The Most Seemingly Unimportant Chapter in the Bible

Should the Old Testament book called Genesis be preached? Without hesitation or maybe with some wonder your answer is most likely, yes. And if yes, why then should Genesis be preached? And what should be preached?

But…what does it mean to preach? The word preacher first occurs in the book of Ecclesiastes. Listen to its introduction. “The words of the Preacher.” I like this; the word preacher means a collector of sentences. So, what does a preacher do with a collection of sentences? First, we hope he has studied the collection of sentences because study is integral to preaching. But a preacher preaches! Listen to what the Bible says to preachers. In this context it is to a young preacher, maybe thirty-seven years old. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1-2b). I like this; the word preach means to proclaim, but biblically means so much wonderfully more. Listen to 2 Timothy 4:5. “As for you, always be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” What is the ministry of a preacher? Preach the word. But here, the instruction is to fulfill your ministry. How does a preacher fulfill the ministry of preaching the word? It is right there in 2 Timothy 2:5. Do the work of an evangelist. Do evangelism or gospelize. Now this is exciting and it is how a preacher fulfills his ministry. To gospelize is to stress the victory of God’s gospel-message in the totality of His good news.

Where does God’s gospel message begin? Genesis. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). All the details are not there (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5), but it is pregnant with thought. God’s gospel message begins there. There will be victory.

So, what does all of this, preachers and preaching and gospelizing, have to do with Genesis 36? It is exactly what I have been wondering. Should it be preached? If yes, it is a chapter in the book of Genesis after all, why should it be preached? What about it should be preached?

Genesis Relativizes Our Lives

Listen to how it begins. “These are the generations of…” I like how one translation words it, “These are the family records of…” The word generations (record) is rather important to the book of Genesis. The first time this word appears is Genesis 2:4. “These are the generations of the heaven and earth when they were created.” And it will appear nine more times until Genesis 36. It is found twice in Genesis 36. Listen to it. “These are the generations of Esau” and then again, “These are the generations of Esau” (Genesis 36:1, 9). Part of the point is that Genesis is filled with family trees – these historical records of people. And part of the big question is what to do with them.

I came across a really good article Thursday titled “Four Reasons Your Next Sermon Series Should Be Through Genesis.” I laughed because I thought this article for me and for you was about seventy sermons through Genesis too late. But the author gave good reasons that preachers should preach through Genesis. Genesis is foundational for understanding the rest of the Bible. Genesis consistently wades through “front page issues” like human dignity, marriage, etc. Genesis is beautifully written narrative.

But listen to this fourth reason. Genesis relativizes our lives without emptying them of significance. What does that mean? This perfectly applies to these genealogies. If you were to look at each genealogy beginning with Genesis 5 through Genesis 36, you would see people. And there is one critical observation with each person in each genealogy: people come and people go. In other words, people live and people die. But there is more. In each genealogy beginning with Genesis 5 through Genesis 36 there is time. Just consider Genesis 5. Throughout is this phrase: “Thus all the days of fill in the name were fill in the years, and he died.” There is a lot of time within each genealogy and then centuries between each genealogy, meaning time continues as people come and people go.

But there is more. Woven alongside these genealogies are promises. There are Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 9:15 and Genesis 12:7 and Genesis 15:5 and Genesis 28:15. And the point is that in all this time and the coming and the going, “the book of Genesis shows us the importance of God’s promises in the lives of God’s people.” These are not perfect people. Some are disappointing. Some are failures. Some are disappointing and failures. And especially in the life of Jacob, which was to be true for the first people to read Genesis, “the book of Genesis shows us the importance of God’s promises in the lives of God’s people as they journey to God’s place, the Promised Land.” So, how does this help us? “Clinging to God’s promises kept, we mirror those in Genesis who clung to God’s promises made.”[1]

The Most Seemingly Unimportant Chapter in the Bible

But then there is Genesis 36, another genealogy. It is different. Note again, the twice reference about the big idea of this chapter. It is found in verse one and then again in verse nine. “These are the generations of Esau.” In verse one, there is a little parenthesis added – (that is, Edom). There was a hint to this in Genesis 25:30. Just as Jacob is also Israel (35:10) so, Esau is also Edom. Both brothers become nations. The nation of Esau develops faster than the nation of Jacob and not just in terms of wealth, either. Listen to Genesis 36:31. “These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.” Edom would boast kings much sooner than Israel. When Edom had kings, Israel served kings.

But Moses dedicates an entire chapter to the generations of Esau. And in this record, there are 81 names. There are sons and grandsons, chiefs/leaders, and kings. It is success upon success. But listen to Genesis 36:20. “These are the sons of Seir the Horite.” This is a completely distinct family from Esau. There is absolutely no relation whatsoever. Except when you read Genesis 36:8. There is a point in the life of Esau when he took his wives and his kids and moved to Seir. What did he find in Seir? He found people. And when he found people, he overtook them. And eventually, these two family trees, intertwined. It appears that Esau’s son took from Seir a woman as his concubine and had a son with her (cf. 36:12; 22).

