Genesis 36: Promise or Possession?

And here we have another chapter with a long list of weird foreign names. But hang in there with me. The Bible is full of fun facts and applicable lessons even in these not-so-glamorous chapters. Or you could be the type of person who loves genealogies, and in that case, these chapters are your cup of tea!

Let’s rewind in quick summary. Way back when, Abraham was promised by God he would be the father of many nations – a huge deal (Genesis 15). His wife Sarah had trouble giving birth, but miraculously had a son Isaac when she was around 90 years old (Genesis 21). Isaac married Rebekah, who had twins – Esau and Jacob. She was told by God that “two nations are in thy womb” (Genesis 25). Esau and Jacob had a big fight after Jacob tricked Esau into giving him the birthright (Genesis 27), and by now they have reconciled (Genesis 33). Phew.

So far, all of God’s promises have come true. And in this chapter we see Abraham’s “many nations” grow tenfold through Esau’s line. Esau is called “Edom,” meaning “red,” as he gave up his entire birthright for some red pottage. We think, how silly! What a fool! Didn’t he know better? Hmm… How foolish are we to take any worldly pleasure at the expense of our eternal rewards? Don’t we know better? Shouldn’t it be pretty simple? Don’t we have the Bible at our very fingertips to tell us HOW AMAZING ETERNAL LIFE IN HEAVEN WILL BE? Our lives are short. Eternity is a very, very long time. It’s worth the extra effort.

This chapter literally writes Esau off. He is given Mount Seir, as the land of Canaan was reserved for his brother Jacob, who God would continue to use to carry out His promises to His chosen people. Before this point, Esau had battled for the Promised Land. But God’s will always stands no matter how great the opposition. Esau willingly left the land co-habited with Jacob, realizing no good would come from continuing the feud. God’s in control.

Entrance to the city of Edom on Mount Seir

Esau was given a bounty of earthly possessions, his descendants becoming kings and chiefs, reigning over vast lands. But these earthly titles and riches mean nothing. Jacob, having a family of shepherds, realized that true honors come from the Lord. Note here that only Esau’s sons and grandsons names are recorded, not their history. It doesn’t matter if they became strong rulers who conquered many lands, or if they became the richest family according to earthly standards. It doesn’t matter how much money we make, how many awards we receive, how many cars we have, how good of a school we attend. What matters is, how do we measure according to God’s standards? What controls our heart?

On Earthly Riches:

“By your hand save me from such people, LORD, from those of this world whose reward is in this life. May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones.” – Psalm 17:14

On titles:

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:5-11

It is better for us to hold onto the promise of eternal riches in Christ than to become of the world and measure our status according to human, imperfect, corrupt, standards. As Matthew Henry beautifully put it, “It is better to have Canaan in promise than Mount Seir in possession.”

P.S. We will learn more about the Edomites in later books of the Bible, and how “helpful” they were to the Israelites.



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