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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Genesis 36

Toledoth IX (Genesis 36:1)

Roehrs referred to this chapter as a "list of meaningless names," suggesting that it is an act of penance merely to read it![1] Despite such a view, however, there remains an eternal significance in what is here written.

  1. This chapter shows that God continued to be interested in all people, not merely the covenant family, and that His ultimate purpose was the blessing of "all the families of the earth," even as mentioned to Abraham (Genesis 12:1ff).

  2. It was just as necessary to register the generations of Esau as it was to register those of Jacob, "in order to show that the Messiah did not spring from the former, but from the latter."[2]

  3. Esau's intermarriage with the Canaanites resulted in the amalgamation with them, demonstrating the reason why God refused to the Israelites any foreign marriages.

  4. The adoption on the part of Esau and his posterity of the monarchical system of government, resulting in anarchy and the degeneration of his whole race, provided for Israel an object lesson which they should have heeded, but did not. The blunt notice in Genesis 36:31 that those kings of Edom came earlier than the rise of the monarchy in Israel emphasizes the fact that Israel had, as a result of Edom's experience, a detailed picture of what would eventually happen to them if they adopted a monarchical system. Those who would like to view the reference to kings arising in Israel (Genesis 36:31) as a proof of a late date for Genesis are frustrated, absolutely, by the fact that, at such a later time, after there had indeed arisen kings in Israel, such an implied warning would have been without any meaning whatever. Previous prophecies had made it clear that "dominion" would belong to Esau (Genesis 27:40), and that, in time, "kings" would be found among Jacob's posterity (Genesis 35:11). It was with respect to those prophecies that the example of what would come of theft "kings" found its place in this chapter.

  5. Another purpose of the chapter was that of showing "fairness to Esau."[3] Here we learn that it was Esau who voluntarily left Canaan and dwelt in Seir in order to avoid conflict with his brother Jacob. Also, it should be remembered that, when Esau had all the force necessary as well as a favorable opportunity to destroy Jacob, he refrained from doing so. This chapter further confirms the fact of the reconciliation of those once-estranged brothers being complete. Thus, as Richardson said, "The chapter has much useful information."[4]

Regarding the familiar pastime of critics cutting up Genesis into multiple "sources," "Even they have failed to find a possible source to which they can ascribe these names"[5] Maybe Moses? The divisions of the chapter are:

  1. Esau's wives and children (Genesis 36:1-8).

  2. Esau's sons and grandsons, as fathers of tribes (Genesis 36:9-14).

  3. Tribe-princes who descended from Esau (Genesis 36:15-19).

  4. Pre-Edomite peoples, descendents of Seir the Horite (Genesis 36:20-30).

  5. The kings of the land of Edom (Genesis 36:31-39).

  6. Seats of the tribe-princes of Esau (Genesis 36:40-43).[6]

Verses 1-8

"Now these are the generations of Esau (the same is Edom). Esau took wives of the daughter of Canaan: Adah, the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath Ismael's daughter, sister of Nebaioth. And Adah bare to Esau Eliphaz; and Basemath bare Reuel; and Oholibamah bare Jeush, and Jalam, and Korah: these are the sons of Esau, that were born to him in the land of Canaan. And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his possessions, which he gathered in the land of Canaan; and went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their substance was too great for them to dwell together; and the land of their sojournings could not bear them because of their cattle. And Esau dwelt in Mount Seir: Esau is Edom."

"These are the generations of Esau ..." This is the ninth of the ten great toledoths that introduce the respective sections of Genesis.[7] Note that, as in every other use of this word, it is a reference to what FOLLOWS, not to what PRECEDES.

We shall not dwell upon the difference in the names of Esau's wives from the names given in Genesis 26:34, and in Genesis 28:9. It is not certainly known why they do not agree. Many proposed "solutions" have included allegations that: it is due to the Arabian custom of replacing original names with surnames marking some memorable event;[8] it is accounted for by there being two sets of wives, those here being the ones married after the others were deceased;[9] it is explained by the fact that each wife had two names (as did also their parents), a not unusual feature among ancient peoples.[10] One explanation is as good as another, but we still do not know. Despite the impossibility of resolving this difficulty, however, it is gratifying to note that Speiser wrote, "The customary breakdown into documentary sources cannot be attempted with much hope of success;"[11] and that Francisco discounted this problem completely with the declaration that, "These records represent authentic ancient materials and come from a time before the Edomites were regarded with hostility."[12]

"Eliphaz ..." This is a name afterward borne by one of Job's friends (Job 2:11; Job 4:1; and Job 15:1).

"Reuel ..." This was a name afterward borne by Moses' father-in-law (Exodus 2:18).

"Born to him in the land of Canaan ..." (Genesis 36:5). This indicates that Esau continued to make his principal residence in Canaan until the removal mentioned in this paragraph. He also had probably been maintaining his vast herds of livestock in the mountains of Seir during a great portion of the same time.

