Genesis 36 – We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Biblical Narrative to Bring You This Genealogy

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Today’s PassageGenesis 36

It’s a genealogy, everybody. It’s literally just Esau’s descendants.

Why break stride? Why interrupt the narrative with the family tree of a guy who has, for all intents and purposes, played his role in the story of the patriarchs? I’ll be honest: I don’t entirely know. A fair number of these people have zero plot significance whatsoever. Gatam, for example, only appears here and in a recapitulated genealogy (1 Chronicles 1:36). Could it be that God just really, really wants us to have plenty of names for our ancient-Semitic-flavored table-top role-playing games? Probably not? Okay, I can live with that.

So I can’t speak to these one-shot guys like Gatam. But one reason the genealogy appears here is that there’s no better place for it. After Isaac dies, the focus is going to shift away from Jacob and toward his twelve sons, particularly Joseph. Esau has just helped Jacob bury Isaac, and contained within his genealogy is the explanation of why he leaves the stage of history at this point: “For [Jacob and Esau’s] property had become too great for them to live together, and the land where they sojourned could not sustain them because of their livestock” (7), The two brothers have the same problem that Abraham and Lot did. They’ve outgrown their territory, so Esau, sans birthright, takes his crew to the hill country of Seir.

But why have a genealogy at all? Why not just say that Esau ran out of room for his stuff and had to part ways with his brother? Again, I’m not 100% sure. But at least one of these dudes will continue to be relevant to Israel’s future. Esau’s son Eliphaz has a son of his own, Amalek, by way of a concubine named Timna. And if Esau and Jacob managed to bury the hatchet, then Amalek’s descendants, the Amalekites, will dig it up and use it to go after the children of Israel. We may be saying goodbye to Esau, but we’re not saying goodbye to his lineage.

I’m sure all these unfamiliar names have meanings, too. (I’m sure of it because David Guzik’s commentary on the chapter ends with name meanings.) But even before I started trawling for commentaries, I recognized a word: the “Baal” in Baal-Hanan.

You may know it as the title of several pagan gods from the ancient Near East. Here’s the thing, though: the word simply means “lord” or “master” (Strong’s Concordance H1167). When it doesn’t refer to the deities or idols known as Baals, though, the translators usually render it in simple English or idiomatically. But what’s “Hanan” mean? I had to look it up. Turns out it’s derived from the verb חָנַן, chanan, which means “to show mercy.” Baal-Hanan, as far as I can tell, could mean any number of things: “merciful master,” “Lord of mercy,” or “Baal is merciful,” if you want to presuppose idolatry. Some would, and I’ll grant it’s a possibility. Perhaps Baal-Hanan is simply full of himself. Perhaps the merciful Lord in question is the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

I don’t know. There are a lot of things I don’t know. But you knew that already.

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2 thoughts on “Genesis 36 – We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Biblical Narrative to Bring You This Genealogy

  1. As I am doing, maybe in time God will reveal the real truth behind this genealogy. I struggle with it too. But in time as we read more of the Bible, study about it, the truths will be shown to us.

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    1. I wouldn’t say that I struggle so much as wonder. Why a genealogy here? It’s a question that I can take a few stabs at, but my answers feel incomplete, so I keep reading and asking questions. Thanks for the comment!

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