A Reversal of Fortunes

“And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God: Because the enemy said of you, ‘Aha!’ and, ‘The ancient heights have become our possession,’ therefore prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God: Precisely because they made you desolate and crushed you from all sides, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you became the talk and evil gossip of the people, therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the ravines and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted cities, which have become a prey and derision to the rest of the nations all around, therefore thus says the Lord God: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I have spoken in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the reproach of the nations. Therefore thus says the Lord God: I swear that the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer reproach.

“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. For behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. 10 And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. 11 And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they shall multiply and be fruitful. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 12 I will let people walk on you, even my people Israel. And they shall possess you, and you shall be their inheritance, and you shall no longer bereave them of children. 13 Thus says the Lord God: Because they say to you, ‘You devour people, and you bereave your nation of children,’ 14 therefore you shall no longer devour people and no longer bereave your nation of children, declares the Lord God.15 And I will not let you hear anymore the reproach of the nations, and you shall no longer bear the disgrace of the peoples and no longer cause your nation to stumble, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 36:1-15 ESV

Twenty fine chapters separate this message from the one Ezekiel received back in chapter six, and a quick perusal reveals their similarities and extreme differences. Back in chapter six, God gave His prophet a message to deliver against the mountains of Israel.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills and to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring war upon you, and I will smash your pagan shrines. All your altars will be demolished, and your places of worship will be destroyed. I will kill your people in front of your idols. – Ezekiel 6:3-4 NLT

God goes on to warn of further judgments upon the land, describing shocking scenes of devastation and death. His chosen people will die from war, famine, and disease, as He pours out His fury upon them. And the land will suffer greatly because of the “idols and altars on every hill and mountain and under every green tree and every great shade tree—the places where they offered sacrifices to their idols” (Ezekiel 6:13 NLT).

The sins of the nation had defiled the land that God had set apart as their inheritance. Through repeated acts of immorality and their unrelenting practice of idolatry, they had desecrated the very place that was to have been their forever home. At one point, God had described Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands” (Exodus 20:15 ESV), but it had been polluted by the very presence of His ungrateful and unfaithful children. So, God warned of His plan to “clean house” and purge the land of its primary problem: The people who lived there. And long before the Israelites had ever entered the land of Canaan, God had warned them about picking up the habits of the nations that lived in the land before them. Because of the wickedness of the Canaanites, God said,“ the entire land has become defiled” and “I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out” (Leviticus 18:25 NLT). But He went on to warn the Israelites not to make the same mistake. 

“All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now. – Leviticus 18:27-28 NLT

As Ezekiel received the words recorded in chapter 36, the damage had been done. He was living among a contingent of Israelites who had already been “spewed out” of the land of promise and found themselves living as exiles in Babylon. And because of the recent fall of Jerusalem, they would soon be joined by a new wave of displaced refugees.

But chapter 36 provides a diametrically different message concerning the land of Israel. In what is almost a mirror image of the message contained in chapter six, God communicates His future plans for the land of promise. This time He has good news for Ezekiel to deliver to the “mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 36:1 ESV).

See, I care about you, and I will pay attention to you. Your ground will be plowed and your crops planted. I will greatly increase the population of Israel, and the ruined cities will be rebuilt and filled with people. I will increase not only the people, but also your animals. O mountains of Israel, I will bring people to live on you once again. I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. – Ezekiel 36:9-11 NLT

The very people whom God had vomited from the land would be restored and the land would be renewed. But before that could happen, God was going to have to clean house again. This time, He would remove all those nations who had taken up residence in Israel’s forced absence. All the squatters and land-grabbers would be evicted to make way for the return of God’s chosen people.

Therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Lord. He speaks to the hills and mountains, ravines and valleys, and to ruined wastes and long-deserted cities that have been destroyed and mocked by the surrounding nations. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My jealous anger burns against these nations, especially Edom, because they have shown utter contempt for me by gleefully taking my land for themselves as plunder. – Ezekiel 36:4-5 NLT

When the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, it didn’t take long for their neighbors to take advantage of their weakened state and enrich themselves by plundering their property and possessions. And the same thing would take place after the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians. Nearby nations like Edom would use the opportunity to expand their borders at Judah’s expense. Having escaped annihilation at the hands of the Babylonian army, these smaller neighboring states would see Judah’s demise as a windfall and mock its fall.

Israel is a land that devours its own people and robs them of their children!” – Ezekiel 36:13 NLT

But God promises to turn their words against them. They can laugh and ridicule all they want, but the day is coming when God will turn the tables once again. He provides a stern rebuke to Judah’s arrogant enemies and warns them that their days in the land are numbered.

“…this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I have taken a solemn oath that those nations will soon have their own shame to endure. – Ezekiel 36:7 NLT

God was going to wipe the smirk off their faces and eliminate their very presence from the land. This time, they would be spewed out and left homeless. Because God had given the land to His people as their inheritance. The land of milk and honey would be restored to its former glory and filled with the sights and sounds of God’s children enjoying the bounty of His blessings.

I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. – Ezekiel 36:11 NLT

The hills, mountains, ravines, and valleys throughout Israel will once again be places of joy and celebration. The fields will be plowed and deliver an abundance of crops. The pastures will produce more than enough food to feed the flocks of God’s people. The ruined wastes and long-deserted cities will be rebuilt and repopulated as God orchestrates the return of His children.

The prophet, Zechariah, echoes these words of future hope and divine restoration.

“Once more I will cause the remnant in Judah and Israel to inherit these blessings. Among the other nations, Judah and Israel became symbols of a cursed nation. But no longer! Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid.” – Zechariah 8:12-13 NLT

And God provided Zechariah with further insight into that future day when He will restore the fortunes of His people and reestablish them as the inheritors of His land.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing. – Zechariah 8:20-22 NLT

Everything will come full circle because God has ordained it. He is faithful to keep His word and determined to finish what He began.

