It seems that the Torah intentionally connects Esav’s origin story (Gen. 25:30) regarding the red stew with the nature of both Esav and the nation he will become. That is, Edom.
Many a novice Bible student has rushed over this genealogy in pursuit of the detailed dramatic epic of Joseph which follows. However, we can’t properly understand the story of Yaakov’s descendants, Joseph included, if we have not taken the time to understand how one of Israel’s greatest enemies came into being. Esav is called Edom, and throughout history, the nation of Edom will play a strong role in resisting God’s plan for the nation of Israel. One would expect that in a chapter of names there is less to observe than there is in a chapter which offers a detailed narrative. However, within just a few lines we discover that an entire world of interpretation awaits us.
Biblical names serve both history and allegory, factual account and halachic (ways of walking) principal. There is no need for binary thinking with regard to the text of the Torah. It is not a case of deciding whether we are reading history or moral allegory. To the contrary, we are gifted a mystery made up of all the colours of the rainbow. A history that is so precisely written by the hand of HaShem, that it includes the real life names of individuals while carrying an allegorical moral imperative within the meanings of these names.
It’s significant that this genealogy separates the story of Yaakov—whose 12 sons have just been listed, made complete in the land by the birth of Benyamin—from the story of his descendants, which will fill the remainder of the book of Genesis.
This concise genealogy of Esav serves one primary purpose, which is to show Esav’s development as both a man and a nation, that is Edom. In addition, Esav’s line is littered with incest and illegitimacy (1 Ch. 1:35-45), which can be interpreted to be in direct opposition to God’s redemptive plan for humanity, worked out in Yisrael.
Gen 36:1 Now these are the toledot (generations) of Esav (hairy, make, accomplish), who is Edom (Red, earth, humanity, a people who symbolize resistance to God).
Esav, like Yaakov, has two names with two distinct meanings and outcomes. First he is Esav, meaning hairy, from the root asah, meaning to make or accomplish. Second, he is Edom, meaning red, from the root adam, that is red earth, sin affected humanity. Yaakov begins as a follower after the heel and becomes one who overcomes in Elohim, thus being reconciled to the heavens; whereas Esav begins as one who seeks to accomplish his own wealth in his own strength, and by rejecting God, he returns to Edom (the earth, red). Both men have come full circle. Yaakov from blessing to blessing and Esav from curse to curse (Malachi 1:2-3). Both men are individuals, who through their personal choices, give birth to nations that will carry their brand of spirituality or lack thereof, into the future.
We could read, “Now these are the generations of one who sought his own strength and was returned to the earth from which he came.”
Rav Sforno observes that, “The overpowering desire of Esau for what attracted his eye was demonstrated when he could not remember the name, ‘lentils’ when he was tired, demanding to be given from ‘this red, red stuff’”.
It seems that the Torah intentionally connects Esav’s origin story (Gen. 25:30) regarding the red stew with the nature of both Esav and the nation he will become. That is, Edom.
Gen 36:2 Esav (hairy, make, accomplish) took his wives from the daughters of Ke’naan (lowland); Adah (generational ornament) the daughter of Elon (oak grove, strength) the Chitti (Terror), and Oholibamah (Tent of Elevation) the daughter of Anah (answer, eye), daughter of Tzibeon (Variegate, dip, dye) the Chiviy (villager, living community);
We note that Esav was forty years old when he married his three wives, as recorded in Genesis 26:34.
These wives bare different names here from those used in Genesis 26:34, where they were called Yehudit and Bosmat. This is not unusual for the time and culture, as shown by the multiple names of the patriarchs.
Rashi notes that Oholibamah is the daughter of two fathers, and seeing that verse 24 records Anah as the son of Tzibeon, concludes that Tzibeon cohabitated with his own daughter-in-law, Anah’s wife, and Oholibamah was the product of his adultery. However, the Torah often uses the terms ben and bat to refer to both sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters. Therefore, it may be that the text is simply saying, Oholibamah was the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Tzibeon.
Gen 36:3 And Basemat (Fragrance) Ishmael’s (Hears God) daughter, sister of Nebayot (Fruitfulness, flourish).
Basemat was introduced to the reader in Genesis 28:9 where she is called by her other name, “Machalat” which is from the root machal, meaning forgiveness.
Gen 36:4 And Adah (generational ornament) bore to Esav (hairy, make, accomplish) Eliphaz (My god gold); and Basemat (Fragrance) bore Reuel (Friend of God);
This first section of genealogy is making a distinction between the sons born in the land (that will become Israel) and those who will be born in the region of Seir. Those born in the land have a closer connection to their cousins, the sons of Yaakov.
There is a remez (hint) present in the names of both Adah and Basemat and their sons. Esav’s descendants are given a choice between making mammon (gold, earthly riches: Eliphaz) their god or becoming a friend of the One true Elohim (Reuel).
