20 These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 21 Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, the sons of Seir in the land of Edom. 22 The sons of Lotan were Hori and Hemam; and Lotan’s sister was Timna. 23 These are the sons of Shobal: Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam. 24 These are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah; he is the Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness, as he pastured the donkeys of Zibeon his father. 25 These are the children of Anah: Dishon and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah. 26 These are the sons of Dishon: Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. 27 These are the sons of Ezer: Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan. 28 These are the sons of Dishan: Uz and Aran. 29 These are the chiefs of the Horites: the chiefs Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 30 Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, chief by chief in the land of Seir.
31 These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites. 32 Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom, the name of his city being Dinhabah. 33 Bela died, and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his place. 34 Jobab died, and Husham of the land of the Temanites reigned in his place. 35 Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, reigned in his place, the name of his city being Avith. 36 Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his place. 37 Samlah died, and Shaul of Rehoboth on the Euphrates reigned in his place. 38 Shaul died, and Baal-hanan the son of Achbor reigned in his place. 39 Baal-hanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar reigned in his place, the name of his city being Pau; his wife’s name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.
40 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, 41 Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, 42 Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, 43 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. – Genesis 36:20-43 ESV
Moses makes it clear that the land in which Esau and his descendants eventually settled was far from empty. It had been occupied by another group of people known as the Horites. The first mention we have of them is found in Genesis 14, where they are listed among a group of nations that were defeated by an alliance of four kings. This confederation of kings attacked and defeated the people living in the area around Mount Seir, in the far south of Canaan. They ended up conquering the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, taking captive all the citizens, including the nephew of Abraham.
When Esau separated from his brother, Jacob, he ended up settling in the very same region as the Horites and, eventually, his sons and their children would supplant the Horites as the official inhabitants of the land. Hundreds of years later, when Moses prepared to lead the people of Israel into the promised land, he would receive instruction from God regarding this southern region and its inhabitants.
“You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.” – Deuteronomy 2:4-5 ESV
Moses records that Esau and his clan didn’t simply overwhelm the Horites with their superior numbers and strength, but that God orchestrated the transference of the land from one group to the other.
“…he [God] destroyed the Horites before them and they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day.” – Deuteronomy 2:22 ESV
The leader of the Horites was a man named Seir, and a large mountain in the region aptly bore his name. The Horites proved to be quite prolific, as the genealogy found in verses 20-43 reflects. But the chiefs of Seir and the chiefs of Esau would end up engaged in an ongoing conflict over control of the land around Mount Seir.
These are the sons of Dishan: Uz and Aran. These are the chiefs of the Horites: the chiefs Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, chief by chief in the land of Seir. – Genesis 36:28-30 ESV
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. – Genesis 436:40-43 ESV
These two groups of “chiefs” or leaders of their clans would have gone head-to-head in battle with one another over control of the land. But what is interesting is that Moses provides a list of the kings who ruled over the land of Edom, and not one chief among the Horites or Edomites can be found on that list. It contains the name of eight Edomite kings, but none appear to be sons of Esau or Seir. In fact, one is referred to as a Temanite, another hales from Rehoboth, and still another comes from a place called Masrekah. This sequential order of kings seems to reveal that there was a constant shift of power among the people groups that occupied this region. And Moses points out that the land of Edom had many kings long before the nation of Israel had their first monarch. Part of the reason for this disparity is that the people of Israel would eventually make their way to Egypt where they would remain for 400 years. During that time, the land of Edom would go through a long list of kings, chiefs, and leaders, while the Israelites were biding their time in Egypt. But the land of promise, like Edom, would not go unoccupied during the Israelites’ long absence. Canaan would be filled with nations, and overrun by the sins of idolatry and immorality.
And by the time Moses led the people of Israel back into the land, the descendants of Esau (the Edomites) would be well established around Mount Seir. In keeping with God’s directive, the Israelites would view Edom as off-limits, restricting themselves to the purchase of food and supplies, but avoiding the confiscation of any Edomite territory because it had been given to them by God. And Moses states, “So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber” (Deuteronomy 2:8 ESV).
All of this sets up the next section of Moses’ historical record of the people of Israel. While Esau and his descendants were busy making themselves at home in Edom, Israel and his descendants would be continuing the nomadic lifestyle established by Abraham and Isaac. Moses opens up chapter seven with the statement: “Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1 ESV).
The Hebrew word that Moses used is מָגוּר (māḡûr), which can also be translated “to be a stranger.” That is why the New Living Translation translates verse 1 this way: “So Jacob settled again in the land of Canaan, where his father had lived as a foreigner.”
Isaac, like his father before him, lived in the land of Canaan, more like an alien and a stranger than as a legal citizen. Neither Abraham or Isaac lived in a city or built a permanent dwelling place. They were sojourners, moving from one place to another, and never staying long enough to consider anywhere in the land of Canaan as their true home. And it is the author of the book of Hebrews who explains the reason behind this vagabond existence that was passed down from father to sin to grandson.
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 NLT
And the author of Hebrews indicates that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never got to see that city – in their lifetimes.
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. – Hebrews 11:13 NLT
The Edomites had kings and kingdoms. Even the Horites had a long list of chiefs and enjoyed that benefit of living in cities built by human hands. But the people of God would have to wait a long time before they experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise. God had promised to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance, but neither Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob would make ever find their permanent home in the land of promise because God had something better in store.
Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:14-15 NLT
The wait would be difficult but well worth it.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.