Roy got a Sports Illustrated magazine in the mail last month with the cover story, “Where are they now?” Inside, the feature article showcased lots of athletes from the late 1900’s in their current-day circumstance. Some, like Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, were rich and famous (not necessarily a good thing) while others, like Super Bowl icon William “Refrigerator” Perry, were found at the bottom of a spiral.
For the past few weeks, we’ve focused on the descendants of Abraham who inherited God’s Covenant Promise: Isaac and then Jacob. But have you ever wondered what happened to the other guys: Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael; the sons of Abraham’s wife Keturah; and Esau—the brother swindled out of the firstborn’s blessing? Here’s an overview…
What About Ishmael?
God was very clear about His plans for Ishmael. Though His Covenant would be fulfilled through Isaac, God would still bless Ishmael abundantly:
“God said…‘as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.’” Genesis 17:19-20 (emphasis added)
Later in the story, when Abraham dies at age 175, Ishmael and Isaac come together to bury him. At that time, Scripture gives us a glimpse of what Ishmael’s life has become:
“These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth…, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years…His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt…in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.” Genesis 25:13-18 (emphasis added)
What is on the eastern border of Egypt today? The Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, Saudi Arabia. Think about the constant hostility in those lands, and know that God’s Word is true and accurate.
Also, keep in mind that our Scriptures today were recited orally in the days of Abraham, sung word-for-word. Isaac would have repeated Ishmael’s heritage to his children each time the story of Abraham’s death was told. Why? Because it was a testimony of God’s faithfulness to be guarded for and by coming generations.
What About the Sons of Keturah?
Scripture tells us that Abraham took another wife. The placement of this news comes after Sarah’s death, so many believe he waited until Sarah was gone to do so.
“Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah. Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.” Genesis 25:1-6 (emphasis added)
Seems rather dull, doesn’t it? A list of random names of random sons from a random concubine of Abraham. But God isn’t random in either the hardships or blessings He allows His people to endure. Let’s take a closer look at just three names in the list of Keturah’s sons:
- MIDIAN – It was Midianite merchants that purchased Joseph from his brothers and sold him into slavery in Egypt (Gen. 37:28); Moses escaped to the land of Midian after murdering an Egyptian slave master and then married a Midianite woman (Ex. 2:15).
- SHUAH – Bildad, the Shuhite (a descendant of Shuah), was one of Job’s friends that came to “console” him during his suffering (Job 2:11; 8:1).
- SHEBA – The descendants of Sheba became a wealthy nation partly due to the spices grown in their region, and an exceptionally wealthy “queen of Sheba” made a famous treaty with King Solomon (1Kings 10:1).
Even those who weren’t chosen as “Covenant Bearers” were VITAL to other aspects of God’s story.
What About Esau?
I’ve always felt a little sorry for Esau, getting swindled by his own mom and little brother. But we can stop the Woe Is Me violin solo for Isaac’s firstborn. He’d made some lousy decisions BEFORE Jacob stole his blessing.
“When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Genesis 26:34-35
AFTER Jacob stole the blessing, Esau made an even poorer choice—a spiteful one:
“Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife…[and] commanded him, ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman,’…Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.” Genesis 28:6-9 (emphasis added)
What a goober, right? But some of Esau’s descendants actually had some redemptive qualities.
“These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s wife Adah, and Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Basemath. The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam and Kenaz…The sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Basemath…Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah…” Genesis 36:10-11,13,33 (emphasis added)
Many commentators place this section of names as contemporary with the events in the Book of Job. “Jobab” is thought to be Job himself. Eliphaz, listed as one of the men who came to comfort Job, would have been Job’s great-uncle and Esau’s firstborn. “Zepho” may be Zophar, another of Job’s comforters, and would be Job’s cousin.
After reading only a few words from Eliphaz, Zophar, and Job in Job’s book, we see that each man had a deep knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—as did Bildad, the descendant of Keturah’s son—proving again that though they weren’t of the Covenant lineage, God had still revealed Himself to them.
Esau had another famous descendant—this one in the New Testament.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” Matthew 2:1-2 (emphasis added)
The Herods were Idumeans, another name for Edomites—descendants of Esau. What an interesting twist that the brother whose blessing had been stolen was eventually given the title, “King of the Jews.” This Herod was responsible for killing countless babies in Bethlehem. Another Herod—thirty years later—would have a part in killing the Son of God.
Everyone, whether a Covenant-bearer or not, plays a role in history—in His-story. If you’re reading these words right now, you are chosen to play a part in God’s plan right where you are. In your family. In your work place. In your church. In your community. You’re called to be His partner in the plan whether you’re the main character or simply playing a supporting role.
- Our Scripture today was recited orally in the days of Abraham, sung word-for-word.
- God is not random in either the hardships or blessings He allows His people to endure.
- Everyone, whether a Covenant-bearer or not, plays a role in history—in His-story.
- Was there anything in today’s post about the “un-chosen” that surprised you?