Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)

GENESIS 32:4-13 (3-12 in Chr Bibles)

SPOTLIGHT
Most of the time we are blind to the grandeur, unaware of the mystery, dumb to the glory which has no words. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel talks about other moments, moments of “unmitigated concern,” instances when we “suspend all life-stifling trivialities” and allow ourselves to wonder (God in Search of Man).

Jacob had a moment like that. About to face the greatest fear of his life, all the trivialities which have repeatedly consumed him (such as the necessity of winning) are forgotten. He feels that “unmitigated concern,” facing life for real now, seeing it more clearly perhaps than he has ever before. For the first time in his life he prays for help and admits his smallness.

“I am small from all the lovingkindnesses,” Jacob prayed. קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל־הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת־עַבְדֶּךָ qatōnti mikōl hachasadim umikōl-ha’emet asher ‘asita et-‘avdecha, “I am small from all the lovingkindnesses and all the faithfulness which you have done for your servant.” The opening words of the prayer reflect an idiom in Hebrew, using the preposition “from” to mean “compared to.” A better English translation of Jacob’s remarkable prayer would be, “I am small compared to all the lovingkindnesses and all the faithfulness you have shown to your servant.”

Like a man standing with enormous clouds behind him, Jacob saw himself realistically against the boundlessness of infinity. The pressure of fearing his brother opened his eyes to see what was plainly there all along. Truth is not absent from the world. It hides in plain sight.

“I am small compared to all your lovingkindnesses,” could be a prayer worth saying. Perhaps the thought of this prayer could help us see something, a pattern, that has been there all along. It may show us what is likely our future with God too, as we prepare to face our greatest fear: the unstoppable advance of the day of our death.

OUTLINE
Jacob sends word to Esau (4-5), the messengers report that Esau is coming (6), Jacob prepares by dividing into two camps (7-8), Jacob prays (9-13).

OVERVIEW
Jacob is already quite afraid as he reenters the Land, afraid of the brother he twice cheated. The message he sends to Esau downplays his success and the great wealth he brings back (Sarna). He says in vs. 6, literally, “I have an ox, a donkey, a flock, and a slave, and a maidservant.” Jacob’s reasons may include: not wanting to boast to his brother whom he has wronged, not wanting to tempt him to attack, and wanting to surprise him with a large gift.

Then Jacob hears that Esau is coming with 400 men. And we read of his palpable fear: וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ vayiyra’ Ya’aqōv me’ōd vayyitzer lō, “Jacob feared greatly and was in distress for himself.” His reaction is twofold. First, he prepares a strategy. Then, for the first time in his life, he prays for help. Jacob has come a long way as a character, arguably being the first character to be developed with some depth in the Bible. The trickster becomes a humbled man praying for God’s help.

English translations smooth out, unfortunately, what turns out to be quite an interesting phrase in Hebrew: קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל־הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת־עַבְדֶּךָ qatōnti mikōl hachasadim umikōl-ha’emet asher ‘asita et-‘avdecha, “I am small from all the lovingkindnesses and all the faithfulness which you have done for your servant.” This phrase demonstrates an idiom in Hebrew, using “from” as a comparative word. “Small from all the lovingkindnesses” means compared to them. The enormity that spoke to Jacob was something specific, not just largeness as an existential reality, but the greatness of divine love. He looks now at how his life has played out and sees that it has been God all along.

The two great words of Hebrew Bible ideology are used here together: חֶסֶד (chesed) and אֶמֶת (‘emet). Some English translations would render them “grace and truth” (as in John 1:17). Jacob uses them to describe kindnesses God has shown in his life (chesed) and the way God has faithfully kept his promise (‘emet). He sees now, the way of God with him has been a covenant grant, not a treaty requiring payment from Jacob. The relationship has been one-sided, with God giving again and again.

Now, facing Esau, all these promises seem to be threatened. How will Jacob become mighty in number if Esau destroys him and his family? Jacob has more wrestling to do.

GENESIS 32:14-30

SPOTLIGHT
Do we wrestle with God, truly, or is it actually him wrestling with us?

Jacob sent his servants with large gifts of livestock in successive waves to greet Esau before he, Jacob, would have to encounter him personally. Last he sends his family across the river. The reluctant Jacob is alone on the far bank of the Jabbok at night when God comes in the form of a man to wrestle him.

