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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 36

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) The generations of Esau.—This tôldôth, consisting of Genesis 36:1 to Genesis 37:1, is very remarkable, if it were only for the difficulties with which it abounds, and which have too often been aggravated by the determination of commentators to make Holy Scripture bend to their pre-conceived ideas as to what it ought to be, instead of dutifully accepting it as it is. It begins with an enumeration of Esau’s wives, in which the names are different from those given in Genesis 26:34; Genesis 28:9. Next we have the genealogy of Esau, upon the same principle as that whereby the tôldôth Ishmael was inserted immediately after the history of Abraham’s death (Genesis 25:12-18); but this is followed, in Genesis 36:20-30, by a genealogy of the Horite inhabitants of Mount Seir. Among these Esau dwelt as the predominant power, but nevertheless on friendly terms, for a reason which we shall see hereafter. We next have a list of kings who are said to have reigned in Edom “before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.” This is not a prophetical portion of the Bible, but a dry genealogical table, and the attempts made to evade the plain meaning of the words, namely, that at the time when this list of kings was written there were kings in Israel, are painful to read, and can have no other effect than to harden sceptics in unbelief. Of these Edomite kings, it is remarkable that they do not succeed one another by hereditary succession, nor have they the same capital, but seem to belong to a time of anarchy, like that which existed in Israel under the Judges. During this period the Edomites and Horites were fused together, chiefly by conquest (Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 2:22), but partly also by the gradual dying out of the inferior race, just as the red man is fading away in North America, and the Maori in New Zealand. Finally, we have a list of the eleven dukes of Edom, “after their places.” As these dukes represented tribes or clans, this catalogue is geographical, and as such it is described in Genesis 36:43, and was intended to give the political arrangement of the land at the later date when this addition was made, and when considerable changes had taken place since the time of the first settlement.

These last two documents, forming Genesis 36:31-43, were probably added at the time when the Books of Samuel were composed; but as we find the list of the kings given also in 1 Chronicles 1:43-50, and as at that date great activity existed in completing the canon of Holy Scripture, some suppose that the lists in both places are by the same hand. It is entirely wrong to describe them as interpolations; for it was the rule to add to and complete genealogies; and besides there existed in the Jewish Church a living authority in the prophets who had the right and power to make necessary additions to the Divine record. It is to the “schools of the prophets” that we owe, under God’s providence, the existence of most of the Old Testament Scriptures, and the preservation of all of them; and they did not preserve them for the sake of the authors, but for the sake of what was written. And there is nothing derogatory to the authority or inspiration of Holy Scripture in believing that the prophets were from time to time moved by the Spirit to add to what had been written. The contents of the Old Testament bear witness everywhere to the scrupulous fidelity with which men guarded in the prophetic schools the sacred deposit entrusted to their care; but it is equally certain that we find notes inserted from time to time, as in Genesis 35:20. No one can doubt but that the remark that the pillar standing on Rachel’s grave “unto this day” was the same stone which Jacob had set up, was inserted at a later date, and apparently after the conquest of Canaan. So in Genesis 14:7 we have a note inserted subsequently to the establishment of the kingly office. Why should there be any difficulty in believing that these two lists of kings and dukes, added to complete a genealogy, belonged also to a time when there were kings in Israel?

It is probable, however, that the list of kings given here is of an earlier date than that in the first chapter of Chronicles, for Hadar (more correctly, in Chronicles, Hadad) seems to have been living when this document was composed, and hence the full information about his wife.” In Chronicles (1 Chronicles 1:51) there is added “Hadad died-also.” And if he really were alive when this catalogue was written, he had by that time been dead for centuries; for its date would then be one comparatively early.

Verse 2

(2) Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite.—In Genesis 26:34, she is called “Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite,” and is placed second. Here she is everywhere placed first. We do not often elsewhere find women possessed of two names, but it has not been sufficiently borne in mind that she was a Hittite, and her own name in her own language neither Adah nor Bashemath. As Adah means ornament, and Bashemath sweet-scented, both may possibly have been terms of endearment, arising from modifications of her Hittite name.

Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite.—She is supposed to answer to Judith the daughter of “Beeri the Hittite,” in Genesis 26:34. But in Genesis 36:24-25, we find her genealogy given again, and Zibeon, the father of Anah, the father of Aholibamah, is there described as a Horite. Now, as Hivi (Hivite) and Hori (Horite) differ in Hebrew only in the length of the top of the middle letter, and as mistakes in the transcription of Biblical names are of constant occurrence, it seems certain that Aholibamah was a Horite, and therefore, entirely distinct from Judith. Judith, the first wife, apparently had no children, and hence arose the temptation to Esau to marry some one besides. Hence, too, Adah comes in her proper order, as being the first wife who had sons; and Eliphaz as the son of the first wife who had children, has the right of primogeniture. Hence, too, Aholibamah in the genealogy is always placed third. She was the fourth and last wife taken, and her children are placed after those of Bashemath. And this was a matter of far too great importance in a genealogy for there to be any mistake made in it. And now we see the reason for giving the genealogy of the Horites, and also why Esau took the Horite land for a possession. In some expedition into the country of Seir, Esau had married the daughter of one of the dukes there, and through her had acquired a right to ducal rank. Through her family, moreover, he had friendly relations with one portion at least of the Horite people. Our knowledge of the princely Hittites has of late been too largely increased for us to be able to connect a Horite race with them, and Rebekah distinctly calls Judith and Adah-Bashemath daughters of Heth. Excepting the Semites, no race in Palestine stands so high as the Hittites, and no race so low as the Horites. But their rulers were probably of a higher breed; and Esau’s invasions of their country, his final settlement there, and the introduction of the genealogy of “Seir the Horite,” together with Aholibamah’s place as the last of Esau’s wives, all are facts which strongly confirm the supposition of his having contracted a Horite marriage during Jacob’s absence in Padan-aram.

