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Esau was nicknamed Edom, which means “red.” According to Gen. 25:29, 30, he got this nickname when he sold his birthright.
29 And when Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom.
Gen. 36:1 and 8 says,
1 Now these are the records of the generations of Esau (that is, Edom)…. 8 So Esau lived in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom.
Esau lived by the power of the flesh. But whereas Jacob tried to fulfill prophecy by the flesh, Esau tried to fight prophecy by the flesh. Jacob eventually learned his lesson, and when he ceased trying to help God, he became an overcomer named Israel. Esau did not learn this lesson, nor to this day have his descendants ceased to fight against the word of God, but have remained dependent upon the power of flesh.
Esau’s desire was to inherit the birthright on his own moral terms. He saw the birthright as his by right of birth, with no regard to his character. Apparently, Esau believed that as long as his father loved him enough to indulge his moral weaknesses, he would never be disinherited. So when he lost the birthright, he blamed Jacob’s deceit without taking into account the sovereign promise of God that had been revealed while he was yet fighting with his brother in the womb.
Esau passed his carnal viewpoint to his descendants. They desired to inherit the Promised Land, always believing it was rightfully theirs. So when Israel and Judah were sent into captivity to Assyria and Babylon, they rejoiced and seized the opportunity to lay claim to the land. They had already usurped the inheritance of Mount Seir, a story that is told in the ancient book of Jasher. Jasher 30:26, 27 tells us,
26 And in those days, in the land of Canaan, there was a quarrel between the herdsmen of Esau and the herdsmen of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, for Esau’s cattle and goods were too abundant for him to remain in the land of Canaan, in his father’s house, and the land of Canaan could not bear him on account of his cattle. 27 And when Esau saw that his quarrelling increased with the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, he rose up and took his wives and his sons and his daughters, and all belonging to him, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan, and he went away from the inhabitants of the land to the land of Seir, and Esau and all belonging to him dwelt in the land of Seir.
Esau moved to Seir during the time that Jacob was in Haran working for Laban. Jasher 30:23 says that Esau had already spent considerable time in Seir. When Jacob returned to Canaan with his wives and children, Laban sent word to inform Esau of Jacob’s return, and Esau then mustered an army from the men of Seir to kill Jacob. However, God sent angels (Gen. 32:1; Jasher 32:28) to put the fear of God into the army of Seir. Esau found himself welcoming Jacob instead of killing him. Jasher 32:40 says, “Esau concealed his hatred against Jacob.”
Many years later, after the death of Jacob and Esau, the Edomites fell out of favor with the people of Seir. They fought, and in the end the Edomites won the battle and then proceeded to kill nearly all of the people of Seir, sparing only a few boys for slaves and women for wives. Jasher 57:36 concludes,
36 And the children of Esau dwelt in Seir in the place of the children of Seir, and they inherited their land and took possession of it. 37 And the children of Esau took all belonging in the land to the children of Seir, also their flocks, their bullocks and their goods… and the children of Esau divided the land into divisions to the five sons of Esau, according to their families.
This, says Jasher, was how Edom came to inherit Mount Seir. Even so, they never lost their desire to expand their territory into the land of Canaan. When Israel and Judah were deported, the Edomites rejoiced and came into the land to occupy it in their absence.
And so many years later, Ezekiel prophesied to Edom, who was living in Mount Seir at the time, saying in Ezekiel 35:1-4,
1 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it, 3 and say to it, ‘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. 4 I will lay waste your cities, and you will become a desolation. Then you will know that I am the Lord’.”
The reason for this divine judgment is given in verses 10 and 11,
10 “Because you have said, ‘These two nations [Israel and Judah] and these two lands will be mine, and we will possess them,’ although the Lord was there, 11 therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “I will deal with you according to your anger and according to your envy which you showed because of your hatred against them…”
Again, God says in Ezekiel 36:5,
5 Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “Surely in the fire of My jealousy I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, who appropriated My land for themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and with scorn of soul, to drive it out for a prey.”
Here it is plain that Mount Seir and Edom are synonymous, and it supports the story of Edom and Seir told in the book of Jasher.
There are two conflicts in this situation. First, it is a question of who is the real inheritor of God’s promises. Second, it is a question of whether the inheritance may be obtained by fleshly means or by divine action and/or intervention.
Isaiah 34:8 (KJV) refers to this conflict with Edom as “the controversy of Zion.”
8 For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.
It is clear from earlier verses that God intends to destroy Edom and to consume their land with fire, such as what happened with Sodom and Gomorrah. That “fire” appears to be nuclear, because verse 10 says,
10 it shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall go up forever[olam, “indefinitely”]; from generation to generation it shall be desolate; none shall pass through it forever and ever [netsach, “altogether, completely”].
