Okay, on it’s surface this is the most boring chapter I have read so far. Way more boring than the begats earlier – the pickings for interesting side-notes are much slimmer.
There’s the note in the NRSV that the term they translate as “clan” can also mean “chief,” which is what the NCT uses. That’s interesting, I guess. Or the aside in verse 24, where we’re told “he is the Anah who found the springs in the wilderness, as he pastured the donkeys of his father Zibeon,” apparently some Noodle Incident that the readers already knew about.
But the biggest idea that comes to mind reading this is, “Why is it here?” Why is this included? Why do we get a long list not only of Esau’s descendents, the Edomites, but also those of Seir, the ancestor of the people who lived in the hill country prior to Esau’s family moving in?
You would never guess from reading this portion of Genesis that the Israelites would ever have any conflict with the Edomites – and they did, plenty. Sure, there’s the prophecy while they’re in utero about the two nations, and Jacob’s blessings, but by the end of the story arc, Esau and Jacob have reconciled. They’re living side-by-side. The only reason they’re not living together is because the land couldn’t support both of their now-expansive households (v 7).
Speaking of which, boy, that curse didn’t seem to work out, did it? Esau’s wealthy on his own, enough that he tries to turn down Jacob’s gifts/bribes. Maybe that’s why he let go of his anger – he realized this whole “a father’s blessing determines your future” thing is baloney.
And Esau’s not so bad a guy, really. Other than foolishly “giving away” his birth right when he was very hungry, he never does anything wrong. He even forgives Jacob for a major betrayal. In fact, Jacob said that meeting Esau again, Esau ready to forgive and welcome him, was “like seeing the face of God” (33:10).
In fact, I was pressed for time when I wrote on chapter 36 so I didn’t mention it, but it’s after his reconciliation that Jacob makes his first identification of God as his God, albeit somewhat indirectly. He names an altar El-Elohe-Israel, “God, the God of Israel,” i.e. the God of him.
So my theory is, that I mentioned way back, is that Jacob wasn’t really waiting for a ton of material blessings to accept God as his own. He was waiting to be spared Esau’s wrath. Maybe even for their reconciliation. Because other than the vague struggling-in-the-womb thing, there’s no stories given to indicate that Esau and Jacob didn’t really love each other as brothers. Perhaps that’s part of why Esau felt so angry at Jacob’s theft of his birth right – not just the loss of inheritance, but the backstabbing from a brother.
Esau gets to bury Isaac with Jacob, like Isaac did with Ishmael before him. The brothers are together, even though their descendents aren’t. This story is, I think, supposed to relate the reason why Israelites and the Edomites have been in conflict for years… but it also comes across as a plea for them to stop fighting.
Or am I just reading this all into the text because this chapter was so dull?
The Japanese: shoyuubutsu “belongings,” yashinau, “to support” (v 7). That’s all. Like I said, this portion is pretty dull and repetitive.