Father, may your Word be our only rule,
Your Holy Spirit our only teacher,
and the glory of Jesus Christ our only concern. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This morning’s passage is going to require a little trust. If you are new to Bethel, we have spent this whole summer walk our way through the life of the patriarch Jacob, beginning back in Genesis 24 with Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, sending his servant in order to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Isaac and Rebekah are married and after twenty years of barrenness, Rebekah gives birth to twins – Jacob and Esau. The Lord has declared that the elder twin, Esau, will serve the younger twin, Jacob, but Isaac favors Esau, while Rebekah favors Jacob. Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew, then Jacob (with the help of Rebekah) tricks Isaac into giving him the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau. Esau plans to kill Jacob, so Rebekah sends Jacob to her brother Laban while Esau cools off. Jacob ends up spending twenty years, marrying two sisters and having eleven sons in the house of Laban. It was a place of oppression and bondage for Jacob, but also a place where the Lord continued to bless him.
Jacob flees Laban, but leaving Laban means moving toward Esau. By the gracious hand of God, the two brothers embrace and depart from each other in peace. Jacob begins to settle in the land before tragedy strikes. First, his daughter Dinah is taken, raped, and then his two sons, Simeon and Levi, slaughter the whole city of the man who did this. Then Rebekah’s maid, Deborah, dies. Then Rachel, his beloved wife, dies in childbirth. Not long after, his oldest son Reuben tries to overthrow Jacob by sleeping with Bilhah, his father’s concubine and Rachel’s maid. Finally, Jacob and Esau meet together one last time at the grave of their father, Isaac. We leave Jacob a weary and sorrowful man as the oldest son of Rachel, Joseph, will begin to have dreams.
But that is not what we will be hearing this morning, because the Jacob and Esau gather at the bedside of Isaac in Genesis 35 and Joseph begins to dream in Genesis 37 (a story we will pick up some other time). But tucked between these two stories is a long genealogy of Esau. That is why I said this morning’s passage is going to require a little trust. I hope that you trust me enough not to lead you down a path where there is nothing to show for it, but more importantly, I hope you trust the LORD not to put anything in his word that is not there for a purpose. So listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
These are the descendants of Esau (that is, Edom). Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah daughter of Anah son of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebaioth. Adah bore Eliphaz to Esau, Basemath bore Reuel, and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. There are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan.
Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his cattle, all his livestock, and all the property he had acquired in the land of Canaan; and he moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to live together, the land where they were staying could not support them because of their livestock. So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom.
These are the descendants of Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites, in the hill country of Seir. These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah, the wife of Esau; Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Basemath. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. (Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.) There were the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife. These were the sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These were the sons of Esau’s wife Basemath. These were the sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah, daughter of Anah, son of Zibeon; she bore to Esau Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.
These are the clans of the sons of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: the clans Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, Korah, Gatam, and Amalek. These are the clans of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; they are the sons of Adah. These are the sons of Esau’s son Reuel: the clans Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are the clans of Reuel in the land of Edom, they are the sons of Esau’s wife Basemath. These are the sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah: the clans Jeush, Jalam, and Korah; these are the clans born to Esau’s wife Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah. These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these are their clans.
These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. These are the clans of the Horites, the sons of Seir in the land of Edom. The sons of Lotan were Hori and Heman; and Lotan’s sister was Tina. These are the sons of Shobal: Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam. These are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah; he is the Anah who found the springs in the wilderness as he pastured the donkeys of his father Zibeon. These are the descendants of Anah: Dishon and Oholibamah daughter of Anah. These are the sons of Dishon: Hemdan, Eshbon, Ithran, and Cheran. These are the sons of Ezer: Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan. These are the sons of Dishan: Uz and Aran. These are the clans of the Horites: the clans Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. These are the clans of the Horites, clan by clan in the land of Seir.
These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites. Bela son of Beor reigned in Edom, the name of his city being Dinhabah. Bela died, and Jobab son of Zerah of Bozrah succeeded him as king. Jobab died and Husham of the land of the Temanites succeeded him as king. Husham died and Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, succeeded him as king, the name of his city being Avith. Hadad died and Samlah of Masrekah succeeded him as king. Samlah died and Shaul of Rehoboth on the Euphrates succeeded him as king. Shaul died and Baal-hanan son of Achbor succeeded him as king. Baal-hanan son of Achbor died and Hadar succeeded him as king, the name of his city being Pau; his wife’s name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, daughter of Me-zahab.
