This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
Out of all the genealogies in Genesis, this is the most perplexing. Many readers stumble through this repetitive list of names without catching any significance to its meaning. Yet all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, and correction with the goal of making us adequate and equipped people of God (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). So what was the Holy Spirit’s intent in giving us this chapter of seemingly unimportant names?
Surely one of the points of this chapter is to give a brief history of Esau and inform the reader about how Esau became the nation of Edom made up of tribes with chiefs over each tribe and how these tribes were unified as a nation by a monarch. This genealogy reaches forward to the time of the writing of the Torah, so that Israel—on the precipice of entering the Promised Land in conquest—would have a knowledge of the fate of Esau.
This chapter also compares and contrasts Esau (Edom) and Jacob (Israel). Isaac had blessed the men in chapter 27. Jacob received the blessing of the inheritance of the covenant, and Esau received a sort of anti-blessing of coming servitude and escape. However, contrary to expectations, Esau quickly multiplies into an organized and militarily strong nation. He lived ‘away from the fertility of the earth…and away from the dew of heaven from above,’ (Gen 27:39), for he moved to the hill country. He also lived by his sword, just as Isaac predicted. Jacob, however, multiplied greatly to become the nation of Israel. But instead of making Edom their slaves, they became slaves themselves in Egypt. Hundreds of years later, they were newly freed slaves, having been delivered by the LORD, and had very little experience at war. If they ever had to face Edom, their only hope was in the LORD.
1 Now these are the records of the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). 2 Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite; 3 also Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebaioth. 4 Adah bore Eliphaz to Esau, and Basemath bore Reuel, 5 and Oholibamah bore Jeush and Jalam and Korah. These are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan.
Esau’s three wives bore five sons to him. His household was not as numerous as the household of Jacob. All but one of his children were descended from Canaanites, and the remaining child was descended from Ishmael. Esau’s household was large enough that he had moved to Seir, from where he had come to meet Jacob upon Jacob’s return to the Promised Land.
6 Then Esau took his wives and his sons and his daughters and all his household, and his livestock and all his cattle and all his goods which he had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to another land away from his brother Jacob. 7 For their property had become too great for them to live together, and the land where they sojourned could not sustain them because of their livestock. 8 So Esau lived in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom.
It seems that Esau moved his household close to Jacob for a time. Presumably, he was seeking to spend time with his brother. However, like Abraham and Lot, the combined wealth of the two brothers was too much to be sustained by the land. So Esau moved his household back to the hill country of Seir. For later readers, Moses recorded that Esau’s family had become the nation known as Edom.
9 These then are the records of the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. 10 These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Esau’s wife Adah, Reuel the son of Esau’s wife Basemath. 11 The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho and Gatam and Kenaz. 12 Timna was a concubine of Esau’s son Eliphaz and she bore Amalek to Eliphaz. These are the sons of Esau’s wife Adah. 13 These are the sons of Reuel: Nahath and Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were the sons of Esau’s wife Basemath. 14 These were the sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon: she bore to Esau, Jeush and Jalam and Korah.
There were ten recorded grandsons born to Esau through two of his sons. Some of his sons and grandsons became the tribal chiefs of the Edomites.
15 These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz, the firstborn of Esau, are chief Teman, chief Omar, chief Zepho, chief Kenaz, 16 chief Korah, chief Gatam, chief Amalek. These are the chiefs descended from Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah. 17 These are the sons of Reuel, Esau’s son: chief Nahath, chief Zerah, chief Shammah, chief Mizzah. These are the chiefs descended from Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Esau’s wife Basemath. 18 These are the sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah: chief Jeush, chief Jalam, chief Korah. These are the chiefs descended from Esau’s wife Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah. 19 These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these are their chiefs.
There were fourteen chiefs in the land of Edom, who were descended from Esau. So Esau became a large nation, just as God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would all multiply to a great extent.
20 These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan and Shobal and Zibeon and Anah, 21 and Dishon and Ezer and Dishan. These are the chiefs descended from the Horites, the sons of Seir in the land of Edom. 22 The sons of Lotan were Hori and Hemam; and Lotan’s sister was Timna. 23 These are the sons of Shobal: Alvan and Manahath and Ebal, Shepho and Onam. 24 These are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah—he is the Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness when he was pasturing the donkeys of his father Zibeon. 25 These are the children of Anah: Dishon, and Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah. 26 These are the sons of Dishon: Hemdan and Eshban and Ithran and Cheran. 27 These are the sons of Ezer: Bilhan and Zaavan and Akan. 28 These are the sons of Dishan: Uz and Aran. 29 These are the chiefs descended from the Horites: chief Lotan, chief Shobal, chief Zibeon, chief Anah, 30 chief Dishon, chief Ezer, chief Dishan. These are the chiefs descended from the Horites, according to their various chiefs in the land of Seir.
The chiefs of Seir joined their forces to Esau, so that Edom was a very mighty people. As Jacob’s family heard news about Esau’s power, they may have wondered how Isaac’s prophecy that Esau would serve them would come true.
31 Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel. 32 Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom, and the name of his city was Dinhabah. 33 Then Bela died, and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah became king in his place. 34 Then Jobab died, and Husham of the land of the Temanites became king in his place. 35 Then Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the field of Moab, became king in his place; and the name of his city was Avith. 36 Then Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah became king in his place. 37 Then Samlah died, and Shaul of Rehoboth on the Euphrates River became king in his place. 38 Then Shaul died, and Baal-hanan the son of Achbor became king in his place. 39 Then Baal-hanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar became king in his place; and the name of his city was Pau; and his wife’s name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.
By the time of Moses’ writing of the Torah, Edom had been ruled by many kings. They had much experience at war, and had faced some of the same enemies that Israel had already faced while traversing the wilderness. Israel, which had never had a king, was relatively inexperienced at war. They might have feared Esau, if they had not known Isaac’s prophecy of Edom’s servitude to Jacob.
40 Now these are the names of the chiefs descended from Esau, according to their families and their localities, by their names: chief Timna, chief Alvah, chief Jetheth, 41 chief Oholibamah, chief Elah, chief Pinon, 42 chief Kenaz, chief Teman, chief Mibzar, 43 chief Magdiel, chief Iram. These are the chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of the Edomites), according to their habitations in the land of their possession.
These chiefs were over eleven tribes of Esau, which rivaled Israel’s twelve tribes. So Esau had multiplied and become powerful during the centuries that Israel was in captivity.
The message of this chapter is that God surely does all that He says that He will. Also, Israel was not to fear Edom like Jacob had feared his brother. God would protect them and bring His word to pass. Israel and Edom have a long history together, striving together in the pages of Scripture. But God is faithful to His covenant people. And He is their only hope of salvation when the powerful enemy looms.