40 And these are the names of the dukes that came of Esau, according to their families, after their places, by their names; duke Timnah, duke Alvah, duke Jetheth,
41 Duke Aholibamah, duke Elah, duke Pinon,
42 Duke Kenaz, duke Teman, duke Mibzar,
43 Duke Magdiel, duke Iram: these be the dukes of Edom, according to their habitations in the land of their possession: he is Esau the father of the Edomites.
This genealogy concludes by naming another set of dukes that came of Esau. These are not the same dukes that were named among his sons and grandsons, so my assumption is that these are the dukes of a later generation, perhaps the generation when the Israelites returned from Egypt.
Finally, we get this emphatic exclamation “he is Esau the father of the Edomites!” Like Ishmael, Esau did not inherit the covenant, but he was still the father of a great people. Unlike Ishmael, though, it is not clear where the people of Esau are today. Were they defeated by one of the many powers that rolled through the land of Canaan? Did they intermingle with other cultures to the point that their bloodlines were dispersed throughout the world? Are they a people that we now call by another name, not even aware of their heritage? I do not know, but for the rest of the Biblical record they will still be frequent actors in the unfolding drama.
15 These were dukes of the sons of Esau: the sons of Eliphaz the firstborn son of Esau; duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Zepho, duke Kenaz,
16 Duke Korah, duke Gatam, and duke Amalek: these are the dukes that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these were the sons of Adah.
17 And these are the sons of Reuel Esau’s son; duke Nahath, duke Zerah, duke Shammah, duke Mizzah: these are the dukes that came of Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Bashemath Esau’s wife.
18 And these are the sons of Aholibamah Esau’s wife; duke Jeush, duke Jaalam, duke Korah: these were the dukes that came of Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau’s wife.
19 These are the sons of Esau, who is Edom, and these are their dukes.
We now continue with the descendants of Esau, and in these verses it specifically lists out the dukes, or tribal chiefs, among his sons and grandsons. Two of Esau’s wives had one son each. Through the first of these Esau obtained seven grandsons, each of which were given the title of duke. Through the second son came four more grandsons, also called dukes.
The pattern was slightly different with Esau’s third wife. Rather than bearing him a single son, Aholibamah gave birth to three, and all of these were also named dukes. Thus in all Esau had eleven duke grandsons and three duke sons, fourteen rulers to steer the clans of the Edomites.
Most of these dukes names I do not recognize, but the third one in verse sixteen is quite significant. Duke Amalek, I imagine, is the progenitor of the Amalekites, who would be a great rival to the Israelites when they returned from Egyptian captivity. This continues a pattern we have seen previously, where the kin of the covenant end up siring the very nations that would compete most hotly with the Israelites.
6 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.
7 For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle.
8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.
A couple days ago I mentioned that Esau and Jacob seemed to have minimal interaction after they were reunited in Canaan and now we know why: Esau left. Like Abraham and Lot, the land was not enough to support both of their households, and one of them had to pass over to the other side. And like Abraham, Jacob was the one that kept with Canaan, while Esau went elsewhere.
The two men’s decision of where to live perfectly echoes their preferences specified back in Genesis 25:27. Jacob was always a man of the plains, content to stay put for extended periods of time, while Esau was a wandering hunter. It seems the two men were destined to live as two separate halves. When they were young and forced to share the same space that disparity was likely one of their points of friction, but now that they were grown men they were able to resolve the matter with sufficient space. Like the parting between Jacob and Laban, sometimes the best way to keep the peace is to know when to step apart.
1 Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom.
2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite;
3 And Bashemath Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebajoth.
4 And Adah bare to Esau Eliphaz; and Bashemath bare Reuel;
5 And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these are the sons of Esau, which were born unto him in the land of Canaan.
The narrative is now paused for a chapter as the Bible recounts the genealogy that proceeded from Esau. We are reminded that Esau had two wives of the Hittite and Hivite nations, and a third from the daughters of Ishmael.
As discussed earlier, Esau only married the third wife to appease his parents, who wished him to keep his family within the covenant lineage. However, I am not sure that marrying the daughter of Ishmael fit that bill. Yes, the covenant people would emerge from the children of Abraham, but not all of the children of Abraham would be part of that group. Isaac would be part of the covenant and not Ishmael, just as how Jacob was now part of the covenant but not Esau.
