1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6 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.
7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 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, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.
12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 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, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 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
The 25th chapter marks the midway point in the book of Genesis. And while the chapter designations came long after the book was written, the details recorded in this section of Moses’ chronicle serve as a turning point in the narrative. For the last 14 chapters, Abraham has served as the story’s central character. Since the moment God called him out of Haran and disclosed the terms of the covenant, Abraham has been the protagonist and the promised progenitor of God’s grand plan. It would be through Abraham that God would fulfill His covenant promise to establish a great nation. And yet, here at the midway point of the Genesis account, Abraham is old and quite wealthy, but he has only one son. It would be a gross understatement to say that Abraham’s quiver was full. And even that one son is 37-year-old, newly married, and currently childless. Where is this great nation that God had promised?
But 24 chapters remain, and God is far from done. It is as if God is turning a page in the storyline and beginning something new. Isaac has found and married his bride – with the help of God. Sarah has died and, as these verses reveal, Abraham is not long for this world. He has reached the ripe old age of 175 and yet, Moses describes him in terms that belie his elderly status. He may not be a spring chicken, but he is far from a doddering old man. When Sarah had died, Abraham had been 137 years old. And while he mourned the loss of his wife, he eventually married a woman named Keturah. Up to this point in the story, Abraham had fathered only two children, Ishmael and Isaac. But his marriage to Keturah would result in the births of six additional children.
This insight into Abraham’s procreative capabilities seems intended to underscore the unique nature of Isaac’s birth. Abraham had always been capable of fathering children. He had no trouble in impregnating his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. And even as he neared the latter days of his life, he proved to be fully capable of producing descendants. But the text makes it clear that children were not to be heirs of the promise. After providing the identities of Abraham’s latest offspring, Moses states:
All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. – Genesis 25:5 ESV
These children were not destined to be part of the “great nation” that God had promised to produce from Abraham and Sarah. God had even told Abraham that Ishmael, the son born to him by Hagar, was not to be an heir of the covenant.
“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” – Genesis 17:20-21 ESV
It is important to remember that Sarah always resented the presence of Ishmael. Even though his very existence had been the result of her bright idea to have Hagar bear a son for Abraham, Sarah despised this son of a slave woman (Galatians 4:22-23). And the day had come, after the birth of Isaac, that she demanded that Ishmael be disinherited.
“Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” – Genesis 21:10 ESV
While Abraham found his wife’s anger to be unjust and disturbing, God encouraged him to give in to her demands.
“Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” – Genesis 21:12-13 ESV
And, just like always, God kept His word. Moses records that Abraham sent away each of the sons born to his concubine, Keturah. He provided them with gifts, but they would not share in the inheritance of Isaac. They suffered the same fate as that of Ishmael. They were cast out but they were far from forgotten by God. Notice how Moses records the children born to Ishmael. Why would he bother to add that seemingly unimportant detail?
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. – Genesis 25:12-15 ESV
These names mean nothing to us. And yet, their very mention is designed to prove the integrity of God’s word. Remember what God had said to Sarah: “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20 ESV).
Now, look closely at the list of obscure and difficult-to-pronounce names recorded in verses 12-15 of Genesis 25. There were twelves sons born to Ishmael. In spite of Sarah’s ill-treatment of this young man, God had chosen to keep His word and bless him. He would make of Ishmael a great nation. The whole point seems to be that Abraham had always been fully capable of procreating and producing a long line of descendants. Ishmael had been prolific and produced 12 sons. In the same way, the six sons born to Keturah would go on to produce many offspring. But only the descendants of Isaac would become the nation through whom the other nations of the earth would be blessed. Only the line of Isaac would produce a chosen people, set apart by God, and destined to become the conduit through which He would pour out His divine blessing on humanity.
God fulfilled His promise and made Ishmael the father of “12 princes.” It is interesting to note the correlation between these 12 “tribes” and the 12 tribes that would eventually come through the line of Isaac. Moses indicates that Ishmael’s descendants “settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 25:18 ESV). The Ishmaelites eventually settled in the region of Arabia, southeast of Canaan, and would have a less-than-ideal relationship with their distant relatives, the Israelites. But God had kept His word. He had faithfully fulfilled His promise.
And with the fate of Ishmael’s descendants established, Moses records that, at the age of 175, “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). The life of Abraham came to an end. But the fulfillment of God’s promises had only just begun. The story is far from over. And verse 19 will begin a new chapter in God’s grand redemptive plan as Moses records the births of Esau and Jacob. But this story will contain many familiar features and themes. Yet another woman will find herself cursed by barrenness. There will be seemingly irreconcilable conflicts between siblings. Glaring examples of jealousy, anger, deceit, and disobedience will fill the storyline. But through it all, God will be operating behind the scenes, orchestrating His sovereign plan to fulfill the covenant he made with Abraham. Yahweh is fully committed to His promise to bless the nations.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.