We tend to read the story backwards. It seems to be Jacob who wrestles all the time with God, trying to squeeze extra drops of blessing from every aspect of life. That may be true, but a more important wrestling has been going on all along: God wrestling with Jacob so that he may, in the words of John Goldingay, “turn Jacob into the man God wants him to be” (Genesis for Everyone: Part II).

Likewise, popular interpretation has gotten backwards the name which God (the wrestling man) gives to Jacob. Israel does not mean “one who wrestles with God,” but rather, “God will prevail.”

The story of the man who wrestles all night with Jacob, it seems, is actually about the limits God imposes on himself in dealing with us and seeking to improve us. He will hurt us, as he puts Jacob’s hip out of socket. He will wrestle with us till dawn, keeping us in distress far longer than we thought we could endure. But he will not, ordinarily, force us to change. We may resist him.

Some think Jacob’s refusal to let go is a virtue. That is the opposite of the story’s message. Jacob needs to stop grasping. In the end, God will always prevail. God seeks to win us, not overwhelm us. But God is the best, the very best, at winning.

Where do we stand? What is it like for us, all alone on the river bank, staring at eternity stretched out before us? How has God been wrestling with us? How will he prevail and when will we just let him?

OUTLINE
The gift for Esau (14-22), Jacob wrestles with a divine figure (23-30).

OVERVIEW
The total number of animals in Jacob’s gift is 550, staggered with space between the groups to increase the surprise or delight in the gift (Sarna).

Jacob’s fear of Esau is evident in this huge tribute. God has so blessed Jacob, he can, in essence, return the fruits of the birthright (double portion of inheritance) to Esau. Jacob himself did not receive any wealth from his father, but paid his own way with Laban during all the years away. So, ironically, though Jacob bought the birthright for lentil stew, there is no evidence he ever actually received it. Meanwhile, Esau, who seemingly lost it for a mere meal of stew, now receives a fortune in livestock that anyone would consider to be a double inheritance!

Still trying to manipulate circumstances to come out in his favor, Jacob has a strategy. He sends the tribute to Esau in waves. Next to last his family proceeds into the Land. Finally, he is left alone on the other side of the Jabbok River, a reluctant, fearful man. And it is now that he is alone that one of the strangest stories in the Bible happens.

The genius of Hebrew narrative is often in its ambiguity and mystery. This wrestling story leads to questions. Is this another incident in which God appears in human form, such as when Abraham debated the “Judge of all the earth” about the fate of Sodom (Genesis 18)? The story is told with deliberate obtuseness. A “man” wrestles with Jacob all night long until dawn. This “man” gives Jacob a new name, much as God gave new names to Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah). The “man” dislocates Jacob’s hip with seeming ease, the text implying he does it with a mere touch. At the end of the encounter the “man” blesses Jacob (the JPS translation avoids this implication by using a tendentious translation “he took leave of him” instead of “he blessed him”).

Jacob concludes that he has seen “God” face to face. Is he wrong? The number of interpretations of this passage over the years has been plentiful. God. Angel. Man. Himself. A vision of Esau? The angel of Esau? With whom did Jacob wrestle?

The narrative coyly suggests it was, in fact, God. John Goldingay (Genesis for Everyone: Part II) offers some of the best observations. “There is unlikely anything in our experience that gives access to an understanding” of what Jacob experienced, says Goldingay. We may think it is about us wrestling with God (or wrestling with ourselves) about things we want to change in our lives, or avoid completely. But if we read this story as being about God wrestling with Jacob, instead of Jacob wrestling with God, says Goldingay, the story is much richer and more complex.

Why is God wrestling with Jacob, Goldingay asks. God has been wrestling with Jacob all his life, “trying to turn Jacob into the man God wants him to be but failing.” The story, then, may be about the limits God imposes on himself in dealing with us and seeking to improve us. He will hurt us, as he puts Jacob’s hip out of socket. He will wrestle with us till dawn, keeping us in distress far longer than we thought we could endure.

Goldingay observes, “Here is God trying again but succeeding only by cheating, which means the victory is hollow.” God has come to Jacob as a man, and not in the full aspect of his power, because “this makes it a fair fight.” God seeks to win us, not overwhelm us.

As for Jacob, he does not yield. He shows remarkable, but unfortunate, obstinacy in not yielding. The name God gives him, though, should tell us something. Israel does not mean, as some have suggested, “one who wrestles with God,” but rather, “God will prevail.”

GENESIS 32:31 – 33:5

SPOTLIGHT
When Jacob answers Esau’s question, “Who are these with you?” his answer betrays the great changes that have happened in his life. “The children with whom God has graced your servant.”