"His cattle, and all his beasts ..." The Anchor Bible translates this as "his livestock," a term which includes cattle, beasts, flocks, and herds.

"The land of their sojournings could not bear them because of their cattle ..." This was the same situation that existed between Abraham and Lot, resulting in their separation. Both examples show the divisive power of great wealth, this being one of the ways in which wealth is wicked, called by Jesus Christ, "the Mammon of Unrighteousness." This does not mean that wealth is necessarily the fruit of unlawful or wicked deeds, but that money itself is wicked:

  1. because it divides loved ones and friends;

  2. surrounds its possessor with false friends;

  3. tempts him to trust in it;

  4. promises to solve all his problems, but instead becomes a problem,

  5. it deceives the owner into thinking it belongs to him;

  6. (6) it promises much and delivers little; and

  7. it is an unqualified enemy of spirituality.

"And Esau dwelt in Mount Seir: Esau is Edom ..." Yates gave the principal cities of Mount Seir as: Sela, Bozrah, Petra, Teman, and Ezion-Geber.[13] This area lay southward from the Dead Sea in the mountainous region toward the Gulf of Aqaba. Edom lay between Moab to the northward, and Midian to the southward. "Edom," of course, is another name for Esau. The area was also called Idumaea, and its inhabitants Idumaeans. Josephus attributed that change to the Greeks, who, he said, "gave it a more agreeable pronunciation, and named it Idumea."[14]

Verses 9-14

"And these are the generations of Esau, the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir: these are the names of Esau's sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Esau by Basemath the wife of Esau. And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, and Gatam, and Kenaz. And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau's son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek: these are the sons of Adah, Esau's wife. And these are the sons of Reuel: Nahath, and Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah: these were the sons of Basemath, Esau's wife. And these were the sons of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon, Esau's wife: and she bare to Esau Jeush, Jalam, and Korah."

This list reveals the sons (grandsons) of Esau: TEMAN; OMAR; ZEPHO; GATAM; KENAZ; AMALEK (by Adah's son Eliphaz, except Amalek whose mother was Timna, a concubine), NAHATH; ZERAH; SHAMMAH; MIZZAH (through Reuel the son of Basemath), JEUSH; JALAM, and KORAH (sons of Esau by Oholibamah). With minor variations, these are all called "Chiefs" or "Dukes" of Edom in the next paragraph:

Verses 15-19

"These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau: the sons of Eliphaz the first-born of Esau: chief Teman, chief Omar, chief Zepho, chief Kenaz, chief Gatam, chief Amalek: these are the chiefs that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah. And these are the sons of Reuel, Esau's son: chief Nahath, chief Zerah, chief Shammah, chief Mizzah: these are the chiefs that came of Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Basemath, Esau's wife. And these are the sons of Oholibamah, Esau's wife: chief Jeush, chief Jalam, chief Korah: these are the chiefs that came of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau's wife. These are the sons of Esau, and these are their chiefs: the same is Edom."

The apparent misplacement of the name "Korah" in the two lists is another variation that remains unexplained. It is of no great importance.

It is significant that these "chiefs" were, except for the three sons of Oholibamah, "grandsons," not "sons" of Esau. This usage of these terms is prevalent throughout the Bible.

"Chiefs ..." is substituted in the ASV and later versions for "Dukes" as in the KJV. Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word here "is [~'aluph], a term related to [~'eleph], (thousand, or tribe),"[15] hence, the ruler or commander of a thousand men. Similarly, the Greeks had [@chiliarch] for the same authority.

The mention of Timna the concubine of Eliphaz was probably due to the importance of her son Amalek whose tribe later became the inveterate enemies of Israel, although some deny this identification with the Amalekites in the days of Saul.

One of the most important of these chiefs was Teman, the oldest son of Eliphaz, who later developed into a powerful tribe, becoming so important that the whole land of Edom was sometimes called Teman (Amos 1:12; Obadiah 1:1:9).

Verses 20-30

"These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan and Shebal and Zibeon and Anah, and Dishon and Ezer and Dishan: these are the chiefs that came of the Horites, the children of Seir in the land of Edom. And the children of Lotan were Hori and Heman; and Lotan's sister was Timna. And these are the children of Shebal: Alvan and Manahath and Ebal, Shepo and Onam. And these are the children of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah; this is Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father. And these are the children of Anah: Dishon and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah. And these are the children of Dishon: Hemdan and Eshban, and Ithran and Cheran. These are the children of Ezer: Bilhan and Zavaran and Akan. These are the children of Dishan: Uz and Aran. These are the chiefs that came of the Horites: chief Lotan, chief Shobal, chief Zibeon, chief Anah, chief Dishon, chief Ezer, chief Dishan: these are the chiefs that came of the Horites, according to their chiefs in the land of Seir."

