There are many popular web sites that are devoted to helping someone find the story of his or her family origin. To use one of these sites, you start by typing in your name and as much information about your family as you know. The site will then search through information like birth records, census reports, immigration documents, and other sources of information to help build a record of someone’s family history.
In a similar way, Genesis chapter 36 is something like an Old Testament version of a genealogy web site. The big difference is that Genesis chapter 36 is devoted to the descendants of one family: Jacob’s brother Esau.
Now despite the fact that Esau was not a very spiritual guy, his grandfather Abraham had been a very God-honoring person during his life. You see, God made some very important promises to Abraham before Esau was ever born. One of those promises is found in Genesis 17:6 where we read this…
“I will give you a lot of descendants, and in the future they will become great nations. Some of them will even be kings” (CEV).
The family history that we see in Genesis chapter 36 represents part of the fulfillment of this promise that God had given to Abraham so many years earlier.
“This is the account of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir” (Genesis 36:9).
We’re told here that Esau eventually found his way to the area of Edom, a place that is located southeast of the Dead Sea. The explanation for this move is found earlier in Genesis 36:6-7 where it says this…
“Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock.”
So Esau (the same man who once threatened to kill his brother Jacob) did something very gracious- he moved his family, his farm animals, and his entire household far away from Jacob so they each could have more pasture land for their livestock.
It may be that Esau finally realized that God was determined to make good on His promise to give Jacob that area as his own possession. So when they both acquired so many possessions that the land could not support them, Esau was the one who said, “OK, I’ll move- you can stay.”
“This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom)” (Genesis 36:1).
So Esau took off to the hill country of Seir (Genesis 36:9), a rugged, mountainous area southeast of the Dead Sea. It was there that Esau and his family grew large enough to begin an entire nation of people.
The nation of people who descended from Esau eventually came to be known as “Edom” or the “Edomites,” a name that was developed from Esau’s nickname Edom (see Genesis 25:30 and 36:9). This group of people are mentioned well over 100 times throughout the Bible and they later became a neighboring nation to the people of Israel.
A long list of Esau’s descendants is found in beginning in verse 4 and continuing on through verse 30 of Genesis chapter 36. The most noticeable person mentioned in this list is found in verse 12:
“Esau’s son Eliphaz also had a concubine named Timna, who bore him Amalek. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Adah.”
If you know a little bit about Biblical history, then you should be familiar with the name “Amalek.” That’s because Amalek went on to become the ancestor of a group of people who carried his name: the Amalekites. The Amalekites would eventually go on to become one of the biggest enemies that the nation of Israel ever had to face.
For instance, the Old Testament book of Exodus tells us that the Amalekites once attacked the nation of Israel when they were on their way back to the land that God had promised to give them (see Exodus 17:8). Their strategy was simple: as the people of Israel were traveling, the Amalekites would hang back and try to take out the people who were lagging behind…
“Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
The name Amalek means “warlike” and some of the other people mentioned in Genesis chapter 36 also have names with similar meanings. For instance, the name Alvan mentioned in verse 23 means “wicked.” The name Zaavan seen in verse 27 means “terror.” Then there is the name Baal-Hanan in verse 38. His name references a false god named Baal.
So these guys were not likely to be the kind of people who led quiet, peaceful, soft spoken lifestyles- and they demonstrated it later on in their battles with the people of Israel.
“These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned” (Genesis 36:31).
The list of people found in Genesis chapter 36 serves as a historical record of Esau’s descendants, but it also serves as something else. You see, this list also serves to illustrate the consequences that can follow whenever someone turns away from following God. It shows us how ignoring or rejecting God can affect the direction of someone’s life and produce consequences that go far beyond that person’s own existence.
Here’s why: the region of Edom eventually came to be known as the area of Idumea. Idumea then went on to produce three leaders who became very important in the New Testament era. Those leaders were part of the “Herodian dynasty” that existed at that time and their names were Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa the First, and Herod Anitpas, each of whom are mentioned in the New Testament.
First, there was Herod the Great. He was the man who was responsible for murdering every infant male in the Bethlehem region aged 2 or younger in an attempt to exterminate Jesus and eliminate him as a rival king (see Matthew 2:16).
Then there was Herod Agrippa the First. He was the man who was responsible for killing the Apostle James, one of the leaders of the early church (see Acts 12:1-2). Finally, there was Herod Antipas. Antipas is probably best known as the man who gave the order to cut John the Baptist’s head off (see Mark 6:17-28 for the story).
Each of these men were responsible for some serious crimes against innocent people and their examples demonstrate how much damage can occur once someone gets started in a direction away from God. You see, many people were later affected because one man at the very beginning (Esau) showed no interest in spiritual things. If Esau had been someone who really wanted to honor God with his life, then history might have turned out very differently.
But what does their example mean for us today? Well, their example tells us that it’s important to keep in step with God’s direction for our lives. One of the best ways to do that is by reading the Scriptures, spending time with God in prayer, and going to church regularly (see Acts 2:42). A person who does those things is sure to grow spiritually and become a positive force in the lives of others.
So it’s possible to leave a Godly influence for others to follow- but it all starts with the desire and determination to honor God with your life.