There are the names of the clans of Esau, according to their families and their localities by their names: the clans Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iran; these are the clans of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom) according to their settlements in the land that they held.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
After hearing all of that, who has decided that Genesis 36 is now their favorite chapter in the Bible? No hands? I am not going to ask for a show of hands on this, but I am guessing many of us have had a similar experience to me with these sorts of passages. You are reading through the Bible when you come across a genealogy. It doesn’t have to be this one, there are plenty in the Bible. A list of names you have trouble pronouncing with who begat who and where and when. You don’t exactly know what to do with it. So you might just skip over it to get back to the story so that you are not tempted to quit on your bible reading. Or, if you are feeling particularly pious and dedicated, you might soldier your way through. You don’t exactly know what you just read, but you did read it. This was my experience with genealogies in the Bible for much of my life. I knew they were there, but I could not quite figure out how I was supposed to read them and why.
This morning I want to take a few minutes to explore why there are so many genealogies in the Bible and how to read them in general and then I want us to see a couple details in Genesis 36 specifically that will help us in our walk with Christ.
So why are there so many genealogies in the Bible? I think there are three key reasons. First, the Bible is a family story. The bible deals with individuals and with nations, but always within the contexts of larger families. This does not work as easily with Genesis 36 and the genealogy of Esau, but when the people of God read these lists of names in the Bible, these are not random people, they are family.
Think of it this way: my Irish ancestors, the Carneys, came to the States as stowaways during the Irish Potato famine. That means that when we talk about that part of history, it is not just an isolated event with a set of facts. This is family history. Or another part of my family fought in the battle of Waterloo against Napoleon and distinguished himself in such a way that the King of England granted him land near Montreal. So I have some Canadian in my background, which is cool to know, but I hear about the Napoleonic wars differently. This is family history. We have family books with all the genealogies of my family in it with names that I don’t recognize, but they are my people, even if I never met them.
In a similar way, the genealogies are important in the Bible because this is family history. Christians are spiritual children of Abraham, so these stories, this history, is family history. So that’s the first reason that the genealogies are in the Bible – this is a family story.
The second reason is that the drama of scripture centers around the birth of a son. All the way back in Genesis 3, after the fall of our first parents, God promised that a son of Eve would crush the head of the serpent. Ever since that moment, with every birth of every child, there is hidden the question, “Is this child the one?” The birth of children and the tracing of families becomes so important in the Bible because all of it is part of the anticipation of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the perfect son of Eve who will redeem us and set things right. The Bible contains so many genealogies because the whole Bible is longing for Christ. That is why it is no accident that both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke contain long genealogies of Jesus in their opening chapters.
So the first reason for all these genealogies is that this is family history. The second reason is that the people of God are looking for the promised Child. The last reason is that genealogies tie the whole biblical story together.
In the Bible, genealogies help connect individual stories to the story. It helps connect what happens at one moment to what has happened before and what will happen afterward. In doing so, it draws connections that help us understand how to read the stories we are in. Let me show you two examples from Genesis 36 itself.
After Esau has sons in Canaan, he takes all he has and separates from Jacob. He separates because the land where they were staying could not support them, so Esau was forced to leave Jacob. Where have we heard that before? Where else does a relative separate from the chosen covenant people of God because the land itself could not support their large flocks and livestock? Lot and Abraham. When Abraham and his nephew Lot enter the land of Canaan, Lot separates from Abraham for this exact same reason. This tells us that we are supposed to see Esau as a Lot-like character. When Lot separates from the people of God, he settles near Sodom and the story turns towards judgment and destruction. As we will see in a minute, it may look different, but the same thing happens to Esau when he separates from Jacob. Genesis 36 invites us to see Lot and Esau side-by-side in order to see how their stories line up with each other. That is a connection backwards to help us see how to understand this action that Esau takes of separating from Jacob – it is move toward judgment and destruction.
