Genesis 36: More than meets the eye…

Genesis 36 is one of those chapters that is not easy to read. It contains a lot of genealogy, which is never simple to read through, but I believe that we can learn a lot about God in these genealogies. My study today was a good example of that.

The chapter begins by stating that it is going to give the “account” of Esau (also known as Edom). It lists Esau’s wives, Adah, Basemath, and Oholibamah, and his sons and grandsons as well. It also lists the “sons of Seir the Horite,” – I’m not sure at this point if these were related to Esau or not. The chapter ends with a listing of the rulers of Edom over time.

I didn’t particularly notice anything right off that grabbed my interest, but as I was thinking about writing this post I went online looking for some graphics of Esau’s family tree (or perhaps even better, his father Isaac’s family tree so to include Jacob’s family, too). I came across a site that discusses Esau’s family tree, and it mentions that there are actually 2 accounts of Esau’s wives (something I had forgotten about): In Genesis 26:34 we read “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” And in Genesis 28:8 we read “Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.” So this lists Esau’s wives as:

  1. Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite and
  2. Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite, later followed by
  3. Mahalath sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael

Then, in Genesis 36:2, it says “Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite- also Basemath daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth.” So this lists Esau’s wives as:

  1. Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite and
  2. Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite, later followed by
  3. Basemath daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth

This list leaves out Judith completely, and seems to mix up which wife was the daughter of which person. So, we either have contradictory accounts, 2 separate lists that don’t take everything into account, or different names for the same women. The author of the site I read this from (see here) tends to think that a combination of the latter two has the best possibility of being right. He says that, taking into consideration the meanings of their names (see the site for a description), Esau most likely had 4 wives:

  1. Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and
  2. Adah also known as Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite, and
  3. Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite (Horite in Gen. 38), later followed by
  4. Mahalath also known as Basemath sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael.

Another seeming contradiction in this chapter is that of the reasoning of Esau moving to the region of Seir. In Genesis 32, it tells of how Jacob sends messengers to Esau in Seir to let him know that he is coming home. This would mean that Esau is already in Seir, presumably having moved there “in rejection of his parents’ wishes.” In Genesis 36:6-8 it says

“Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock. So Esau (that is, Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir.”

The site I mentioned before concludes that the reasoning for this difference is that the account from Genesis 36 probably has Edomite origins – meaning that it came from the region that Esau ended up taking over. It doesn’t mention anything about the family problems Esau causes, and places him in a much more favorable light.

Beyond just noticing differences in this account with earlier ones, my study pointed out that there is usually a lot we can learn from genealogies, if nothing more than seeing where a character that is spoken of later came from. For instance, my study pointed out how Amalek (mentioned in v. 12) is a grandson of Esau. He ends up becoming the leader of a people-group (the Amalekites) who have much conflict with the Isrealites – they followed them as they were wearily coming out of Egypt and killed off the stragglers from the group (see Deuteronomy 25:17-19), they were living in a part of the land God had promised to Jacob’s descendants (see Numbers 13:25-30), and they fought the Israelites once they got there (see Exodus 17:8-16). To top it off, although God commanded that the Amalekites be wiped off the face of the earth and gave Israel’s later king, Saul, the orders to do it, he did not, which caused Israel a lot more grief (see 1 Samuel 15:1-20). So did anyone see this conflict between Jacob’s descendants and Esau’s descendants coming? You bet! In Genesis 27, Isaac blesses Jacob by saying “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”  He later tells Esau that “You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.” Turns out, the Amalekites are a pretty good example of what had already been predicted by Isaac when he blessed his sons. You’ve gotta love God’s word!

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