Isaiah had no concept of nuclear fallout or radiation, which can burn indefinitely. The real question is if this will hit the Negev, which is where Edom resided in Mount Seir, or if the destruction will fall upon Edom-occupied Palestine and Jerusalem.
During the Babylonian captivity of Judah, the Edomites apparently occupied Judea and Israel, at least to some extent, as Ezekiel’s prophecy indicates. However, Malachi, who lived after the captivity, wrote of a time when Edom would again occupy the land. Mal. 1:4 says,
4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.”
There is no historical record that the Edomites occupied the land of Judea after the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile. Did Edom’s Zionist dream end when Judah returned from its Babylonian captivity? In other words, did their dream end even before Malachi prophesied that they would indeed “return and build up the ruins”? How could God tear something down that was never built?
History tells us that Edom was conquered by Judea in 125 or 126 B.C. All of the Edomites were given a choice of becoming Jews or going into exile. They decided to become Jews, and so the land of Edom (south of Palestine) was incorporated into the nation of Judea.
This is recorded by all historians who write about that portion of history. The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote in 95 A.D.,
“Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea [Greek form of Edom], and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would be circumcised, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision and the rest of the Jews’ ways of living; at which time therefore, this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.” [Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, ix, 1]
The Jewish Encyclopedia (1903 ed.) affirms this, saying,
“They were again subdued by John Hyrcanus (c. 125 B.C.) by whom they were forced to observe Jewish rites and laws (ib. 9, par. 1; xiv. 4, par. 4). They were then incorporated with the Jewish nation… From this time the Idumeans ceased to be a separate people, though the name ‘Idumea’ still existed (in) the time of Jerome.”
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (1970) says also,
“The Edomites were conquered by John Hyrcanus who forcibly converted them to Judaism, and from then on they constituted a part of the Jewish people, Herod being one of their descendants.”
Such forcible conversion, of course, may have made them good Jews as far as the religious standards of Judaism were concerned, but it did not give them a spiritual relationship with God. They were converted to a religion, not to God. Nonetheless, after they were converted to Judaism, they “ceased to be a separate people.”
History thus tells us that the Jews and Edomites merged into a single nation more than a century before Christ was born. When the temple was destroyed, and the Jewish dispersion occurred, the Edomite Jews were dispersed as well and soon lost their identity as former Edomites. The identity of Edom ceased to be relevant to all except those interested in how the prophecies of Edom might be fulfilled.
The question is how could Malachi’s prophecy be fulfilled? In fact, how could Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled, whereby Edom’s territory was to be consumed by fire and brimstone perpetually? Certainly, this has never happened historically, at least not literally.
There are some who try hard to turn the present Palestinian population into Edomites, claiming that the Palestinians are the ones appropriating the land in accordance with the prophecy in Ezekiel 36:5. But the Jewish historians themselves tell us that the Edomites were converted to Judaism a century before Christ and have been known as Jews since that time. Hence, if today’s Edomites have “appropriated My land for themselves,” as Ezekiel 36:5 tells us, it is because the Edomites within world Jewry have occupied the old land of Israel.
Malachi’s prophecy of Edom is the first message of the first messenger. This suggests that the conflict with Edom was soon to become an important issue, not only during the time before Christ, but also for today. The incorporation of Edom into Jewry means that all end-time prophecies of Edom can only be fulfilled in Jewry.
In fact, it means that Jewry has two sets of prophecies to fulfill: those of Edom and those of the “evil figs” of Judah.
In Jeremiah 24 God differentiated between good and evil men of Judah. These were pictured as two baskets of figs, because the fig tree was the symbol of Judah. But not all fig trees are created equal. Some have good fruit; others have evil fruit. So it was with the people of Judah. Some bore good fruit; others did not.
The good figs in Jeremiah’s time were those who submitted to the judgment of God and went into captivity to Babylon without trying to fight the Babylonian army. Jer. 24:5-7 says,
5 Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. 6 For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. 7 And I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord, and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”
The good figs agreed with God and complied with His judgment, submitting as captives to the Babylonians, whom God had raised up to judge the house of Judah.
The evil figs, on the other hand, were those who disagreed with the divine judgment, believing that God would never bring such judgment upon them. They were the “patriots” of their day, seeing the Babylonian army as God’s enemy instead of God’s enforcer of the divine verdict. Jer. 24:8-10 says of them,
8 “But like the bad figs which cannot be eaten due to rottenness—indeed,” thus says the Lord—“so I will abandon Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and the ones who dwell in the land of Egypt. 9 And I will make them a terror and an evil for all the kingdoms of the earth, as a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse in all places where I shall scatter them. 10 And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their fathers.”
These are the Judahites who refused to submit to the divine verdict that was given earlier in Jer. 7:1-15.
