The Nations of the Bible: Edom

John David Clark, Sr.

This is the third in the BROADCASTER series on The Nations Of The Bible.

Location:

The Edomites lived south of the Salt Sea (Dt.2:8). At no time do we find them spreading very far to the east or west, but they did make forays into the territory of Israel upon occasion. Kadesh-barnea, in the Wilderness of Zin, along with the mysterious Mount Hor, where Aaron died, were all "in the [western] edge of the land of Edom" (Num.20:16; Num.33:37-39; 34:3). After Israel conquered Canaan, the border with Edom extended from the southern tip of the Salt Sea directly to Kadesh-barnea, and all this territory which bordered Edom belonged to the tribe of Judah (Josh.15:1). A list of Judah's cities which were in this region closest to Edom is given in Joshua 15:21-32. The territory of Edom is also referred to as Seir, the name of a giant who ruled that land before Esau's descendants conquered it (Gen.36:20-30). Five times, twice in both Isaiah and Ezekiel, and once in the gospel of Mark, Edom is called Idumea. The rarest title for Edom's land, and possibly the most ancient of all, is the land of Uz (Lam.4:21).

History:

Edom was a second name given to Esau, Jacob's twin. The word Edom comes from a word which means "to be red". Esau was, like David the shepherd-boy, "ruddy", or of a reddish complexion. He was also very hairy. In fact, he was born that way. Genesis 25:25 describes Esau's birth by saying that he "came out red, all over like an hairy garment, and they called his name Esau." Esau (Edom) was a cunning hunter, a man who loved the outdoors. He was the favorite son of Isaac, and he provided his father with many delicious meals of freshly taken wild game (Gen.25:27-28). Good as he may have been to his father, however, Esau's fatal flaw was that, to quote the New Testament, he was "profane". That is, he failed to put a difference between what was holy and what was not. After a particularly difficult and disappointing hunting trip, a famished Esau traded his birthright for some food (Gen.25:29-34). This was a shameful disregard for the precious family birthright (which in this family bore eternal weight), demonstrating that in Esau's mind the "here and now" held equal importance with eternal matters. This was also the event which led to his receiving the nickname Red, as Moses recounts in Genesis 25:30, "And Esau said unto Jacob, `Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage, for I am faint.' Therefore was his name called Edom [Red]." Esau would show respect for holy things only when it did not inconvenience him in his personal pursuits and desires. God's response to Esau's outlook on life was, in Malachi's words, "I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau" (Mal.1:2-3).

Esau was never able to understand what pleased God. He had a great mind for survival on earth, but to inconvenience himself to attain heavenly treasures never made sense to him, though when he realized that he had lost both his birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, he wept bitterly and begged, to no avail, to have it back (Heb.12:17). Like their father Esau, the Edomites could hardly distinguish between the holy and the ordinary. With the Moabites and Ammonites, they maintained that Israel was no different from any other nation on earth (Ezek.25:8). Another outstanding quality of the Edomite people as a whole was pride (Jer.49:16; Obad.3-4). They were extremely confident of their security from attack, for they made their dwellings in high rocky cliffs, but their cockiness would not prevail against the armies which God would send against them (Jer.49:16, 20-22; Obad.3-4,9). God considered the boasts of the Edomites to be boasts against Him personally (Ezek 35:13). Accordingly, He vowed not to leave one Edomite unpunished (Jer.49:9-10) and to make their land as desolate as God made Sodom and Gomorrah (Jer.49:13, 17-18, 20). Their death cries would be heard all the way to the Red Sea (Jer.49:21). The Edomites were also noted for their ability to hold a grudge to the death. "Thou hast had a perpetual hatred", said Ezekiel (35:5).

The resolving of the enmity which had existed between the brothers Esau and Jacob notwithstanding, the animosity between Israel and Edom, the nations which came from those two brothers, developed into perhaps the most virulent and enduring hatred found in the Old Testament. King David fought with Edom and subdued it, as his predecessor, King Saul, had done (2Sam.8:14; 1Chron.18:11-13), and David's son, Solomon, demonstrated Israel's continuing rule over Edom by fearlessly using Elath as a port (1Kgs.9:26; 2Chron.8:17-18), as did the next four generations of the kings of Judah (1Kgs.22:48). Thus was fulfilled the ancient prophecy to Rebekah, the expectant mother of the twin boys, "The elder shall serve the younger" (Gen.25:23). Incidentally, Solomon did not allow the incessant hostility between his nation and Edom to interfere with his appetite for heathen women. Edomite women were among Solomon's many heathen wives and concubines (1Kgs.11:1).

