What does Genesis 36 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Genesis 36 consists of a list of Esau's offspring, focusing primarily on genealogy and the rulers of Edom, the nation that came from Esau. The chapter is inserted in Genesis between the generations of Isaac (Genesis 25:19), ending with his death in the previous chapter (Genesis 35:28–29), and the generations of Jacob, which follow Joseph's story through to the end of the book (Genesis 37:1–2).

Three of Esau's wives are listed as the mothers of his many sons. Strangely, the names of these wives and the fathers they came from are somewhat different from those reported in Genesis 26:34 and 28:9. It's possible Esau had other wives or that the names of his wives were changed. Esau took his wives from the Canaanite people of the land. Abraham had insisted that Isaac not marry a Canaanite woman. Isaac had directed Jacob to find a wife from their relatives outside of the land, as well. Esau's choice to marry these women may have contributed to his move away from the family.

Esau is associated with the name "Edom" due to his unique birth and an event earlier in his life (Genesis 25:25, 30). The land they come to rule also has a name with an ironic coincidence. Esau was known for being hairy (Genesis 27:11), and the word "seir" literally means "shaggy" (Genesis 36:1).

Esau's wives Adah, Oholibamah, and Basemath bore to him five sons, including Eliphaz, his firstborn. These sons were all born in the land of Canaan. Jacob's family was the reverse. All but one of his sons were born outside of the land before he moved back home. Esau's were born in the land before he moved his family and all that he owned away to the hill country of Seir (Genesis 36:2–5).

This territory was taken from the Horites (Genesis 14:6) during a period of conquest (Deuteronomy 2:12). Their choice to move away from Jacob fulfills prophecy about Esau breaking free from his brother's shadow (Genesis 27:39–40). It is driven by economics, since there aren't enough resources for both large clans (Genesis 36:6–8).

This chapter emphasizes repeatedly that Esau is Edom. That is, the Edomite people and nation all came from him. His grandsons are listed according to their fathers, and then listed again as the chiefs or tribal leaders in the land of Edom. One of the key names in this segment is Amalek: his descendants would become vicious enemies of Israel (Exodus 17:8, 16; Deuteronomy 25:17–19; 1 Samuel 15:2–3). Another part of this list mentions the kings of the Horites (Deuteronomy 2:12) who occupied the land (Genesis 14:6) before Esau's clans took over. The text also notes that Edom had kings long before Israel. This is because Israel will spend more than four centuries in slavery (Exodus 12:40), before an era under a series of "judges" (Judges 12:25), rather than under a king (Genesis 36:9–39).

Finally, the chapter lists another set of the chiefs of Esau, perhaps naming the regions in Edom by the original heads of the clans who occupied each area (Genesis 36:40–43).

Over time, the nation of Edom grew hostile towards Israel (Numbers 20:14–21; 1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Kings 8:20). This ultimately led to Edom's participation in Israel's defeat and exile, and the judgment of God on the Edomites (Obadiah 1:1–4, 10). Prophecy was fulfilled when the Nabateans overcame Seir and the nation of Edom was dissolved (Malachi 1:2–5). Survivors settled in Hebron, becoming known as the Idumeans. A notable member of this group was Herod the Great, who tried to have Jesus killed as an infant (Matthew 2:16–18). In AD 70, Idumeans tried to join the Jewish rebellion against Rome and were entirely obliterated. As a nation, and even as a distinct people group, they became extinct.
Verse Context:
Genesis 36:1–8 gives a summary of what happened to Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Esau is called Edom, literally meaning "red." This connection comes from his birth (Genesis 25:25) and an incident with his brother (Genesis 25:30). The land where he settles is also named for Esau's appearance; "Seir" literally means "shaggy." The nation of Edom grows after Esau moves away from Jacob's rapidly growing family. Jacob was given the name "Israel" by God. Over time, the "brother" nations of Israelites and Edomites will become bitter enemies. The short prophetic book of Obadiah predicts harsh judgment on Edom for their treatment of Israel (Obadiah 1:1–2).
Genesis 36:9–19 describes the family lines descending from Esau, who was also known as Edom (Genesis 36:1). These are the important families who expanded after he moved his family from Canaan to Seir (Genesis 14:6; Deuteronomy 2:12).
Genesis 36:20–30 describes the people Esau and his offspring defeated to take control of their homeland (Deuteronomy 2:12). These are the Horites (Genesis 14:6), descended from a man named Seir. After Esau's conquest, the region became known as Edom (Genesis 36:1).
Genesis 36:31–43 lists eight kings of Edom, the nation which descended from Esau (Genesis 36:1), all apparently ruling from a different city. This passage pointedly notes that Edom's kings all reigned before Israel had kings of her own. While Edom is conquering Seir (Genesis 36:9), Israel must endure centuries of slavery (Exodus 12:40). This was followed by a long period under a series of "judges" (Judges 21:25) before their first appointed king (1 Samuel 8:4–5). Finally, in this section, the clan leaders are listed, each likely representing a specific region in the land of Edom.
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 36 describes the generations of Esau, mostly focusing on the genealogy and rulers of the land of Edom. Repeatedly, the chapter emphasizes that Esau is Edom, repeating an association made earlier in Genesis (Genesis 25:25, 30). The Edomite people are his descendants. The regions in the land of Edom are named for his offspring. The chapter diverts briefly to give the genealogy of the Horite people (Genesis 14:6) who occupied the land before it was conquered (Deuteronomy 2:12). Finally, the chapter lists eight kings of Edom, along with the chiefs whose names became associated with the regions their clans occupied.
Chapter Context:
Genesis 35 concludes with the death of Isaac. It marks the end of the story arc which focused on him (Genesis 25:19). Genesis 36 briefly describes the generations of Esau, Jacob's twin brother, listing his sons, grandsons, and the kings of Edom, the nation that came from Esau. This is parallel to how Genesis 25:12–18 relayed the fate of Ishamel, another son who did not carry the line of promise. Genesis 37 begins the generations of Jacob, focusing mostly on the story of Joseph.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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