These Are the Generations of Esau

Sermon preached on Genesis 36-37.1 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 03/24/2024 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

We begin a new short section in Genesis on the generations of Esau. Remember, that is how Genesis marks out new sections, with the words of, “These are the generations of,” which we find in verse 1. This short section will then be followed with a much longer section on the generations of Jacob, starting next chapter. The same was done earlier in Genesis with Ishmael versus Isaac. Genesis first gave a short section dealing with Ishmael’s genealogy before moving on to a much longer section on the chosen Isaac’s genealogy. That same pattern now happens with Esau having only this short section in today’s chapter and then we’ll have the final section of Genesis on Jacob starting next chapter and it will span the rest of the book.

Let us also note that in this specific section about Esau, it uniquely has this heading of, “These are the generations of Esau,” twice. Both verses 1 and 9 contain this language, with the difference being that verse 1 speaks of Esau’s moving to the hill country of Seir, then verse 9 picks up Esau’s story in describing how he prospers once his family is there in Seir. So, those will be our first two points to consider today. Lastly, we’ll spend some time considering what lies ahead for Esau in the Biblical history after this. As we study this, I want us to think about what lessons ancient Israel could have learned from this record of Esau’s heritage. Then we’ll see how those lessons also have application for us.

Let us begin then with verses 1-8 and see Esau moving to Seir. The first thing to note is how this section emphasizes that Esau is also named Edom, verses 1 and 8. So, this genealogical record is about the historic origins of the nation of Edom. Remember, Esau was originally named Esau to reflect his hairiness. But later he was also named Edom which meant “red” in reference to how he sold his birthright for a bowl of red lentil soup. So, the name of Edom reminds us of his choice to sell his birthright, which surely is also an unstated underlying reason why it’s he who moved out of Canaan instead of Jacob. But as God’s people would later read this account during the time of Moses, this note of Edom coming from Esau would help them recognize their connection to that nation. Because by then the nation that came from Esau’s line was commonly referred to as Edom, not Esau. So, this record of Edom’s heritage reminded God’s people that they have a historical family connection with that nation through Esau. On a side note, we might also recognize some similarity yet contrast in that both Jacob and Esau get new names, Israel and Edom respectively, inviting us to compare how the future of each nation progresses, but for now I digress.

So then, this section begins with reminding us of the three wives that Esau had taken. Remember, that his first two wives were of the Canaanite peoples, this Adah and this Oholibamah in verse 2. We’ve repeatedly noticed in Genesis that marrying Canaanites is not commended among God’s people. So, you might remember from back in Genesis 26 that when Esau married these Canaanite girls it mentioned the bitterness it caused Isaac and Rebekah. So, that is why later in chapter 28 Esau married a daughter of Ishmael, for he recognized that his parents were not pleased with marriages to Canaanites. That seemed to be at least some attempt at repentance on Esau’s part.

Then, in verse 6, we read of Esau relocating all his family and property out to the hill country of Seir. He moved out of the land of Canaan where he grew up with Isaac and family, to go to this place. This new area would be roughly southeast of Canaan. On a map, you’d trace the Jordan River southward until you get to the Dead Sea. This hill country of Seir would then be just south and east of the Dead Sea.

We find in verse 7 the reason for their relocation out of Canaan. It is because their possessions were too great for both Esau and Jacob to dwell together. At this point, we might wonder the timing of this. I think it most likely that Esau did this move while Jacob was on his extended sojourning while away in Paddan-Aram, since before Jacob it sounded like Esau was still living at home with Isaac and family. And after Jacob returned, we remember that Esau was already living in Seir at that time. But this is probably all related to the notion of the birthright and blessing that Jacob had come into. Even while Jacob was away, and Isaac their father was still managing the household property, Esau knew that the bulk of Isaac’s property would ultimately become Jacob’s. So, as Esau’s property grew, he apparently decided to move away before Jacob returned, so there would be room for both of them. Given the past conflict between Jacob and Esau, his initiative to move away and give room between them can be seen in a generally commendable light, especially when you connect that with how warmly Esau welcomed back the return of Jacob to Canaan in chapter 33.

