Names, Names, Names and More Names

Today’s reading: Genesis 36.

There are passages of scripture which try men’s souls. (And women’s.)

There are others that just try our patience. (And our agility at attempting to pronounce early Hebrew and Aramaic names if we somehow get stuck reading them out loud and in public.)

I like to think that a genealogical list like this was as exciting to the people who originally wrote such scriptures as baseball or football statistics are to a live-feed researcher at ESPN. It sure isn’t to me. (Neither are baseball or football statistics, though.) When I’ve tried yearly Bible reading plans before, I usually didn’t get far enough to get Bogged Down in Leviticus. I’d hit one of these genealogical tables and immediately put it aside as a cure for some future night of really bad insomnia.

However, my mom loves genealogy. I enjoyed a quick visit with her yesterday and the night before, and a whole lot of our conversation was centered around ancestors she had been recording in a “My Family” book that my daughter left with her months ago – and also ancestors and family in the updated version of the genealogical book that she and I published for a family reunion on her side (Ellmore) of the family … in 1984.

She sent them both with me. Even though the technology I used to set the type for the reunion book probably doesn’t exist anymore – so I can’t update it to match – I will keep them safe for future generations. Someone will find them interesting – maybe because they reflect something of how times, names, and hairstyles have changed.

For the most part, both of those books name and describe people with about the same gender balance that you will find in real life: around 50%-50%.

The names, names, names of Genesis 36 are the descendants of Esau, the Edomites, who moved away from Jacob/Israel’s clan for a lack of supporting resources for all their flocks and herds, and later became a nemesis for the expanding nation of Israel. Most of the names are male.

Sons were very important to the nomadic families of that era. Daughters, apparently, not so much. (I don’t know whom they thought would bear all the children that those sons would father. Maybe Middle-Eastern people of that time just had more of a “Y” chromosome predisposition.) But it was a prejudice that may go back as far as the phrasing of Genesis 6:4 and it yielded a custom – only males inherit – that remained universal in Western civilization until only a couple hundred years ago. Males became patriarchs. Males became chiefs. Males became kings. (Well, some slaveries to bloodline-determined royalty ended that custom, and far longer ago. The “Y” chromosome does not always triumph!)

Having a lot of boys probably meant that you had more strong arms (yet see the unnamed woman Judges 9:50-53), and wise leaders (but see Deborah, Judges 4), and willing shepherds (though see Rachel, Genesis 29:9) and capable warriors to defend the women and children (however, see Jael, flipping back to Judges 4).

Somehow or another, Jacob and Esau both got twelve.

That’s the main thing I get from this nominal chapter: there was balance. There may have been a saying later that “Jacob have I loved and Esau I have hated,” but God pretty much evened out between them the material blessings that counted at that time: flocks, herds, possessions, wives, sons. (Okay, Jacob had one wife more than Esau’s three.) Esau fathered twelve chief-kings. Jacob fathered the heads of what would become known as the twelve tribes of Israel.

But it was God’s sovereignty that determined which of them would be the ancestor of His Promised One; there could only be one. It was Israel.

The Promised One would be the King who would put an end to male-female hierarchy in His kingdom (Joel 2:28; Matthew 19:4; Acts 2:18; Acts 21:9; Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, etc.).

Maybe we’re not quite civilized enough that we’re there yet. But we’re inching toward it (remember, suffrage is still less than 100 years old in the United States), and there are still some Deborahs and Rachels and daughters of evangelists named Philip among us.

Thank God for them.

And let them speak of the Promised One of Israel.

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