The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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January 21

Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.

Reading 1 - Gen 36:1-3

"This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom)" (Gen 36:1).

He is called Edom (which signifies "red") here (and again, in Gen 36:8). By that name is perpetuated the memory of the foolish bargain he made, when he sold his birthright for a bowl of tasty beans (Gen 25:30). The very mention of that name "Edom" is enough to explain why his whole family is dispensed with in such a short account -- one chapter. "If men do a wrong thing they have only themselves to thank, when long after it is remembered against them to their reproach" (Matthew Henry).

The foolish decision to relinquish his precious birthright seems to have begun a whole string of other foolish decisions -- involving alliances with women, and families, of the land, peoples who cared nothing for the divine covenants of promise.


"Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite" (Gen 36:2).

Esau consorted with the women of the corrupt and rejected Hittites and Hivites. These were women of Canaan -- posterity of the cursed Canaan (Gen 9:25). It has been suggested -- on the basis of Heb 12:16, where he is called "sexually immoral" -- that Esau picked up his wives at Canaanite houses of prostitution and idolatry. (The names of his wives here seem to bear this out: see below.) If so, this was not only grossly evil, but it was an absolute departure from what his role should have been: as the firstborn, he should have been serving at God's tabernacle; but instead he was frolicking in the temples of iniquity.

"Adah" is a name which signifies "ornamental" or "bedecked"; this suggests an outward show, but no inward substance (cp 1Pe 3:3; 1Ti 2:9,10).

"Oholibamah" is a name derived from two Hebrew words: "ohel" (tent) and "bamah" (high place); this name strongly suggests a tent at the high place -- that is, sexual abomination at the scene of idolatrous worship! Notice the similarity of this name to Oholah and Oholibah, the symbolic names Yahweh gave to Israel and Judah, when they forsook their marriage to Him and became "harlots" (Eze 23).


"...also Basemath daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth" (Gen 36:3).

Basemath was mentioned earlier, in Gen 26:34, along with Judith of the Hittites. These two wives were a "source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah." [It is also noted that Esau had married Mahalath a daughter of Ishmael (Gen 28:9); this is possibly the same woman as Basemath. And since they were both described as Hittites, it is also possible that Judith (Gen 26:34) and Adah (Gen 36:3) were one and the same. It is also possible, for that matter, that these were even more wives!]

Such marriages were wrong on two accounts:

  1. It was a departure from the divine ideal to have more than one wife (Gen 2:24; Mat 19:4-6).
  2. Esau married women of the land (Hittites, Hivites, and Ishmaelites).

This is sad, and points a solemn warning to us. Marriage is a momentous undertaking, and for one of the LORD's people to unite with a person of the world is to court disaster as well as to dishonor God. Yahweh's instructions to Israel were very pointed: under no circumstances must they marry a Canaanite (Deu 7:3). In the times covered by the book of Genesis, though apparently no divine law had been given respecting it, yet the mind of God was clearly understood. This is evident from the care which Abraham took to secure Isaac a wife from among his own people (Gen 24); thus did he prevent Isaac from marrying a daughter of Canaan. But Isaac was careless about this matter. He failed to watch over his children so as to anticipate mischief. Esau, as we have seen, married daughters of the Hittites, Hivites, and Ishmaelites. God could not say of Isaac as he had of his father, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Gen 18:19).


The Scriptures abound in warnings against alien marriage. The sons of God marrying the daughters of men resulted at last in the Flood. Abraham and Isaac, faithful sojourners looking for the Kingdom, opposed such marriages for their sons (Gen 24:3; 28:1). The Law forbade the yoking together of the clean ox and the unclean ass (Deu 22:10). Moses said to take no alien spouses (Deu 7:3,8). Solomon's alien wives turned his heart from God (1Ki 11:1-11). Ezra (Ezr 9; 10) and Nehemiah (Neh 13:23-29) tell us of the evils of such alliances, and Paul has stressed the same:

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.' 'Therefore come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty' " (2Co 6:14-18).

Reading 2 - Psa 38

Psalm 38 is one of the penitential psalms (along with Psa 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143). These psalms probably refer to David's sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, and the aftermath.

Alternate verses -- 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 -- use the language of desperate illness. So, perhaps, not only did David lose four members of his own family as a direct result of his sin, but also he himself was punished physically by God. This affliction of David may have been leprosy, the sin-disease. (The word "sore" or "stroke" -- v 11, mg -- is used of leprosy 54 times in Lev 13; 14.)

Reading 3 - Mat 23:23

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former" (Mat 23:23).

"After all that the prophets had said, Christ needed to explain the law of justice again. His contemporaries were zealous for their traditions but they neglected the weightier matters of the law of God, justice, faith and love. They were eager to lade men with heavy and unnecessary burdens but they could not apply the just balance and just measure to the affairs of spiritual life. So has it been in later days. There has often been a passionate zeal for rectitude in little matters of form and expression, resulting in bitter criticism and often injustice to fellow labourers. We have a strong conviction that when the Just One passes final judgment, some well-meaning but self-centred men will be reproved because they have rigorously enforced so many rules of their own and have been neglectful of justice, mercy, faith and the love of God" (Islip Collyer, "Principles and Proverbs" 186).

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