Let us at this point note there is something similar here with Abraham and Lot from back in Genesis 13. There, we see that they had conflict among their servants as they both tried to pasture their large flocks in the same land, and so that is why Lot ultimately decided to separate from Abraham. The wording of verse 7 is almost identical to that back in Genesis 13:6 for why Lot moved away. At that time, we mentioned that things did not work out well with Lot after that. We mentioned that Abraham was the possessor of God’s promises and to be as closely connected with him as possible would be a good thing. Instead, we saw the Lot moved away and settled with the very wicked peoples of Sodom. So, it does raise a red flag to see Esau move away for a similar reason. Would this be a good thing for Esau, a way for him to bless Jacob in order to give them both enough space? Or would this be another Lot situation, too closely associating with wicked people, to his detriment? Yet, we can remember how when their father Isaac blessed Esau, the blessing held out the hope that he might experience some degree of blessing and prosperity. As Esau moves to the land of Seir, he surely has hope to prosper.

With such hope let us turn now in our second point to consider verses 9-43. There we see that Esau does find quite a measure of prosperity in Seir. Unlike how Lot’s story ended with him alone and the scandalous birth of two infamous nations from him, Esau does seem to have quite a prosperous account recorded in Genesis, all things considered. First, we note that he had a good number of descendants recorded here. That list is in verses 9-14, identified as the sons of Esau through his several wives and also a concubine. Then, verses 15-19 describes the various chiefs among Edom. But the idea here when it talks about chiefs is that clans or tribes were formed within Esau from which there were leaders among those clans. So, the first thing we can see is that Esau was fruitful and multiplied and filled Seir. This is somewhat similar to how Israel would eventually be fruitful and multiply into the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then we come to verses 20-31 and learn about these sons of Seir who were Horites. You might correctly glean that these Horites were the original inhabitants of this hill country of Seir. Surely it was named Seir after this man named Seir. We get some important additional about this in Deuteronomy 2:12. It records that, “The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the LORD gave to them.” So, in other words, this section about the Horites includes the people that Esau conquered to take possession of the land. Deuteronomy even makes the connection that I think we can make here today too, that what Edom does in Seir is what Israel one day would do in Canaan. But note that Edom does it first.

We should also note that besides Esau conquering these Horites, that they also go on to at least to some degree mix with them afterwards. Look at verse 22. It mentions that one of these Horites had a sister named Timna. But look back at verse 12 and we see that one of Esau’s sons took this Timna as a concubine, with the result that a son named Amalek was born, patriarch of the evil Amalekites. It makes you wonder if this wasn’t a problem that Edom had, like Israel would later have. Israel wouldn’t completely wipe out all the wicked peoples in the land prior to entering it, and they ended up to some degree intermarrying with some Canaanites per Joshua 3 and it caused great problems in Israel. Israel might have been further cautioned about intermarrying with unequally yoked people from this passage.

Then we read in verses 31-39 about the kings in Edom. The text points out in verse 31 that they had all these kings before Israel ever had any kings. In other words, Edom had a kingdom with kings long before Israel would ever have a kingdom with kings. In the context of Genesis, let us remember that part of the covenant promises God had given Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was that kings would come from them. Yet, long before that prophecy was fulfilled, Edom already had several kings. Even though Esau was not the chosen line of promise, yet here they precede Israel in this specific aspect of development. Interesting, these Edomite kings do not represent any dynasty. What I mean is that we don’t see the sons of the kings succeeding them when they die. Rather, repeatedly we find a new king becoming king who is from a different family and a different town in Edom. This may suggest a limit on the success of their kingdom.

Lastly in this section, we come to verses 40-43 where at first glance it might look like a second but different list of Esau’s sons. If this was simply another list of Esau’s sons by name, it would seem confusing. But what appears to be the difference here is that this list is not people-focused but place-focused. Notice in verse 40 it says that it is describing this list according to their dwelling places. So what follows very well may be names of towns and it is listing those chiefs of those various towns. This makes sense not only because of that note at the start in verse 40, but also because that is how it also ends in verse 43, with a references to their dwelling places in the land of their possession. In other words, this final section emphasizes the place that had come to possess. That language of a possession is exactly how God has already describe the land of Canaan. That God promised the land of Canaan as something which would be an everlasting possession to Israel. So the text again shows how Esau has a place long before Israel ever has their promised place.

Let me offer an application then to Israel back then. As they read this during the time of Moses, they remember that they were promised a people and a place. They were promised then even over and above Esau. Yet, by the time Moses recorded this, Esau was already well established as a kingdom, and Israel still was having to wait. Would they yet trust in God’s promises, while they yet had adversity ahead of them? By extension, we Christians today still await the final installment of all God’s saving and blessed promises. There yet remains adversity ahead for us. Will we wait in faith? Will we trust God? Even when it seems others are prospering ahead of us, even though God has promised us that we will inherit the whole earth?