The meanness of the Horites is not a deduction merely from their having dwelt in caves, for the country is so admirably adapted to this mode of living that it still exists there; but they are omitted from the table of nations in Genesis 10:0, and seem generally to have been a feeble aboriginal race.

Verse 3

(3) Bashemath Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebajoth.—The Samaritan text reads Mahalath here, and in Genesis 36:4; Genesis 36:10; Genesis 36:17, as in Genesis 28:9. There can be little doubt that Mahalath is the right reading, but the versions, nevertheless, agree with the Masoretic Hebrew text, so that the error must have been of very ancient date. As Mahalath was of a Semitic stock, she would have her own Semitic name, and there would be no double translation of it, as in the case of the daughter of Elon.

Verse 5

(5) In the land of Canaan.—We find Esau with a band of armed men in Seir on Jacob’s return from Padan-aram, but he still had his home at Hebron with his father until Isaac’s death, twenty-two years afterwards. Evidently he had taken Aholibamah home thither, and she had borne him three sons. After Isaac’s death the land of Seir had so great attractions for him that he migrated thither with his share of Isaac’s wealth, and left Hebron to Jacob, who now moved down thither from the town of Eder, and took possession of the homestead of his fathers. And thus the inheritance of the birthright came finally to Jacob by. Esau’s own act, and would doubtless have so come to him; only his father’s blessing and the transference to him of the Abrahamic promises would have been given him, not at the time of Isaac’s temporary illness, but on his deathbed.

Verse 6

(6) Into the country from the face.—Heb. into a land away from the face, &c.

Verse 7

(7) The land wherein they were strangers.—The large growth of their wealth made the separation of Esau and Jacob as inevitable as had been that of Abraham and Lot. It is a usual incident in the life of nomads, and a tribe can multiply only to the extent of the capabilities of their district to support them. When this is reached, one portion of the tribe must seek a new home. This necessity was in the present case aggravated by Esau and Jacob being only sojourners in Canaan, surrounded by tribes who claimed to be owners of the soil: and this may have helped in determining Esau’s choice; for in right of Aholibamah, he was in her country a duke. Maimonides also observes, that though Esau had gone on hunting expeditions to Seir, and even possibly for plunder, yet that he was not sufficiently powerful to take possession of the country until by Isaac’s death the number of his retainers was largely multiplied.

Verse 8

(8) Mount Seir.—The land of Idumea extends from the southern extremity of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Elath, and consists of a chain of mountains running parallel to the Akaba, or continuation of the deep depression through which the Jordan flows till it loses itself in the Dead Sea. The hills are of limestone, with masses here and there of basalt; and though large portions are so covered with stones as to be barren, the rest is moderately fertile, not indeed in corn, but in figs, pomegranates, and other fruits. The climate is pleasant, the heat in summer being moderated by cool winds, but the winters are cold. The border of it was distant only some fifty or sixty miles from Hebron, so that Esau’s transference of himself thither was an easy matter. (Comp. Note on Genesis 27:39.)

Verse 9

(9) The father of the Edomites.—Heb., the father of Edom. He was himself the man Edom, but the word here means the country of which he was the colonizer.

Verse 12

(12) Amalek.—We have already read of the “field of the Amalekite” in Genesis 14:7. As Balaam describes Amalek as “the beginning of nations” (so the Heb., Numbers 24:20), the race can scarcely have had so ignoble an origin as to have sprung from a concubine of Eliphaz; for we gather from Amos 6:1 that the phrase used by Balaam implied precedence and nobility. It was, moreover, one of the most widely spread races of antiquity, occupying the whole country from Shur, on the borders of Egypt, to Havilah, in Arabia Felix. But probably there was a fusion of some of the Horites with the Amalekites, just as the Kenezites, under Caleb, were fused into the tribe of Judah. For in 1 Chronicles 4:42-43, we find the Simeonites invading Mount Seir, and smiting Amalekites there. Of these Amalekites in Seir, Amalek, the grandson of Esau, was probably the founder; for in Genesis 36:16 he is called a duke, and therefore one district of the country would belong to his descendants, in the same manner as each son of Jacob had a territory called after his name. In this district the chiefs would be Semites of the race of Esau; the mass of the people a blended race of Horites. and Amalekites. There is no difficulty in the absence of their names from Genesis 10:0. Though Balaam magnified them, they were regarded by Israel, not as a nation, but as a hateful horde of plunderers.

