Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Esau's Greatness

by Bill Baldwin

Text: Genesis 36:1 - 37:1

In Reformed circles we say that there is value in the public READING as well as in the public preaching of the word. But what were you thinking as you heard this read? Perhaps you looked forward to the preaching and had enough confidence in your pastor to believe that he could help you understand the point of this passage. Perhaps, more appropriately, you had confidence in God that he had a reason for including this in Scripture.

But while waiting to find out what that reason was, what did hearing this passage do? We hate to say it sometimes, but our reaction to such a passage is "So what? Big deal. What a pointless list of names. Let's get on to the important stuff."

Well, guess what? That's a good reaction. So what?!? So Esau had wives and children. So he became a mighty nation. In the eyes of the world that's something, but what does this have to do with the promise made to Abraham? How does this lead up to the birth of the seed of Abraham? How does this lead up to Jesus? It doesn't. It's a dead end. It may look impressive to some, but to those who are waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled, it's nothing. So what. Big deal. Thus we are taught the meaninglessness of life apart from the promises of God which are fulfilled in Christ.

  1. Esau Rejects the Abrahamic Promise (1-8)
    1. He Intermarries with the Canaanites (2-5)
      1. Esau, who already has wives, takes some wives from the Canaanites (2)
      2. This is worse than what he's done before
        1. Remember what happened after Isaac gave Jacob the blessing which had been meant for Esau.
        2. Gen 28.6ff - Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan," 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Padan Aram. 8Also Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac. 9So Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.
        3. At least then he was TRYING to please his father and to regain the blessing that he had thrown away.
      3. Now he shrugs and takes Canaanite wives.
      4. Why?
        1. Isaac's dead
        2. He never understood the blessing anyway
          1. He always looked at the blessing in terms of material things
          2. So now he's got material things. Clearly he's gotten "blessed" on his own and doesn't need the family blessing.
      5. Thus Esau forfeits any right to the promise made to Abraham.
      6. After all, why didn't Abraham want Isaac to marry a Canaanite?
      7. Why didn't Isaac want his sons to take wives from among them.
      8. Because God had promised that one day Abraham's descendants would destroy the Canaanites.
      9. And how do you sort out who's who if the families are intermarried?
      10. By this action, Esau takes himself out of the Abrahamic family and aligns his descendants with Canaan.
      11. He has no faith in the promise made to Abraham
      12. He does not fear that his descendants will be destroyed
      13. Children! Is there anyone in this world worth giving up God's promises for?
        1. Of course not!
        2. Yet this is what Esau does.
        3. You know better don't you?
        4. When it comes time for you to marry, you will seek out someone who also believes in the promises of God, who also knows Jesus the Savior.
    2. He Takes His Family Out of the Land (6)
      1. This same heart of unbelief is manifested as Esau takes his wives, sons, daughters, servants, everything out of the Promised Land.
      2. He is saying, "This place that God promised to Abraham and his descendants … I reject it. It is of no importance."
      3. Remember Jacob's sons
        1. They are born outside the Promised Land
        2. But he brings them in
        3. He leads his household into the realm of salvation
      4. Esau's sons are born IN the Promised Land and he takes them OUT
      5. This land
        1. We have come to see it as the place of God's presence
        2. We have come to see it as a picture of the heavenly inheritance that is held out to those who have faith in the promises
      6. Esau cares nothing for it.
      7. Thus he identifies himself with the children of this world and turns his back on God.
      8. Why?
    3. He Loves Possessions More than God's Promise (7,8)
      1. The deceitfulness of riches
      2. He decides that he and Jacob have too many possessions to dwell together.
        1. Just like Abraham and Lot
        2. And remember what happened to Lot
        3. Esau is not instructed by that example, but let us be.
      3. What folly! What hardness of heart! What a horrible misunderstanding of the Promised Land.
      4. Esau remains true to his character until the end
        1. He sold his birthright to Jacob for something to eat.
        2. Now he leaves God's presence because he's just too rich to dwell in the land of promise
        3. But what shall it profit him even if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul?
      5. Let us be instructed by Esau's folly. What good does his wealth do him now? If it was really keeping him from living in the Promised Land, better to give it all up and stay in the place of God's presence.
