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In Genesis 25:1-2 we see:

"Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah".

But even before that in Genesis 17 it says:

'Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” '

Then in Hebrews 11:12 we read:

"And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. "

If the birth of Isaac is considered a miracle when Abraham was as good as dead, how is the birth of children for him in Keturah explained? A normal reading implies that the marriage with Keturah subsequent children happens after the birth of Isaac.

All quotations from the NIV.

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3 Answers 3

There is nothing in the text that particularly indicates when the relationship to Keturah took place. The accounts we read in Genesis are not necessarily in Chronological order, and the text surrounding that bit reads more like a summary of what he had when he died rather than an account of how he came by it.

Even if the children born by her happened after the events with Sarah, there would be nothing particularly contradictory about that. If God did something to Abraham's body so that he was still able to produce children even at an advanced age, there is no reason to expect it to only work with Sarah. In fact you see the same thing happening by Haggar who also bore him a son before Sarah's womb was opened.

The miracle involved a specific promise to Abraham that he would bear children by Sarah, and whatever was done to their bodies was done to both of them, although not necessary at the same time and not necessarily for one shot.

Also note that Issac, as the child of his first wife, is treated differently than the children by Haggar and Keturah. In fact the exact nature of these relationships is not known. It was not uncommon in that culture for a man of enough means to take a second wife or have a mistress, but these texts don't exactly define what the relationship to Keturah was, although she seems to be treated as more like a concubine. In any event her children were recognized as sons of Abraham but not on the same level as Issac, who received the whole inheritance rather than the token gifts given to the other children.

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You could also note that male and female fertility work slightly differently. –  GalacticCowboy Nov 3 '11 at 22:27
    
The problem with this thesis is that it is explicitly stated that Abraham had Isaac at 99, and that he was his first son other than Ishmael. –  Ron Maimon Apr 14 '12 at 15:56
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@Ron please can you give chapter and verse for that? –  Jack Douglas Apr 14 '12 at 17:45
    
@JackDouglas: It's a bunch of verses. 16:15 says Ishmael is born when Abram is 86. 17:1 says he becomes "Abraham" at 99, and the remainder of the chapter details his amusement at the idea of Isaac's birth to a centenarian. 17:18, when God says Abraham will have a son, says "would that Ishmael would live in your presence" so that his son would be a believer (no mention of other sons, Jokshan, Zimran, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, or Shuah). 17:26 says "on that day, Abraham and Ishmael his son were circumcized. 21:8, when Isaac and Ishmael are playing, Sarah says to evict Ishmael (not others). –  Ron Maimon Apr 15 '12 at 0:36
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+1 for the idea that God altered Avraham so that he was now able to sire children. (Pre-Isaac children seem unlikely, though.) –  Gone Quiet Apr 15 '12 at 1:52

This is easily resolved by the documentary hypothesis. Although Chapter 25 does not mention God by name, the style is that of the Elohist author, and the Elohist author continues into Chapter 26.

I don't believe this, but it is possible that there is a separate geneologist author, there are geneologies with a distinctive style. But one can assign the geneologies to E with no contradiction. The E narrative is separate from the J narrative, and identifies Ketura as Abraham's concubine. J identifies Hagar.

In Islam, Muhammed's interpretation of the passage is that Ketura is another name for Hagar. This interpretation is plausible, since the E narrative tends to have corresponding figures have somewhat different names (the most prominent example being Jethro).

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The simple and obvious answer is that Abraham's (youngest) six sons (and perhaps even daughters?) were sired after Sarah's death (when Abraham was 137) by his other wife, Keturah--Abraham's body having been miraculously rejuvenated decades before.

Interesting also that Jacob was already well up in years (70 or so) when he left to seek a wife and met Rachel (who was much younger) at Haran, spending two decades with Laban. Isaac was still living even when Joseph was sold into Egypt. And much earlier, Methuselah had died around the same year as the great flood.

A more important consideration is that the New Testament states plainly that the seed and children of Abraham in God's sight are those who receive Christ in faith and obedience, becoming heirs to all God's promises to Abraham's descendants. We who belong to Christ are the true descendants of Isaac and Abraham, and what God desires is the circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh. God calls all men to repentance and salvation. Only those who hear and truly respond to his call are the "chosen people," destined to salvation: the true "Israel of God," his church. In Christ, there is no male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile distinction; God treats all mankind alike, accepting all who will do his will and come to him in repentance.

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Sir, I'm afraid your answer doesn't really solve the difficultly raised by the question. –  Kazark Jun 24 '12 at 3:53

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