Friday, January 15, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe




Topic #E:  JACOB'S RESIDENCE AT SHECHEM, BETH-EL AND HEBRON. (Gen. 33:18-36:43.)                



Lesson III.E.7: The Generations of Esau. (Genesis 36:1-43)                                        






“All Scripture,” says Paul, “is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” Chapter 36, at first glance, may cause us to wonder if anything can be gained by reading it.  But, because Esau is an important type of the flesh in Scripture, chapter 36 evidently contains spiritual truth which God wants us to know.  But it is certainly one of the more difficult chapters of the Bible, the kind of chapter we may be tempted to skip over.  In addition to the distaste modern westerners have for genealogies, the chapter has other problems, such as the fact that Esau’s wives appear with names quite different from those by which they were introduced elsewhere in Genesis. 


The chapter gives us the “blood line of the flesh,” and a most unsavory blood line it is.  The names included here shed light on the important, but secondary blood line of Esau, before we plunge into the wonderful story of Joseph.  Edomite history continually crossed that of the Israelites.  The struggle that began in Rebekah’s womb continued down the centuries until it blossomed into full-scale war between the descendants of Jacob and Esau.  So, while Genesis 36 may appear at first to be somewhat tedious, it is not without its rewards for those who will give thoughtful consideration to its message, while at the same time enlisting the help of the Holy Spirit.


Chapter 36 is a compilation of six ancient lists which are related to Esau and his descendants.  They are placed here in order to give him an exit from the story of God’s dealings with the linage of Abraham.  From this point on the Scriptures depict the Edomites as in some way opposed to the Israelites.  Never are the Edomites pictured as being generally religious, though archaeological research had shown that they did possess pagan idols.


The family of Esau settled in Edom, which is right south and east of the Dead Sea.  It is a mountainous area, and the capital of Edom, the rock-hewn city of Petra, stands there today.  Prophesy in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Obadiah concerning Edom has been remarkably fulfilled. The narrative stresses two elements.  First, Esau’s sons were born in the land of Canaan, (v. 5) before he moved to Seir (v. 8).  This contrasts sharply with Jacob whose children were born out of the land, and who then moved into the land.  Second, Esau was Edom.  In fact, all through the chapter the reader is reminded of this.  Certainly Israel would understand the import of this because she often struggled with the Edomites, Esau’s descendants (36:43).  The writer of Joshua, and the writer of Deuteronomy has made it abundantly clear that Mount Seir and the land of Seir was divinely assigned to Esau as his possession [“And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt” (Joshua 24:4; KJV).  “Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession” (Deuteronomy 2:5).]


In the last book of the Old Testament God says, “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” God never said that until over one thousand years after these men lived, but God knew the heart of Esau at the beginning.  After they lived their lives and crafted their history, it is obvious to us all that God was accurate.







1 Now these are the generations [history] of Esau, who is Edom.

2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite;

3 And Bashemath Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth.

4 And Adah bare to Esau Eliphaz; and Bashemath bare Reuel;

5 And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these are the sons of Esau, which were born unto him in the land of Canaan.

6 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.

7 For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle.

8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.


List #1: ESAU’S WIVES AND THEIR SONS, 36:1-8.  This first list deals with Esau’s wives and their children and is oriented toward Canaan.


Chapter 36 begins with Esau’s immediate family (36:1-5).  Right away, it confronts us with a problem connected with the names of Esau’s wives.  Two things must be kept in mind—Esau’s unsuccessful compromise and Esau’s unceasing carnality.  Esau’s parents were godly people, and his marriage to pagan women distressed them greatly.  His marriage to Abolibamah, particularly, must have been especially abhorrent to them, for not only was she one of “the daughters of Canaan,” she had a Horite ancestry. [In verse 2, the term “Hivite” should probably have been rendered “Horite.”] The Horites had a strong Anakim strain, that is, they were a race of giants that corrupted and infested the promised land with the sins of paganism.  Those giants resulted from an eruption of fallen angels into human affairs with a consequent advance in occultism and the appearance on earth of semi-demonic offspring.  A similar eruption before the flood lead directly to that catastrophe; the latter eruption led to the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites and explains the stringent command of God that the entire Canaanite race be wiped out. 


