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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 36

Generations of Esau, Gem 36:1-43.

This venerable document is inserted here, in accord with the uniform plan of the book, to finish up and dispose of the history of Esau before beginning the later and fuller history of Jacob, which is to occupy not only the remainder of Genesis, but also the rest of the Pentateuch. The genealogy is carried as far as the reign of Hadar, (Genesis 36:39,) whose decease is not mentioned, and who was, perhaps, the king of Edom to whom Moses applied for passage through the land. Numbers 20:14. Compare the parallel list in 1 Chronicles 1:35-54. The whole list is divisible into six subdivisions, as follows: (see verse comments)

Verses 1-8

ESAU’S WIVES AND CHILDREN, AND THEIR REMOVAL TO MOUNT SEIR, Genesis 36:1-8. A comparison of the names of Esau’s wives, as given here and in Genesis 26:34; Genesis 28:9, will show noticeable differences . Here we have:

1. Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite.

2. Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite.

3. Bashemath Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebajoth. There we have:

1. Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite.

2. Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.

3. Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, sister of Nebajoth.

Here we notice that the names of the wives in the two lists are all different, but it seems altogether probable that Adah of the first list= Bashemath of the second; and Aholibamah of the first= Judith of the second; for there can be no doubt that Bashemath = Mahalath, stated in each list to be Ishmael’s daughter and Nebajoth’s sister. It is very possible that, in such ancient tables of names, changes, transpositions and corruptions have entered. Hittite and Hivite ( הוי חתי ) might easily become confused in transcribing, and Bashemath substituted for Mahalath. But all attempts at this date to emend or explain these differences are conjectural . The names may have been changed for reasons, and in accordance with customs, of which we are now ignorant. Names were often repeated in tribes and families, (comp. Genesis 36:20; Genesis 36:24-25,) and in some lists grandfathers or great grandfathers are mentioned instead of fathers. Thus it would be equally proper to call Rebekah the daughter of Bethuel, or of Nahor, or of Milcah, (see Genesis 24:24,) or even of Haran or Terah . Genesis 11:27. Then we must remember what incidents often changed a name, or gave a new name, as Esau and Edom, (Genesis 25:30,) and the eastern customs of giving new names to women at their marriage, or at the birth of certain children . It seems better to account for these differences on such general principles, than to attempt a doubtful hypothesis to account for each specific change .

6. All his substance Esau had vast possessions as well as Jacob, possessions acquired in the land of Canaan. He had not been idle while Jacob was in Mesopotamia .

Went into the country Hebrews, went to the land, that is, the land of Edom .

From the face of his brother Jacob When this occurred we have no means of knowing, but probably about the time of Jacob’s movement southwards from Shechem. Esau knew the land of Canaan was promised to Jacob, and he would not seek to hinder his occupation and free enjoyment of his own inheritance.

THE SONS AND GRANDSONS OF ESAU AS HEADS OF TRIBES, 9-14. Compare the parallel list in 1 Chronicles 1:35-37. The names here given are evidently those of the tribe-fathers of the nation of the Edomites in Mount Seir. They embrace five sons and ten grandsons, including Amalek the son of Eliphaz by his concubine. It is impossible and unnecessary now to trace the subsequent history and settlement of these several tribes. In the name of Eliphaz, the Temanite, mentioned in the Book of Job, (Job 2:11,) we may trace the name of the son and grandson of Esau perpetuated in the name of a city founded by this Teman, whose family made frequent use of the ancestral names . Teman was famed for wisdom . Jeremiah 49:7. This Amalek is believed to be the tribe-father of the Amalekites, who are so frequently mentioned in the subsequent history of Israel . They attacked the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt to Sinai, (Exodus 17:8,) and became a powerful and famous tribe . From his being the son of a concubine, Amalek may have found little sympathy from his brethren, and early became separated from them, founding by himself an independent tribe . The mention of the “ country of the Amalekites” in Genesis 14:7, does not necessarily imply that there was a nation of Amalekites at that time, but is to be explained as the natural designation of a territory thus known at the time of the writer .

Verses 15-19

THE DUKES OF ESAU, Genesis 36:15-19.