Then you will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 36:11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Divine Payback

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it, and say to it, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, Mount Seir, and I will stretch out my hand against you, and I will make you a desolation and a waste. I will lay your cities waste, and you shall become a desolation, and you shall know that I am the Lord. Because you cherished perpetual enmity and gave over the people of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of their final punishment, therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; because you did not hate bloodshed, therefore blood shall pursue you. I will make Mount Seir a waste and a desolation, and I will cut off from it all who come and go. And I will fill its mountains with the slain. On your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines those slain with the sword shall fall. I will make you a perpetual desolation, and your cities shall not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

10 “Because you said, ‘These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will take possession of them’—although the Lord was there— 11 therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will deal with you according to the anger and envy that you showed because of your hatred against them. And I will make myself known among them, when I judge you. 12 And you shall know that I am the Lord.

“I have heard all the revilings that you uttered against the mountains of Israel, saying, ‘They are laid desolate; they are given us to devour.’ 13 And you magnified yourselves against me with your mouth, and multiplied your words against me; I heard it. 14 Thus says the Lord God: While the whole earth rejoices, I will make you desolate. 15 As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so I will deal with you; you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all Edom, all of it. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 35:1-15 ESV

In the last chapter, God delivered the good news regarding Israel’s eventual restoration to the land of Canaan. He announced that in the distant future, He will return His people to their former land where will enjoy the blessings of His presence and His gracious provision for all their needs. This as-yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy includes their reoccupation of the northern kingdom of Israel as well as the southern kingdom of Judah. But God will not stop there. He intends to expand the land of promise back to the original boundaries He had promised to Abraham and had articulated to Moses as the people prepared to conquer Canaan.

“I will send terror ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply and threaten you. I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to take possession of the land. And I will fix your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the eastern wilderness to the Euphrates River. I will hand over to you the people now living in the land, and you will drive them out ahead of you.” – Exodus 23:28-31 NLT

But when the people were preparing to enter the land for the very first time, God gave them strict instructions to not take any land from the Edomites, who were the direct descendants of Esau, the son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob.

Give these orders to the people: “You will pass through the country belonging to your relatives the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. The Edomites will feel threatened, so be careful. Do not bother them, for I have given them all the hill country around Mount Seir as their property, and I will not give you even one square foot of their land. – Deuteronomy 2:4-5 NLT

But now, centuries later, as God delivers His news of future restoration, He informs Ezekiel that the rules of the game will be drastically different. He gives Ezekiel a message to deliver to Mount Seir, but the recipient is really the Edomites, the people who occupied the land of Seir.

While God had chosen Isaac’s son, Jacob over his brother Esau to be the son of the promise, God had awarded Esau’s descendants the land of Seir as their homeland.

He had done the same for the descendants of Esau who lived in Seir, for he destroyed the Horites so they could settle there in their place. The descendants of Esau live there to this day. – Deuteronomy 2:22 NLT

All during the reigns of David and Solomon, the Edomites had occupied the land of Seir. This region just south and east of the Dead Sea remained under Edomite control even after God had divided Israel into two kingdoms. And during the Babylonian occupation of Judah and while Ezekiel and his fellow Jews lived in exile in Babylon, the Edomites maintained their control of the land.

Over the centuries, the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Esau had endured an ongoing love-hate relationship. They were like the Hatfields and McCoys, blood relatives who just couldn’t get along, and this fraternal conflict was predicted by God even before the two patriarchs of these people groups were born. While Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was carrying Jacob and Esau in her womb, God informed her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

This conflict that began in the womb continued after the birth of the two boys and expanded into an internecine battle between their descendants. Bad blood existed between the Israelites and Edomites for generations, and even when the nation of Judah was under attack by the Babylonians, the Edomites would take advantage of Judah’s vulnerable state by conducting raids against their towns and villages. So, there was no love loss between the two nations.

But for God to fulfill His promise of future restoration as outlined in chapter 34, He reveals that even the Edomites will have to relinquish their land. It belonged to His chosen people, the descendants of Jacob. So, He gives Ezekiel as far-from-promising message for the Edomites.

“I am your enemy, O Mount Seir,
    and I will raise my fist against you
    to destroy you completely.
I will demolish your cities
    and make you desolate.
Then you will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 35:3-4 NLT

They had aligned themselves against God’s chosen people and now they would pay the price for their misguided decision. From God’s perspective, the Edomites were guilty of piling on. While He was bringing judgment against His chosen people, the descendants of Esau decided to exploit the situation for their own advantage.

“Your eternal hatred for the people of Israel led you to butcher them when they were helpless, when I had already punished them for all their sins. – Ezekiel 35:5 NLT

God had not ordered them to do this. It was not part of His disciplinary protocol for the rebellious people of Judah. The Edomites had acted on their own accord and sought to enrich themselves at Judah’s expense. And the day was coming when they would be held accountable for their mistake. The land God had graciously given them would be taken away and awarded to the people of Israel.

Their real crime was their open disdain for God. As the descendants of Abraham and Isaac, they should have understood the sovereignty and power of Yahweh. They should have had an awe and respect for Him but, instead, they flaunted their will right in His face. They arrogantly declared, “The lands of Israel and Judah will be ours. We will take possession of them. What do we care that the Lord is there!” (Ezekiel 35:10 NLT). And God states that their hubris will be their undoing.

I will make myself known to Israel by what I do to you.” – Ezekiel 35:11 NLT

Some day in the future, the descendants of Jacob will recognize the greatness of God when they watch Him destroy the Edomites and make the land of Seir part of the inheritance of Israel. At this point in human history, the nation of Edom no longer exists. They would eventually fall to the Babylonians, then to the Medo-Persians, and, ultimately to the Hasmoneans in 126 B.C.

But to date, the land of Edom remains outside of Israel’s control. It is not currently a part of the modern state of Israel but lies within the borders of southwestern Jordan, located between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. But God is not done yet. His plan is far from finished and His promise to restore His people to the land will one day be accomplished. Their enemies will be defeated. The land will become theirs, “from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the eastern wilderness to the Euphrates River” (Exodus 23:31 NLT). 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Lord of All

17 In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare, yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against her. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. 20 I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for me, declares the Lord God.