Verse 15

(15) Dukes.—Duke is the Latin word dux, a leader; but the Hebrew word alluph signifies a tribal prince, It is derived from eleph, a thousand, used in much the same way as the word hundred with us for a division of the country. Probably it was one large enough to have in it a thousand grown men, whereas a hundred in Saxon times was a district in which there were a hundred homesteads. For this use of it, see Micah 5:2. Each alluph, therefore, would be the prince of one of these districts, assigned to him as the possession of himself and his seed.

Verse 16

(16) Duke Korah.—The Samaritan Pentateuch rightly omits this name. He was a son of the Horite wife, Aholibamah.

Verse 18

(18) Duke Jeusn . . . —Aholibamah’s three sons are dukes, but only the grandsons of the other wives. The reason of this probably is that she belonged to the dominant family of Seir, and her sons took the command of districts and tribes of the Horite people in her right.

Verse 20

(20) The sons of Seir the Horite.—This genealogy is given partly because it contains that of Aholibamah, but chiefly because the Horites were in time fused with the descendants of Esau, and together formed the Edomites.

Verse 22

(22) Timna.—Not the Timna mentioned in Genesis 36:12; for she is here described as sister of Lotan the brother of Zibeon, who was grandfather of Aholibamah, Esau’s wife. But the Timna mentioned there was the concubine of Esau’s grandson, and junior by four generations.

Verse 24

(24) Anah that found the mules.—Mules is the traditional rendering of the Jews; but as horses were at this date unknown in Palestine, Anah could not have discovered the art of crossing them with asses, and so producing mules. Jerome, moreover, says that “the word in Punic, a language allied to Hebrew, means hot springs;” and this translation is now generally adopted. Lange gives a list of hot springs in the Edomite region, of which those of Calirrhoe, “the stream of beauty,” in the Wady Zerka Maion, are probably those found by Anah.

Verse 31

(31) The kings.—In the triumphal song of Moses on the Red Sea we still read of “dukes of Edom” (Exodus 15:15; but when Israel had reached the borders of their land, we find that Edom had then a king (Numbers 20:14). But in the list given here, no king succeeds his father, and probably these were petty monarchs, who sprang up in various parts of the country during a long period of civil war, in which the Horites were finally as completely conquered as were the Canaanites in Palestine under the heavy hands of Saul and Solomon. In the time of the dukes, there were also Horite dukes of the race of Seir, ruling districts mixed up apparently with those governed by the descendants of Esau. But all these now disappear.

Verse 33

(33) Jobab.—The LXX. identify him with Job, but on no probable grounds.

Verse 35

(35) Who smote Midian . . . —All memory of this exploit has passed away, and the complete silence of the Bible regarding every one of these kings, makes it probable that they belonged to an early date prior to the time in Israel when historical events were carefully recorded.

Verse 37

(37) Rehoboth by the river.—Heb., Rehoboth hannahar, Rehoboth-of-the-river, so called, perhaps, to distinguish it from Rehoboth-ir (Genesis 10:11). If the river is the Euphrates, this city was not on Edomite ground, and Saul probably reigned in Idumea by right of conquest.

Verse 39

(39) Hadar.—He is more correctly called Hadad in the Samaritan text here, and in the Hebrew also in 1 Chronicles 1:50. The two letters r and d are in Hebrew so much alike, that they are repeatedly confused with one another. As we have already observed (see Note on Genesis 36:1) he was probably alive when this catalogue of kings was drawn up.

Verse 40

(40) According to their families, after their places.—The final list of the dukes is said, both here and in Genesis 36:43, to be territorial, by which is meant, not that the persons mentioned were not real men, but that Edom finally settled down into eleven “thousands” named after these chieftains. So in Canaan the names of the sons of Jacob became those also of territorial divisions, two of which, however, were given to Joseph and his sons, while no district was called after Levi. What is remarkable here is the vast amount of change. No Horite duke gives his name to any of these divisions of the land of Edom. Omitting Korah from Genesis 36:16, there were originally thirteen of these tribal princes, each with his own territory, but with no central government; just as the children of Israel dwelt for centuries in Canaan, each tribe independently in its own district, and with nothing to bind them together except their religion. In Genesis 36:40-43 we find eleven tribes, of which only two, those of Teman and Kenaz, retain the names of the sons of Esau, while of the rest we know nothing. We may, however, safely conclude that these nine persons, who gave their names to districts of Edom, were all men who rose to power during the troubled times when king after king seized the crown only to be displaced by some one else. Probably many such men arose, but these were all who consolidated their power sufficiently to leave their names behind them. Amidst this anarchy, the two districts of Teman and Kenaz alone remained unbroken, and continued to be ruled by princes of the same family. This word “family” has in Hebrew a meaning different from that which it has with us; for it signifies one of the larger divisions of a tribe, of which the subdivisions are called “fathers’ houses,” which again are subdivided into households (Numbers 1:2, &c.). In Genesis 36:43 “habitationswould be better rendered settlements.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 36". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/genesis-36.html. 1905.
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