Here the chief tribe-fathers of the Edomites are named again, under the title of dukes, Hebrews, alluphim, ( אלופים ,) phylarchs, chiefs, or princes . These were all military chieftains, great patriarchal sheiks, who were celebrated by their descendants not merely as fathers but as heroes . As being merely a presentation of the same persons under a different title, they are omitted from the list in 1 Chronicles which proceeds with the sons of Seir.

Verses 20-30

SONS OF SEIR THE HORITE, Genesis 36:20-30.

The Horites were the original occupants of Mount Seir, (Genesis 14:6,) but it appears from Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 2:22, that they were subdued by the sons of Esau, and in all probability the remnants of their tribes intermarried with the Edomites, and became so identified with them as to be thus included in this genealogy . The seven sons of Seir the Horite are all mentioned again in Genesis 36:29-30 as the dukes of the Horites, corresponding with the sons and dukes of Esau already given . On the identification of some of these names there are differences of opinion . Timna, in Genesis 36:22, is generally allowed to be the same as the concubine of Eliphaz, Genesis 36:12. It is natural to suppose Aholibamah the daughter of Anah (Genesis 36:25) to be the same as the wife of Esau, (Genesis 36:2,) but Keil very positively denies their identity. Anah (Genesis 36:24) is said to be a son of Zibeon the Horite; but the Anah of Genesis 36:2 is the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite. Anah is distinguished for having found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father. There is no good authority for rendering the word ימם , mules; it means rather, warm springs . While he pastured the asses of Zibeon he discovered certain hot springs, probably those of Callirhoe, on the east of the Dead Sea, in the wady Zerka-Main, which are famous for their medicinal qualities and various temperature, ranging from tepid to a degree of heat that cannot be endured in bathing . Hengstenberg suggests that the discovery of these springs gave Anah the surname Beeri, (xxvi, 34,) “the fountain man,” or “ well-finder,” and thus constructs an argument to prove the identity of Anah with the father of Esau’s wife. His argument, if not conclusive, should suffice to show how many possible circumstances, now unknown to us, might have occasioned the differences of names which puzzle us in old genealogical tables.

Verses 31-39

THE KINGS OF EDOM, Genesis 36:31-39.

How a monarchy arose among the Edomites we are not told, but it is noticeable that of the eight kings here mentioned, not one is said to have succeeded to his father. It is, therefore, very plausibly supposed that they were chosen by the dukes, or phylarchs. The statement that these kings reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel has been suspected as an interpolation, introduced after kings reigned over the Israelites. This is not an unreasonable or improbable supposition. See Introd. to the Pentateuch, p. 22. Others have argued from it the late authorship of the Pentateuch. But neither of these suppositions are necessary. God had said to Abraham, “Kings shall come out of thee,” (Genesis 17:6,) and he repeated the promise to Jacob, (Genesis 35:11,) who, in his last words, prophesied of a sceptre to arise in Judah.

Genesis 49:10. Moses also assumed that kings would arise in Israel, (Deuteronomy 17:14; Deuteronomy 28:36;) and with such expectations it would have been very natural for him, in recording this list of Edomite kings, to introduce the remark that all these reigned before Israel had any king . The Edomite monarchy was a sudden upstart affair, as compared with the Israelitish .

Of none of these kings have we any certain trace elsewhere. Bozrah, in Genesis 36:33, is the same as that mentioned in Isaiah 34:6; Isaiah 53:1, and the land of Temani (Genesis 36:34) was probably so called after the son of Eliphaz . Genesis 36:11. Bozrah was probably at the site of the modern el-Busaireh, southeast of the Dead Sea .

In Genesis 36:35 the mention of Hadad the son of Bedad, who smote Midian in the field of Moab, gives us a momentary glimpse of ancient wars among the peoples scattered south and east of the Dead Sea. As the death of all these kings except Hadar (Genesis 36:39) is formally recorded, it is naturally supposed that he was living at the time of this writer, and was, perhaps, the same king to whom Moses applied for permission to pass through the Edomite territory. Numbers 20:14.

Verses 37-43

The Generations of Jacob, Genesis 36:37-43.

This is the last section of the Book of Genesis headed by the special designation, תלדות , generations . See Introduction, p . 49 . Though the larger portion of this section is devoted to the history of Joseph, Jacob is still the head of the patriarchal family, and the covenant history centres in him as its representative .