In any case, Esau only had one son from two of the wives, but three from the third. Five sons were enough to assume his lineage would be carried forward, though, and the following verses will show that it was indeed.
12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.
13 And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.
14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.
15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.
While reading this chapter I had continually wondered to myself “but why did Esau bring four hundred men in the first place?” That was an army, and Jacob’s assumption that they were being brought to destroy him seems a totally valid fear. Why would Esau have thought it was a good thing to bring them?
One possibility that occurred to me was that maybe Esau did intend to destroy his brother, but when he finally saw Jacob’s face felt his anger melt away. Or perhaps he knew he was going to forgive his brother, but he wanted to give him a good fright first. But if either of these possibilities were his true motivation, then it would surprise me that Esau then says absolutely nothing about the past offense. Instead, his behavior seems to me as though he had let go of his anger many years prior. Then I considered that he might have become something of a warlord, so accustomed to wandering around with a traveling army that he had forgotten how their appearance might frighten delicate farmers.
Reading today’s verses, though, I also realized that he might have simply brought all these men to help his brother during the last leg of the journey. It might have been meant entirely as a kindly gesture, just one that Jacob had misinterpreted. But when Esau suggests that he leave some of his men to protect the flocks, Jacob refuses. Jacob has seen for himself that he is guarded by his God, so he knows that all will be well.
8 And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.
9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.
10 And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.
11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.
I would very much like to know what Esau’s tone was when he asked, “what meanest thou by all this…” Was it spoken as a sincere curiosity, or as a chiding reproof? Jacob gives an honest answer, that it was to obtain Esau’s grace, though he tastefully omits “because I thought you might kill me!”
There then follows a show of good manners from each brother. Esau refuses the gift, acknowledging that he has enough for himself already, but Jacob insists upon it. This is a good move on Jacob’s part. If he took the gift back now, it would mean he only wanted to save his skin and had no sincerity in the offer.
Jacob further insists on giving the gift by invoking the goodness of God, saying that he had been so kindly dealt with that he must go through with his own act of kindness as well. It is an excellent example of our modern phrase to “pay it forward.”
5 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.
6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves.
7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.
Waiting behind Jacob were all of his family, and Esau was anxious to meet them. Originally, I had thought that he had staggered them in order to give the ones in the rear a chance to escape if things went very badly, but it seems they were already much too near for that to have been Jacob’s strategy. Instead, it seems that he had been preparing them for presentation in the event that things went very well. Which, thankfully, they did.
So now Jacob introduces his household, one branch at a time, showing Esau that he has not only grown in age and servants and flock and wealth, but also in family ties. The boy who had left their father’s tent had had nothing and nobody, but he had made his way, and had had come into his own. Evidently Esau had grown as well, able to marshal hundreds of men, a veritable army. Yet he also seems to have grown in his capacity for tenderness of feeling. The two boys had become men.
1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.
2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.
3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.
At long last the moment of reckoning has come for Jacob. He sees Esau and his men, which presumably means that they have also seen him, meaning it would be too late to run away. Jacob sets himself ahead of his family, and as he comes to Esau he bows seven times, a final gesture to show his immense reverence and respect. It truly is hard to think what more he could have done to appease any lingering wrath in Esau.
And then…Jacob finds out that all his fear was unnecessary. Esau runs forward, embraces his brother, and kisses him. He has no intention of causing harm to Jacob, rather he is moved to tears by being reunited after these long twenty years!
All of Jacob’s preparation may not have been necessary for his survival, but I do not think it was a wasted effort. Abraham’s preparation to sacrifice Isaac ended up not being necessary either, but the exercise was still essential in how it revealed Abraham to himself. So, too, I imagine that Jacob had a far greater understanding of what he was made of for having passed through this trial. And, like Abraham, he had learned that with God as His shepherd, things would work themselves out.
6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.
Jacob received an update from his messengers, and it did not sound promising. Esau was coming with four hundred men, an army, more than enough to kill Jacob and his entire household. And this isn’t all. Apparently, Esau did not provide Jacob’s messengers with any response that might set his brother at ease. He set out with unspoken intent, leaving Jacob to assume the worst.
In this dire situation Jacob came to a most heart-wrenching solution. He would divide his camp in two, so that if Esau came with violence half of the camp could try to flee as the other was consumed. This would mean saving half of his home, but only at the sacrifice of the other. At least in that case he wouldn’t have to decide which would be the surviving half, chance would decide that for him.