The name Eliphaz may well denote his following after his father’s nature. A man whose god is gold. In the same way, Reuel may have been the exception among Esav’s children, one who became a friend of God. On the other hand, his name could also denote that he was friend to a god, that is, one of his mother’s gods. The latter is more likely given that Esav disappointed his parents by marrying women who worshipped false gods and thus rejecting the God of Israel. None the less, both interpretations are valid.
Gen 36:5 And Oholibamah (Tent of Elevation) bore Yeush (Hasten), and Yaalam (Occult, conceal), and Korah (Ice): these are the sons of Esav (hairy, make, accomplish), which were born to him in the land of Ke’naan (lowland).
The names of the sons of Oholibamah show a descent into demonic idolatry. As a woman of foreign gods her tent is elevated (Oholibamah) in pride. In other words, the tent of her false ascension houses the sons born to her. With her, Esav hastens (Yeush) toward the occult (Yaalam) and is left holding the icy (Korah) isolation of idolatry.
Esav Separates himself from Yaakov
This section of the text is reminiscent of the separation of Avraham and Lot (Gen. 13:5-13), and denotes a similar motivation in Esav to that of Lot. Both men, having been shown the light of God by righteous men, chose to separate themselves from those men and subsequently from God.
Gen 36:6 And Esav (hairy, make, accomplish) took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his household, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had acquired in the land of Ke’naan (lowland); and went into the country from the face of his brother Yaakov (Follows at the heel). Gen 36:7 For their riches were too great for them to dwell together; and the land where they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle. Gen 36:8 Thus dwelt Esav (hairy, make, accomplish) in mount Seir (Shaggy he goat): Esav (hairy, make, accomplish) is Edom (Red).
The phrase, “Esav is Edom” connects Esav to his former sin (Red stew: despising his birth-right) and links the people born of him to the land of Seir and its reddish rocky landscape. It also infers the motivation for his leaving Yaakov. That is, an underlying grudge regarding the birth-right. On a practical level, Esav’s household had simply grown too numerous to share the land.
Esav captured Mount Seir from its former inhabitants the Chori, according to the blessing of HaShem, “I have given Mount Seir to Esav as a possession”—Deuteronomy 2:5
Gen 36:9 And these are the toledot (generations) of Esav (hairy, make, accomplish) the father of the Edomites (Red) in mount Seir (Shaggy he goat. Heb. Root. sa’ar: dread, storm, very afraid):
This genealogy combines the sons of Esav born in Ke’naan with those born in Seir. Additionally, the lineage of one of Israel’s greatest enemies the Amalekites is established through Timna, the concubine of Eliphaz, Esav’s son.
Gen 36:10 These are the names of Esav (hairy, make, accomplish) sons; Eliphaz (My god gold) the son of Adah (generational ornament) the wife of Esav (hairy, make, accomplish), Reuel (Friend of God) the son of Bosemat (Fragrance) the wife of Esav (hairy, make, accomplish). Gen 36:11 And the sons of Eliphaz (My god gold) were Teman (South), Omar (To speak), Tzepho (Observant), and Gatam (Burnt valley), and Kenaz (Hunt). Gen 36:12 And Timna (Restrained) was concubine to Eliphaz (My god gold) Esav’s (hairy, make, accomplish) son; and she bore to Eliphaz (My god gold) Amalek (Valley dweller): these were the sons of Adah (generational ornament) Esav's wife. Gen 36:13 And these are the sons of Reuel (Friend of a god); Nachat (rest), and Zerah (Rising), Shammah (astonishment), and Mizzah (Fear): these were the sons of Bosmat (Fragrance) Esav's wife. Gen 36:14 And these were the sons of Aholibamah (Tent of Elevation), the daughter of Anah (answer, eye) the daughter of Tzibeon (Variegate, dip dye), Esav's wife: and she bare to Esav Yeush (Hasten), and Yaalam (Occult, conceal), and Korah (Ice). Gen 36:15 These were chiefs of the sons of Esav: the sons of Eliphaz (My god gold) the firstborn son of Esav; chief Teman (South), chief Omar (To speak), chief Tzepho (Observant), chief Kenaz (Hunt), Gen 36:16 Chief Korah (Ice), chief Gatam (Burnt valley), and chief Amalek (Valley dweller): these are the chief s that came of Eliphaz (My god gold) in the land of Edom (Red, earth); these were the sons of Adah (generational ornament). Gen 36:17 And these are the sons of Reuel (Friend of God) Esav's son; chief Nachat (rest), chief Zerah (Rising), chief Shammah (astonishment), chief Mizzah (Fear): these are the chief s that came of Reuel (Friend of a god) in the land of Edom (Red, earth); these are the sons of Bosmat (Fragrance) Esav's wife. Gen 36:18 And these are the sons of Oholibamah (Tent of Elevation) Esav's wife; chief Yeush (Hasten), chief Yaalam (Occult, conceal), chief Korah (Ice): these were the chief s that came of Oholibamah (Tent of Elevation) the daughter of Anah (answer, eye), Esav's wife. Gen 36:19 These are the sons of Esav, who is Edom (Red, earth) and these are their chiefs.
