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Go to Bible: Genesis 25
“Abraham had taken another wife.” This would have been after Sarah died, but before Isaac married Rebekah.(top)
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“breathed his last.” The Hebrew verb translated “breathed his last” is the single word gava (#01478 גָּוַע), and it refers to dying. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (W. VanGemeren editor) says that it refers to “natural death as in the case of Abraham (Gen. 25:8), Ishmael (Gen. 25:17), Isaac (Gen. 35:29), Jacob (Gen. 49:33), and Aaron (Num. 20:29). Usually, however, the suggestion is that of violent and/or untimely death.” It also says that fundamentally it is synonymous with the Hebrew verb “die” (#04191 מָוֹת muth).
The Complete WordStudy Dictionary by W. Baker and E. Carpenter says that the word is used for the death of humans and animals, but adds, “The word [gava] is apparently from a root meaning to breathe out. …Sometimes the context of the word refers to the root meaning of breathing out (Job 34:14; Ps. 104:29).” The fact that gava is related to breathing out, and thus breathing out one’s last breath and dying, is why a number of English versions translate the verb as “breathed his last” (CJB; ESV; NAB; NASB; NET; NIV; NJB; NKJV; NRSV; Rotherham; RSV; cp. CEB, CSB, “took his last breath”). It would be quite accurate to simply translate verses such as Genesis 25:8 as “Abraham breathed out and died,” but that does not communicate as well as “breathed his last.” Some translations simply use the word “expire” and say, “Abraham expired and died” (DBY; YLT), and that is very accurate and also uses one English word “expired” to represent the one Hebrew word gava. Lexically it would be a good choice to use “expired” for gava because etymologically “expired” comes from the Latin “ex,” meaning “out” and “spirdre,” meaning “breathe,” thus “expire” means “to breathe out,” and that is exactly what the Bible is describing that happens when a person dies, they breathe out. Nevertheless, most English versions do not use the word “expire” because it is not common to use the word “expired” when speaking of a person’s death; it is more common to use “expire” to show that something is out of date or no longer in force, for example, “the warranty on the car has expired,” or we say that canned food “expires” after a time and should no longer be eaten.
From verses such as Genesis 25:8 we see that the Bible says that even great men like Abraham simply breathed their last breath and died. No one goes to heaven, “Hell,” or any other place when they die. The dead body is usually buried or cremated, and the “person” goes to Sheol, the Hebrew word for the state of being dead (see commentary on Rev. 20:13). Yet, because of Church tradition, most people believe that when the body dies the “soul” (or “spirit”) lives on in an immaterial form, for example, as a ghost.
Early versions of the Bible helped spread the false teaching that when a person died their “soul” lived on as an immaterial being. For example, many early versions of the Bible translated the Hebrew word gava, and the New Testament words ekpneō (#1606 ἐκπνέω; cp. Mark 15:37, 39; Luke 23:46), and ekpsuchō (#1634 ἐκψύχω; cp. Acts 5:5, 10; 12:23), which basically refer to “breathing out” or “breathing out one’s life,” as “gave up the ghost.”
According to the website “Rolls off the Tongue,” the phrase “give up the ghost” is of biblical origin and first appeared in an English Bible in 1523 (rollsoffthetongue.com; accessed October 22, 2020). In 1534, William Tyndale used “gave up the ghost” in his English Bible, and Myles Coverdale used the phrase in the Coverdale Bible of 1535. Then it kept being used in later versions, such as the Geneva Bible of 1599, and the King James Version of 1611.
In the 1800s some versions got away from the phrase “gave up the ghost,” and these included Darby’s Bible (1884/1890), Rotherham’s “Emphasized Bible” (1902), the Moffatt Bible (1913/1924) and the Bible by Goodspeed and Smith (1923/27). However, the Bibles used by mainstream Christianity kept using the phrase, including the English Revised Version of 1881/1885, the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1899, and the American Standard Bible of 1901. All these important Bibles helped support the tradition that dead people were actually alive and when people died the person actually lived on as an immaterial being and even as a “ghost.”
The Revised Standard Version of 1952 was the first Bible intended for mainstream Christianity to not use “give up the ghost,” and it used “breathed his last” in the Old Testament and “died” in verses such as Acts 12:23. Then the modern versions followed the RSV in not using the phrase “gave up the ghost,” including the New King James Version (1982), which uses “breathed his last.” Those modern versions include the 1984 NIV; 1985 NJB; 1989 NRSV; 1991 NAB; 1996 NET and NLT; 1998 CJB; 1999 HCSB; and 2001 ESV. So the Bible’s testimony about even great men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is that they simply took their last breath and died. They were then in Sheol, the state of being dead awaiting the resurrection.
[For information on the dead being dead until the resurrection, see Appendix 4: “The Dead are Dead.” For more on “Sheol” referring to the state of being dead, see commentary on Rev. 20:13. For more on the resurrections, see commentary on Acts 24:15. For more on the soul not being immortal but dying when the person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul’”].
