child of promise—the one through whom both lineage and land would be realized—the text does not turn directly to a restatement of God’s promises to him. Rather, the text records the birth of Isaac’s sons (Gen 25:19-34). The surety of God’s promises to Abraham can be seen in the account of Isaac’s sons, Abraham’s grandchildren. The promises to Abraham would carry on through Isaac, the child of promise. The word of the Lord then came to Rebekah concerning the future of Isaac’s line. Jacob, the younger of Rebekah’s twin boys was favored of God even from the womb (Gen 25:19-23). In due time the Lord turned directly to Isaac, promising him land and lineage just as He had Abraham (Gen 26:3-4).
Jacob and Esau are foundational in the development of the storyline of Scripture.
(1) In Rom 9:6-13, Paul deduced from the birth account of Jacob and Esau, that there the children of promise are a distinct subset of Abraham’s descendants. In Paul’s day, many wondered why so many Jews—the physical descendants of Jacob—were rejecting the Messiah. The Gentile population was more numerous in the church. In Romans 9, Paul looked back to the events of Genesis 25 to provide an answer. Paul stated in Rom 9:7 that the Lord’s word to Abraham in Gen 21:12, “Your offspring will be traced through Isaac,” established God’s elective purposes in the patriarchal family. God chose Isaac and not Ishmael to inherit His promises to Abraham. In the same way, God chose Jacob and not Esau (Gen 25:19-23). Based upon the Lord’s word to Rebekah in Gen 25:23, “The older will serve the younger,” Paul noted that the prophet Malachi understood God to have loved Jacob and hated Esau (Mal 1:2-3). In Paul’s view, God’s elective purposes in Christ could be traced to God’s elective purposes in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
(2) In Heb 12:15-16, the author of Hebrews cited Esau’s lack of perseverance as a negative example for his audience. In Gen 25:27-34, Esau’s failing, near-sighted hunger prompted him to forgo his birthright for a meal. Esau’s character was consistent with God’s rejection of him. The author of Hebrews saw in Esau’s lack of endurance a lesson for his audience. But the author of Hebrews broadened the lesson of Esau and applied it to the community of the church. According to Hebrews, mutual edification in the church can prevent believers from acting like Esau. The author encouraged his listeners to look out for those in need of grace among them, and supply words of grace and encouragement so that none in their number fall away from faith in Christ (Heb 12:15-16).