The names of Esau’s wives in Genesis 36 are their real, or original, names.  When Esau first introduced the Canaanite women to his parents and broke the news to them that they were now his wives, Isaac and Rebekah were horrified.  To think that such women as those should be introduced into a camp made sacred by the divine covenant!  Even Isaac, weak and careless of spiritual things as he had become, and indulgent of Esau as he was, became worked up at last.  The names of the pagan women, at least, must be changed.  He could not have names like theirs bandied around his camp.  He could not hope to change the natures of the women, for that matter he had never been able to change Esau’s, but, at least, their flagrant, pagan names must be changed.  It was not unusual for women, in that early age, to have two names, such as Sarah was also Iscah; and this is more probable in the case of Esau’s wives, who of course would have to take new names when they went from Canaan to settle in Mount Seir. There are some other theories which have been advanced to explain this problem with his wives’ names—it is possible that the list suffered in transmission, that alternate names are used here, or that Esau married more than three wives.


There was “Adah.”  She is called “the daughter of Elon the Hittite” (36:2).  The name Adah was utterly repugnant to Isaac for another reason.  The family records, handed down from Noah, preserved the memory of Adah, the wife of Lamech the great arch-rebel before the Flood.  Isaac was not going to have that name mouthed constantly in his ears.  The woman’s Hittite origin, in itself, was offensive enough, for Isaac had not forgotten the care Abraham had taken to make sure no such linage polluted the genealogy of the chosen race.  Faced with his father’s unexpected opposition, Esau, always easygoing, settled for a compromise, he called her Bashemath instead.


But the constant use of the name Bashemath kept bringing to Esau’s mind visions of his very lovely cousin.  So off he went and married her as well.  But now he had two wives by the name of Bashemath.  Although it was a pleasant enough name and apparently acceptable to his father, polygamy was complicated enough without having two wives with the same name.  It would be too much to ask the long-suffering Adah to change her name again, so Esau resorted to the obvious solution.  He would have his cousin Bashemath change her name to Mahalath (Genesis 28:9). [This reminds me of the old TV sit-com, The Bob Newheart Show.  There were three brothers who were members of the cast; their names were Larry, Darrell, and Darrell.  I had to laugh every time they introduced themselves— “Hello! My name is Larry, and this is Darrell, and this is my other brother Darrell”—can you imagine that parents would give their children the same name.]


That brings us to that remarkable young woman Aholibamah.  She seems to have been Esau’s favorite wife despite her somewhat colorful past.  Her name means “tent of the High Place” from which we infer she could have been a temple priestess, in other words, a temple prostitute, for Canaanite worship was climaxed in ritual fornication with the professionals who served the Temples and the Groves.  It is likely Esau met the woman in her official capacity when he was participating in the filthy rights of her religion.  No wonder Esau’s parents were outraged when he brought that girl home and introduced her as his wife.  Always willing to oblige, Esau changed Aholibamah’s name as well.  What about Judith?  There, that was a good, respectable name with a fine Hebrew ring to it.


Aholibamah was Esau’s favorite wife.  The fact that she had been a temple girl suggests she was a very attractive and seductive young woman, just the kind who would appeal to a carnal, lustful man like Esau.  But it was through his marriage to Aholibamah that Esau acquired his influence among the Horites (the aboriginal inhabitants of Seir).


So much, then, for Esau’s immediate family.  The wives of Esau are kept prominently before us throughout the chapter, but it was the Horite wife who predominated.  The Edomite race thus contained three elements, one Canaanite, one Horite, and one Ishmaelite.  No wonder as a race the Edomites settled down to a granite-hard hostility toward Israel.


Next we are told of Esau’s immense fortune (36:6-7).  By that time, it had probably dawned even on Esau’s spiritually sluggish mind that all the land of Canaan had been irrevocably deeded over by God to Jacob.  Jacob’s return to the promised land and his evident intention of remaining there dispelled whatever lingering allusions Esau might have had of obtaining the promise by default.  Because he and his twin brother both had enormous holdings in livestock, because the available pastureland was obviously unable to support them both, because he saw no future for himself in Canaan, because he was at spiritual odds with Jacob anyway, and because he had a roaming spirit and was an incurable optimist, Esau decided to move out. And, to top it off, Aholibamah had been whispering in his ear lately that there were good pickings for a bold man in her homeland of Seir.  So, like a lot of men before him, Esau moved away from the place of fellowship with the people of God, persuaded he could find more congenial company in the world.


Thus it was that Esau packed his bags, struck his camp, said a final farewell to Isaac and Jacob, and headed for the home of the Horites.  Esau’s decision was typical of the flesh, which always finds the world a more congenial place than the meeting place of the people of God.


