Genesis 36:1-5, 40-43 (ESV)
These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael's daughter, the sister of Nebaioth. And Adah bore to Esau, Eliphaz; Basemath bore Reuel; and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. These are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan.
These are the names of the chiefs of Esau, according to their clans and their dwelling places, by their names: the chiefs Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram; these are the chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom), according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession.
It is difficult for modern Americans to relate to these long, detailed genealogies. That’s because we live in a multi-racial constitutional republic. To us, a nation is a place with borders, laws, and a government.
But that’s not how things used to be. The Greek word for “nation” in the New Testament is, “ethnos.” Long ago, nations were not constitutional republics, nor even specific areas of land; they were ethic groups. A racially diverse nation was a contradiction in terms. That’s still true in many parts of the world. Think about that the next time you hear that the Kurds want to have a separate Kurdistan.
In an ancient society, where few people can read and almost all news is local, most of what you know came from your parents and grandparents. If they tell you things beyond what they were eyewitnesses to, they will mainly be what they got from their parents. Thus, the history you know would mostly be the history of your family – and much of that would be genealogy.
Thus, their genealogies have a significance we can’t relate to. They’re not just interesting; they’re essential. They tell you who you are. They explain who is king and why. They tell you who you’re supposed to like and who you’re supposed to be at war with. They govern your life.
I didn’t have space to print it here, but try reading all of Genesis 36 as if it’s directly important to you, especially the parts about the kings and chiefs. Try to capture the feeling you’d have if it were about, say, the battle of Yorktown – or something else important where everything would be different now if it hadn’t turned out the way it did.
History isn’t just for entertainment; it explains things. We know we live in a free and independent nation. But why?
Because we declared it on July 4, 1776, and because Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. Genesis is all about how we got here. For its original audience, genealogies are a big part of that.
Whether you’re thinking of your ancestors or of Yorktown, praise God that we made it.
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