      6. Notice that it is not the possessions in themselves, for Jacob has many possessions too (v. 7).
      7. But it is the LOVE of those possessions and their DECEITFULNESS
        1. Esau allows his desire to keep these earthly things to turn him from the land of God
        2. His possessions lie to him and say they are important when they are destine like him to perish.
      8. People of God, let us have a better assessment of things than Esau
      9. What shall we compare the kingdom of God to? It is like a pearl of great price, and when a man finds it he sells all that he has to gain it.
      10. The kingdom of God, which your father gives you, is worth more than all earthly wealth.
      11. Let nothing come between you and the gaining of it.
  2. Esau's Descendants (9-43)
    1. The Sons of Esau (9-19)
      1. Esau has many sons.
      2. But as we said, so what?
      3. None of these sons is the promised Seed
      4. None of these sons comes in fulfilment of the promise God made to Abraham that he would have many descendants
        1. Oh, yes, according to the flesh they are sons of Abraham
        2. But they are not children according to the promise (And that's what Romans 4 says is important)
        3. Their father has cut them off from that promise.
      5. So it doesn't matter. This list of names is meaningless.
      6. Well, not quite meaningless.
        1. Esau's first son is named Eliphaz - "My God is fine gold"
        2. That about sums up Esau's heart, doesn't it?
      7. Things get more impressive with the grandsons
        1. They become chiefs (15ff.)
        2. They start to have authority in the land of Edom where Esau has come to dwell.
      8. But so what?
      9. They have authority as men have authority and may be great in the eyes of men.
      10. In the eyes of God they are nothing. They are not part of his plan in calling out a people for salvation.
    2. The Sons of Seir (20-30)
      1. Then suddenly we get the sons of Seir (20)
      2. Who are they and what do they have to do with Esau?
      3. Seir was a Horite, whatever that means.
      4. In any event Seir and his descendants inhabited the land right alongside Esau and his descendants.
      5. And so, in the middle of ESAU'S genealogy, you get the name's of a bunch of foreigners.
      6. Esau is just getting mixed in with the rest of the world. You can't even tell them apart anymore.
      7. They are just all together part of the people that God has rejected in favor of the sons of Israel.
      8. You see, there are only really two camps to belong to
        1. The people of God
        2. And the people of this world.
        3. That's what we've been seeing from the beginning of this book.
        4. Esau has left his identity as a son of Isaac and Abraham behind. He's a son of the world and will be destroyed, just as the rest.
      9. So it is to this day.
        1. We divide the world in so many ways - geographically, politically, socially, econmically, culturally, ethnically.
        2. But God sees only two camps - those who are his and everyone else.
        3. To leave the camp of God is to join the world.
        4. Let us rather be steadfast in clinging to the promises of God which are fulfilled in Christ.
        5. Let us therefore recognize ourselves as ONE camp, ONE body of the ONE Lord
        6. And let our identity even in this life not be in terms of where we live or how we vote or what we look at or what racial origin we have. But let our identity be that we are the people of God, called out as separate from the world, even as we live in the world and look superficially similar to others in it. To God, we are a wholly different people.
    3. The Kings of Edom (31-39)
      1. Even more impressive we have kings reigning in Edom, the land of Esau. (31)
      2. And these kings reign "before any king reigned over the children of Israel"
        1. They get their kings first.
        2. But so what?
        3. God promised Abraham "kings shall come from your body" but these aren't those kings
        4. Better to wait for the kings that will come according to promise
        5. Better to wait for the one King who will come from Abraham
        6. Where are the kings of Edom now?
        7. But Christ, the true king of Abraham is reigning still
        8. And you and I are kings and priests in him
        9. Thus the promise to Abraham is fulfilled in us not in them.
        10. So, so what if Esau gets kings before Jacob gets even one?
        11. The king that comes from Jacob will reign forever.
      3. And on closer inspection, these kings aren't so hot anyway
        1. How do we know they're the descendants of Esau and not of Seir the Horite? We don't. You can't tell them apart.
        2. Even if one of them is, the next one doesn't have to be. Notice that there is no succession
          1. Bela son of Beor reigned (32)
          2. When he died, what happened? Did his son reign?
          3. No. Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his place (33)
          4. And so on down.
          5. This isn't a dynasty.
          6. This isn't a father king passing on the throne to his son.
