Sermon: Genesis 25:1-18: Isaac Set Apart For The Good Of The Nations

Sermon Text: Genesis 25:1-18

“Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country. These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi. These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen.” (Genesis 25:1-18, ESV)

Reading From The Prophets: Isaiah 60

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you; the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall come up with acceptance on my altar, and I will beautify my beautiful house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows? For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from afar, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the LORD your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has made you beautiful. Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you. Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste. The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious. The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age. You shall suck the milk of nations; you shall nurse at the breast of kings; and you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it.” (Isaiah 60:1–22, ESV)



I will admit there are some passage of scripture that, upon first reading, seem to be of little importance when compared to other passages. This is probably one of those. Here we learn that Abraham had children, not only by Hagar and Sarah, but also a woman named Keturah. The names of Katurah’s sons are listed for us in this passage. After that we are told of Abraham death. And finally we are presented with a genealogy of Ishmael, Abraham’s oldest son.

Though this passage might seem rather unimportant on the surface, it is a very important part of the story of Genesis. For one thing, this passage ties up the loose ends of the story of Abraham. And two, it prepares us to shift our focus to Isaac and his descendents, which we will do next week, beginning with Genesis 25:19. Perhaps you noticed the little remark in 25:11, which says, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi” (Genesis 25:11, ESV). This passage is a transitional one. The focus is about to shift from Abraham and his offspring to Isaac and his offspring. Not only is this passage important to the story of Genesis, it is also important to the overall message of the story of scripture. Perhaps you noticed when I read from Isaiah 60,  which prophesied concerning the blessings of the New Covenant and the ingrafting of the nations into the Israel of faith, that some of the peoples mentioned there are descendents of Ishmael and the sons of  Keturah. This is not an insignificant passage, friends. Let us give our faithful attention to it today.  


Abraham Had Other Sons By Keturah

The first thing we learn in the passage is that Abraham had other sons besides Isaac and Ishmael. These sons were born to him by a third wife, named Keturah. 

This announcement is a little shocking, isn’t it? All along we have thought of Abraham as Sarah’s husband, and that at one time he made the foolish mistake of taking Hagar to be his wife, this being the suggestion of Sarah. But here were learn that there was yet another wife. Notice that both Hagar and Keturah are referred to as “concubines” in verse 6. This means that they were legitimate wives, but of lesser rank than Sarah in Abraham’s household. 

So here is a question: when did Abraham take Katura as a wife? Was it after Sarah’s death, or before? It is hard to know for sure, but the evidence seems to point in the direction of Abraham having taken Katura as a wife many years before Sarah’s death. When did he do this? It is hard to know.

We must remember that the scriptures do not always present things in chronological order. Sometimes events are organized thematically, and I think that is the case here. Though Keturah is not mentioned until after the record of Sarah’s death, this does not mean that Abraham took her to be  his wife after her death. What it means is that she and her sons were not significant to the main story of Genesis until now. The focus has been upon the promise concerning a son, and the son of promise, Isaac. A minor theme was the birth of the son of the bondwoman, named Ishmael, his persecution of the son of promise, and his being sent away. The record of Keturah and her sons is almost an afterthought. They are mentioned only as the Abraham story is being brought to a conclusion. But they are mentioned for a reason, as we will see.    

Before we get there, we should probably address the elephant in the room. A question that many of you are probably thinking is, how are we to understand Abraham’s polygamous practices? What are we to think when we hear that Abraham had two wives besides Sarah — three in total? Was it right for Abraham to take more than one wife? Was polygamy condoned in those days, but condemned today? Or is it to be condoned even today? These are important questions. 

The answer is that Abraham was wrong to take more than one wife even in his day. When the scriptures tell us of his polygamous practices, it is a description of what happened, not a prescription — it is a statement of fact, not a statute to be followed

Consider these three points as proof that polygamy and polyandry (when a woman has more than one husband) has always been a distortion of God’s design for marriage. 

One, when God instituted marriage in the beginning his design was that one man and one woman be joined together in a one flesh union not to be severed by anything but death. This was God’s design. This is the ideal. One man and woman joined together  by God and in covenant for life. It is a mistake to formulate an ideal for marriage based upon the description of what Abraham, or any of the other patriarchs, did. Not everything that the patriarchs did was good and right. Clearly, they were flawed individuals. For example, it was wrong for Abraham to lie, saying only that Sarah was his sister. How do we know it was wrong? We know because God’s law forbids lying! God’s law is prescriptive. It’s express purpose is to reveal what is right and wrong. The Genesis narrative is descriptive — it reveals what Abraham and others did, and does not necessarily determine that which is right or wrong. The fact that Abraham lied does not make lying right, does it? Of course not! And neither does the fact of his polygamous marriages make bigamy right. The narrative of Genesis describes, it doesn’t not necessarily prescribe. God’s ideal for marriage is found elsewhere. Specifically, it is found in the institution of marriage in Genesis 2, where it is  said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV).