However, there is another connection here in Genesis 36. It’s verse 24: These are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah, he is the Anah who found the springs in the wilderness as he pastured the donkeys of his father Zibeon. There are surprising parallels here with the story of Saul in 1 Samuel 9. Saul is sent out in the wilderness to look for his father’s donkeys, along the way he meets women at a well and then meets Samuel and is anointed as king of Israel. The placement of this detail in the genealogy of Esau helps us to see how God wants us to understand not just Esau, but Saul. Saul is an Esau-like character. David and Saul’s story runs along the same lines as Jacob and Esau. David is the younger who is chosen by God over Saul. Saul, like Esau with Jacob, desires to kill David, but God protects David. David, like Jacob, has to flee the land and serve foreigners to avoid being killed by Saul.
I am just scratching the surface here of all the connections between these two stories or the ways that Genesis 36 ties back to earlier stories that help us interpret the life of Esau and Jacob or that point forward to how we should understand other stories in the Bible. Amalek points to Saul and all the way to the book of Esther. The Edomites draw us to Herod and Jesus. The relationship between the Ishmaelites, Midianites, and Edomites will come back again when Joseph is sold into slavery in Genesis 37. The kings of Edom connect deeply with the calling of Saul, a king like the nations, and David, a king after God’s own heart. It’s all connected and the genealogies highlight the connections and the ways God works in the world so that we can better understand how we are to read these stories in the Bible.
Again, I have just scratched the surface and if this has wetted your appetite to pay more attention to the details of these genealogies, then I am thrilled. Talk to me after the service and I would love to share more of what I see here in Genesis 36.
But having looked at the big picture of why genealogies are in the Bible – Family story, looking for the child, tying the whole story together – what is the purpose of this genealogy being here? More specifically, why did the Holy Spirit preserve 43 verses about the genealogy of Esau, who does not carry on the covenant, who is not part of the people of God?
So what about Genesis 36? What is God saying to us in this genealogy?
Esau is the twin of Jacob. Where Esau goes there is always the temptation that Jacob will follow. As the people of God, we face the temptation to walk the path of Esau. The path of Esau as we see in Genesis 36, is the story of a loss of identity.
Esau is a son of Isaac, and a descendant of Abraham. By the end of Genesis 36, he and his people lose their distinctive identity and calling, and become so indistinguishable from the people of the land that we cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.
The people of Esau, the Edomites, and the inhabitants of the land, the Horites, become so intermarried and so intertwined that you cannot tell them apart. Genesis 36 starts with the genealogy of Esau. It includes names like Oholibamah and Timna. But when we get to verse 20, we get the genealogies of the inhabitants of the land and these names all show up again. Oholibamah is the daughter of Anah, son of Zibeon. Timna, who was the concubine that bore Amalek to Eliphaz was the sister of Lotan. The people of Esau and the people of the land criss-cross so that once we get to the period of the kings of Edom, they are no longer considered two separate peoples. The children of Abraham and the inhabitants of the land have become one, so that the children of Abraham have lost their identity.
The inter-marriage of Esau with the people of the land was not primarily about race, but about religion and identity. Esau’s genealogy is placed here as a warning to God’s people not to lose their distinctive identity and calling in the world, not to become merged with everyone else that we lose who we are and who God has called us to be.
This is the temptation faced continually by the people of God. We are called to be in the land, to be in the world, particularly as Christians to be in every nation, yet we are called to be distinct. We have a different identity, a different calling. We belong to the LORD.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
The children of Jacob were to be set apart, to be in the land but not of the land. To be in the world, but not of the world. They were to live in the land, in the world, but to find their identity and calling as those belonging to the LORD and not from anywhere else. They were to live lives that pointed others to God. The path of Esau is a path where that distinctive identity and calling is lost, where the church fades into just another social program, into just another personal preference in a world filled to the brim with choices. The path of Esau in Genesis 36 is the path of assimilation and compromise. It is the children of Abraham who have lost who they are. Genesis 36 is here in Scripture, in part, that we would not walk the path of Esau.
Instead, the way forward for us is different. It cannot be retreat, as tempting as that may be at times. The way forward will be to live as God’s people, to live as citizens of heaven even as we walk in this world, to live by the claims and promise of the gospel even in a world increasingly turned another way.
The way forward will be to continually be called back to our identity as the people of God, as people called and commissioned by grace, made right with God through the precious blood of his Son, and set up as standing stones so that the world may know the LORD. By the gracious hand of God, may our genealogies be written far differently than that of Esau. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.