Walking Your Past

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If we succeed by worldly standards but fail by God's standards, we fail where it matters most.

Genesis(102) (Part of the Origins(100) series)
by Marc Webb(82) on February 12, 2023 (Sunday Morning(350))

Faithfulness(17), Patience(6), Perseverance(2), Reverence(1)

Walking Your Past

Show video. The kids had trouble defining the term genealogy, didn’t they? But they understood what family history meant. To a lot of people genealogy is just a bunch of names of dead people that don’t matter anymore but if we think of genealogy in terms of family history that might make it more interesting and intriguing. Maybe you here today could care less about your genealogy, a list of dead people, but I bet if I asked you to tell me stories of your parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents that you knew growing up, that would be a different tale.

I was introduced to genealogy at the age of 6 or 7, when I was doing an assignment for a church group I was a part of. At that time, I was told that I was related to a couple of famous people. One was Lucy Webb Ware, who was married to President Rutherford B. Hayes. Historians have christened her "Lemonade Lucy" due to her staunch support of the temperance movement. In fact her husband, the President, banned alcohol from the White House. The other famous person that I was told I was related to was Sam Houston, an American general who played an important role in the Texas Revolution and who was the first governor of Texas. I have disproved that I am directly related to them, but who I have proven that I am related to is my great grandfather who was known under three different names, with three different wives, in three different states. And very possibly turned state’s evidence after getting caught up in a conspiracy to commit arson case with his daughter. Now that’s a family history story. Genealogy is not just the names of people in your family who are dead. Genealogy is the people and the stories that made up their lives.

I read somewhere this past week that studying Genesis 36 is like walking through the gravestones of Esau’s family. You can find out a lot about your family by what is put on their tombstones. You may find that they served in the military and actually served in wartime like my grandfather (here) and my great grandfather (here). You may find that they had some kind of spirituality during their lives like my second great grandparents (here), whose tombstone says, “to die is gain” or my great grandparents (here) who gravestone depicts the Holy Bible on it and says “together forever” which spoke to their hope of being together beyond the grave. You may also find that your ancestors were truly loved like my grandmother (here) whose tombstone says, “in memory of a loving mother and friend.” I wish I could go back in time and listen to the stories of their lives, the good and the bad.

So why is this chapter of names important and what can we find out about Esau and his family as we walk through his tombstones in chapter 36, and specifically verses 9-19? First, this chapter is important because Moses was writing to people who were going to be living in close proximity to the Edomites, Esau’s descendants. The Lord was going to be giving the Israelites specific instructions about these close relatives so they needed to know who they were. Second, this chapter is important because the people of Israel and us today need to realize that worldly blessing, even if it is given by God, does not translate into spiritual blessing. Whether we believe in God and his son, Jesus, or not, our blessings all come from God alone. It is what we do and how we live with those blessings that count. If we are living without the spiritual blessing of the salvation of Jesus Christ and outside the family of God, it doesn’t matter what worldly blessings we have, because once our tombstone has been erected, all that is dust. Which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “if we succeed by worldly standards but fail by God’s standards, we fail where it really matters.” We will see that Esau had worldly wealth in lots of children and grandchildren and that his descendants became powerful chiefs of clans and tribes. They also ruled in a land of their own. But Esau and his descendants failed by Godly standards and in doing so failed where it really mattered.

Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we stand in awe of you and we praise you for your Word and the opportunities we have to open it and study it together. I pray that your Holy Spirit would speak to each heart and mind that hears your Word this morning and that a transformation would take place in their lives. And we give you all the glory and honor. Amen.

Our first point this morning is Lineage found in Genesis 36:9-14. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “This is the account of the family line of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s wife Adah, and Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Bosemath. The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam and Kenaz. Esau’s son Eliphaz also had a concubine named Timna, who bore him Amalek. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Adah. The sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Bosemath. The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon, whom she bore to Esau: Yeush, Yalam and Korach.”

This morning we will walk through Esau’s family cemetery and see his family stories and the important truths that we can learn from them. The first thing we notice is that this section starting with verse 9, starts the same way as the last section did in verse 1. The author repeats “this is the account of Esau” but adds that he is now the father of the Edomites. This repetition is very unusual in the biblical tolodots. It is possible that once the family moved to Seir and either settled or conquered the land, a new record was kept with a new starting point, even though it continued the family history of Esau. The fact that he is now the father of a group of people called the Edomites, compares with Jacob who is also known as Israel and was going to be the father of a group of people called the Israelites. If you remember, in Genesis 25, we saw that Rebekah was pregnant with the twins, Esau and Jacob, and they were warring inside of her, she inquired of the Lord and he told her that there were two nations in her womb. This chapter shows that the expectation of an Edomite nation has been met. ​​ 