Then we are told of Esau’s impregnable fortress (36:8).  “Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.” [“Mount Seir” is a chain of mountain’s extending from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Akaba.] Genesis 36 is a captivating fragment of history.  How and when did Esau finally force the Horites to abandon the impregnable fortress of Petra?  Control of Petra and its surrounding area guaranteed a stranglehold on the great east-west trade routes, and its rocky defenses guaranteed virtual invulnerability.  He who held Petra could defy thieves and invaders alike and impose whatever toll he wished on passing caravans.  Moses tells us that Esau “destroyed” the Horites: “The Horites also lived in Seir in the past. Then Esau’s people destroyed the Horites, took their land, and settled there, just as the Israelites did to the people in the land that the Lord gave them. (Deuteronomy 2:12), ERV).


“Esau is Edom”—a name applied to him in reference to the peculiar color of his skin at birth, made more significant by his exorbitant craving for the red pottage and also by the fierce ruthless character of his descendants (Ezekiel 25:12; Obadiah 10).



Verses 9-43


The narrative now becomes patchy and sparse.  Esau had a seemingly small role in the divine purpose; therefore, his history and the history of the Edomites is of only sparse interest.  On the other hand, God does record all those names for, dull as they may seem to us, each one represents a living, breathing, human being over whom the Spirit of God yearned as much as over any privileged child of the chosen race.  God loves all men regardless of their disregard of Him.


9 And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir:

10 These are the names of Esau's sons; Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Bashemath the wife of Esau

11 And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, and Gatam, and Kenaz.

12 And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau's son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek: these were the sons of Adah Esau's wife.

13 And these are the sons of Reuel; Nahath, and Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah: these were the sons of Bashemath Esau's wife

14 And these were the sons of Aholibamah, the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon, Esau's wife: and she bare to Esau Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah.

15 These were dukes of the sons of Esau: the sons of Eliphaz the firstborn son of Esau; duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Zepho, duke Kenaz,

16 Duke Korah, duke Gatam, and duke Amalek: these are the dukes that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these were the sons of Adah.

17 And these are the sons of Reuel Esau's son; duke Nahath, duke Zerah, duke Shammah, duke Mizzah: these are the dukes that came of Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Bashemath Esau's wife

18 And these are the sons of Aholibamah Esau's wife; duke Jeush, duke Jaalam, duke Korah: these were the dukes that came of Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau's wife.

19 These are the sons of Esau, who is Edom, and these are their dukes.


List #2: ESAU’S SONS AND GRANDSONS, 36:9-14.  The Edomites were now in mount Seir (36:9) and this genealogy carries the linage into another generation.  Eliphaz (36:12) had a secondary wife, whose son was Amalek.  His descendents were to become ruthless foes of the people of Israel. 


List #3THE PROMINENCE OF ESAU’S DESCENDANTS, 36:15-19.  Notable in this record is the presence of the Hebrew term “alluf,” which the KJV translates as “dukes” (36:15), following the Latin Vulgate, “dux.”  The root meaning of the term is “ox,” but a close cousin, “elef,” means “thousand.” This has led some to suppose that what is meant here is “leader of a thousand.” Some translators prefer “chief.” It has been proposed that a better translation is “clans” on the basis of the recurring phrase, “in the land of Edom” (36:16).


First to be mentioned are Esau’s grandchildren through Eliphaz, the one son of Adah.  The names of those grandchildren are written down twice, first as descendants (36:11-12) and then as dukes (36:15-16).  Timna the concubine of Eliphaz, became the mother of a duke—Amalek (36:12, 16).  From him came the Amalekites—a tribal people living in the Negev and in the Sinai Peninsula in Moses’ day—the chronic enemies of Israel against whom God Himself declared unending war.  It was for befriending their king that Saul lost his throne.  Amalek is the outstanding type of the flesh in the Old Testament.  It is one of the few tribes cursed by God with complete annihilation (at the hand of Israel) because of their extreme perversity and opposition to His people (Exodus 17:14).


Little of note is recorded about Esau’s grandchildren through Reu, the son of Bashemath.  There were only four of them (36:13), and, thanks no doubt to Esau’s growing influence, each of the four attained royal rank (36:17) for each became a duke [The leader of a tribe or clan.].  In the context of that day and age, each became a tribal head or a sheikh, the equivalent of royalty today. The title of “duke,” however, was not a sign that the person was of high rank and wealthy, like a British duke, for they were more like the sheiks or emirs of the modern east, or the chieftains of highland clans.


Astonishingly enough, no record is given of any grandchildren born to Esau through the sons of his favorite, Aholibamah.  But to make up for that each of that woman’s sons attained the ducal rank denied the sons of Adah and Bashemath (36:18).  Probably they attained that rank by virtue of their mother’s ducal title.  It is worth noting too that whereas the descendants of the other two wives are grouped together (36:10), the sons of Aholibamah are given in a separate list (36:18).  It is another of the clues in the chapter to the special place that woman held over Esau’s affections and his fortunes.



