Abraham’s other children – who were they and how many children did Abraham have?
In the 25th chapter of Genesis we read that after his wife Sarah passed away Abraham married another wife before he died. Her name is Keturah. Keturah gave Abraham six children. Add Ishmael and Isaac to the equation, and we are looking at eight children with Ishmael being Abraham’s firstborn. These days we call that a blended family. While all eight children were fathered by Abraham, three different mothers were involved to give birth to his eight children: Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah. Even though all three women gave birth to Abraham’s children they did not have equal status. Sarah was Abraham’s wife, Hagar was Sarah’s servant girl, and Keturah was Abraham’s concubine. The different status of the mothers deeply impacted their children’s future. We read in the same chapter in Genesis:
“5 Abraham gave everything he owned to his son Isaac. 6 But before he died, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them off to a land in the east, away from Isaac.”
Earlier, also Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Over time all of Abraham’s children were blessed with many descendants. Out of his descendants grew tribes, and out of tribes, nations – nations who, despite their family relations tracing back to their father Abraham, have not been friendly with one another. Instead they became downright hostile when they started hating and killing each other. What is up with these family feuds that have lasted for centuries and are causing major trouble in modern day Middle East wreaking havoc worldwide with relentless warfare and devastating terrorist attacks?
A lot of the resentment can be traced back to what was perceived as violation of firstborn rights. The special status of the firstborn in the ancient Middle East was to a great degree materialistic: they were the first to receive their parent’s inheritance (some say the double portion); when Abraham’s firstborn Ishmael was sent away without his rightful inheritance and his Concubines’ sons were sent away with “gifts” – talking about preferential treatment here – one can say that trouble was in the making! Incidentally, centuries later, when Moses penned down the laws on Mount Sinai, a section of the laws was specifically dedicated to the protection of the firstborn rights. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17 we read:
“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son to the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the first-fruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.”
In the eyes of the Lord firstborn play a crucial role, and it became very apparent on the night of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Israel’s exodus was not achieved through political prowess or diplomatic pacts or even violence and warfare. Israel’s exodus was not achieved by nine devastating plagues (which must have left Egypt economically bankrupt). It was achieved through death of the firstborn, celebrated as Passover ever since. In the 12th chapter of the book of Exodus we read (Exodus 12:29):
“And that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed.”
On the evening of the first Passover ever God gave the following instructions to Israel (Exodus 13:1-2): “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.’” Firstborn livestock was to be sacrificed. Firstborn humans were to be redeemed. So the striking difference between Egypt and Israel on that fateful night is the dedication of their firstborn – or lack thereof! While the people of Israel willingly sacrificed a portion of their livestock and applied the blood on their door-frames to save the lives of their children, the Egyptians lost all of their firstborn – children and livestock alike.
Dedicating the firstborn is one of the many ways our heavenly Father honors His Son. Centuries later Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Jesus is the firstborn elder brother of many brothers and sisters to come (Romans 8:29): “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
Surviving that fateful night prior to Israel’s exodus established a sacred role for the firstborn:
- Firstborn is to be set apart (dedicated to the Lord);
- Firstborn has redemptive power (as seen in the redeeming story of Exodus);
In the end all of Abraham’s children and all of everybody’s children for that matter were to benefit from Isaac’s firstborn status. Isaac is Jesus’ ancestor who is set apart to redeem all of humanity. This blessing goes way beyond any material blessing Abraham’s family members could have ever received. In hindsight it turns out that their jealousy is actually unfounded. God knows no preferential treatment. He loves every single person on this planet and has a plan to redeem them – He made it happen when He sacrificed His Son Jesus. He alone has the power to redeem!