Bereshit Thirty-Six: Esau Update

Isaac has died, and his sons have come together once again to bury their father. Now, Jacob and Esau have fulfilled their familial duty, and we are given an update on Esau. Specifically, it’s a long list of the generations of Esau’s descendants. We are reminded of Esau’s Canaanite wives, and the sons that they gave him.

“And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his possessions, which he had gathered in the land of Canaan; and went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their substance was too great for them to dwell together; and the land of their sojournings could not bear them because of their cattle (Genesis 36:6-7).”

Once again, the brothers separate, but this time, it appears that there was a consideration of doing otherwise. They don’t separate because they hate each other, or because they have continued their bitter rivalry. Instead, it seems that the text indicates that perhaps they would have stayed together as a family clan, but had both been blessed to be so prosperous that the land couldn’t handle both of their large households. Both Jacob and Esau have clearly become men of property, which is maybe why Esau was finally able to forgive his brother – because he saw that even without the blessings of the firstborn, he was able to succeed as his own man.

So, Esau goes to Seir, which is described as a mountainous land. We are told of all of the sons and grandsons of Esau, the Edomites. Their future lands are mentioned as well, and we see the expanse of Esau’s wealth and family. This is the last interaction that we have with Esau directly, and happily the text closes his portion of the story listing his successes as a man on his own, rather than in relation to his brother. With this chapter, another era closes. While Jacob is still the reigning patriarch, the next stories begin the saga of his sons, the twelve brothers, who will continue the pattern of family drama.

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