Two, in the New Testament it is confirmed that God’s ideal for marriage is that one man and one woman be joined together by God and in covenant, till death do them part. This is what Jesus taught in Matthew 19. And Paul, when setting forth the qualifications for officers within the church, insisted that they be the husband of one wife. This  standard is not unique for elders and deacons. Indeed, all Christians ought to live according to this ideal. But if a man is to  hold office in Christ’s church, it  must be  true of him. He is to be a one woman man. 

Three, notice that when polygamy is described in the narrative of Genesis, or elsewhere in the story of scripture, it is often described as having negative consequences. When Abraham heeded the advice of Sarah and took Hagar as a second wife it was presented as an echo of the sin of Adam. Just as Adam listened to the voice of his wife and ate of the forbidden fruit, so too Abraham listened to the voice of Sarah and took Hagar into his embrace. Difficulty, pain and sorrow followed. 

APPLICATION: Brothers and sisters, I hope you are able to recognize in this little discussion a distinction between two approaches to religion. There are some who are religious who think of religion as a product of man. In their view it is man who determines what is to be believed and how religion is to be practiced. According to this view, religion naturally evolves and progresses over time. Now, I do not doubt that religious belief and practice evolve over time. That cannot be denied. But according to this view  — and I think it is best to call it the Liberal or Progressive view — religious evolution is not only expected and observed in the world, but encouraged and celebrated. Our view is different. Our view is that God has revealed himself to us. He has clearly spoken in ages past, and supremely by his Son. And as we practice our religion — as we believe what we believe and do what we do — our objective isnot to progress off into uncharted waters and new frontiers, but to receive and conform to that which God has revealed previously. We do not celebrate creativity and progress (as it is viewed by the Progressives), but conformity and faithfulness to God and his word. It is our position that  good and true progress in religion can be made only when the people of God identify within themselves some deviation from God’s word and then proceed to amend their ways to bring themselves back into conformity to  what God has previously said. This, my friends, is the only kind of progress in religion that is to be celebrated. And this is what we mean when we say that we are “Reformed”. By God’s grace we were formed and, by his grace, will be forever reformed…  by the living and abiding word of God. It is that last part that is so crucial. We are formed and reformed, by the living and abiding word of God. James 1:21  comes to mind. There James exhorts the Christian, saying, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, ESV). Brothers and sisters, true and God honoring religion can only be practiced from a heart of meekness that is willing to first receive God’s implanted word, and then to conform unto it. 

I suppose if we held to the Liberal and Progressive view of religion we might assume that polygamy was not sinful in  Abraham’s day but over time it became sinful as the religion of the Israelites evolved over time. But our view is that that God established his ideal for marriage in the beginning and that Abraham, if indeed he took Katura as wife before Sarah’s death, failed to conform to what God had revealed. In this part of his life, Abraham went the way of the world.

APPLICATION: I do wonder how long it will be before polygamy and polyandry become an issue within our nation. We have already traveled a long way down the road of allowing marriage to be defined by the feelings and preferences of man. It is hard for me to understand why polygamy and polyandry are still forbidden by law. Of course, I am not in favor of bigamous marriages. I am only drawing attention to the inconsistency so that I might say, it was foolish for us to head down the road of allowing personal preferences, and the appetites and affections of men and women to determine issues of morality in the first place. When seeking to understand what is right and wrong, we should have a natural distrust of that which is in the heart of sinful man. Is it not obvious that men and women sometimes have an appetite for things that are wicked? Does anyone need to be convinced of that? Friends, we would be wise to base our morals, not upon the desires of the human heart, but upon God’s moral law as it is revealed dimly in nature, but most clearly in scripture.  

It is apparent that Abraham, our beloved father in the faith, though chosen of God and made righteous by faith in the Christ that would come from his loins, was also man of his time.  It was common in that day for men to take more than one wife, and this is what Abraham did. This does not excuse his behavior,  but it does help us to understand it. 

It must also be recognized that it was through Hagar and Katura that the promises made to Abraham concerning a multitude of nations coming from him was fulfilled. Remember what the LORD said to Abraham in 17:4: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4–5, ESV). Not  only would Abraham be the father of the nation of Israel,  but of many nations. When we read of the descendents of Katura, and later, Ishmael, we must recognize that in these men Abraham did indeed become a multitude of nations, just as it was promised. 

Observe that the children of these  concubines – Hagar and Keturah —were sent away from Isaac  while Abraham was still living. Verse 6 reads, “But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country” (Genesis 25:6, ESV). 

One of the reasons that these descendents of Keturah are listed here is to further distinguish Isaac the son of promise from the other sons of Abraham, who were born merely of the flesh. The message is this: many sons were born to Abraham, but only one was the son of promise. The who narrative of Genesis will soon focus upon him and upon his descendents. Indeed, the rest of the pentateuch will tell the story of the birth of the nation of Israel who would come in the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 


Abraham Died And Was Gathered To His People

Let us now consider the death of Abraham as described in verses 7-11. 

Abraham died at the age of 175 — a very old man according to our standards. 

In verse 8 we read, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8, ESV). This phrase, “and was gathered to his people”, is significant. It means more than that he was buried, for his burial is described in verses 9. The phrase, and he was “gathered to his people” indicates that there is an after life. After Abraham breathed his last on earth, he continued to exist.