The Edomites are now fully entrenched in the hill country of Seir. Last week we saw Esau start his family and then move out of the Promised Land, where his father and mother were living, into the hill country of Seir. That Esau dwelt securely in Seir implied that the Lord would establish his descendants in the land. This move outside the Promised Land is important as we walk Esau’s past through the gravestones of his family. The second thing you might notice is that we saw a lot of the same names last week. We have already been introduced to Esau’s three wives – Adah, Bosemath, and Oholibamah. We also saw what their names meant: Adah means “the adorned one” or “ornament”, Bosemath means “the perfumed one” or “spice” and Oholibamah means “tent of the high place” which gives the connotation of “tall” and “stately.” From their names we can learn that Esau had a very beautiful family by worldly standards. Remember back then names weren’t just given because they sounded nice; they were given because they meant something (think Jacob which means, “heel-grabber” and “deceiver”). We can notice that each of their names focuses on some outward feature of beauty or sensuality because that is what they found valuable to them.

We have also already been introduced to Esau’s sons born to him by these three wives. Adah bore one son, called Eliphaz and Bosemath bore one son, Reuel. And Oholibamah bore Esau three sons, Yeush, Yalam, and Korach. Eliphaz means “pure gold”, Reuel means “friend of God”, Yeush means “the Lord helps”, Yalam means “to conceal” and Korach means “bald.” As we look at this list there is one name that you may or may not recognize. That is Eliphaz and it is believed that he is the same Eliphaz who was one of the friends of Job. Later when we talk about his sons, one of them is called Teman and he becomes a duke or chief. In the book of Job, Eliphaz is identified as a Temanite. Also, if you didn’t know, scholars believe that Job was written during the times of the Patriarchs and they believe it is actually the first book of the Bible written chronologically. So it is possible that Job is living in or near the land of Seir with the Edomites and that is where his book takes place. As we go back to the names of Esau’s sons we again see that they aren’t focused on the spiritual but the worldly. Now there are 2 names out of the 81 names in this chapter that possibly show a belief in the one true God, Reuel “friend of God” and Yeush “the Lord helps.” But it is also possible that they were connected to idolatry and worship of false gods.

What we can learn by walking through Esau’s family cemetery and from the names of his sons is that there is no mention of barrenness. If you remember, the wives of the Patriarchs, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, all struggled with being barren. They had to rely on God to open their wombs so they could have children. And God opened their wombs in his timing and according to his plan and purpose. The patriarchs were all promised that they would have offspring like the “stars in the sky” and the “sand on the seashore” but it wasn’t going to happen in the normal human way; it was going to happen in a miraculous spiritual way. Esau and his wives did not have the same problem. Esau was wealthy in sons and for all intents and purposes he was able to have children all on his own without any help from God.

Next we continue to see Esau’s worldly wealth increase but no spiritual wealth mentioned as God blesses Esau with grandchildren. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman which means “south” who I’ve already talked about in relation to Job, Omar which means “eloquent”, Zepho which means “clean/pure”, Gatam which means “thin” and the meaning of Kenaz is unknown. Then we come to the second specific name I want to mention. In verse 12 we see that Eliphaz had a concubine named Timna and she bore him a son called Amalek. Now, Amalek would have been a name that would have made the first hearers perk up as he was the ancestor of the Amalekites who were bitter enemies of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19, we see these words, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” God commanded the Israelites to “blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven” because they had “no fear of the Lord.” It is important to have a righteous, reverent fear or awe of the Lord so he doesn’t “blot us out.” We only need to look at ourselves and look around us to see what he has done and is doing in the world, in our church and in our lives. This prompts me to ask a question: Do you have a righteous, reverent fear or awe of the Lord in your life? If not, this first next step is for you: My next step is to cultivate a righteous, reverent fear of the Lord in my life. Next, we see the sons of Reuel. Nahath which means “clear/pure”, Zerah which means "dawning, shining”, Shammah which means "to hear” and Mizzah which is unknown. Lastly, we notice that the sons of Esau and Oholibamah are mentioned, which we already talked about, but there are no grandsons mentioned. It is possible they didn’t have any offspring but they are still be important as we move to the next point.

The second point this morning is Legacy found in Genesis 36:15-19. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “These were the chiefs among Esau’s descendants: The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: Chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, Korach, Gatam and Amalek. These were the chiefs descended from Eliphaz in Edom; they were grandsons of Adah. The sons of Esau’s son Reuel: Chiefs Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were the chiefs descended from Reuel in Edom; they were grandsons of Esau’s wife Bosemath. The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah: Chiefs Yeush, Yalam and Korach. These were the chiefs descended from Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah. These were the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these were their chiefs.”

