At first glance, the beginning of Genesis 25 seems very similar to Genesis 5 and the last part of Genesis 11. It is a section full of strange names and little action and details that seem relatively unimportant. However, recognizing that all Scripture is breathed out by God and useful (2 Tim. 3:16) helps us slow down in passages like this so we can see the reason for which the words were spoken. In the case of Genesis 25:1-18, the information about the rest of Abraham’s family reminds us both of God’s faithfulness and of the nature of true faith.
The section can be broken into three different “episodes”. First, we are told about “another wife” of Abraham – Keturah – and the children she bore to him. Though Abraham shows them kindness, it is clear that they are not blessed in the same way as Isaac. Eventually, they are sent eastward to live outside of the “promised land” (25:1-6). Interestingly, this is paralleled by the third episode describing what came of Ishmael’s descendants. They, too, multiplied, and yet – just like the other children of Abraham – they too eventually settled outside the promised land (25:12-18).
Why are we told about these various people? As the following chapters will make clear, they are not central to the story, so why do we care? Essentially, Abraham serves to point us to the character of God Himself. First, he serves as a demonstration of the general kindness of God to all people. Even though his other children are not the “promised child”, he is still generous with them – giving them gifts (25:6). In a similar way, God is kind to all people as His image bearers. He gives them life and breath (Acts 17:25), and He makes rain fall on them – whether they are just or unjust (Matt. 5:45). God gives good, undeserved gifts to all people because He made them. Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between the “promised”, “chosen” child and the other children. There is a special, particular love that Abraham showed Isaac that was not shown to the others. Again, this is a demonstration of God’s love. God loves all people (John 3:16), but there is a different, special love for those who truly belong to Him by faith. There is a particular care and affection and delight and intimacy bestowed on those who are truly His children and not merely His creatures. Abraham serves as a picture of that.
By his actions, Abraham also shows us the nature of faith. He knew that God had promised the blessings to Isaac and not to the other children. He “casts out” the other children who are not chosen by God because He trusts God to provide (see Gen. 21:10-13). It would have been easy for Abraham to claim God’s blessing in making him a great nation by keeping all of these children around. Surely it is easier to “build a nation” out of seven or eight children rather than just one, right?! And yet, God had made clear that “through Isaac” the offspring would be named. God was going to build a nation through Isaac, and Abraham trusted God to keep His word. His faith was evidenced by the fact that he sent the other children away. He believed God was going to do what He had promised.
And that brings us to the final message of these verses: God is faithful. The second episode describes the death and burial of Abraham (25:7-11), and it closes with these words: “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi” (25:11). Just as God promised, the blessing passes to the “miracle child”, Isaac. God said it would be so, and it was so. Just as many of the stories about Abraham were intended to show God keeping His promised to bless, so a similar thing will happen with Isaac (especially in the next chapter and the episode with Abimelech). God keeps His word. Even though Abraham did not live to see all the promises fulfilled, God did fulfill them.
So these verses do teach us. As we read them, we are reminded that God is always faithful to do what He has promised. His plans are never thwarted or defeated. If He has said it, He will do it. Our task is to trust Him and walk in a way that demonstrates that trust. We should not attempt to “do God’s work” for Him. It may be that there are areas in our own life where we need to “send away” some children because we are not trusting God to provide. Abraham gives us a great example: trust the Lord and not the flesh. Walk with confidence in God and not in your own ability or strength.