Notice that it was both Isaac and Ishmael that buried Abraham. Verse 9: “Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife” (Genesis 25:9–10, ESV). Though Ishmael was sent away along with Hagar, his love for his father remained. Ishmael was there alongside Isaac to burry  Abraham. 

The thing to notice in the account of Abraham’s burial is that, though very significant in the  outworking of God’s purposes, he was a just a man. He died. And when he died, things continued to roll along. God’s purposes were not hindered in the least by his passing. In fact, immediately after the announcement of Abraham’s passing we read, “God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi” (Genesis 25:11, ESV). 

APPLICATION: Brothers and sisters, it is right that we remember those who have gone before us. And as we remember them it is right that we give thanks to God for them and to celebrate whatever good it was that they accomplished to the glory of his name. When a loved one passes from this world it is also right that we sincerely mourn their passing. But we must also be careful to not attach too much significance to any man, woman or child, thinking that without them life will not go on. Men and women are born and they die, and life goes on. Men and women are born and they die, and the purposes of God are not frustrated in the least. This is because you and I are men, and not God. Nothing depends upon us in the way they depend upon God. Abraham was a very significant person in the plan of redemption, and yet when he passed from this world he was put into the grave and the fulfillment to the promises of God weren’t hindered in the least.  

We should be very careful, brothers and sisters, to never attach to any man, woman or child the kind of significance that belongs only to God. That, friends, would be idolatrous. Man is man, and God is God. Indeed, some men and women play significant roles in the accomplishment of God’s purposes


These Are The Generations Of Ishmael

Lastly, let us briefly consider the generations of Ishmael as mentioned in verses 12-18. 

You would do well to remember that the book of Genesis is divided up by this reoccurring phrase, “1these are the generations of…”, or something very similar to that. After the prologue of 1:1-2:3, there are 10 sections to Genesis which are, in fact, family histories. First, we encountered the family history of the heavens and earth. Then came the family history of Adam. After that the family history Noah, and then of Noah’s sons. Next  we encountered the family histories of Shem, and then Terah (the father of Abraham), and now come to the family history of Ishmael with teh words, “These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham” (Genesis 25:12, ESV).

The think to be notice here is that the family history of Ishmael is covered in only 7 verses. The family history of  Isaac, on the other hand (which begins in 25:19) takes up 10 and a half chapters in the book of Genesis. Can you see, therefore, that a contrast is being made between the son of promise, and the son born of the flesh? In other words, a distinction issuing made in Genesis between the elect and non-elect. Ishmael was, in fact, Abraham’s oldest son. He, by the worlds standard, should have been the heir. But he was not the chosen one. Isaac, the second born of Abraham, was. This pattern will be observed again in the family history if Isaac. Isaac would have  two sons — Esau and Jacob. And again, we will see that the second born would be the one through who the LORD would fulfill his promises. 

Not all who  descend from Abraham are elect of the LORD, therefore. This is exactly what Paul the Apostle highlights in his letter to the Romans, chapter 9 verse 6, where he  writes, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:6–16, ESV). What we are seeing in the Genesis narrative is the outworking of God’s purpose of election. Isaac was elect of God, Ishmael was not. 

But we should remember that promises were made concerning Ismael too. Then the LORD was comforting Abraham concerning the boy away, he said, “And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:13, ESV). The genealogy of Ishmael shows that LORD was faithful to keep his promises concerning Ishmael. Indeed, nations came from him. 

It is apparent, therefore, that Ishmael was blessed on account of him being the firstborn son ofd Abraham, but he was not to be the conduit of blessing to the nations as Isaac was  — he was a pool of blessing, but not  a river. The  Messiah would come through Isaac and Israel, not Ishmael and the nations that descended from him. 



Friends, though it may not be immediately clear, the gospel is present in Genesis 25. Though the son of Hagar and the sons of Keturah were sent away from Isaac the elect son of promise, it was  for their good and the good their descendents. Isaac was set apart from them, not for his sake alone, but so that through him the promises of God concerning a savior for all nations might be fulfilled. Through Isaac the nation of  Israel would come. And through Israel, the Messiah would come into the world. He is Jesus the Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And it through faith  in him that all of the nation of the earth will be reconciled to  God.

Perhaps you noticed that in that Isaiah passage that was read at the beginning of the sermon the prophet spoke of the glories of the covenant of grace. The prophet spoke of the day when the nations would come to see the glory of the Lord and to worship his most holy name. And perhaps notices that some of the sons of Ishmael and some of the sons of Keturah were mentioned in that passage. The prophet spoke of the day when the nations would join themsleves Israel, saying, “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you; the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall come up with acceptance on my altar, and I will beautify my beautiful house.”

Read the New Testament scriptures and see that is precisely what happened when the Christ finally arose from within Israel— the nations have flocked to him. The Gentiles have been grafted into Israel. Jew and Gentile have been made one through the offspring ofAbraham, Isaac and Jacob, Christ Jesus our Lord. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14–16, ESV).

Fiends, let us be found clinging to Christ by faith. And let us  be faithful to proclaim his good news to the nations until he returns.  

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