21 “On that day I will cause a horn to spring up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 29:17-21 ESV

Some 17 years later, Ezekiel received yet another oracle from God concerning Egypt, and this one came sometime around his 50th birthday. The prophet placed it immediately after the prior message to identify Babylon as the source of Egypt’s fall. King Nebuchadnezzar would be the one wielding the sword against Pharaoh and his people. The same nation that brought about the end of Judah and Tyre would sweep down on the unsuspecting citizens of Egypt, “and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste” (Ezekiel 29:9 ESV).

The amazing thing about this passage is its insistence that Nebuchadnezzar acted as an agent of God Almighty. He was an instrument in the hands of God, carrying out the divine will exactly as God had intended. Unknowingly serving as God’s instrument of judgment, Nebuchadnezzar would lay siege to Tyre for 13 long years, forcing his army to endure a lengthy and costly campaign that resulted in little benefit.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work.” – Ezekiel 29:18 NLT

This kind of expenditure against a relatively small coastal city made no sense for a global juggernaut like Babylon. It had little to gain from pouring such much time and resources into a single campaign against a city-state that posed little threat to its empire. But Nebuchadnezzar was doing God’s bidding. He was serving as God’s agent of wrath against Tyre, and he would perform the same role against Egypt.

In fact, God makes it clear that the Egyptian campaign would be a form of payback for Nebuchadnezzar’s losses suffered at Tyre.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army.” – Ezekiel 29:19 NLT

The wealth of Egypt made that of Tyre pale by comparison. Nebuchadnezzar’s plunder of the vast Egyptian empire would more than compensate for any losses he suffered in his capture of Tyre.

In ancient days, plunder was one of the primary sources of payment for a nation’s armed forces. A soldier’s base salary was relatively small but the appeal of military service was in the sense of adventure it provided and the potential windfall of booty a successful campaign might bring. The conquest of a wealthy city could result in a sizeable bonus for the average footsoldier. Part of the incentive for defeating their enemies was the right to ransack and loot at will. Victorious soldiers were free to take whatever riches they could carry off as plunder, and the cities and towns of Egypt would prove to be a boon for the Babylonian forces.

“The scant historical data indicates that Egypt and Tyre became allies under Pharaoh Hophra (Apries). The extended siege of Tyre was perhaps due to the aid Tyre received from the Egyptians. In such an act Hophra was going contrary to God’s purposes. Not only was the siege prolonged by Egyptian support, but some also surmise that Egypt’s maritime aid enabled Tyre to send away her wealth for security during the siege. When Tyre surrendered about 573 B.C. . . ., Babylonia gained almost no spoils from the long siege.” – Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel

God rewarded Nebuchadnezzar for services rendered. This pagan king and his army would receive ample compensation for their role in the defeat of Tyre and it would come in the form of a successful military campaign against one of the greatest nations on earth at that time: Egypt.

This stunning victory against a perennial powerhouse in the region would be directly attributable to God, and this insight was meant to bring a sense of joy and hope to the exiled people of Judah.

“I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:20 NLT

As the Jewish refugees living in Babylon heard this oracle from the lips of Ezekiel, they couldn’t help but recall the long and storied history of Israel’s relationship with Egypt. Their ancestors had lived as exiles in the land of the Pharaohs for more than 400 years. In the land of the pyramids and sphinxes, the descendants of Jacob had labored as slaves, building the very edifices that made Egypt the envy of the world (Exodus 1:8-14). They had heard the stories of how the Pharaoh had ordered the enslavement of their forefathers and foremothers. They knew the chilling details concerning the royal edict that ordered the infanticide of all the male children born to the Israelites (Exodus 1:15-22). The stories of Pharoah’s repeated refusals to allow Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt would have been seared into their collective conscience. The people of Judah had no reason to love the Egyptians, so the report of their demise at the hands of the Babylonians should have come as welcome news to the exiles. Any time an oppressor nation got a taste of its own medicine was music to the ears of all those who had suffered at their hand.

And to add a further ray of hope to the exiles’ dark and difficult existence, God informs them that the day is coming when they will experience His undeserved grace and mercy as He restores them to their former glory as a nation.

“And the day will come when I will cause the ancient glory of Israel to revive, and then, Ezekiel, your words will be respected. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 29:21 NLT

God had predicted the falls of Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and now, Egypt. The nations would fall like dominoes under the divinely ordained hand of King Nebuchadnezzar. Even Judah would succumb to Babylon’s insatiable and unstoppable quest to expand its empire and secure its place as the world’s most powerful nation.

But the Babylonians wold prove to be just another pawn in God’s strategic unveiling of His sovereign will for mankind. And while Babylon would enjoy its moment in the sunlight, it would prove to be shortlived. God’s real interest was in the well-being of His chosen people, and back in chapter 28, He revealed His intentions to restore them to the land He had given them.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel will again live in their own land, the land I gave my servant Jacob. For I will gather them from the distant lands where I have scattered them. I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people. – Ezekiel 28:25 NLT

God exists outside of time. He is transcendent and all-knowing, possessing the unique ability to see past, present, and future all at the same time. Time means nothing to Him. As the eternal God, a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). For the exiles, their stay in Babylon seemed endless and hopeless. They couldn’t see past the next morning. And all this news of Judah’s destruction just seemed to make matters worse. But God was letting them know that He had plans and was working those plans to perfection. He was in control of all things, including their future. The nations were under His rule and operated according to His sovereign will. Their rise and fall were His doing. Their victories and defeats were ordained from His throne room in heaven. And the exiles living in Judah needed to understand that their God was more powerful than their captor. Their circumstance was not a sign of God’s demise. The news of Jerusalem’s pending fall was not to be read as His abandonment of them. He was still on His throne and fully in control of all things at all times. And the day was coming when they would know that He is and will always be the Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Divine Payback

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the Ammonites and prophesy against them. Say to the Ammonites, Hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God, Because you said, ‘Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was profaned, and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and over the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore behold, I am handing you over to the people of the East for a possession, and they shall set their encampments among you and make their dwellings in your midst. They shall eat your fruit, and they shall drink your milk. I will make Rabbah a pasture for camels and Ammon a fold for flocks. Then you will know that I am the Lord. For thus says the Lord God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

“Thus says the Lord God: Because Moab and Seir said, ‘Behold, the house of Judah is like all the other nations,’ therefore I will lay open the flank of Moab from the cities, from its cities on its frontier, the glory of the country, Beth-jeshimoth, Baal-meon, and Kiriathaim. 10 I will give it along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession, that the Ammonites may be remembered no more among the nations, 11 and I will execute judgments upon Moab. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

12 “Thus says the Lord God: Because Edom acted revengefully against the house of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance on them, 13 therefore thus says the Lord God, I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. 14 And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they shall do in Edom according to my anger and according to my wrath, and they shall know my vengeance, declares the Lord God.