20 These are the sons of Seir the Horite, who inhabited the land; Lotan, and Shobal, and Zibeon, and Anah,

21 And Dishon, and Ezer, and Dishan: these are the dukes of the Horites, the children of Seir in the land of Edom.

22 And the children of Lotan were Hori and Hemam; and Lotan's sister was Timna.

23 And the children of Shobal were these; Alvan, and Manahath, and Ebal, Shepho, and Onam.

24 And these are the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.

25 And the children of Anah were these; Dishon, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah

26 And these are the children of Dishon; Hemdan, and Eshban, and Ithran, and Cheran.

27 The children of Ezer are these; Bilhan, and Zaavan, and Akan.

28 The children of Dishan are these; Uz, and Aran

29 These are the dukes that came of the Horites; duke Lotan, duke Shobal, duke Zibeon, duke Anah,

30 Duke Dishon, duke Ezer, duke Dishan: these are the dukes that came of Hori, among their dukes in the land of Seir.


List #4: THE SONS OF THE CAVE DWELLERS, 36:20-30.  This list related to the people “who inhabited the land” (36:20) before Esau’s arrival seems to indicate that Esau’s descendants and the Seirites, who already dwelt in the land, soon intermarried and blended into one people.


These people were descendants of the “Horites.” The term means “cave dweller,” which seems to have been the mode of living for early inhabitants of Seir.  Horites is also a name which the Hebrews used for a non-Semitic nation known to us as Hurrians which dominated the upper Tigris Valley, but had colonists in Palestine.


The Horites were the original inhabitants of the land that Esau was now about to make his own (Genesis 14:6).  Their pedigree is traced back to Seir the Horite.  The name Horite is derived from hor signifying “a hole” or “a cave”—an obvious reference to the caves and holes hollowed in the sandstone cliffs by those rock dwellers.


Seir’s descendants, listed here, numbered seven sons and one daughter; the seven became 19 in the next generation.  Esau’s descendants intermarried with those people.  The list, for instance, gives the origin of Timna, who became the concubine of Eliphaz and the mother of Amalek.  It also pays special attention to the linage of Aholibamah, Esau’s favorite wife (36:24-25).  The list reveals too, how quickly Esau’s descendants became utterly pagan.  The original Edomite ancestry, mixed and almost wholly heathen as it was, soon became diluted to the point of extinction.  How quickly those who leave the fellowship of God’s people pride themselves on their new worldly connections!  Esau was no “stranger and sojourner” amongst the Horites.  He settled right in and soon took over their spheres of interest entirely.


To the various names listed of those pre-Edomite settlers in Seir one interesting note is attached, and again it has to do with Aholibamah (36:24-25).  It tells how her father leaped to fame.  He is the only one of the Horites of whom we know anything beyond the mere listing of his name.  He is said to have discovered some “mules” in the wilderness.  That hardly seems a claim for fame.  The Revised Version gives the rendering “hot springs,” which certainly seems better.  Such springs exist near the Dead Sea, and are prized by the desert wanderers for their medicinal qualities.  His discovery seems to have created a stir among his contemporaries and, indeed, throughout the country.  Anah, Aholibamah’s father, seems to have been so impressed himself by his discovery that he actually changed his name to Beeri (meaning “my well”), by which name he was known in Genesis 26:34.  In other words, he boasted about his discovery for the rest of his life.



31 And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.

32 And Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom: and the name of his city was Dinhabah.

33 And Bela died, and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his stead.

34 And Jobab died, and Husham of the land of Temani reigned in his stead.

35 And Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who smote Midian in the field of Moab, reigned in his stead: and the name of his city was Avith.

36 And Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his stead

37 And Samlah died, and Saul of Rehoboth by the river reigned in his stea

38 And Saul died, and Baalhanan the son of Achbor reigned in his stead.

39 And Baalhanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar reigned in his stead: and the name of his city was Pau; and his wife's name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, the daughter of Mezahab.

40 And these are the names of the dukes that came of Esau, according to their families, after their places, by their names; duke Timnah, duke Alvah, duke Jetheth,

41 Duke Aholibamah, duke Elah, duke Pinon,

42 Duke Kenaz, duke Teman, duke Mibzar,

43 Duke Magdiel, duke Iram: these be the dukes of Edom, according to their habitations in the land of their possession: he is Esau the father of the Edomites.


List #5: EDOM’S KINGS, 36:31-39.  The focus of interest here returns to the Edomites with the spotlight on the power which Esau’s descendants gain.


The office of king was not determined by heredity but was granted to men who had proved themselves as leaders of men.  For centuries this was a characteristic of the Edomites.  At that early date Edom (36:31) did not have an established city.


