Jacob and Esau Part 2: A Silver Lining for Edomites
In this post, we'll conclude our look at all the Bible says about Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. We will see a picture emerge that reveals God's justice and love. As we understand God's entire relationship with Edom, we'll gain a better understanding of God, His word, and His sovereign plan.
We begin in 1406 BC. As Moses died, Joshua led Israel in a series of victories over the Canaanites. After this, the book of Joshua records that the tribe of Judah received the allotment of land in southern Israel, bordering the land of Edom, "Now the lot for the tribe of the sons of Judah according to their families reached the border of Edom, southward to the wilderness of Zin at the far end toward the south." (Joshua 15:1)
Why didn't God give Judah the land of Edom as well? Because Israel's great king hadn't come yet. While Numbers 24:18 prophesies Israel's king will one day conquer Edom, the Bible is also clear that God had given Edom its land for the time being (Joshua 24:4).
For the nearly 400-period of the Judges, the Bible records no battles between Edom and Israel. But during this period, Deuteronomy 36 indicates that the Edomites had kings ruling over them. Edom's monarchial government, along with many other nations, caused Israel to petition the prophet Samuel to anoint a similar king to lead Israel.
Israel got their wish in 1037 BC. Saul became Israel's first king and had success in his attacks on Edom (1 Samuel 14:47). But near the end of his reign, he partnered with an Edomite named Doeg in order to track down his greatest soldier David. Doeg knew of Saul's hunt and reported to Saul about David's whereabouts, 'I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub'... Then the king said to Doeg, 'You turn around and attack the priests.' And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he put to death that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod." (1 Sam 22:9, 18)
Why was Doeg so quick to report on David's whereabouts? Why was he willing to comply with Saul's death wish for the priests who helped David? He may have been motivated by stories of all the bad blood between his ancestors and Israel.
After David became king in 1010 BC, he decisively conquered the Edomites. Not only did his commander, Abishai, kill 18,000 Edomites in battle (1 Chr. 18:12), David also set up military posts throughout Edom (2 Sam 8:14) and required them to pay him taxes as his vassal kingdom (1 Chr. 18:11). The Bible credits Yahweh for granting David all these victories against Edom (2 Sam 8:14). In some ways this could be viewed as a partial fulfillment of Balaam's prophecy in Numbers 24. But we'll see the "full" fulfillment later.
Now there's a very dark side to David's conquest of Edom. David's general, Joab, attempted to eliminate the line of Edom forever by killing every single Edomite male (1 Kings 11:15-16). In addition to killing Abner (2 Sam 2:12-32), his cousin Amasa (2 Sam 20:9-10), and David's son Absalom (2 Sam 18), this act was part of Joab's habit of excessive bloodletting. I believe this was a sinful act due to its similarity to Pharoah and Herod's attempts to kill all Hebrew and Jewish male children in their times.
Joab may have thought he was ending the feud between Israel and Esau, but he was wrong. At the time of Joab's slaughter, Edom's king sent one of his young sons, Hadad, to Egypt with some of his court servants (1 Kings 11:14-17). Hadad lived under Pharoah's provision until the death of King David (11:19-21). Then he returned to become king of Aram, present day Syria, during the reign of King Solomon. The Bible describes Hadad as an adversary sent by God as a punishment for Solomon's choice to multiply foreign wives and worship foreign deities (11:1-4).
The next time we read about Edomites, it happens in a more positive historical setting.
In 850 BC, Mesha, a former shepherd who became king of Moab, decided he was tired of paying taxes to Israel; so he declared Moab's independence (2 Kings 3:1-7). In order to put down this rebellion, the new king, Jehoram, went to Judah's kings (Jehoshaphat and his co-reigning son Joram) and asked for help in putting down Moab's rebellion. They agreed and decided to attack Moab by a route through Edom. While they were going through, Jehoram asked Edom's king to join his coalition (3:8-9). After this coalition received and obeyed Elisha's wise counsel, God gave this coalition of Israelites and Edomites a total victory over the Moabites (3:13-27). This event was the only time Scripture records Edom and Israel joining forces.
Archeology Alert! It may interest you to know that in 840 BC, King Mesha of Moab wrote a record of his reign on a stone called the Mesha Stele. You can learn about a number of parallels between the Mesha Stele and the Bible's account of King Mesha here. It's an incredible confirmation of the Bible's accuracy.
Judah's king Jehoshaphat died shortly after this and his son Joram reigned in 849. In a move similar to Moab, Edom decided to revolt against Judah's subjugation after Joram was king (2 Kings 8:16-20). Though Joram attacked them, they repelled him successfully and established their independence (8:21-22).
In 797 BC, Joram's great-grandson, Amaziah began to reign. He led Judah to retake Edom by killing 10,000 soldiers and capturing its capital city, Sela (2 Kings 14:7).
About 100 years later, in 700 BC, the prophet Isaiah gave two prophecies about Edom (34, 63). In chapter 34, he foretold God's future devastation of Edom, "For My sword is satiated in heaven; behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom and upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction." (34:5)
The fact that God promised to destroy Edom causes us to wonder, what sin brought this judgment? Jeremiah (9, 25, 49), Obadiah, and Ezekiel (25, 36) all prophesy the answer: for attacking Edom's brother Israel during the Babylonian demolition of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
Obadiah helps us know the answer to the Numbers 24 prophecy. Who is the king that will conquer Edom? The answer is that it's Yahweh Himself. "For the day of Yahweh draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head" (Ob. 15). The final verse states where Yahweh will reign, "Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom will belong to Yahweh." (21)
When Yahweh reigns from Jerusalem, He will send His appointed "saviors" to judge the nation of Edom. This is a messianic prophecy that will be fulfilled in Jesus' second coming as He establishes His kingdom and rules the nations.
The final mention of Esau's descendants is in the New Testament, around 30 AD. During the life of Jesus on earth, Mark records that people came to see Jesus, "from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him." (Mark 3:8)
In that passage, people "from Idumea" refers to the Edomites. I call this the silver lining of God's plan for Edom. Why is it important to observe that they were interested in the message of Jesus?
First, it is significant because it challenges the long-standing animosity between Edom and Israel. Not only was Jesus an Israelite; He was a Jew from the tribe of Judah. But for many Edomites, this wasn't a reason to ignore Jesus. They learned He had a unique message and was doing powerful works. They came to Him curious about who He was. Edom's cultural animosity posed no obstacle to their desire to see Him.
Second, it matters because at His second coming, Jesus will bring judgment on the nations that have oppressed His people. But Jesus came the first time to offer the gospel to all nations prior to His judgment. Though God will bring judgment on the nation of Edom, He made a gracious offer of forgiveness of sins which individual Edomites heard and responded to.
Finally, this interaction with Idumeans is consistent with God's loving acceptance of other Gentiles such as Jethro the Midianite, Jael the Kenite, Ruth the Moabite, Rahab the Philistine, Uriah the Hittite, Naaman the Aramean, and many other Gentiles whom God drew to faith in Himself. Though God judged Edom for treating Israel shamefully, He blesses and saves those who honor His Seed, Jesus Christ.
As we understand God's will to save Gentiles, we can be reminded not to judge individuals based on nationality, but to seek their salvation. While God condemns nations, He promises that He will save people from every nation and bring them into His kingdom. Our treatment of others should be modeled on His example.
Every person needs Jesus. He desires all men to be saved and he welcomes all who come to Him. So should we.