God has graced. חָנַן אֱלֹהִים chanan Elōhim. Someone could object to Jacob’s answer: it is we who procreate and children are the result of the laws of biology. What does God’s “grace” have to do with it? Jacob has reasons to see it differently.

And there is another sign of God’s work in his answer, especially at the end where he refers to himself as “your servant” to his older brother. Jacob has been the one who must win, the grasper, the one who manipulates life in every contest and comes out on top. He is the one who would not let go of the mysterious wrestling stranger, but insisted, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Now, in many ways changed for the better, Jacob sees himself as Esau’s inferior and looks at his children as gifts from God.

He has learned that good things in life are not guaranteed. The race is not always to the swift. Biology does not automatically reward even the most beloved wife with children. There is a mystery to life and above everything there is a gracious Unseen Power.

That grace became especially evident to him when everything he feared vanished in an instant. Seeing his powerful brother, the one he has cheated and the one he fully expects will want to kill him, Jacob experienced the power of human forgiveness. When Esau saw him, this much-feared older brother ran. He embraced Jacob. And the two of them stood holding each other and weeping.

Sometimes life shows us what the universe is really made of. It generally happens through people. If we reflect well on it, our perspective changes. We become servants and the good things in our lives become gifts.

OUTLINE
Jacob’s reaction to the encounter (31), the custom of not eating the sinew (32-33), Jacob separates the family prior to meeting Esau (33:1-3), Esau greets Jacob with unexpected joy (4-5).

OVERVIEW
After his all-night wrestling session with a stranger who gave him a new name, Jacob is convinced he has encountered God. The name he gives to the place, פְּנִיאֵל Peni’el, means “face of God.” He reacts to the encounter with gratitude for not losing his life: כִּי־רָאִיתִי אֱלֹהִים פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים וַתִּנָּצֵל נַפְשִׁי ki rarity Elohim panim el-panim vatinatzeil nafshi, “For I have seen God face to face yet my life is preserved.” It was a general principle believed in ancient times that seeing God would be fatal. Exodus 33:20 says, “You cannot see my face, for a man shall not see me and live.”

Yet God has appeared now, both to Abraham and his grandson, in something more than a vision. Abraham ate a meal with a man who turned out to be a manifestation of God and debated the fate of Sodom with him. Jacob has wrestled all night with him.

Vs. 32 (which is 31 in Christian Bibles) is an unusually vivid bit of narrative description. The narratives in the Hebrew Bible are generally sparse, not filled with much detail. Yet we read in vs. 32, “The sun rose upon him as he passed through Penu’el and he was limping on his hip.” The name of the place, Penu’el, is a variation of the name Jacob has just given the place, Peni’el. Perhaps it was known generally to people as Penu’el and the story about Peni’el is a fanciful origin story. We find Penuel mentioned a number of times later in the Bible, such as in Judges 8:8.

The custom of avoiding meat touching the hip sinew (gid hanasheh) has been specified as involving the sciatic nerve. Kosher meat in some places avoids nearly the entire back half of the animal while in others the nerve is carefully removed so all meat can be enjoyed. The author is clearly writing from some time later in the history of Israel, saying עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה ‘ad hayyōm hazzeh, [as it is] “to this day,” concerning the prohibition of the sciatic nerve. This is one of many notes from the author suggesting Genesis is written at a later point in Israel’s history (later even than the time of Moses, the traditional candidate for authorship).

After all of his fear, the scene of Jacob dividing the camp, being the last to cross the river, and wrestling all night, the scene of the actual meeting with Esau is poignant and unexpectedly happy. There are five active verbs: ran, embraced, falling, kissed, and wept. Instead of violence there is blessing, in keeping with God’s promise. Jacob has clearly been humbled: the one who has sought to win in every contest of life now addresses his brother as a superior.

GENESIS 33:6-20

SPOTLIGHT
Imperfect as we are, we grow and change. Our journey from where we are to where God wants us to be is not a straight line. Nor do we travel there without interruptions and delays.

Jacob lived with the fear of his brother’s wrath, primarily because he stole a father’s blessing. When he met Esau he said, “Please keep my blessing.” Many years have passed by, but the guilt of what he had taken has obviously not been erased. Even though Esau has also become a wealthy man, Jacob feels he must give back the blessing.

Jacob has encountered God in a way no other mortal ever has before or since. Nonetheless seeing Esau is like seeing the face of God to him. Jacob’s struggles with heaven are a mirror of his struggles on earth. What happens in this realm has a corresponding reality in the realm beyond.