List #6: AREAS WHERE THE EDOMITES LIVED, 36:40-43.  These verses list the names of the chiefs who descended from Esau . . . according to their families, after their places, and by their names.  Esau was thus a great, powerful overlord: the father of the Edomites (v. 43) over clans and regions (v. 40), with 11 chiefs descended from him.  Isaac’s promises to Esau were thus being fulfill: and by being away from Jacob he was shaking the “yoke” of his brother from his “neck” (27: 39-40).  If, in this list, the name Elah (36:41) is understood as a shorter form of Elath, then all the names recorded here would be designations of geographical areas to the ͢ southeast and to the south of the Dead Sea.


͢͢͢First we are given a list of “the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel” (36:31).  Those “kings” presumably were men of outstanding ability or power who had been able to combine several lesser clans under their rule.  Esau’s descendants seem to have taken the lead in that. Eight names are given; little is told about any of them, although two appear to have distinguished themselves.  One gained a notable victory over the Midianites and another carried his victories as far as “the river” (36:37).  Whether that is a reference to the Nile or to the Euphrates is not certain.


Finally, we are given another list of Edom’s dukes (36:40-42).  It is from that final list that we learn that Timna, the mother of Amalek, and Aholibamah, Esau’s favorite wife, were both dukes [The leader of a tribe or clan.]. 


Aholibamah, must have been an impressive woman.  Sprung from an illustrious father, she made quite a name for herself.  She served as a temple priestess, met and married Esau, and ruled him as well as any woman could rule a man as wild and wayward as he.  Through her influence he cast off, finally and forever, all family ties, to throw in his lot with her people.  Through her he was introduced into high society in which, thereafter, he moved and advanced.  Through her his sons and grandsons achieved positions of power in Seir and through her, there can be little doubt, that remarkable list of Edomite notables came into being.  However, I think it needs to be pointed out that not one of Esau’s descendants is mentioned in God’s registry of the faithful; all are lost in the obscurity of those who depart from the living God.  They had temporary riches and the passing fame of this world, but nothing for eternity.  Mount Seir is called the “land of their possession.”  Canaan was at this time only the land of promise.  Seir was in the possession of the Edomites.  The children of this world have their all in hand, and nothing in hope (Luke 16:25); while the children of God have their all in hope, and next to nothing in hand.  But, all things considered, it is beyond compare better to have Canaan in promise, than Mount Seir in possession.


Let’s end this section by answering the question, “What purpose does this record serve? Well, actually, there are two.

1)      One of the purposes for this record is to show that in the fulfillment of God’s word, Esau’s descendants would likewise constitute a nation.  However, an important difference is to be noted.  Whereas Ishmael was blessed by God and promised to become a great “nation” (25:23), without any explicit connection to divine blessing.  In fact, Esau’s descendants, the nation of Edom (36:8), was eventually wiped out as a distinct people because of their opposition to the Lord and His people (Malachi 1:3-4).

2)      Also, Esau’s list of “generations” is roughly six times longer than that of Ishmael because of the nature of two additional purposes unique to the genealogy of Esau. 

  1. The first of these concerns “the sons of Seir the Horite” presented in verses 20-30.  Though Seir was not a descendant in the Abrahamic line, his descendants became interlinked with those of Esau through intermarriage with Esau’s descendants.
  2. The second purpose unique to Esau’s genealogy concerns “the Kings who reigned in the land of Edom,” presented in verses 31-39.  The eight names listed here (Bela, Jobab, Husham, Hadad, Samlah, Shaul, Baal-hanan, and Hadar) contrast sharply with the monarchy later established in Israel.  Each of these Kings of Edom epitomizes enthronement by human effort, since each one of them is explicitly associated with a different city, thereby discounting genealogical succession.  But the latter monarchy of Israel epitomizes enthronement by divine effort, since it was founded, maintained, and in the end personally upheld by God alone (2 Samuel 7:12-16).  This contrast is even more vividly borne out by the explicit statement that these eight Edomite kings reigned well “before any king reigned over the sons of Israel” (v.  31).



Something to Think About


When Hebrews 12:16 [“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.”] calls Esau a “profane person,” it does not mean “profane” in our modern sense, but “secular,” having no real idea of God in his life, no sacred spot which belonged to God, and where he might meet Him.  Every true life will inevitably find room for God and put in Him first. [“Trust the Lord completely, and don’t depend on your own knowledge. With every step you take, think about what he wants, and he will help you go the right way. Don’t trust in your own wisdom, but fear and respect the Lord and stay away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).]


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