15 “Thus says the Lord God: Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of soul to destroy in never-ending enmity, 16 therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the rest of the seacoast. 17 I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.” – Ezekiel 25:1-17 ESV

From the moment the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, they found themselves surrounded by a host of hostile enemies. When they showed up on the scene after their 40-year trek through the wilderness, they were greeted with less-than-open arms by the land’s current occupants. The Israelites numbered in the millions by the time they entered the land, and they were viewed as a threat by the various people groups who lived in the region. But God had granted them a particular portion of the land as their inheritance. Centuries earlier, God had promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would be the possession of his offspring.

“I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 NLT

But during the more than 500-year delay between the time when that promise was given and when the people of Israel entered Canaan, the land had not set empty or unoccupied. Its fertile soil and central location made it an attractive piece of real estate. And while the Israelites had been languishing as slaves in Egypt, a host of nations had taken up residence in and around Canaan. This included the nations listed in the chapter: Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, and Philistia. These particular groups occupied territory on the edges of the land of Canaan, and God had given Moses instructions about how to deal with them. In order to enter Canaan, the people of Israel would need to pass through some of these outlying territories. Their goal was to do so as peacefully as possible but, if necessary, they were ordered to use force.

“As you approach a town to attack it, you must first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the Lord your God hands the town over to you, use your swords to kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the plunder from your enemies that the Lord your God has given you. – Deuteronomy 20:10-14 NLT

Some of the nations listed in this chapter had an interesting relationship with the people of Israel. They were actually blood relations. In the case of the Ammonites and Moabites, they were the descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. The record of their rather sordid history is found in the book of Genesis. Lot had made the unwise decision to settle his family in Sodom, a city infamous for its immorality. But God graciously rescued Lot and his two daughters before destroying the entire city and all its occupants.

In the immediate aftermath of Lot’s rescue, his daughters took it upon themselves to continue their family line by getting their father drunk and having sexual relations with him. And their depraved plan worked.

…both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their own father.  When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. – Genesis 19:36-38 NLT

So, the Ammonites and Moabites were actually distant relatives of the Israelites. They had settled in the eastern portion of the land of Palestine long before the nation of Israel had been released from its captivity in Egypt. And they both proved to be less-than-accommodating to the Israelites as they attempted to enter the land of Canaan.

But God’s warnings recorded in Ezekiel 25 have to do with their response to the much-later fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and what will be their gloating response to the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. When the Babylonian finally defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, the Ammonites and Moabites would rejoice. But God warns that they will suffer a similar fate at the hands of “the people of the East” (Ezekiel 25:10 ESV).

And the same thing will happen to the Edomites. This nation enjoyed a close relationship with the Israelites as well. They were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. And while both brothers were in their mother’s womb, God had warned Rebekah, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

The Edomites and Israelites never got along. In fact, their history was marked by constant conflict. Despite their blood ties, there was no love lost between these two nations. And because the Edomites would also rejoice at Judah’s demise, God would bring judgment upon them as well.

“I will raise my fist of judgment against Edom. I will wipe out its people and animals with the sword. I will make a wasteland of everything from Teman to Dedan.” – Ezekiel 25:13 NLT

The final nation addressed in God’s message to Ezekiel is Philistia. The Philistines occupied the land along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, just west of Canaan. They are first listed in the book of Genesis as the descendants of Mizraim, the grandson of Noah.

Mizraim was the ancestor of the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, Pathrusites, Casluhites, and the Caphtorites, from whom the Philistines came… – Genesis 10:13-14 NLT

So, they too were distant relatives of the Israelites. They were a warring people who posed a perennial problem for the Israelites throughout their history. When God released the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He had chosen to send them via a route that would avoid any conflict with the Philistines.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” – Exodus 13:17 NLT

God knew that an encounter with the Philistines might dissuade His people from attempting to enter the land He had promised them, so He sent them on a lengthier and more circuitous way.

As they had done throughout their hostile history with Israel, the Philistines would take advantage of the northern kingdom’s fall to the Assyrians, confiscating their land and plundering their cities. And when Jerusalem came under siege by the Babylonians, the Philistines would use Judah’s suffering as an opportunity to extend their own borders and enrich their coffers. But they would pay dearly for their efforts.

“I will raise my fist of judgment against the land of the Philistines. I will wipe out the Kerethites and utterly destroy the people who live by the sea. I will execute terrible vengeance against them to punish them for what they have done.” – Ezekiel 25:16-17 NLT

Each of these nations had direct ties to the people of God. Yet they had chosen to rejoice at Israel’s suffering and profit from their loss. But when God was done punishing His disobedient people, He would turn His wrath upon their enemies. When the dust settled and the judgment of God had run its course, everyone would know that He alone was God. He warns the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Philistines, “when I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 25:17 NLT).

And the prophet, Isaiah, predicts a future day when the once-divided nations of Israel and Judah will be reunited and they will wreak vengeance upon all their former enemies.

Then at last the jealousy between Israel and Judah will end.
    They will not be rivals anymore.
They will join forces to swoop down on Philistia to the west.
    Together they will attack and plunder the nations to the east.
They will occupy the lands of Edom and Moab,
    and Ammon will obey them. – Isaiah 11:13-14 NLT

God was going to judge His rebellious people, but He was not done with them. He would not renege on His commitment to them. And while the surrounding nations might see the fall of Israel and Judah as a godsend, they would one day experience the miracle of their complete revitalization and restoration as God’s chosen people. As God told Isaiah, the day was coming when all His promises to His people will be fulfilled and their fortunes will be restored.

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
    to bring back the remnant of his people—
those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt;
    in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam;
    in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.
He will raise a flag among the nations
    and assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 11:11-12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Vision of Things to Come

15 And he took up his discourse and said,

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
    and knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
    falling down with his eyes uncovered:
17 I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
18 Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!”