As we continue walking through Esau’s family cemetery the family stories again come alive. As I read these verses you may have seen redundancy and it is true but don’t let that give you the idea that there is nothing to learn from this section. First, let me point out the progression of the lists we see in each section. In section one, verses 1-8, we saw Esau who is Edom and his wives and children. In section two, verses 9-14, we saw Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites with his wives, children and grandchildren. The significance is that Esau’s rich family history is growing. This third section, verses 15-19, again shows a progression from a family to the beginnings of a nation and Esau’s descendants as the rulers of that fledgling nation. This is important because it continues to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham to make him the “father of many nations” which we saw in Genesis 17:4. By including Esau’s descendants and their ascendancy as rulers implies that Edom’s rise was the consequence of God’s blessing and that his blessing reached outside the line of Jacob. And the proliferation of Edomite tribes fulfills God’s intention to “bless all the peoples of the earth” as we saw in Genesis 12:3 which would happen by bringing salvation to the nations.

We notice that the children and grandchildren of Esau are now “chiefs” or some translations say “dukes.” The word for duke comes from a Latin word meaning captain or leader. The Hebrew word has the same significance and is the term for a thousand. The dukes or chiefs were probably leaders or captains over a company of one thousand men. It is important that we see these names as chiefs and clans and not just sons and grandsons. Again, we see the same names are mentioned but there are a few differences in the list from verses 9-14 and the list here in verses 15-19. First, the order in which grandsons, Gatam and Kenaz are mentioned changes. This reason for this change is seemingly unknown or didn’t matter. In verse 16 we see an addition of a name, Korach, which is represented as a son of Eliphaz. Korach is also the name of one of the sons of Oholibamah. Again, what is important here is that Korach is the name of a clan and not just a son and or grandson. The commentators say that it could mean that there was a portion of the clan of Korach that split; one portion stayed affiliated with Oholibamah and the other portion affiliated themselves with the clans connected to Eliphaz. These were first and foremost political alliances. These weren’t spiritually minded peoples; these were secular and political entities looking for prestige, power and position. (Big Idea)

The next thing that we can glean as important from this list of clans and political alliances is that there are twelve tribes. They are represented by the nine grandsons and three sons of Esau born to him by Oholibamah. This number is reached by counting the split clan of Korach as one and omitting Amalek who is disqualified because he is the son of a concubine. This means that Ishmael, Esau and Jacob all became the father of twelve tribes. Twelve being the number of completeness again shows us that God’s promises to the patriarchs are being completely fulfilled. God doesn’t forget his promises ever even when it includes non-covenant peoples.

The last thing we can learn from this section of walking through Esau’s family cemetery is that in contrast to the expanding, powerful Esau, Jacob was dwelling in the land of the sojournings of his father. At this time, he had no clans, no full tribes and no lands to govern. Esau was an ever-growing family with chiefs and a land that his clans are ruling. Jacob like his father and grandfather before him was a sojourner, an alien in an alien land. It would be another 400+ years until the tribes and nation of Israel would come into their Promised Land and finally see the promises of God fulfilled in their family. Delitzsch notes poignantly that “secular greatness in general grows up far more rapidly than spiritual greatness.” The promised spiritual blessings demands patience in faith, and emphasizes that waiting while others prosper is a test of faithfulness and perseverance. God will give the promised blessings to Jacob’s seed but only after a long refining and proving of the faith. That prompts me to ask and for us to think about a couple of questions. Do you find yourself at this moment waiting for God’s blessings as others around you have seemingly received theirs already? Do you feel like you are going through God’s refining fire at this very moment? As you ponder these questions, maybe these next steps are for you: My next step is to ask God to give me patience and faithfulness as I wait on his timing and perfect plan to receive his blessings. My next step is to ask God for perseverance as he refines me in his fire, proving my faith.

My conclusion comes from a series on Genesis on Bible.org written by Steven J. Cole: On the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland, a man spent five years and a lifetime of savings building a 62‑foot steel yacht that weighed 126 tons. On the day of its launching, he invited a local band to play and the whole town turned out to help him celebrate. He planned a voyage around the world as soon as the boat was launched. The band played, the bottle of champagne was smashed across the bow, and the ship was lowered into the water. But it sank to the bottom of the harbor! What good is a beautiful boat that doesn’t float? That man wasted five years and a lot of money building a useless thing‑‑a boat that didn’t float. What good is a successful life that ends, whether in 25 or 85 years, if the person is not ready for eternity? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Today’s tour through Esau’s cemetery is over and I hope it’s made you think about your life and what you are living for. While we still live, we all have a choice: To join Jacob and his descendants in waiting patiently for God to fulfill His covenant promises to us, as we labor for His coming kingdom. Or, to look over at Esau, prospering in the world, and join him in the pursuit of secular success. If we succeed by worldly standards, but fail with God, we have failed where it really matters. Whether we fail or succeed by worldly standards, if we succeed with God, we will have true and lasting success.

As the ushers prepare to collect the tithes and offering and as Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final song, let’s close our study of God’s Word in prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, as we contemplate you and the mighty deeds you have done in your Word and are still doing today, I pray that we would stand in awe of you and that we would cultivate a righteous, reverent fear of you. You are the Lord God Almighty!!! Help us to be patient and faithful as we wait on your blessings in our lives according to your perfect plan for each one of us. And daily give us perseverance as you continue to refine us in your fire, proving our faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.