“and was gathered to his people.” This is the first use of the phrase “gathered to his people” in the Bible, and it refers to going to be with one’s ancestors, in this case in the state of death. As great as Abraham was, at the end of his life the Bible just says that he died and was “gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8). The phrase “gathered to his people” is significant in the study of what happens at death. The phrase shows that the Bible is consistent in saying that all people, good or bad, are in the same place when they die, which is simply that they are dead (see commentary on Job 3:13). Abraham’s ancestors, and thus the “people” he was gathered to be with, worshiped gods other than Yahweh (Josh. 24:2). Because Abraham’s ancestors were idol worshipers, it is likely that on Judgment Day some of them will be saved while others will not be. But where could all of Abraham’s ancestors be dead together? There is only one place where all of Abraham’s ancestors, good or bad, can be, and that place is the grave, Sheol, the state of being dead. Abraham is not alive somewhere. He is dead along with his ancestors, and all of them are awaiting the resurrection.
[For information on the dead being dead until the resurrection, see Appendix 4: “The Dead are Dead.” For more on “Sheol” referring to the state of being dead, see commentary on Rev. 20:13. For more on the resurrections, see commentary on Acts 24:15. For more on the soul not being immortal but dying when the person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul’”].(top)
“before Mamre.” The Hebrew culture was oriented to the East, not the North like the Western culture is. So for the cave of Machpelah to be “before Mamre,” it was east of Mamre.(top)
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|Gen 25:12||- (top)|
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“12 rulers according to their tribal groups.” These 12 rulers fulfilled the prophecy given in Genesis 17:20.(top)
“breathed his last.” The Hebrew verb translated “breathed his last” is gava (#01478 גָּוַע), and it refers to dying (see commentary on Gen. 25:8, “breathed his last”).(top)
“And he settled.” The text uses the word “he” to point to Ishmael, not specifically to his descendants. God made promises about Ishmael that He had to honor (cp. Gen. 17:20; 21:18). In fact, that explains part of why this section on Ishmael is in the Bible. If God would fulfill His promises about the lesser son, Ishmael, then He certainly will fulfill His promises of the Messiah, the Promised Seed. The point of telling us where the descendants of Ishmael settled is more than just a geographical fact, it is to assure us that when Abraham sent his other children away from Isaac that they really did settle down away from him and in that manner Isaac’s line to the Promised Seed was separated from theirs.
“east of Egypt.” The Hebrew reads, “before Egypt,” and if the word “before” is used in a specific context it can indicate anything the person is “before” (in front of), but when used standing alone it means “east;” the biblical custom was that people were oriented to the east just as in our Western world we are oriented to the north, and all our maps are made with north at the top. So for the people to settle “before Egypt” meant that they settled east of Egypt.
“And he lived in hostility.” The Hebrew phrase is brief and no doubt purposely ambiguous. The Hebrew text can mean to settle down and live in a place, but it is also used of raiding and thus being hostile to others, and it was a matter of convenience that most intertribal raiding was done to the tribes that were close by. This phrase is an amphibologia (double entendre), and both meanings—living near and living in hostility to—are true and no doubt intended. Actually, this is a fulfillment of the prophecy about Ishmael in Genesis 16:12: “He will be a wild donkey of a man. His hand will be against every man and every man’s hand will be against him. He will live in hostility to all of his brothers.” Like this verse, the last phrase in Genesis 16:12 can also mean he will live alongside of his brothers, but the wording of 16:12 makes the hostility more apparent.
Given the two different meanings of Genesis 25:18, we can see why different versions went with different translations. Thus, “they pitched camp alongside their various kindred” (NAB); and “he settled near all his kinsmen” (CJB); are in contrast to, “he lived in opposition to all his brothers” (HCSB); “they lived in hostility toward all their brothers” (NIV). We felt that since this was a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 16:12, and because it was a general practice to raid the tribes close by, translating in a way that pointed out the hostility between the tribes was more important than pointing out that the tribes lived close to each other.(top)
|Gen 25:19||- (top)|
“the Aramean.” Older versions such as the KJV have “the Syrian.” Biblical Aram is in large part the area of Syria today, but it was called Aram.(top)
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“struggled mightily.” The Hebrew word is actually to crush or oppress, and it suggests a mighty struggle. Rebekah knew what was going on inside her was not normal so she sought Yahweh about it.