20 Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said,

“Amalek was the first among the nations,
    but its end is utter destruction.”

21 And he looked on the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said,

“Enduring is your dwelling place,
    and your nest is set in the rock.
22 Nevertheless, Kain shall be burned
    when Asshur takes you away captive.”

23 And he took up his discourse and said,

“Alas, who shall live when God does this?
24     But ships shall come from Kittim
and shall afflict Asshur and Eber;
    and he too shall come to utter destruction.”

25 Then Balaam rose and went back to his place. And Balak also went his way. Numbers 24:15-25 ESV

Balaam, the seer, had seen and heard all he needed to determine the will of Jehovah. No more altars were necessary and there was no need to spill the blood of another animal. God had made Himself perfectly clear and had left nothing up to doubt or debate. While King Balak was still holding out hope that a curse of the Israelites was forthcoming, In a sense, Balaam was saying, “I can see clearly now!”

“This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
    the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
the message of one who hears the words of God,
    who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who bows down with eyes wide open…” – Numbers 24:15-16 NLT

There was no further need to consult with the Lord. This newly enlightened soothsayer was transformed into a spokesman of God and given a series of disturbing prophecies to deliver to King Balak. First, true to his reputation as a seer, Balaam spoke of seeing an individual whose arrival was sometime in the foreseeable future.

“I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near…” – Numbers 24:17 ESV

And Balaam informs King Balak that the origins of this coming one would be of a supernatural nature and accompanied by kingly authority.

“…a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…” – Numbers 24:17 ESV

From the very people group that Balak had hoped to curse would come a future king.

“That stars could be used metaphorically for kings is suggested by Isaiah 14:12, where the king of Babylon is called ‘Day Star’, and Revelation 22:16, which calls Jesus ‘the offspring of David, the bright morning star.’ That a king is meant here is confirmed by the second line of the couplet: a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, a sceptre being part of the royal insignia (Ps. 45:6; Amos 1:5,8; Gen. 49:10).” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

And that king will “crush the forehead of Moab” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). This appears to be a reference to the king of Moab, the title held by Balak. This bit of bad news only confirmed Balak’s earlier suspicions and further fueled his desire to see the Israelites cursed. They were a direct threat to his rule and reign.

But the news only gets worse. Balaam goes on to mention the sons of Sheth as well as the kingdoms of Edom and Seir. This coming king would break down and dispossess them all.

“Edom will be taken over,
    and Seir, its enemy, will be conquered,
    while Israel marches on in triumph.” – Numbers 24:18 NLT

No one would be able to stand against God’s appointed leader and His chosen people. That included the Amalekites and the Kenites. This future king would be powerful and successful in leading the Israelites against all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. And this prophecy was right in line with the blessing that Jacob had given to his son Judah centuries earlier.

“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:10 NLT

Whether he realized it or not, Balaam was being used by God to confirm that very prophecy. The promise of a future king who would come from the tribe of Judah was still yet to be fulfilled. There is sense in which much of this prophecy was fulfilled under the reign of King David, a member of the tribe of Judah. David would prove to be a warrior-king whose military victories helped put Israel on the map politically speaking. He would expand the boundaries of Israel through military conquest and create one of the most powerful nations on the face of the earth at that time. And he would bequeath that nation to his son, Solomon, who would continue to build and expand the kingdom of Israel. But the day would come when Solomon’s kingdom would be divided in half, never again to enjoy its former glory. So, the final phase of Balaam’s prophecy remains unfulfilled.

“Alas, who can survive
    unless God has willed it?
Ships will come from the coasts of Cyprus;
    they will oppress Assyria and afflict Eber,
but they, too, will be utterly destroyed.” – Numbers 24:23-24 NLT

This appears to be a reference to future kingdoms that will come to power in the region and attempt to overthrow God’s people. But even these powers-to-be will meet a similar fate as the Moabites, Kenites, and Edomites. They will be utterly destroyed by God’s people with the help of the “star” who holds the “scepter” in his hand. And the book of Revelation predicts this coming time when a descendant of Jacob from the tribe of Judah will bring victory over all of Israel’s enemies once and for all.

To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end,

To them I will give authority over all the nations.
They will rule the nations with an iron rod
    and smash them like clay pots.

They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star! – Revelation 2:26-28 NLT

And in Revelation 22, the apostle John provides insight into the identity of “the morning star.”

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16 NLT

Jesus is the one of whom Balaam prophesied. He is the one who will bring destruction to the enemies of Israel. And the apostle John was given a vision of this end-times event, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

There is no way that Balaam understood the full import of his words. He had no way of seeing into the future and identifying this conquering king to come. But once he had delivered his Spirit-inspired message to King Balak, he went on his way. And Balak was left to consider the words of Jehovah and the impact they might have on his life and kingdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Growing Confidence

10 And the people of Israel set out and camped in Oboth. 11 And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise. 12 From there they set out and camped in the Valley of Zered. 13 From there they set out and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord,

“Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon,
15 and the slope of the valleys
that extends to the seat of Ar,
and leans to the border of Moab.”

16 And from there they continued to Beer; that is the well of which the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—
18 the well that the princes made,
that the nobles of the people dug,
with the scepter and with their staffs.”

And from the wilderness they went on to Mattanah, 19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that looks down on the desert. Numbers 21:10-20 ESV

Having been denied safe passage through the land of Edom, the Israelites had attempted to make their way through the Negev. But their efforts were hampered by the Canaanites who occupied that territory. So, they reversed their steps and headed east around the borders of Edom and on to the western borders of Moab. This would have been a long and circuitous journey that left the Israelites frustrated by their slow progress. It was an unexpected and unwelcome detour that required the people of God to extend their time in the wilderness. But there was a reason for this delay. God was waiting for the last of the rebellious generous that had refused to enter Canaan the first time to die off. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls the nearly 40-year death march the Israelites were forced to make because of their disobedience to God’s command.