Jacob has not changed completely. He deceives Esau once again, politely refusing Esau’s company and pretending that he will visit Esau right away in Seir. But Jacob has no intention of visiting Esau. He is relieved that his brother has not been vengeful, but he remains somewhat afraid. Jacob travels instead to Shechem, where his grandfather Abraham had encountered God.

Upon arriving he builds an altar and calls it “Jacob’s God.” He must give to this God who has blessed him, just as he returned the blessing to Esau. Jacob is rectifying some of the mistakes of his life. He is not perfect, but he has grown. Walking now in his grandfather’s footsteps, Jacob is in a better place.

OUTLINE
The women and children bow to Esau (6-7), Jacob urges Esau to take the blessing (8-11), Jacob separates from Esau (12-16), prolonged stay in Succoth (17), Jacob dwells in Shechem (18-20).

OVERVIEW
Though the major tension of the story has passed, all of Jacob’s fears turning out to be untrue as his brother Esau embraces him, the aftermath of the story hold a few more ironies for the reader. The tribute that Jacob has sent ahead to Esau is a large gift, 550 animals in all. The wording in Hebrew of vs. 11 is artfully ironic: קַח־נָא אֶת־בִּרְכָתִי qach-na’ ‘et-birchati, “Please keep my blessing.” Seeking to pacify his brother and no doubt to ameliorate his own guilt from long years before, Jacob calls his gift the very thing that he stole from Esau.

In vs. 10 Jacob’s words are similarly ironic: כִּי עַל־כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים ki ‘al-kein ra’ity faneicha kir’ōt penei Elohim, “for when I saw your face it was as seeing the face of God.” These words are from a man who has just that morning declared, “I have seen the face of God and lived.” Now twice Jacob has seen a face that could bring him death and survived both encounters.

Yet for all this, the ending of the story shows Jacob the trickster is not finished using tricks. Esau urges him to travel to Seir with him and stay as his guest. Jacob makes the excuse that his animals and family are exhausted. He tells Esau they will head slowly toward Seir and meet him there. Esau continues offering generosity, “Let me leave with you some of the men who belong to me.” Jacob talks his way out of this too, implying he will come along to Seir to stay with Esau. But Jacob has no intention of becoming Esau’s guest. He travels instead to Sukkot (often spelled Succoth) and builds a house.

He then journeys on to Shechem, a place where God had appeared to Abraham (Gen 12:6-7). At Shechem, presumably because he knows the story of his grandfather’s encounter, acting at last like his grandfather. Jacob has become a devoted follower of God and calls the altar, “Jacob’s God.”

GENESIS 34:1 – 35:11

SPOTLIGHT
Sometimes we have to acknowledge God, acknowledge that he has been near us, that he has brought us to a better place. And acknowledging solely with the mind lacks gravity. Action and a physical change of some kind is best to mark a solemn occasion and a recognition of the connection between the supernatural and the natural realms.

Jacob’s clan is in trouble, having just slaughtered the men of a town out of vengeance. The surrounding towns would quite possibly need to address the threat that Jacob’s family now represents to all of them. Then God appears. “Arise, God up to Bethel.” The divine voice is Jacob’s salvation. And Bethel is not just any place. It is where Jacob had a life-altering encounter with God the first time.

Having learned a few life lessons, Jacob responds with action and a physical change: “Remove the foreign gods in your midst,” he tells his family, “purify yourselves and change your clothes.”

Purify. In ancient cultures this almost always included bathing. It may have included shaving and putting on perfumed oil. Their clothes would be freshly laundered. The act of purification marked the occasion as sacred and recognized the hand of deity in their circumstances.

As for putting away other gods, this had been Jacob’s promise from his earlier encounter at Bethel, when he saw God in a vision with a stairway between heaven and earth.

Physical acts of devotion and recognition honor God and bring peace to our souls. When we leave our relationship with God merely in the domain of mental acknowledgement, our worship is not weighty enough. Giving charity. Purifying. Fasting. Attending a public service. Engaging in extravagant prayer. A random act of kindness. Setting up a memorial. Enacting a ritual. There are many ways of making our devotion something tangible and more real.