Despising a verdict of the divine court brings the death penalty (Deut. 17:9-12). Hence, those “evil figs” who despised the verdict of God found themselves under a death sentence, even though God had given them that land. Their possession of the land was conditioned on their obedience and submission to the laws of God. They perceived themselves to be righteous in fighting Babylon, but in fact they were in rebellion against Him.
The same situation occurred in the first century. Jesus was a “good fig” in that He submitted to the rule of Rome, which was the fourth empire that God had raised up to judge Judah. Many of His contemporaries, however, chafed under Rome’s rule, following various self-styled messianic leaders who promised to overthrow the Romans. They failed, but worse yet, their rebellion caused Rome to increase its oppression in order to maintain control. Being carnal, the evil figs in those days were attempting to fulfill their understanding of prophecy by the power of the flesh.
Open hostilities broke out in 66 A.D., when the Jews rose up and destroyed Rome’s 12th Legion at Beth-horon at the feast of Tabernacles. Rome responded with a larger army and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This fulfilled Jesus’ words in Matt. 22:7,
7 But the king [i.e., God] was enraged and sent his armies [Rome], and destroyed those murderers, and set their city [Jerusalem] on fire.
In Matt. 21:19 Jesus cursed a fig tree as He was walking one morning to Jerusalem.
19 And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
Again, the fig tree represented the nation of Judea, as most Bible teachers know. The problem comes when those same Bible teachers refuse to believe what Jesus said. Such men teach that the Jewish nation will bear fruit at the time of Christ’s second coming, though Jesus said clearly that this tree (nation) would never again bear fruit. By teaching this, they are calling Jesus a false prophet.
Jesus later prophesied in Matt. 24:32, 33,
32 Now learn the parable from the fig tree; when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Most Bible teachers agree that this was fulfilled in 1948, when the Jewish state came into existence. In those days it was believed that Christ would come within seven years, and that the Jews would come to believe in Jesus Christ. When nothing of the kind happened by 1955, most of this euphoria was abandoned, but yet they continued to teach that the Jewish state was the beginning of the Kingdom of God and that it would bear fruit by recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.
If they had believed Jesus’ words in Matt. 21:19, they would not have made such claims. Jesus spoke only of leaves, not fruit. Leaves were the reason for Jesus’ curse in Matt. 21:19 in the first place. To bear more leaves in 1948 cannot reverse the curse. In fact, fig leaves have been the problem since Adam and Eve. Fig leaves are a false covering for sin. Fig leaves are put on by those who justify themselves when they ought to cover themselves with the blood of Jesus.
The Jewish state is misnamed “Israel” in order to deceive Christians into believing that the Jews represent all 12 tribes of Israel. When the state was ready to be formed, Jewish leaders gathered to decide what to name their new state. Some suggested Judea or the Kingdom of Judea. They chose the name “Israel,” however, in order to deceive Christians into thinking that this fulfilled the prophecies of Israel (the so-called “lost tribes”).
If they had been truthful, they would have named it Edom, or its Greek name, Idumea. The law forbade Israel (or Judah) from returning from captivity apart from repentance. In the Law of Tribulation in Lev. 26:40-42, we see that God would not “remember” His Covenant with Israel (or Judah) until they confessed their “hostility” against God—that is, against Jesus Christ, who is the Yahweh of the OT.
40 If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me— 41 I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.
The Jewish state (as a nation) has never made this confession, nor have they admitted their hostility against “Me” (Jesus Christ). Hence, the Jews could not fulfill this prophetic law, nor could they establish a true state of Israel or even Judah in the old land.
However, because Jewry had absorbed Edom long ago, the law allowed Edom to fulfill the prophecy that Isaac gave to Esau-Edom in Gen. 27:40, “when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his [Jacob’s] yoke from off thy neck.” Because Jacob had obtained the birthright and blessing in an unlawful manner, Isaac determined that Jacob would have to give it back at some point in order to allow the prophecy to be fulfilled in God’s own way and timing.
And so, even as Jacob pretended to be Esau to obtain the birthright (Gen. 27:15, 16), so also did Esau put on the garments of Jacob and pretend to be Jacob-Israel in 1948. The birthright, along with the name Israel, was given to the Edomites within world Jewry, the only people who could fulfill the prophetic verdict decreed by Isaac. In this way Esau’s rights as the first-born could be fulfilled without Jacob’s interference.
As long as the Jewish state exists as Israel, the birthright will remain in the hands of Esau-Edom. God has given Esau time to prove himself unworthy, time that Jacob did not allow while trying to fulfill prophecy by the power of the flesh.
The Jews have thus fulfilled a dual set of prophecies. The Jewish state represents Edom, who has indeed made good on his dream to “return and build up the ruins” (Mal. 4:4). At the same time, the cursed fig tree of Judah has brought forth more leaves (Matt. 24:32), as Jesus prophesied. But God will have the final word: “I will tear down” (Mal. 4:4).