“Thirty-eight years passed from the time we first left Kadesh-barnea until we finally crossed the Zered Brook! By then, all the men old enough to fight in battle had died in the wilderness, as the Lord had vowed would happen. The Lord struck them down until they had all been eliminated from the community.” – Deuteronomy 2:14-15 NLT

And as that earlier generation slowly died off, the time was growing closer when the next crop of Israelites would face the decision to obey God and enter the land of Canaan. But as they drew closer to Canaan’s border, God warned the people to give the people of Moab a wide berth.

“Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT

When the very last member of the earlier generation died, the Israelites were given permission to cross the border of Moab and enter the land of Ammon,

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT

As before, the Israelites were to refrain from taking any land from the Ammonites. These people were close relatives of the Israelites and God declared their property to be off limits. God had awarded Lot’s descendants this land and the Israelites had no claim to it.

But the day came when God ordered the Israelites to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan. The older generation was gone and, after a nearly 40-year delay, it was time for God’s people to obey His command and enter the land of promise.

“Then the Lord said, ‘Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land. Beginning today I will make people throughout the earth terrified because of you. When they hear reports about you, they will tremble with dread and fear.’” – Deuteronomy 2:24-25 NLT

Moses attempted to negotiate a treaty with Sihon, the king of the Amorites, but he was not interested in peace talks. That’s when God informed Moses to drop the peace overtures and have the people pick up their weapons.

“Look, I have begun to hand King Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to conquer and occupy his land.” – Deuteronomy 2:31 NLT

And the victory was overwhelming. Moses indicates that “the Lord our God handed him over to us, and we crushed him, his sons, and all his people.  We conquered all his towns and completely destroyed everyone—men, women, and children. Not a single person was spared” (Deuteronomy 2:33-34 NLT).

Moses refers to “the Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14 ESV. This was a record of Israel’s victories in the form of songs. The people were just beginning to witness the overwhelming power of God on their behalf. This victory over the Amorites was to be the first of many and it was intended to promote a sense of hope and confidence among the people of God.

After their defeat of the Amorites, the Israelites continued on to Beer, where God quenched the thirst of the people with refreshing water. And the people responded in grateful song.

“Spring up, O well!
    Yes, sing its praises!
Sing of this well,
    which princes dug,
which great leaders hollowed out
    with their scepters and staffs.” – Numbers 21:17-18 NLT

Israel was experiencing a sense of renewed confidence as they witnessed firsthand the power and providence of God. He was graciously preparing them for the days ahead and helping them to understand that anything was possible when they placed their faith in Him.

But while they were getting closer to the land of Canaan, they were not quite ready to take on the challenged that lie across the border. So, God continue to prepare them for the difficult days ahead.

Their enthusiasm, while admirable, would not be enough to bring victory against the nations living in Canaan. What the Israelites really needed was increased confidence in the power of God. Ultimately, the conquest of the land would be up to Him. They were going to need to learn to trust Him implicitly. Cockiness was not an acceptable substitute for confidence in God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

No Shortcuts to Holiness

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: 15 how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. 16 And when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” 18 But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” 19 And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” 20 But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. 21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.

22 And they journeyed from Kadesh, and the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24 “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor. 26 And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there.” 27 Moses did as the Lord commanded. And they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.  Numbers 20:14-29 ESV

The Israelites were nearing their final destination and as they approached the borders of Canaan, God was cleaning house. Chapter 20 opens with the death of Miriam. But the end of the chapter records the death of her brother, Aaron, the high priest of Israel. He too was disciplined by God for his part in the affair at Meribah. God had accused both Aaron and Moses of treating Him disrespectfully before the people.

“Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:12 ESV

While Moses had been the one to strike the rock three times in anger, Aaron had done nothing to stop his brother from disobeying God’s command. God had clearly communicated His orders to both men.

“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” – Numbers 20:8 NLT

But Moses and Aaron were fed up with the constant bickering and complaining of the people. Despite what God had ordered them to do, they were going to use this God-ordained miracle as an opportunity to teach the people a lesson.

Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. – Numbers 20:10-11 NLT

Moses, speaking on behalf of himself and his brother, tried to leave the impression that they were the ones who would meet the Israelite’s needs by providing water from the rock. In essence, they tried to rob God of glory. Then, by striking the rock rather than speaking to it, Moses violated the command of God. And God would hold both men accountable for their actions.

It was on the southern border of the land of Edom that God delivered the devastating news to Aaron and Moses.

“He will not enter the land I am giving the people of Israel, because the two of you rebelled against my instructions concerning the water at Meribah.” – Numbers 20:24 NLT

In a rather sobering ceremony atop Mount Hor, Moses took the priestly robes off of Aaron and gave them to Aaron’s son, Eleazar. It appears from the text that Aaron did not get to live out the rest of his life wandering in the wilderness, but died on top of the mountain while Moses and Eleazar looked on. They descended the mountain without him and the people of Israel mourned his death for 30 days.

Now Moses was alone. For nearly 40 years he had led the people of Israel with the help of his brother and sister, but their deaths had left him with the sole responsibility of getting the people of Israel to the land of Canaan. But Moses knew that he was never going to set foot in the land because of his role in the affair at Meribah. Like Aaron, he would be denied access to the land of promise and breathe his last breath in the wilderness.

But Moses continued to fulfill the duties God had given to him some four decades earlier. He mourned the loss of his brother but then set about leading the people of Israel to the border of Canaan. To do so, he had attempted to take a shortcut through the land of Edom.

Edom was located on the southernmost border of Canaan and was occupied by distant relatives of the Israelites. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob. When Esau had been cheated out of his birthright by Jacob, he decided to relocate his family to another part of Canaan.

Esau took his wives, his children, and his entire household, along with his livestock and cattle—all the wealth he had acquired in the land of Canaan—and moved away from his brother, Jacob. There was not enough land to support them both because of all the livestock and possessions they had acquired. So Esau (also known as Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir. – Genesis 36:6-8 NLT

Once there, Esau’s descendants prospered and developed a thriving kingdom. During the four centuries that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, the Edomites lived under a long line of kings (Genesis 36:31) and enjoyed a measure of peace and prosperity.

So, when Moses sent emissaries to the king of Edom seeking permission to pass through their territory, he expected a favorable response.