“Jacob was now dwelling in the green, well-watered vale of Hebron, half-way between Beer-sheba (the place of Isaac’s sojourning) and Salem, (afterwards Jerusalem,) the city of Melchizedek, probably the earliest seat of civilized life in Palestine. Here the spies found the rich valley of Eshcol, with its giant grape clusters; here, too, crowning the overlooking height, they found the city of Arba (Kirjath-Arba) and his gigantic sons, and here, too, was and is that most venerated of all sepulchres, the cave of Machpelah. The modern town lies on the sloping sides of the narrow valley, which runs north and south, clothed with luxuriant vineyards, and groves of the gray olive and evergreen oak. About a mile north of the town, solitary in the midst of the vineyards, stands a very large wide-spreading oak, which is regarded as the successor of Abraham’s ‘oak of Mamre.’ Yet Jacob sent his flocks to pasture sixty miles north, in the fertile valley of Shalem or Shechem, where some time before he had bought a piece of ground whereon ‘to spread his tent.’ ” Newhall.

The following reflections of Ewald are most valuable in their suggestions and concessions, especially as coming from a Rationalist like him:

“The history of Jacob gradually and almost imperceptibly passes into that of the tribes, (or sons,) above whom hovers, vague and dim, the awful form of Israel, the aged Patriarch. Especially fine is the turn thus given to the history, when called to relate the evil deeds and wicked lusts of these sons; and with the one great exception of Joseph, what else is there to tell of them? In their collective history is vividly anticipated the future history of the nation; its many shortcomings, its manifold corruptions, as if the guileful nature, wholly eradicated at last in the much-tried father, sprang up again, and spread in rank luxuriance, among his descendants; first in Simeon and Levi, and still more in the history of Joseph. The old father, who now, made perfect through suffering, appears like some superior spirit watching over them, sternly rebukes all these follies and misdeeds committed behind his back; and yet, eventually, he himself has to bear the burden of iniquities planned without his knowledge. Thus Jacob is still, though in a different sense, what he was entitled in his youth, the laboriously striving, much enduring, man of God. Thus, even in the post-Mosaic period, the better spirit still hovers over the nation often obscured, and almost despairing, yet abandoning them never, and in the end really beholding with rapture a great and glorious restoration of all the erring ones.” History of Israel, 1: 360.

Genesis 37:1-11

JOSEPH AND HIS DREAMS, Genesis 37:1-11.

“The history of Joseph is, perhaps, the most charming story in the world. The fascinating interest and matchless pathos of the Bible narrative can be much better appreciated when it is compared with the history of Joseph as given in the Koran (chap. 12) and in Josephus, ( Antiq., book 2.) Yet those hard, dry, and tame narratives and reflections were written by men who had read the wondrous tale of Genesis! The typical suggestions of this narrative are unusually rich and deep. Some of them are thus set forth by the sober and profound Pascal:

“‘Joseph was a type of Christ. The beloved of his father; sent on an errand by his father to his brethren; without fault; sold by his brethren for money; and thence exalted to be their lord, their saviour, the saviour of multitudes unknown to him, of the world; all which could not have taken place without the scheme for his disgrace, his sale, and destruction. In the prison Joseph was committed, without any offence of his, with two criminals; Christ was crucified between two thieves. He foretold the release of the one and the execution of the other, under like symbols in the case of each: Jesus saves his chosen and condemns the rejected, under like crimes. Joseph predicts only, Christ acts. Joseph entreats of the one who is to be saved, that he will be mindful of him when he is restored to prosperity; and he whom Jesus saves prays to be remembered of him when he shall enter his glory,’ ( Thoughts; Longman’s edition, p. 312.) The sin of the brethren, however, was overruled, not necessitated.” Newhall.

Verses 40-43

DUKES OF ESAU AFTER THEIR PLACES, Genesis 36:40-43.

Some suppose that the eleven dukes here named were contemporary with Hadar, the last named king; but 1 Chronicles 1:51-54, which mentions the dearth of Hadar, (called Hadad there,) implies that they survived him . But the expressions, according to their families, after their places, by their names (Genesis 36:40) and according to their habitations in the land of their possession, (Genesis 36:43,) denote rather the ducal cities, or districts . We should accordingly translate, duke of Timnah, duke of Alvah, and etc . , and understand that Aholibamah, Kenaz, and Teman are here the names of cities, called after their founders; perhaps the persons bearing these names in the previous part of the genealogy .

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 36". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-36.html. 1874-1909.