This list of the pre-Edomite inhabitants of Seir is of the greatest significance, for it reveals the manner of Edom's eventual amalgamation with the people through intermarriages with them, and finally coming to dominate the whole area. Esau's wives included Anah a daughter of Zibeon, and Oholibamah was the daughter of Anah, another of the Horite, or Hivite chiefs. Also, Timna, the concubine of Esau's first-born son Eliphaz, who was the mother of chief Amalek, was a sister of Lotan, one of the chiefs of Seir. What Esau did here through intermarriage with the pagans of Seir, Jacob likewise could have done at Shechem; but the result would have been just as disastrous as it was for the posterity of Esau. Sure, Esau took over the country, but the pagan culture of Seir took over the Edomites. Thus, the wisdom of God's providential interference with Jacob's continued residence in Shechem is demonstrated in this chapter.

Note that Zibeon is called a Hivite is Genesis 36:2, and a Horite in Genesis 36:20. "Hivite is a synonym for Horite, and both are applied where `Hurrians' are involved."[16]

"Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness ..." The words here given as "hot springs" are rendered "the mules" in the KJV. There has been much dispute about this expression. "There is no warrant for the traditional `hot springs',"[17] which began with Jerome. The word is "hymn" and is used only here in the whole Bible. Jewish scholars generally favor the KJV rendition of "mules," which we also favor. A feeding lot for asses is a far more likely place to find a mule than a hot spring. The Tarrgum of Jonathan paraphrases this place as follows:

"This is the Anah who united the `onager' with the tame ass; and in the process of time, he found mules produced by them."[18] (Onager here should be understood as a wild horse.)

Verses 31-39

"And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel. And Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom; and the name of his city was Dimhabah. And Bela died, and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his stead. And Jobab died, and Husham of the land of the Temanites reigned in his stead. And Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who smote Midian in the land of Moab, reigned in his stead; and the name of his city was Avith. And Hadad died, and Shamlah of Masrekah reigned in his stead. And Shamlah died, and Shaul of Rehoboth by the River reigned in his stead. and Shaul died, and Baalhanan the son of Achbor reigned in his stead. And Baal-hanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar reigned in his stead: and the name of his city was Pau; and his wife's name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matted, the daughter of Mezahab."

"Before there reigned any king over the children of Israel ..." As noted in the chapter introduction, there would have been no point whatever to such a remark as this except as a warning derived from the disastrous experience of the Edomites in their adoption of government by monarchy. The usual, knee-jerk comment by critics, of course, makes this "proof" of a late date for Genesis after the rise of the monarchy in Israel. Willis asserted that this expression, "shows that this verse was written after Saul had taken the throne."[19] Such a deduction is absolutely unnecessary, as many able scholars have pointed out:

"This does not refer to the time after the monarchy was introduced into Israel under Saul, but was written with the promise in mind, that kings should come from Jacob (Genesis 35:11), and merely expresses the thought that Edom became a kingdom before Israel."[20]

This reference to the kings to which their sister nation had submitted (was) a warning against the desires of the children of Israel to have kings.[21] (Kline and Francisco also both follow this same line of thought).

And what a warning this monarchy was for Israel! Every single one of the kings was succeeded by another one who was not his son. The inference that they were overthrown violently is irresistible. That this was some kind of benign "elective" or "democratic" monarchy is actually ridiculous. No such monarchy ever existed anywhere. The very word, "king" forbids such a view. Of course, exactly this same pattern developed during the reigns of the last series of kings in Northern Israel. Israel had their warning quite early in their history, but they heeded it not.

The fourth king on the list was distinguished by his fighting the Midianites on the field of Moab. The Midianites were south of Edom, and the Moabites were north of Edom, Edom being squarely between them; and some have suggested that this presents a problem. The only problem is the total disappearance from history of any reference to such a war, except for this brief note in Genesis. Most Americans would have no problem with a statement that, "Andrew Jackson fought the British in New Orleans." How did the British happen to be in New Orleans? They went there; and that is exactly how the Midianites came to be in Moab.

Before leaving this paragraph, it should be noted that the capital of the monarchy was moved with the accession of each new king. What a scramble that was!

Verses 40-43

"And these are the names of the chiefs that came of Esau, according to their families, after their places, by their names: chief Timna, chief Alvah, chief Jetheh, chief Oholibamah, chief Elath, chief Pinon, chief Kenaz, chief Teman, chief Mibzar, chief Magdiel, chief Iram; these are the chiefs of Edom, according to their habitations in the land of their possession. This is Esau, the father of the Edomites."

The apparent inclusion of women's names, Timna and Oholibamah, as titles of certain chiefs shows that the chief took his title from the tribal mother in some cases. That this list does not exactly correspond with that given above presents no problem, for it probably represents the chiefs at a later time than that of the earlier list. The unifying of the tribes under the names of Timna and Oholibamah indicates this.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 36". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-36.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.