OUTLINE
Shechem assaults Dinah (1-7), Hamor and Shechem seek to try to smooth things over with marriage (8-12), Jacob’s sons deceive Hamor’s clan (13-17), Hamor has his men circumcised (18-24), Jacob’s sons slaughter the whole clan (25-29), Jacob is wrathful (30-31), God instructs Jacob to move to Bethel (35:1), Jacob orders all idols put away (2-7), the death of Deborah (8), God appears to Jacob (9-11).

OVERVIEW
The way Dinah’s rape is described is confusing. It is clear that Shechem had non-consensual sex with her since the three verbs describing his assault depict it that way. He took her, lay with her, and raped/shamed her. But then we read that “his soul clung to Dinah” (וַתִּדְבַּק נַפְשׁוֹ בְּדִינָה vatidabaq nafshō bedinah). This is some horrific way of showing love that Shechem has.

Some readers might wonder if this really was a rape. The final verb in vs. 2 is translated in various ways by the English versions: he humiliated her (ESV), lay with her by force (JPS), sexually assaulted her (NET). The verb in question is עָנַה, which in the Piel pattern means to oppress or humiliate. It is used in other contexts for oppression in slavery and also for sexual offenses (see esp. Deut 21:14 and 22:14). Yes, he raped her.

Jacob’s sons are not satisfied with punishing the rapist. They devise a plan that will decimate the entire clan of Shechem’s father Amor. The sons even deceive their father, hiding their plans for mass murder and looting from him. The men of the town are all killed, including Hamor and his son Shechem, and Jacob’s sons take plunder from the surviving women and elderly. It is a cruel vengeance on an entire town for the crime of one man. The sons of Jacob might argue that if the town had dispensed justice on Shechem then the slaughter would not have needed to happen.

Still, Jacob is angry with his sons for their overreaction. He knows that his clan will now be in danger in Canaan, as they will now be regarded as dangerous.

At this point in the story, God appears to Jacob and directs him to move to Bethel, the very place where he had a powerful encounter with God in his youth. Jacob reacts to God’s appearance with a fierce loyalty, directing all his clan הָסִרוּ אֶת־אֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר hasirō et-elohei haneichar, “Remove the foreign gods.” He commands everyone to “purify” (probably meaning to wash and abstain from sex) in preparation for the journey. Clearly in Jacob’s mind this journey represents God saving his family in a crisis and he adds ritual and devotion to the process as an expression of gratitude to God. Sarna (JPS Commentary) observes that this is the first tension between polytheism and the covenant faith in the Bible, as Jacob requires all those in his clan to put away idols. Jacob had sworn to renounce idols if God brought him back to Bethel.

The narrator tells us that a terror fell on the surrounding towns as Jacob traveled. God’s protection was with Jacob in this journey.

35:9 seems confusing, referring to Jacob coming from Paddan-aram (where he lived with Laban) and not mentioning the journey from Shechem. This is part of the nature of the Torah as a combined account of multiple sources. Genesis 34 is thought to be from the J source, 35:1-8 from the E source, and 35:9-15 from the P source (see Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed).

Once he arrives in Bethel, following a note about his beloved nurse, Deborah, dying, Jacob has another vision of God. This time God promises that Jacob will become “an assembly of nations” (קְהַל גּוֹיִם qehal goyim) and that “kings will proceed from” Jacob’s line. This appears to be a hint that Jacob’s family will later split into two nations (Israel and Judah).

GENESIS 35:12 – 36:19

SPOTLIGHT
People can never be possessed, no matter how much we desire them. They are always “other” no matter how close we get to them. And the tragedy is, that life often separates people for a variety of reasons. Jacob’s desire for Rachel was probably always greater than her desire for him. She continually eluded him, being the desired wife he could never enjoy as he wanted to (see below, credit to Drake Dunaway).

Jacob’s sons eluded him as well, trapped in their wicked pursuits of success in ways that made Jacob’s life seem tame by comparison. The story of Jacob’s sorrows and the way the people he loved disappointed him continues all the way through the Joseph saga.

We might be tempted to look at the tragedy we see in our lives and in those of people all around us and conclude there is no hope.

But while people disappoint, the covenant rolls on. Through all of these doleful events and in much gut-wrenching misery, a people will enter Egypt and be liberated. Some desert dwellers will become a nation. A tent-shrine will become a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth. A small city on a hill will become greater than Olympus, as Zion manifests all the dreams of mankind to know God and be joined with him. From this place a misunderstood savior will appear and a tiny movement of followers will see greatness that is yet to come.

Every step of the plan we derive from the biblical authors is fraught with tragedy and misstep and ruin. But the light keeps shining in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.