The Torah commentary Lekach Tov links Edom to Rome, showing the ongoing historical struggle between God’s chosen people and her ancient enemy.
Eliphaz – My god is gold (Adah)
Reuel – Friend of a god (Bosemat)
I have made gold my god and have become a friend of a foreign god.
Esav’s Sons and Chiefs of Edom:
Yeush – Hasten (Oholibamah)
Yaalam – Occult, conceal (Oholibamah)
Korah – Ice (Oholibamah)
I have hastened after the occult and become like ice.
Eliphaz’s Sons and Chiefs of Edom:
Teman – South
Omar – To speak
Tzepho – Observant
Gatam – Burnt valley
Kenaz – Hunt
(Eliphaz’s Illegitimate Son to Timna):
Amalek – Valley dweller: enemy of Israel (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
To the south, away from Jerusalem I have turned to speak with those who observe idolatrous traditions in a burned out valley, I’ve become an enemy of Israel.
Reuel’s Sons and Chiefs of Edom:
Nachat – rest
Zerah – Rising
Shammah – astonishment
Mizzah – fear
Though I once had rest I have risen in pride, become astonished by God and fearful of my future.
Sons of Seir:
Lotan – Covering
Shobal – Flowing
Tzideon – Dipped, dyed, coloured
Anah – answer, eye
Dishon – Thresher
Etzer – Treasure
Disahn - Thresher
Eliphaz is also the name of one of Job’s (so called) friends (Job 2:11) and is called a Temanite (Southerner), that is, of the region of Teman (South) or a descendant of Teman. This Eliphaz is probably not the same person as Eliphaz the son of Esav (Gen. 36:4) but rather a descendant of Teman, one of the chiefs that came from Eliphaz (Gen. 36:15). If this understanding is correct, the Eliphaz of Job lived sometime after the Patriarchs in the land of Uz (Gen. 36:28), a large territory east of the Jordan valley which included Edom (La. 4:21) in the south and Aram in the north (Gen 10:23; 22:21).
Gen 36:20 These are the sons of Seir (Shaggy he goat, very afraid) the Chori (Cave dweller, hole), who inhabited the land; Lotan (Covering), and Shobal (Flowing), and Tzibeon (coloured), and Anah (answer, eye), Gen 36:21 And Dishon (Thresher), and Etzer (treasure), and Dishan (Thresher): these are the chiefs of the Chori (Cave dweller), the children of Seir (Shaggy he goat, very afraid) in the land of Edom (Red, earth).
The Seirites were the original inhabitants of Seir (Genesis 14:6). Esav’s descendants supplanted them according to God’s gifting of Seir to Esav (Deuteronomy 2:12).
Gen 36:22 And the children of Lotan (Covering) were Chori (Cave dweller, hole) and Hemam (Exterminating); and Lotan’s (Covering) sister was Timna (Restrained).
The link between Lotan, a Chori chief and Timna, concubine to Eliphaz, son of Esav; shows that in part, Esav/Edom usurped the land of Seir through intermarriage.
Gen 36:23 And the children of Shobal (Flowing) were these; Alvan (Tall ascend), and Manachat (Rest, comfort), and Ebal (Stone), Shepho (Bold), and Onam (Vigorous).
Gen 36:24 And these are the children of Tzibeon (coloured); both Ayah (Falcon), and Anah (answer, eye): this was that Anah (answer, eye) that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Tzibeon (coloured) his father.
Anah has special mention here perhaps because he is the illegitimate son of Tzibeon, who is called his brother in verse 20. Rashi asserts that Anah was responsible, as inferred by the text, for cross breeding a mare with a donkey, thus producing the mule, an abomination by Torah standards (Rashi; Pesachim 54a).
Gen 36:25 And the children of Anah (answer, eye) were these; Dishon (Thresher), and Oholibamah (Tent of Elevation) the daughter of Anah (answer, eye). Gen 36:26 And these are the children of Dishon (Thresher); Chemdan (Desire), and Eshban (Fire of discernment), and Itran (Advantage), and Cheran (Iyre). Gen 36:27 The children of Etzer (treasure) are these; Bilhan (Their decrepitude) and Zaavan (Troubled), and Akan (Sharp sighted). Gen 36:28 The children of Dishan (Thresher) are these; Uz (Wooded), and Aran (Joyous). Gen 36:29 These are the chiefs that came from the Chori (Cave dweller); chief Lotan (Covering), chief Shobal (Flowing), chief Tzibeon (coloured), chief Anah (answer, eye), Gen 36:30 Chief Dishon (Thresher), chief Etzer (treasure), chief Dishan (Thresher): these are the chief s that came of Chori (Cave dweller), among their chief s in the land of Seir (Shaggy he goat).