Esau seems so unimportant. And if he seems so unimportant, this chapter seems so unimportant, perhaps the most unimportant chapter in the Bible. But as you keep reading, Moses keeps bringing our attention upon Esau (36:5; 9; 10; 15; 19; 20; 31; 40; 43). It is like some sixteen times. Why?

Esau Went Away From His Brother Jacob

In the midst of all these names, there is a little break in Genesis 36:6-8. It is partially about why Esau ended up in Seir. He had too much stuff or at least he thought he did. He was accumulating a lot of wealth and so he moved where he could have more room. The strange part is that he went where there was more people (cf. 35:8; 20). But the last part of verse six is the key. “He went into a land away from his brother Jacob.” God had promised to Jacob the Promised Land. This land is also known as Canaan. God made this promise to Jacob and Jacob clung to this promise. So, what does Esau do? He goes to another land, away from his brother. Why is this significant? Jacob journeyed to the promised land, clinging to God’s promises. Esau journeyed away from the promised land, letting go of God’s promises. He may have even thought that none of it was for him anyway, so why stick around?

But he had always treated the things of God this way. Remember, as a young man he traded his birthright for a bowl of soup. He had always treated the things of God lightly. And he walked away from God’s promises.

Is any of this important? Does it matter? Did you notice that the first record in this family tree are Esau’s wives? He had three of them, maybe four. There is a minor discrepancy in the names (cf. 25:34-35; 28:9; 36:2). He married the first two wives so as to irritate his parents. And then he married the third wife to try to please his parents. But then there are all these names, names of sons and grandsons. Just listen to them. What do you hear?

His wife Basemath, her name means perfume (36:3). Elon means region where deer are found (36:2). His son Eliphaz means pure gold (36:4). Nahath means rest (36:13). Dishon means gazelle (36:21). Shepho means bald (36:23). Aiah means hawk (36:24); Keran means turtle (36:26); Aran means mountain goat (36:28); Ithran means advantage (36:26). What is the point of these names? Keep in mind the intentional redirection throughout this chapter to Esau. Could these names reflect Esau? What he values? What he loves? Keep in mind, too, when we first met Esau, we were told that he is a man of the outdoors; a hunter and fisherman. There are only a couple of names that have anything to do with God. There was Reuel which means friend of God and Jeush which may mean God helps (36:4; 5).

So, What is the Point?

Again, it is just another genealogy, but different. It is of a man who did not live his life in the light of the things of God. He was not journeying to the promised land, and God’s promises held no value in his eyes. His son Eliphaz is interesting, though. He had some sons. But one in particular was named Teman (36:11). Eliphaz and Teman. This son Teman would also be a tribal chief, a leader, maybe of a thousand people within the nation of Edom. Listen to Job 2:11. “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite.” One of Job’s friends, yes that Job who suffered at great costs, had three friends. One of those friends was Eliphaz the Temanite, a descendant of Esau. But greater still, there is a possibility that Job, too, was a resident of the land of Edom (cf. 36:28; Job 1:1). In a land of all these names, bearing very little if anything with God, there may have been a man named Job, who in his suffering would declare, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

Here is something I could not wait to share with you. Remember, Edom produced kings. I never knew this until studying what I thought could be the most seemingly unimportant chapter in the Bible. King Herod also known as Herod the Great, was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. One day he met some wise men. These wise men were seeking to worship a newborn king, he who was born king of the Jews. And King Herod sought to kill all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. One such child was named Jesus the Christ, a descendant of…Jacob (Matthew 2:1-18).

Esau Though Was Never Forgotten

But the point is bigger and better than I ever anticipated. It does have a lot to do with three questions: should this be preached? Why should it be preached? What should be preached?

I thought so little of Esau. He showed no interest whatsoever for God or the things of God. He lived quite well ignoring the promises of God. But he was never forgotten. I want us to listen to Amos 9:11-12. “‘In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,’ declares the Lord who does this.” Esau is Edom. Edom are all those descendants of Esau who seem to reflect Esau. This very passage is quoted in the New Testament. Listen to how it is introduced. “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old’” (Acts 15:13-17). What does God desire in and from this genealogy?

God never forgot Esau. He was always working to reach people like Esau that they might seek God. It is amazing. Esau journeyed away. God pursued. Esau ignored God’s promises. God kept keeping his promises. And it was for the sake of people like Esau.

You might be like Esau. You are not forgotten by God. You may care nothing for him, but he cares for you. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The world is full of Esaus.

[1] Four Reasons You Should Preach Through Genesis; https://www.9marks.org/article/genesis/

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