Bible Commentaries
Genesis 36

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

D. What became of Esau 36:1-37:1

Moses included this relatively short, segmented genealogy (toledot) in the sacred record to show God’s faithfulness in multiplying Abraham’s seed as He had promised. It also provides connections with the descendants of Esau referred to later in the history of Israel. Among his descendants were the Edomites (Genesis 36:8) and the Amalekites (Genesis 36:12). Lot, Ishmael, and Esau all walked out of the line of promise. This list also includes earlier inhabitants of the area later known as Edom whom Esau brought under his control. [Note: The NET Bible note on 36:1.]

We can divide this chapter as follows.

Esau’s three wives and five sons, Genesis 36:1-8

Esau’s five sons and 10 grandsons, Genesis 36:9-14

Chiefs (political or military leaders) descended from Esau, Genesis 36:15-19

Chiefs of the Horites (with whom the Edomites intermarried and whom they dispossessed), Genesis 36:20-30

Kings of Edom, Genesis 36:31-39

A final list of chiefs, Genesis 36:40-43

Different names of Esau’s wives appear here as compared with what Moses recorded earlier (Genesis 36:2; cf. Genesis 26:34; Genesis 28:9). [Note: For an explanation, see Keil and Delitzsch, 1:321-22.] People added surnames to given names later in life. Women often received new names when they married. Esau married a Hittite (Genesis 36:2), a Hivite (Genesis 36:2) who was a descendant of a Horite (Hurrian, Genesis 36:20), and an Ishmaelite (Genesis 36:3). Some commentators connected the Horites with cave dwellers since the Hebrew word for cave is hor. [Note: E.g., Speiser, p. 283; and Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 223.]

Esau’s sons were born in Canaan and then moved out of the Promised Land to Seir. Jacob’s sons, except for Benjamin, were born outside Canaan in Paddan-aram and later moved into the Promised Land.

"That there are two toledot headings for Esau makes his treatment in two consecutive sections exceptional in the book. The first section [Genesis 36:1-8] focuses on family and homeland, and the second [Genesis 36:9 to Genesis 37:1] centers on his offspring as a developing nation. These two sections are flanked by the major narrative toledot sections of Isaac (Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29) and Jacob (Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 50:26)." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 632.]

The Kenizzites (Genesis 36:11; Genesis 36:15) later affiliated with the tribe of Judah. [Note: J. Milgrom, Numbers, pp. 391-92.] The Amalekites separated from the other Edomites and became an independent people early in their history (Genesis 36:12). [Note: See the chart illustrating their family relationship among my comments on 25:1-6.] A group of them settled in what later became southern Judah as far as Kadesh Barnea and the border of Egypt (Genesis 14:7; Numbers 13:29; Numbers 14:43; Numbers 14:45). Another branch of the tribe settled in the hill country of Ephraim that was in central Canaan (Judges 12:15). The largest group of Amalekites lived in Arabia to the southeast of Canaan and Edom. They united on occasion with their neighbors, the Midianites (Judges 6:3; Judges 7:12) and the Ammonites (Judges 3:13). Saul defeated the Amalekites (1 Samuel 14:48; 1 Samuel 15:2) as David did (1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1; 2 Samuel 8:12). Some Simeonites finally exterminated them during Hezekiah’s reign (1 Chronicles 4:42-43).

"What is most interesting about the king list [Genesis 36:31-39] is that it reflects an elective kingship rather than a dynastic one. . . .

"These ’kings’ may have indeed been charismatic individuals who, like the judges, assumed their office without regard to heredity." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 400.]

This list of Edomite kings demonstrates the partial fulfillment of God’s promise that kings would come from Abraham’s loins (Genesis 17:16).

"It might seem unusual that such detail concerning the descendants of Esau be included, but the relationship between Esau and Jacob, and then between the nations of Edom and Israel, is a theme of the entire Old Testament." [Note: Davis, p. 259. For archaeological discoveries relating to the Edomites, see Itzhaq Beit-Arieh, "New Light on the Edomites," Biblical Archaeological Review 14:2 (March-April 1988):28-41.]

"What Israelites did to Canaanites, Esauites did to Horites. Thus Genesis 36 is moving backward from the conquerors (Genesis 36:9-19) to the conquered (Genesis 36:20-30)." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 397.]

Genesis 36:31 is probably a post-Mosaic explanation written after Israel had kings to show that the Edomites were also a powerful people with kings, even before there were kings in Israel. [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 656.] This is further proof of God’s blessing on Esau, one of Abraham’s descendants.

Jacob was living at Hebron when Joseph’s brothers sold him, and he may have continued living there until he moved to Egypt (Genesis 37:1; cf. Genesis 35:27).

"Verse 1 [of chapter 37] belongs structurally to the preceding narrative as a conclusion to the Jacob story. It shows Jacob back in the Land of Promise but still dwelling there as a sojourner like his father before him. The writer’s point is to show that the promises of God had not yet been completely fulfilled and that Jacob, as his fathers before him, was still awaiting the fulfillment." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 225. Cf. Hebrews 11:39.]

Perhaps the major lesson of this genealogy is that secular greatness develops faster than spiritual greatness. Consequently the godly must wait patiently for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 36". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.