“This is what your relatives, the people of Israel, say: You know all the hardships we have been through. Our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived there a long time, and we and our ancestors were brutally mistreated by the Egyptians. But when we cried out to the Lord, he heard us and sent an angel who brought us out of Egypt. Now we are camped at Kadesh, a town on the border of your land. Please let us travel through your land. We will be careful not to go through your fields and vineyards. We won’t even drink water from your wells. We will stay on the king’s road and never leave it until we have passed through your territory.”– Numbers 20:14-17 NLT

The kingdom of Edom covered a large swath of land and without the right of safe passage through its territory, Moses and the people of Israel would be forced to take a much longer route around it. But no matter how hard Moses pleaded, the king of Edom refused to grant access to their land. He even threatened them with war if they tried. He even “mobilized his army and marched out against them with an imposing force” (Numbers 20:20 NLT). 

Rejected by their own kin, the Israelites were forced to reverse course and take the long detour around Edom. What’s interesting to consider is that the Israelites had always been led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. God had used these two phenomena to guide His people throughout their four-decade-long journey. So, was Moses’ attempt to go through Edom an unauthorized decision on his part? Had the cloud led him to this point or was the negotiations with Edom something he had come up with on his own? Was Moses trying to shorten the distance to Canaan by taking an unauthorized path through the land of Edom?

It seems unlikely that God would have chosen to use the Edomites to help His chosen people reach the land He had promised to provide for them. These two nations remained in constant conflict with one another long after Israel conquered and occupied the land of Canaan. And the book of Obadiah describes God’s anger against Edom for the way it took advantage of Israel’s later misfortunes when the Babylonians conquered them and left the land desolate and depopulated.

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.

“You should not have gloated
    when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
    when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune.
You should not have spoken arrogantly
    in that terrible time of trouble.
You should not have plundered the land of Israel
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have gloated over their destruction
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have seized their wealth
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have stood at the crossroads,
    killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
    and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble.– Obadiah 10-14 ESV

The Israelites received no assistance from their distant relatives and were forced to travel southeasterly toward the Arabian desert. This unexpected setback must have disappointed Moses and it’s clear from the next chapter that it left the people of Israel far from pleased.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. – Numbers 21:4 ESV

God was not done teaching them the lessons they needed to learn. They were not yet ready to enter His rest. So, God continued to purge their leadership and purify their hearts in preparation for the day when He would lead them into their promised inheritance.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Learning to Recognize God’s Love

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” – Malachi 1:2-5 ESV

Whether we can accurately determine Malachi’s identity or not is irrelevant. What is important is that the author more than lives up to his God-given title of “my messenger.” Every word he has recorded is a message from Yahweh to His covenant people, the nation of Israel. For generations, these descendants of Abraham had enjoyed a unique, one-of-a-kind relationship with God that had made them the beneficiaries of His love and blessings. God had set them apart and declared them to be His prized possession, among all the nations of the earth. When He had successfully freed them from their 400-year captivity in Egypt, God had led them to Mount Sinai, where He spoke to Moses and delivered give the following message:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

And the people had eagerly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). Even before God had communicated the terms of the covenant, they had agreed to keep it. They liked the idea of being God’s treasured possession, so they wholeheartedly declared their intentions to keep whatever conditions He set forth. But it was three days later that God called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai and delivered the content of the covenant agreement to which they had already pledged their allegiance.

When Moses returned from the mountaintop, he shared with the people all that God had told him.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:3-8 ESV

Moses revealed to the nation of Israel the Ten Commandments and all the associated laws that were intended to regulate their behavior as God’s chosen people. This God-ordained code of conduct was a non-negotiable regulatory document that would distinguish the nation of Israel from all the other nations of the earth. As long as they remained obedient to the covenant, they would be blessed. But should they choose to disobey, they would find themselves suffering severe and inescapable consequences.

But the history of the people of Israel reveals their epic failure at keeping their word. Once God had successfully planted them in Canaan, the land He had promised as their inheritance, they began to reveal their propensity for disobedience and unfaithfulness. They repeatedly violated the terms of the covenant and, despite constant warnings from God, they refused to repent and return to Him. Generation after generation carried on a dangerous love affair with the world and its many false gods, choosing the snub their noses in the face of the one true God. And eventually, God was forced to fulfill His warnings of retribution and destruction. That is why they had spent 70 years living as captives in the land of Babylon. God had warned them time and time again that He would remove them from the land of promise if they continued to violate His covenant and, in 587 B.C., the Babylonians had overrun the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and taken thousands of its citizens back to Babylon as slaves.

At the time Malachi wrote his message from God, a remnant of the exiles had been living back in Judah for years. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, the temple had been restored, and the sacrificial system had been renewed, but the people remained just as rebellious and disobedient as ever. So, through His “messenger,” God delivered a powerful reminder of His unrequited love and patience with his stubborn people.

Through Malachi, God declared the reality of His steadfast, unwavering love. Despite all they had suffered over the last 70 years, He had never fallen out of love with them. “I have always loved you,” He reminded them. And even their time in exile had been an expression of His affection because “the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 ESV).

But the people had a difficult time viewing the destruction of their city and their seven-decade-long internment in Babylon as evidence of God’s love, so they asked, “Really? How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2 NLT). From their perspective, it appeared as if God was angry with them and, even now, they suffered constant threats from their enemies and lived in a city that was little more than a shadow of its former glory. They had no king, no standing army, and little hope of ever seeing their fate reversed. As a result, they were distrustful of God, questioning His goodness and doubting His word concerning their wellbeing.

So, God reminded them of how they came to be His chosen people in the first place. He took them back to the births of Esau and Jacob, the twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. Malachi’s audience knew the story well. Before the boys were born, God had told Rebekah that the infants inside her womb represented two separate nations.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

God informed Rebekah that the younger of the two boys would become the greater nation. According to tradition, the elder son should have been the recipient of the father’s inheritance and the one to bear the blessing of the firstborn. But, through a series of somewhat underhanded, but clearly God-ordained events, Jacob, the younger of the two siblings, would become the next in line to receive the inheritance that had been passed down through Abraham to Isaac. Jacob had been “loved” by God.

