Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bible Commentary - Genesis 36

In this chapter, we find a genealogy of Esau listed as well as some of the kings who lived in Edom.

This chapter is basically a conclusion of Esau's life in the bible.  While he is referred to a couple more times, this is the end of his story.  It's like at the end of a movie when they show some text listing to what happened to the main characters (for non-fiction at least).  In this case, "what happened" to Esau is this genealogy.

Also note the recurring phrase, "these are the generations of...".  This phrase occurs 10 times in Genesis and is used as a marker for all of the major segments.  Whenever you see this phrase, it indicates that the author is moving on to the next major section, which is possibly discontinuous with the last section.

In spite of these discontinuities, the narrative is remarkably linear, as it goes through the lives of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau and next we're moving on to Joseph, the son of Jacob.

It's interesting to see we're finally given an explanation for why Esau moved to Seir: the land could not support both him and Jacob.  This is reminiscent of when Abram and Lot split up for the exact same reason, and in that case Lot moved across the Jordan to Sodom (what is modern day Jordan).  What this shows us is that they were still relying heavily, if not exclusively, on nomadic herding for their sustenance.  We see signs of this in their frequent movements, like when Jacob moved from Shechem to Bethel, and later from Bethel to Hebron.  These migrations would be in pursuit of foliage, primarily.  Now we again see that the great flocks of the Hebrews require them to split apart from each other and it's very interesting that the holder of Abraham's promise is the one who remains in Canaan.

In Abraham's case, he let Lot pick and Lot chose the more fertile land, which just goes to show that, while promised of God, Canaan honestly isn't that great of a country when it comes to natural resources.  I believe this is an intentional decision from God, so that he can ensure that it is utterly clear the wealth of the Israelites will always come from him.  When he promises them a land flowing with milk and honey, they know that their abundance comes from God.

In this case, unlike Lot, Esau is actually moving into a relatively arid country as well, to the southeast which is towards (but not in) the Arabian desert.  One wonders if he was forced out or moved of his own volition.  The bible does not detail this.

This also has the future significance that many of the countries located around Israel are distantly related to the Israelites: the Edomite, Moabites and Ammonites are all related to Israel through Esau and Lot respectively.  This means that they are ostensibly on good terms, and while Israel invokes this on some occasions, their relations are almost always hostile in practice.  This is mostly because the other peoples, the Edomites/etc are already settled in their countries, when suddenly this large Israelite people migrate in (after the Exodus, which happens in the next book), and the Edomites fear that the Israelites will try to appropriate some of their land.  I will discuss this in more detail when I reach the relevant chapters.  Let it suffice to say that *in theory* they should have been friendly, but because of how things happened, they became progressively more hostile as the centuries passed.

Interesting names in the genealogy:

Amalek.  There is a later generation of giant-men called the Amalekites, which I think most commentators say are unrelated.  Still, the coincidence is surprising, so I wonder if there is some relation here.

Korah.  There is a future Israelite named Korah, but these two people are unrelated.

After that, I didn't really see anything that seemed worth mentioning.  Next, I'll be moving on to the story of Joseph!

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