By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
It is rare (maybe not so rare) that a group of people represent family and foe at the same time. This, however, is exactly who the Edomites are in the Bible. You will see they came from the same family tree as the Israelites, but their end was quite different. Let's take a look.
Who Were the Edomites in the Bible?
We learn from the book of Genesis that the father of the Edomites was Esau, the same Esau that was Jacob's brother. This is the familial connection between the Edomites and the Israelites. The recognition of this family tie was not lost even many years and generations later, which we will look at in a moment.
When you investigate Genesis, you will discover that Esau was referred to as Edom, where we get the name Edomites. He was also known as the father of the Edomites. Consider these verses in Genesis:
"Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock. So Esau (that is, Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir. This is the account of the family line of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir." - Genesis 36:6-9
What Does Edom Mean?
The word Edom means red or ruddy. This was an appropriate description of the place of Edom, but also an appropriate description for Esau. In Esau's life, he was connected to red things.
Red Complexion: "The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau." – Genesis 25:25
Red Stew: "Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, 'Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!'" (That is why he was also called Edom) – Genesis 25:29-30
Red Country: "Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom." – Genesis 32:3
Scholars would tell you that one of the reasons the country was named Edom is because of the reddish sandstone that existed in the country. The man with the red complexion lived in a land known for its reddish sand. These are perfect complements of each other.
What Should We Know about the Edomites and Their History?
Consider the journey the Israelites took as they were wandering in the wilderness. "Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a long time, we made our way around the hill country of Seir." – Deuteronomy 2:1
Right away, I hope you make the connection with the hill country of Seir, because who settled in the hill country of Seir? You got it: Esau and the Edomites (That sounds like a 50's doo-wop group, but I digress). Let's continue reading.
"Then the Lord said to me, 'You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir.'" – Deuteronomy 2:2-4
Just for clarity's sake, the person God was speaking to about this was Moses. This was hundreds of years after Esau had died, and God still referred to them as family. This is also referred to in Deuteronomy 23:7: "Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you."
There is one other passage that points to the Edomites as relatives and gives greater insight into the possible tenuous relationship between the Edomites and the Israelites. In Numbers 20, Moses requests passage through Edom by the king, who refuses. When Moses sent the messengers to the king, he noticed how he referred to the people of Israel. Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying: "'This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us.'" – Numbers 20:14 The king refused them passage, and Moses and the Israelites turned away. I have no way of confirming this, but I wonder if this could have been a source of friction between these relatives down the line.
The Edomites Land Was Given to Them By God
Another important thing to know about the Edomites is that the land of Edom not only belonged to them but was also given to them by the Lord. "Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own." – Deuteronomy 2:5
Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. "They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession." – Deuteronomy 2:12
From Family to Foe
After Deuteronomy, the next time we see the Edomites, they are not family but enemies. Here are some examples.
"After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them." – 1 Kings 14:47
"Then the Lord raised up against Solomon an adversary, Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom. Earlier when David was fighting with Edom, Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead, had struck down all the men in Edom. Joab and all the Israelites stayed there for six months, until they had destroyed all the men in Edom." – 1 Kings 11:14-16
"King David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold he had taken from all these nations: Edom and Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines, and Amalek. Abishai son of Zeruiah struck down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He put garrisons in Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went." – 1 Chronicles 18:11-13
The Bible does not give us a clear indication of when they went from family to foe, but clearly, they were enemies of Israel.
The End of Edom
As you progress through the Old Testament, there are predictions given regarding the end of Edom. The prophets, six of them, predict the destruction of Edom and God's judgment being poured out on them. Here is one example.
"The word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir; prophesy against it and say: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Mount Seir, and I will stretch out my hand against you and make you a desolate waste. I will turn your towns into ruins and you will be desolate. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'" – Ezekiel 35:1-4
This is one example of several prophecies made against Edom, and they were fulfilled. One scholar even said that Edom was so thoroughly destroyed that some historians did not believe Edom ever really existed. Just a small reminder of the truth of the proclamations that God makes.
If I had to sum up the Edomites, I would use these terms - from family to foe, to finished. At one point, the Edomites were a blessed people who thought they were secure in their hill country. Truthfully, they were until God said they weren't. Once they were destroyed, they were never heard from again.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, teacher, author, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled to try to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.