“If it is so, why am I this way.” The meaning of the Hebrew phrase in this context is uncertain. The literal is basically, “If so, why I this,” which is idiomatic and fleshes out to more like “If this is so, why am I this way? But what Rebekah meant by that idiomatic phrase in this context is debated. One suggestion is, “If it’s going to be like this, why go on living” (CJB). But we doubt that is her meaning. Another suggestion is, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant” (NET). That translation seems to be a modern sentiment erroneously moved back into the biblical era. Pregnancy and having a child in that culture was so important to a woman (and these were her first children) that it is unlikely that she would have not wanted to be pregnant. To us, a much more likely meaning in the context is “Why is this happening to me” (HCSB; NIV; cp. ESV). It makes sense that Rebekah, after asking herself why this was happening to her, went and sought Yahweh for an answer. In seeking an answer from Yahweh, Rebekah is a good example to us. Too many people wonder what is going on in their life but never diligently ask the Lord for an answer.(top)
“will be divided.” This is a great example of how sometimes when we seek God for an answer, we really have to think and pray about the answer He gives. Although it may seem like God is saying that the two nations will be divided from Rebekah’s body when she gives birth, that is not the meaning of the text. The NRS gets the sense of what God is saying: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided.” This is an early prophecy of the future of Israel and the Arab tribes and how they will be divided and struggle with each other.
The two children were Jacob and Esau, and one of the two had to be greater, and the prophecy stated that the elder, who turned out to be Esau (who became the Edomite nation), would serve the younger, Jacob (who fathered the tribes of Israel). It was God’s choice to bring the Messiah through Jacob, although Esau and his descendants would have been blessed if they had obeyed Yahweh and stayed faithful to Him. Sadly, Rebekah did not believe that God could bring about His purposes in an honest manner (and she may have forgotten this prophecy), and worked with Jacob to deceive Isaac when he was blind so that Jacob could have his father’s blessing (Gen. 27:1-45). Her deceit cost her greatly because then her favorite son had to leave the country to escape Esau’s vengeance, and she died before seeing him again. Rebekah’s actions and consequences teach us that we need to remember what God said and trust it even when it does not look in the flesh as if God can bring His purposes to pass.(top)
|Gen 25:24||- (top)|
“reddish.” The Hebrew reader already gets a peek at what will become of Esau. The word “reddish” is admon, which is a pun with Edom, the nation he would father.
“Esau.” The name means “hairy.”(top)
“He was named Jacob.” For an overview of the chronology of Jacob, see commentary on Genesis 47:9.
“Isaac was 60 years old when she bore them.” Jacob was born when Isaac was 60 years old (Genesis 25:26), and lived 147 years (Genesis 47:28). The key to dating the events of Jacob’s life is that Jacob was 130 years old when he stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9). This was the second year of the famine (Genesis 45:6 and 45:9). Joseph would have been 39 years old that same year. Thus the age of Jacob at Joseph’s birth was 91 years. Joseph was born the last year of Jacob’s 14-year service for Laban (Genesis 30:25-26). So Jacob was 77 years old when he started working for Laban and 84 years old when he married Leah and Rachel. He was 97 when he returned from Haran to the land of Judah (Genesis 31:38-41). Given that Jacob had two wives and two concubines, he had 11 of his 12 sons in just 7 years (cp. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the OT).(top)
|Gen 25:27||- (top)|
“loved.” This is a good biblical example of when the word “love” is used in the cultural and idiomatic sense of “liked more,” or “preferred.” Both Isaac and Rebekah loved their children, but Isaac favored Easu while Rebekah favored Jacob.(top)
“exhausted and hungry.” The Hebrew word is ayep (#05889 עָיֵף), and it means exhausted, weary, but in this context it means both from effort and from hunger, which is why the versions are divided between “exhausted, weary” and “famished, hungry.” Like the NLT, we felt both those things were important to bring out in this verse so we added “hungry” in italics.(top)
“gulp down.” The Hebrew for “gulp down” is not any of the regular words for eat, such as appears in Genesis 25:34, but rather laat (#03938 לָעַט), which is to gulp down, swallow greedily, devour. It is used in later Hebrew of the way animals eat. “Gulp down” seems to catch the meaning and intensity very well (cp. CJB; NAB), especially in comparison to translations such as “let me eat,” or “feed me,” which don’t seem to properly catch the desperation that Esau was feeling, and that Jacob picked up on and thus asked such a high price for a meal.
“that red stuff, that red stuff.” Esau’s desperation is easily seen in the desperate and emphatic way he expresses himself, and also in his willingness to sell his birthright. The Hebrew for “that red stuff” is one word in the Hebrew text repeated two times with the same meaning, making this the figure of speech epizeuxis, repetition for emphasis. We might say the same kind of thing if we came home from work very hungry and said to a family member: “I’m starving; starving!”
“exhausted and hungry.” See commentary on Genesis 25:29.
“Edom.” “Edom” means “red.”(top)
“First.” The Hebrew reads “today,” but Jacob means right now, before you eat. Most versions render this as “first.” The Shocken Bible renders it “here and now.”(top)
|Gen 25:32||- (top)|
|Gen 25:33||- (top)|
“ate and drank and rose up and went off.” The Hebrew verbs, all joined by “and,” portrays a quick and “businesslike” succession of events. Jacob and Esau were rivals, which is why Jacob demanded such a high price for some lentil stew when under ordinary family circumstances we would think Jacob would have seen Esau coming in tired and hungry and gladly offered to feed him and be kind to him. There was no friendly family chat at this meal.(top)