          7. It's just a bunch of RANDOM kings reigning
        3. This is the opposite of what we've seen in Abraham
          1. Abraham passes the covenant down to Isaac
          2. Isaac passes the covenant down to Jacob
          3. By the end of this book, Jacob will pass the covenant down to his 12 sons.
          4. What a wonderful picture of Christ passing the blessings of God down to us.
          5. What a wonderful picture of us passing the blessings of Christ down to our children.
          6. That whole picture is missing in these kings of Edom
        4. They don't seem much like kings do they?
      4. So Esau gets the first kings, but big deal.
      5. Jacob gets the better kings, and the king that reigns for ever and ever.
      6. God is faithful.
      7. Jacob doesn't need to fret and worry that God's blessing is coming to Esau first.
      8. The blessing that God reserves for Jacob is greater than anything bestowed on Esau
      9. And that's the way it is
        1. We look at people in the world and it may seem they have more blessings than we.
        2. Many seem to live lives of ease and comfort while we, perhaps, struggle and wait for the kingdom that is to come.
        3. But whatever, they have is NOTHING compared to what is reserved in heaven for us.
        4. They may get theirs first
        5. But we get ours at last, and better, and forever.
    4. The Chiefdoms of Edom (40-43)
      1. At the end of it all, we name some more chiefs, describing the areas over which they were chiefs.
      2. We can't even go out on the high note of naming kings.
      3. Already Esau's glory begins to wane.
      4. He's not much more than a set of chiefs after all.
      5. For this, he forfeited the Promised Land?
  3. Jacob Embraces the Inheritance (37:1)
    1. Jacob Dwells as a Stranger in the Land
      1. This is the last verse of the passage
        1. It may seem like it goes with the next passage.
        2. But verse two starts "This is the history of Jacob" or "this is the genealogy…" or "these are the generations."
        3. And in Genesis that's our signal that a new part of the book has begun.
        4. Clearly Moses, inspired by the Spirit, wants you to consider this verse in light of the genealogy of Esau
      2. It's a breath of fresh air, isn't it?
      3. What a contrast after the tedious, long-winded, tale of Esau denying the faith, turning his back on the promises, and seeking his own desires.
      4. Jacob, by contrast, dwells in the land where his father had dwelt
        1. He takes up Isaac's faith.
        2. He shows that he is the heir of the promise to Abraham.
        3. The covenant has passed down to him.
        4. His offspring will inherit this land.
        5. Believing this, he remains in it.
      5. He lives in a tent
        1. He doesn't go off to build a permanent dwelling place for himself somewhere else.
        2. He lives in a temporary sort of shelter here.
        3. And by this he testifies that he is not looking for an earthly city or a permanent home on this earth.
        4. But he is waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
      6. So he testifies to us across the centuries in the face of all this nonsense that Esau has just put us through.
      7. He gives you a pilgrim identity.
      8. This world is not your permanent home, but your citizenship is in heaven and you wait for that kingdom to come down out of heaven at the last day.
      9. No longer do you express this faith by dwelling as nomads, living in a tent, moving from place to place
      10. But in your hearts you are pilgrims, holding lightly to the things you own and the dwellings you live in. You are ready to leave them at a moment's notice when that which is truly valuable appears.
      11. This is the heart of Jacob, which you bear, contrasted with the heart of Esau
        1. You love the promises of God.
        2. You long for the appearing of Christ.
        3. You would give up all your earthly possessions to gain him (for what good are the things that are passing away?)
        4. And you confer this pilgrim identity on your children as well.
    2. In Jacob Will God's Promises Be Fulfilled
      1. Thus the promises of God which pass Esau by, these will come at last to Jacob.
      2. He will become a mighty nation
        1. First the nation of Israel
        2. Finally the "nation" of God's people
      3. Kings will come from his body
        1. First David and Solomon, etc.
        2. But ultimately Christ
        3. And in Christ a whole kingdom of kings
      4. His descendants will inherit the land
        1. First the physical land of Canaan
        2. Then his spiritual descendants will enter heaven itself
      5. This is what Esau rejects and loses out on
      6. This is what Jacob clings to as more valuable than all earthly things.

This is what comes to you who like Jacob cling by faith to what God offers in Christ and wait with hope for the day of his coming.

William Baldwin is an ordained as a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He studied under Meredith G. Kline, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.

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