Chiefs of Edom before There Were Kings in Israel:
Bela – Destruction
Yobab – Desert
Chusham – Haste
Hadad – Mighty
Samlah – Garment
Shaul – Desired, ask, enquire
Baal-Hanan – Baal (husband) is gracious
Hadar – Honour
Gen 36:31 And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom (Red, earth), before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.
This verse is probably a scribal addition to the original text written by Moses and completed by Joshua. It was probably added following the Kingdom age of Israel. Ibn Ezra suggests that the following listing of kings are those who reigned prior to Moses, who, as saviour and leader of Israel, was the first King of Israel. According to this interpretation, the aforementioned clause refers to Moses and is therefore not a later scribal addition.
Gen 36:32 And Bela (Destruction) the son of Beor (Burning) reigned in Edom (Red, earth): and the name of his city was Dinhabah (Judgement given). Gen 36:33 And Bela (Destruction) died, and Yobab (Desert) the son of Zerach (Rising) of Bozrah (Sheepfold, fortress) reigned in his stead. Gen 36:34 And Yobab (Desert) died, and Chusham (haste) of the land of Temani (Southward) reigned in his stead. Gen 36:35 And Chusham (haste) died, and Hadad (Mighty) the son of Bedad (Solitary), who smote Midian (Strife) in the field of Moab (Of father), reigned in his stead: and the name of his city was Avit (Ruins). Gen 36:36 And Hadad (Mighty) died, and Samlah (Garment) of Masrekah (Vineyard of Noble Vines) reigned in his stead. Gen 36:37 And Samlah (Garment) died, and Shaul (Desired, ask, enquire) of Rechobot (Wide place of streets) by the river reigned in his stead. Gen 36:38 And Shaul (Desired) died, and Baalhanan (Baal is gracious) the son of Achbor (Mouse) reigned in his stead. Gen 36:39 And Baalhanan (Baal is gracious) the son of Achbor (Mouse) died, and Hadar (Honour) reigned in his stead: and the name of his city was Pau (Bleating); and his wife's name was Mehetabel (Favoured of God), the daughter of Matred (Pushing forward), the daughter of Mezahab (Waters of Gold).
Chiefs of Esav:
Timnah - Restrained
Alvah - Evil
Yetet – A nail
Oholibamah – Tent of Elevation
Elah - Terebinth
Pinon - Darkness
Kenaz - Hunt
Tman - South
Mizbar - Fortress
Magdiel – Prince of God
Iram - Anguish
Gen 36:40 And these are the names of the chiefs that came of Esav, according to their families, after their places, by their names; chief Timnah (Restrained), chief Alvah (evil), chief Yetet (a nail), Gen 36:41 Chief Oholibamah (Tent of Elevation), chief Elah (Terebinth), chief Pinon (Darkness),
The phrases, “after their places, by their names” show a change in the method for naming chiefs. The earlier group of rulers (v.15) used their own names. After the death of Hadad and the end of the Edomite monarchy, the ensuing leaders were known as chiefs of their respective regions. This new procedure is supported by 1 Chronicles 1:51, “And Hadad (Hadar) died and the chiefs of Edom were: the chief of Timna…” etc. (Rashi).
Gen 36:42 Chief Kenaz (Hunt), chief Teman (South), chief Mibzar (Fortress), Gen 36:43 Chief Magdiel (Prince of God), chief Iram (Excitement, anguish): these be the chief s of Edom (Red, earth), according to their habitations in the land of their possession: he is Esav (Hairy, make, accomplish) the father of the Edomites (Red, earth).
“He is Esav” means, the nation of Edom is like Esav, a man who rejected his priestly role in the family of God, trading it for a pot of stew. Thus Edom the nation is one that rejects the God of Israel and stands in direct and constant opposition to God’s purposes for Israel.
We are left with this chilling prophecy over the nations who reject Israel’s God and seek to destroy His ethnic chosen people.
This is Esav, (who) remained in his sin from beginning to end, for he never repented (Megillah 11a).
“Wasn’t Esav Yaakov’s brother?” declares HaShem (YHVH: Mercy). “I loved Yaakov, 3 but Esav I hated. I turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the jackals in the desert. 4 “The descendants of Esav may say, ‘We have been beaten down, but we will rebuild the ruins.’ “Yet, this is what HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) of Heavens Armies says: They may rebuild, but I will tear it down. They will be called ‘the Wicked Land’ and ‘the people with whom HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) is always angry.’ 5 You will see these things with your own eyes and say, ‘Even outside the borders of Israel HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) is great.’ –Malachi 1:2-5
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.