OUTLINE
The encounter with God at Bethel (12-15), Rachel’s death (16-20), Reuben’s sin (21-22), Jacob’s sons (23-26), Isaac’s death (27-29), Esau’s line (36:1-19).

OVERVIEW
God reiterates the covenant promises to Jacob at Bethel, the very place of Jacob’s previous vision. The promise will belong to Jacob’s descendants.

Then the author describes God leaving the place and does so in an odd way. וַיַּעַל מֵעָלָיו אֱלֹהִים vaya’al me’alav Elohim, “And God went up from over him.” From this description it does not seem as if Jacob is having another dream, but that the manifestation of God is more tangible. On the other hand, it is possible that the going up is happening in a dream, perhaps going up the stairway Jacob saw earlier.

Jacob stands up a stone and treats it as a kind of altar (or idol) and offers wine and oil on it. He hasn’t received the Torah or been given any instructions on how God is to be worshipped, so the seeming violation of later Torah law is not held against him.

There is some irony about Jacob’s longing for Rachel and the place Bethel, observes Nahum Sarna (JPS Commentary). The first time Jacob came to Bethel he journeyed from there, saw Rachel, and had to be separated from her while working seven years for Laban (plus one more week, due to Laban’s trickery). Now, after the second encounter he is separated from her again. Rachel is the elusive desire of Jacob, the beautiful woman he yearns for and never quite can obtain (credit to a friend, Drake Dunaway, who shared this literary observation in a personal conversation).

When Jacob retells the events of his life later in the book of Genesis (48:3-7), he will tell the story in this same order. He will mention the theophany at Bethel followed by the death of Rachel.

Reuben lays with Bilhah after Rachel’s death to preserve his mother Leah’s supremacy (Bilhah would be a shamed woman after Reuben’s act) and also to assert his claim to dominance in the family (even suggesting that he threatened Jacob’s role as patriarch). The tribe of Reuben was discredited by this act and lost their primacy. Esau’s descendants are listed to show fulfillment of the line of Isaac and the promise of many nations to come from the Abrahamic line.

GENESIS 36:20-43

SPOTLIGHT
History, it seems, has hidden patterns, repercussions from past events spreading across the centuries. Forces we don’t understand are at work in the world. The story of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem, and Edom, with its capital in Seir, were neighbor nations. Their relationship as nations had once been personal, originating from rival brothers with stories of competition and sorrow.

Long after Jacob’s time, David made war with Edom and reportedly killed thousands of Edomites (2 Sam 8). A bitter survivor named Hadad became a problem later for Solomon (1 Kgs 11).

But the most tragic note of Judah and Edom’s ongoing rivalry happened when Babylon came to destroy Jerusalem. Though we don’t know details, Edom betrayed Judah in some way and aided Babylon in the destruction of everything Judah held dear. The words of Obadiah reflect the bitterness felt in Jerusalem:

“10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
shame shall cover you,
and you shall be cut off forever.
11 On the day that you stood aloof,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.
12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother
in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their ruin;
do not boast
in the day of distress.
13 Do not enter the gate of my people
in the day of their calamity;
do not gloat over his disaster
in the day of his calamity;
do not loot his wealth
in the day of his calamity.
14 Do not stand at the crossroads
to cut off his fugitives;
do not hand over his survivors
in the day of distress.
15 For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you”
(Obadiah 1:10–15 ESV)

OUTLINE
The Horites in Edom’s territory (20-30), the Edomite kings (31-39), the clans of Esau (40-43).

OVERVIEW
Edom, the nation that comes from Esau’s descendants, will become a rival nation to Israel in the future. Esau was blessed, as God promised, and saw that the ambiguous blessing of his father (Gen 27:39-40) turned out to be positive. Esau’s offspring did live off the fatness of the land. But they also were, as predicted, a violent nation, a rival to Judah, and at Judah’s low point when Babylon came to destroy, Edom betrayed Judah, Esau betrayed Jacob. History has bitter and ironic notes in it, repercussions spreading across the centuries.

The rather detailed genealogy of Esau and Seir the Horite is important for the later history of Israel.

The note in 36:31 (” before any king reigned over the Israelites”) is additional evidence that the Torah was compiled long after Moses’ time.

The prophetic words from the birth of Esau and Jacob (Gen 25:23, “the older shall serve the younger”) and in Isaac’s blessing (Gen 27:40, “you shall serve your brother”) came true in the days of David (2 Sam 8:2, 13-14; 1 Kgs 11:14-17).