Genesis 36: Esau's Genealogy and the Illusion of Greatness
Despite Esau's unbelief and rejection of God, God keeps His word and another nation develops from him. But it stands as a warning against spiritual apostasy.
Have you ever given serious thought to what it is you want to live for?
In Genesis 36 gives a snapshot of Esau’s genealogy. There is a distinct impression made concerning the descendants of the man who was governed by carnal impulses.
One of the surprising aspects of this chapter is that God would give such significant space to the descendants of Esau. Why do this? He is fulfilling the prophecy revealed to Rebekah that “Two nations are in thy womb” (Gen. 25:23).
vv. 1–8 - give the wives and sons of Esau born to him in Canaan. What is interesting is the names of Esau’s wives. They differ from what is recorded earlier (Gen. 26:34; 28:9). Some think they are different wives, but I believe here it records the original Canaanite names, whereas the earlier record gives Hebrew names. It’s likely that Esau changed their names when he married them, or when he realized the grief they were to his parents. So he named them Judith, Bashemath, and Mahalath. There are numerous name changes in Genesis, and even v. 1 gives Edom as an alternate name for Esau. We also learn that Esau has five sons and multiple daughters, and eventually the household permanently relocates to Seir, which we are told in Deut. 2:5 was given to Esau by God. We also learn that Esau moved to Seir because the land in Canaan could not sustain the livestock of both Esau and Jacob.
vv. 9–14 - records the next chapter of Esau’s life as he settles in Seir. He now has grandchildren.
vv. 15–19 - shows how God, from Esau’s children and grandchildren, raises up dukes, or clan chiefs. It’s a brief way of indicating the fruitfulness and prosperity of Esau’s descendants.
vv. 20–30 - records the descendants of Seir the man, after whom the place is named. We also learn that before Esau moved into Seir, the Horites lived there, whom Esau’s descendants conquer. The details given allow us to see that Seir is the father of Anah, who is the father of one of Esau’s wives. He was known for finding “the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father” (v. 24). There are a couple of issues with this text. One is an issue of translation, and the other is an issue of interpretation. Some of the modern translations refer to “hot springs” rather than “mules.” I’m not going to settle the debate here, but I will say that you shouldn’t be quick to dismiss the older translation. The “mule” reading is supported by rabbinical sources. As for the interpretation, I’m not sure whether this is meant to be positive, or a sad reflection on a man’s life.
vv. 31–39 - gives the record of the kings of Edom, long before Israel had a king. It doesn’t appear to be a family dynasty, but the authority moved dependent on the city. The names have a dominant secular influence, and by the time you get to v. 38, there is someone with ‘Baal’ in their name, signifying an increasingly pagan influence.
vv. 40–43 - read like another list of dukes, but is presenting the names of those with districts named after them. Eventually the Edomites would turn against Israel. They would forbid them from passing through their land. King Saul and David had to fight them. Obadiah and others prophesy against them. Several generations of Herods, who were Edomites, oppose Christ and the apostles. But soon after they were nowhere to be found.
Understand the reason previous generations did something before you ignore them. We have already learned in Genesis 26 how Esau’s marriages to Canaanite women were a grief to Isaac and Rebekah. There is no doubt that Esau knew the story of how his grandfather had sought a wife for his father. However, the lengths to which Abraham and Isaac went to avoid marriage to the women of Canaan did not seem instruct Esau as it ought. He should have asked, why didn’t my father just take a wife from Canaan? Young person, when you hear and see the practices of older generations, don’t be quick to dismiss them. It’s the same idea behind Chesterton’s fence. If you don’t know what Chesterton’s fence is, I encourage you to find out, and then ask yourself how that plays into the fifth commandment.
The Church is often afflicted while the world flourishes. While Esau’s descendants advance and prosper materially, Jacob and his descendants will be led into Egypt, ultimately to suffer slavery and bondage. Even to this day, it often appears that the world, false religions, and wicked movements can thrive while the Church of Jesus Christ appears to struggle. If such things discourage you, learn to walk by faith in the promises of God, rather than by the sights of a struggling Church.
Since God was faithful to make a nation out of a reprobate, Christians should have no doubts concerning God’s promise to build the kingdom of Christ across the world. Esau, a man profane and unbelieving, becomes a nation as God said would happen. God governs sovereignly to bring it to pass. Why then do we doubt the growth the influence of the kingdom of Christ? We should say, if God made a nation from Esau, what can prevent Him making a nation from Christ?
The Church is always only one generation away from extinction. If Jacob and his family go the way of Esau, the hope of the future dies. It is a sobering thought that the perpetuity of the Church, in a certain sense, requires that people in each generation keep believing and laboring for Christ. But it is never in doubt. Despite the sin and folly we have seen in Jacob’s life, and what we will yet see, God preserves His people and always will. However, lest we be careless, note that our own family line could read like Esau’s unless the Lord graciously saves our children. Pray and labor to that end.
None are more blind than those who only live for today. Esau left a legacy of carnality and married the daughter of a man known for discovering creatures that are a cross between a horse and a donkey. It may be that the Holy Spirit is using this to ask us the question, Is this what you want to be known for? Is this how meaningless your life is? It would seem to me that a man who explains the gospel to even one person who has never heard it, has accomplished more than Anah. Children, this entire chapter is a list of people who wasted their lives. Don’t let that be you.
“‘Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.’ Here election divides two races forever. Since that hour the rejected have always displayed a deadly hatred towards the elected. The seed of the profane Esau, who sold his birthright, have in all generations, maintained perpetual strife against the children of the accepted Jacob, upon whom the Lord has looked with the eyes of discriminating grace.” — Charles Spurgeon