Let us turn now in our third point to think briefly about the future for Edom from here. Recall, Genesis has prophesied that there would be conflict between Israel and Edom in the future, and that Israel would subdue Edom, but that Edom would also overthrow their rule too. Where do things go from here?

Well, let us note to start that God would explicitly command Israel to be kind to Esau. After the Exodus, when Israel is returning on their way to the land of Canaan, to finally conquer and posses the land, God tells them not to bother Esau, Deuteronomy 2:3-6. God reminds them that the Edomites are their brothers. Israel was not to take any of their land. They were free to buy things from them, but not to fight them or steal anything from them.

Yet, how did Esau respond instead? Their first major encounter is with Edomites’ illegitimate child-nation of Amalek, the one we said was born through the intermarriage of a Horite concubine with a son of Esau, verse 12. After the Exodus, in Exodus 17, the Amalekites go out to attack Israel when they were on their way to Mt. Sinai. While God gave Israel the victory, it was such an egregious attack by Amalek that the LORD had Moses record in a book that God would utterly wipe out the memory of the Amalekites from history. Later in that same generation, as Israel headed out from Sinai toward the Promised Land, they arrived at the nation of Edom. Israel very kindly requested Edom let them peacefully pass through their land on the way back to Canaan. But they not only refused such passage, but they threatened to attack them. So that really set the relationship on edge between Israel and Edom.

So then, jump forward to King Saul’s day many generations later. There we find Saul in conflict with Edomites, as well as the Amalekites. But in the next generation, King David successfully conquers and subdues the Edomites, just as God has prophesied, 2 Samuel 8. David even set up garrisons throughout the land of Edom and made them servants of Israel. Yet, from there, through Israel’s various kings, you see several battles between Edom and Israel. This implies the dynamic that was prophesied, that Edom would find themselves at times under Israel’s rule, but at other times they would find a way to cast off that yoke.

The aggression of Edom took one its darkest expressions when later Babylon conquered Jerusalem. The book of Obadiah records how Edom stood by on that day as their brother was horribly conquered and carried off to exile. Not only did Edom not come to the aid of their brother, but they watched and gloated over their demise. Because of such, Obadiah prophesied the future destruction of Edom. Other prophets also gave similar judgment prophecies against them as well. Indeed, the Babylonians conquered them also shortly thereafter.

After the close of the Old Testament, history records more of the same dynamic between Israel and Edom. During the intertestamental time, after the Jews returned to the land and for a brief time regained their freedom, Israel again subjugated the Edomites. But then when the Romans took over, the Israelites found King Herod and his dynasty, Edomites, governing them on behalf of the Romans. The struggle continued.

And yet the promises of God had not failed. Whether it was Romans or Edomites or any other nation, God had promised to bring through Israel’s line an everlasting kingdom, a holy people in a land promised by God. Yes, at times, it looked God’s people were so small and weak compared to the nations. At times it looked like the nations advanced and prospered more quickly, even though God’s people had the promises of God. Yet, in just the right time, Jesus, son of David, was born into this world. He came to bring grace and salvation to his chosen people, even us who have received him in faith. For Jesus showed us that our biggest enemies were not Romans or Edomites or any other nation, but our own sin. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin so that we could be forgiven and lifted up in his kingdom. That kingdom he is beginning to establish now through the gospel being proclaimed to nations. And he is coming again, and when he does, he will return to conquer all his and our enemies. Then he will usher us into our eternal possession governed by an everlasting kingdom of righteousness.

So then, Jesus holds out this offer to all the nations, come unto him, repent of your sins and put your faith in him, and be saved. You will know a prosperity and blessing better than anything that has yet been realized by any people on this earth. But we must yet wait in faith for it.

In conclusion, as I reflected on this chapter, I thought of the book of Ecclesiastes. That book speaks of the vanity of this present world, that even if you prosper greatly, there is yet a day of judgment in store at the end for each of us. Edom had a fairly good run as a nation for a time. In some ways they looked like they were receiving God’s promises before Israel to whom they were actually promised. But in God’s time, Edom showed themselves as a nation that didn’t know the LORD and thus were under the judgment of God.

Today’s passage asks us each to evaluate your success in this life. If only for this life you have found prosperity, then woe to you. But even if for a little while you must suffer now for Christ’s sake while you wait for the promises to be fulfilled, we know we can take heart. He is worthy of our trust and our patience will not be misplaced. This is surely a message we yet need to hear when the world too often looks to be winning over Christians and succeeding over them. But let us evaluate the world today through the eyes of faith. Then we will take heart knowing that our God is faithful.


Copyright © 2024 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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