One of David's and Solomon's most troublesome enemies was an Edomite of royal lineage named Hadad. He had fled from King David to Egypt, where he enjoyed political asylum, and even married Pharaoh's sister-in-law (1Kgs.11:14-20). Upon hearing of David's death, however, he returned to his homeland to fight for Edomite independence from Israel. He failed to win in his efforts against Solomon, of course, but the struggle for Edom's independence continued for a century longer, until the reign of Solomon's great-great-great grandson, Jehoram. During the reign of this wicked son of Jehoshaphat, and despite all his efforts to the contrary, Isaac's ancient prophecy that Edom would someday throw off the yoke of his brother Jacob was fulfilled (Gen.27:35-40; 2Kgs.8:16-22; 2Chron.21:8-10).

About half a century after Jehoram's death, Edom was involved in one of the most bizarre events in Israel's history. In a useless attempt to regain Judah's lost dominion over Edom, Jehoram's grandson, King Amaziah, attacked that nation and cruelly slaughtered 20,000 of the inhabitants, including 10,000 Edomites whom Amaziah led to the top of a high, rocky cliff, "and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces (2Chron.25:11-12). Having been given this victory over Israel's enemies by God, Amaziah, in a move which even the heathen could not have understood, took Edom's gods home with him and began worshipping them! This incredibly strange deed infuriated God, to the eventual disgrace of the king and great harm to the nation.

God had given the Israelites their own land and had given the Edomites theirs. He had promised Israel that if they obeyed the Law, no one would take their land, and He had forbidden Israel to take one inch of Edom's territory. Yet, conflict between Israel and Edom continued throughout the Biblical story. It appears that whenever either nation thought it could succeed, it would viciously attack the other, though Israel's righteous kings never did so unprovoked. About seventy-five years after Amaziah's insane idolatrous act, his great-grandson, Ahaz, under pressure from the invading and plundering Edomites, and from the Philistines, who had seized several villages in the south and west, levied a special tax on the princes of Judah and took money from his own treasury and from the house of the Lord to send to the king of Assyria for help. But the treasures sent availed nothing. Tiglath-Pilesar refused to help the beleaguered king, though he kept Ahaz' money (2Chron.28:16-21). And the relentless strife continued in southern Canaan.

The particularly brutal hatred which existed between Israel and Edom did not become its most intense until after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, about 150 years after Ahaz' reign. Throughout Israel's history, the wars with Edom were really no more gruesome and continuous as were Israel's wars with the rest of her heathen neighbors. Israel's history is a history of struggles for survival against everybody else (cp.Ps.118:10). Even now, with every news report and every new development concerning the Middle East, it becomes ever more apparent that that fact has not changed. The nations of the earth are inexorably gravitating toward a common political animosity toward Israel. It is ordained that, in time, they all will gather in one cruel accord to do battle against the Jews again, and it is also ordained that God will rescue them again, just as they are about to be annihilated and their situation becomes hopeless (Ezek.39; Zech.14:1-5; Rev.19:11-21).

The particularly bitter antagonism toward Edom came as a result of their cruelty toward the Israelites as Jerusalem was being burned. In the day the Babylonian army ransacked Jerusalem and marched its emaciated, naked inhabitants in a chained line away from their homeland, the Edomites cheered the heathen invaders, shouting "Raze it! Raze it! Even to its foundations!" (Ps.137:7), and rejoicing in the utter destruction of their old adversary, all the while boasting of their own security (Obad.10-12). A prime motivation for their joy was that they envied the Jews because of the land given them by God. They saw the destruction and captivity of both Israel and Judah and fully expected to possess the abandoned territories which, as they saw it, used to belong to Jehovah (Ezek.35:10-12). "Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea, " said the Lord through Ezekiel, "who have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds" (Ezek.36:5). God also condemned them for staring at their naked and disgraced kinsmen as they were led away captive, and for actually entering the burning city to help themselves to the spoils which the Babylonians left (Obad.13). Moreover, they set guards at certain crossroads and captured or killed those Jews who had managed to escape the carnage (Ezek.35:5), and had an agreement with both the Philistines and with those of Tyre, that if any Jew escaped to their country, they would take them captive and ship them to Edom (Amos 1:6,9). The poor among the Jews were mercifully left behind by the conquering Babylonians to tend the empty fields of Judah, but they were in constant danger of Edomite attack (Obad.14). As Amos put it, "[Edom] did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath for ever" (1:11). A few Jews found places of safety in Edom and in the other surrounding countries (Jer.40:11-12), perhaps finding a few humble souls there willing to take in the desperate wanderers (Jer.40:11-12). After all, there are almost always exceptions to the general rule. Those among the Edomites who did a good thing certainly received from the Lord for what they had done, and by their deeds they may have played a part in bringing about the only offer for mercy to Edomites ever recorded (Jer.49:11).


Back to Top