Book Nine is about the descendants of Esau. The really strange thing is that it has two heading statements: “These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom)” (Gen 36:1) and “These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir” (Gen 36:9).
The first half of the book ends with the aside “Esau is Edom” (Gen 36:8). This is an obvious example of inclusio, a common feature of biblical narrative. The second narrative also ends with a statement forming an inclusio with the second heading: “these are the chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom), according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession” (Gen 36:43).
So the structure is this: first heading, first narrative (genealogy), second heading, second narrative (five genealogies in three groups), epilogue. The epilogue serves, like all of the epilogues, as a transition to the next book: “Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” (Gen 37:1). This is in contrast to Esau (that is, Edom) in “the land of their possession” in the hill country of Seir (Gen 36:43). As God retells it in Joshua, “And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt” (Josh 24:4).
Esau made a mistake marrying any Canaanites, let alone two of them, and then he compounded it by adding a third wife (an Ishmaelite). The author of Genesis shows this cleverly through the use of names. In Gen 26:34 and 28:9 the names are Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite; Basemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite; and Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth. But in Book Nine the names are Adah, daughter of Elon the Hittite; Oholibamah, daughter of Anah, granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite; and Basemath, daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth. For example, in Book Nine the first wife “Adah” (the name of the first wife of evil Lamech, the seed of the serpent in Book One) is the daughter of Elon the Hittite when earlier in Genesis the second wife Basemath was the daughter of Elon the Hittite. Another example, in Book Nine the third wife is Basemath, daughter of Ishmael, when earlier in Genesis the second wife Basemath was the daughter of Elon the Hittite and the third wife Mahalath was the daughter of Ishmael. Thus the names in Book Nine are all mixed up to clump the cursed women together. (Waltke shows this with a chart you have to examine).
And he separated himself “from his brother Jacob, for their possessions were too great for them to dwell together, the land of their sojournings could not support them because of their livestock, so Esau settled in the hill country of Seir” (Gen 36:6-8, ESV, punctuation altered). Esau could have settled elsewhere in the Promised Land, but chose to leave. His mistakes set him apart from Jacob who did not marry the cursed women of the land and who sojourned in the Promised Land rather than settling permanently elsewhere.
The second narrative has five genealogies.
The first one begins, “These are the names of Esau’s sons” (Gen 36:10). There are twelve grandsons mentioned. Amalek, because he is the son of the concubine Timna, the reader is not to count. Samuel would later command Saul to exterminate the Amalekites, not protected as part of Edom, because of what they did to Israel during the Exodus journey. A descendant who survived was the ancestor of Haman who tried to destroy Israel in the day of Esther.
The second one begins, “These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau” (36:15) and ends, “These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these are their chiefs” (Gen 36:19). There are fourteen chiefs. The Amalek here is different than the previous genealogy. Each son of Esau follows the same pattern. “The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: the chiefs:” (Gen 36:15) and “these are the chiefs of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah” (Gen 36:16). “These are the sons of Reuel, Esau’s son: the chiefs” and “these are the chiefs of Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Basemath, Esau’s wife” (Gen 36:17). “These are the sons of Oholibamah, Esau’s wife: the chiefs” and “these are the chiefs born of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau’s wife” (Gen 36:18). In the middle of the first pair are the names of seven chiefs (Gen 36:15-16). There are four in the middle of the second pair and three in the middle of the third pair. Again, this totals fourteen.
The first two are to be grouped together as the final line says, “These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these are their chiefs” (Gen 36:19) concludes “These are the names of Esau’s sons (Gen 36:10) and “These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau” (Gen 36:15).
The third one begins and ends with an identical list of seven chiefs of the Horites in their line of succession. The rest of the opening and closing are slight variations. “These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, the sons of Seir in the land of Edom” (Gen 36:20-21). “These are the chiefs of the Horites: the chiefs Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, chief by chief in the land of Seir” (Gen 36:29-30). Between the inclusio, are names of the sons of each chief. The only commentary is “he is the Anah who found the hot springs [translation of “hot springs” is debated, the Targum and Jewish tradition says it means “mules” (he was the first to cross the horse and donkey)] in the wilderness, as he pastured the donkeys of Zibeon his father” (Gen 36:24). Two women are mentioned. The first chief had a sister: Timna, Eliphaz’s concubine and Esau’s wife Oholibamah was the daughter of chief Anah, the son of chief Zibeon. These Hivites should be cursed (descendants of Canaan) but the text gives us seven chiefs.
The third genealogy stands alone. This political system would become integrated into Edom.
The fourth one begins, “These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites” (Gen 36:31). Each one follows the same pattern: Bela the son of Beor, Jobab the son of Zerah, Husham, Hadad the son of Bedad, Samlah, Shaul, Baal-hanan the son of Achbor, and Hadar. For Bela, it says “reigned in Edom” and for each king thereafter it says “reigned in his place.” In the third position most of them mention a city or place the king was from: “the name of his city being Dinhabah,” “of Bozrah,” “of the land of the Temanites,” “the name of his city being Avith,” “of Masrekah,” “of Rehoboth on the Euphrates,” none for the next king, then “the name of his city being Pau.” Since they have different capitals this suggests that Edom elected their kings. It is the only such list known in the ANE. In the fourth position is a death statement except for the last one, which says, “his wife’s name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab” (Gen 36:39). The only commentary in this genealogy was to say concerning Hadad, “who defeated Midian in the country of Moab” (36:35). As Bruce Waltke notes, this shows how great David is when he conquers Edom.
The fifth one begins, “These are the names of the chiefs of Esau, according to their dwelling places, by their names” (Gen 36:40) and ends, “these are the chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom), according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession” (Gen 36:43). Clearly this genealogy is according to their dwelling places.
The last two are to be grouped together. Book Nine shows the sons and chiefs of Esau developing into the nation of Edom with kings and chiefs. This reflects the later development of Israel (hinted at with such lines as “before any king reigned over the Israelites” (Gen 36:31)). Waltke’s commentary is helpful on this point (and was the starting point for all of the reflections of this post).
So what are we to make of this extensive discussion of Esau’s descendants? For one thing, despite how they develop we know that one day they will serve their younger brother Israel (fulfilling the first poem of Book Eight). It also means that some of the Canaanites will not be exterminated but serve the true sons of Shem (fulfilling the poetry of Book Three). But looking even further into the future, today these brothers of Israel can be reconciled to their brothers in Christ (fulfilling the first poem of Book Six). Jesus would even heal a Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matt 15:21-28).