“When He said here that He hated Esau, He meant that He did not choose to bestow His favor on Esau to the extent that He did on Jacob (cf. Psalm 139:21). He made this choice even before they were born…” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God had chosen to break precedence and set apart Jacob rather than Esau, and it had nothing to do with either boy’s value or worthiness. In fact, the apostle Paul points out the undeserving nature of either child and explains the sovereign nature of God’s will concerning His decision.

…before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

From a human perspective, it appears as if God showed greater favor to one son while disfavoring the other. But God did not completely abandon Esau. He simply chose to make His covenant commitment to the descendants of Jacob. God eventually gave Esau the land of the hill country, located around Moun Seir in Edom. In a sense, God blessed Esau by providing him with land as an inheritance, but Esau would prove to be unfaithful and idolatrous. His descendants, the Edomites, would be a constant thorn in the side of the Israelites. And when the Babylonians invaded the region, the Edomite cities and towns were also destroyed.

And when the Edomites declared their intent to reclaim and rebuild their devastated homeland, God warned them that he would prevent them from doing so.

“They may try to rebuild, but I will demolish them again. Their country will be known as ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people will be called ‘The People with Whom the Lord Is Forever Angry.’ – Malachi 1:4 NLT

The Edomites would become an illustration of the futility and hopelessness that faces all those who are not in a covenant relationship with God. The only reason the Israelites had been able to return to the land and rebuild their former capital was that God had ordained it. The decree set forth by King Cyrus of Persia that had allowed a remnant to return to Jerusalem had been God’s doing. He had orchestrated it all. And, in doing so, He had proved His love for His chosen people yet again.

As the Israelites looked around them, they would soon realize that none of the neighboring nations that had fallen to the Babylonians would experience the same degree of revitalization as they had. Not even the Edomites, the descendants of Isaac, would ever rebuild their cities or reestablish their hold on the land. And this should have caused the Israelites to declare, “Truly, the Lord’s greatness reaches far beyond Israel’s borders!” (Malachi 1:5 NLT).

Both the Israelites and the Edomites were descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and both had suffered the judgment of God, having been destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century. Yet only Israel had enjoyed restoration after judgment. Despite what appeared to be their less-than-ideal circumstances, the Israelites were experiencing the love of God in the form of His covenant commitment. He had restored them just as He said He would do and He was not yet done blessing them. But, as the following verses will reveal, God did expect to see significant changes among His people.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Weight of Waiting

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Blessed But Not Chosen

1 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.

Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together. The land of their sojournings could not support them because of their livestock. So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir. (Esau is Edom.)

These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. 10 These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Basemath the wife of Esau. 11 The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. 12 (Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.) These are the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife. 13 These are the sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are the sons of Basemath, Esau’s wife. 14 These are the sons of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon, Esau’s wife: she bore to Esau Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.

15 These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: the chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, 16 Korah, Gatam, and Amalek; these are the chiefs of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah. 17 These are the sons of Reuel, Esau’s son: the chiefs Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah; these are the chiefs of Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Basemath, Esau’s wife. 18 These are the sons of Oholibamah, Esau’s wife: the chiefs Jeush, Jalam, and Korah; these are the chiefs born of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau’s wife. 19 These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these are their chiefs. Genesis 36:1-19 ESV

Isaac has died, leaving his son, Jacob (Israel) as the heir of his estate and the recipient of God’s covenant promises and all the blessings it entails. And as Moses prepares to record Israel’s history as the newly designated leader of the covenant community, he provides a brief recap of Esau’s life and lineage. As the firstborn son of Isaac, Esau had been the rightful heir to the birthright and the blessing, but Jacob had managed to manipulate and deceive his brother so that he took possession of both. While time had healed the rift between these two brothers, they would find themselves going their separate ways. This chapter provides insight into Esau’s fate and a brief description of his family tree.

These first 19 verses seem painfully redundant because they repeat the names of Esau’s wives and sons three separate times. The first five verses list the three wives of Esau and the five sons they bore to him. Then, in verses 6-8, Moses list the wives and sons again, but adds the names of the ten grandsons born to Esau.

It’s important to note that Esau was a son of Isaac and, therefore, still a legitimate conduit through whom God would fulfill His promise to Isaac of many offspring.

“I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” – Genesis 26:4 ESV

The different between Esau’s descendants and those of his brother was that his sons and grandsons would not be considered part of the chosen nation. When Jacob had managed to deceive Isaac and steal his brother’s blessing, it had left Esau with nothing. When he begged Isaac to provide him with a blessing of his own, all he got was a rather weak consolation prize.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

Not exactly the winning number to the lottery. But God would still bless Esau by providing him with five sons and 10 grandsons and, as the text makes clear, most of these men would grow up to be “the chiefs of the sons of Esau” (Genesis 36:15 ESV). They would become powerful leaders in their own right and from them would come many nations, including the Kenizzites, Edomites, and Amalekites.

While Jacob and Esau had mended their relationship, their descendants would never see eye to eye. In fact, a growing hostility would develop between the two groups, as they eventually found themselves fighting over the land of Canaan. It didn’t help that the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, became pagans, worshiping the false gods of the other nations inhabiting the land of promise. Eventually, the prophets Jeremiah and Obadiah issued prophetic pronouncements that warned of God’s judgment against them.

This message was given concerning Edom. This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:

“Is there no wisdom in Teman?
    Is no one left to give wise counsel?
Turn and flee!
    Hide in deep caves, you people of Dedan!
For when I bring disaster on Edom,
    I will punish you, too!
Those who harvest grapes
    always leave a few for the poor.
If thieves came at night,
    they would not take everything.
But I will strip bare the land of Edom,
    and there will be no place left to hide.
Its children, its brothers, and its neighbors
    will all be destroyed,
    and Edom itself will be no more. – Jeremiah 49:7-10 NLT

The Lord says to Edom,
“I will cut you down to size among the nations;
    you will be greatly despised.
You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.
But even if you soar as high as eagles
    and build your nest among the stars,
I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord. – Obadiah 1:2-4 NLT

God would bless Esau, resulting in the formation of a variety of nations and people groups. But they would fail to honor God and worship Him alone. Instead, they would seek and serve the false gods of Canaan, resulting in the pouring out of God’s divine wrath.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.