The Edomites were the descendants of the biblical Esau, who was the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, the father of 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel. Genesis 25 notes that these twin brothers wrestled in the womb and that the older (Esau) would serve the younger: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23). When he was born, Esau was considered red and hairy (Genesis 25:25).
As an adult, Esau gave away his birthright to his brother Jacob in exchange for some red stew or soup because he was famished. This was noted as the reason he was called Edom since "Edom" in Hebrew sounds like the word for "red." Later, Edom's land would include the locations Seir (Joshua 24:4), Bozrah (Isaiah 63:1), and Sela (2 Kings 14:7, modern-day Petra).
In Genesis 36:31, the Bible records that the early Edomites had kings long before Israel had a king. The Edomites worshiped a variety of gods (the Jewish historian Josephus mentioned a god served by the Edomites named Koze) and lived in the land south of the Dead Sea that included red sandstone. In Numbers 20 the Israelites requested permission to pass through Edom during its 40-year wilderness journey. This request was turned down. Deuteronomy 23:7 commanded that the Israelites could not despise or hate the Edomites because of their family connection.
However, the Bible later records that King Saul attacked Edomites and that King David made them servants 40 years later. After the death of Solomon, the people of Edom rebelled and gained some of their former freedoms until they were later controlled by Tiglath-pilesar.
During the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem was attacked and destroyed. Psalm 137:7 mentions that the Edomites were involved in the plunder of the city. This action was condemned (Isaiah 34:5-17; Jeremiah 49:7-22).
Between the Old and New Testament times, the Edomites were once again controlled by the Jews and forced to embrace Judaism. In the Greek language that gained prominence during this time their name became the Idumaeans. King Herod was an Idumaean and ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus; he also commanded the deaths of all males two years old and under in Bethlehem in order to kill the threat of a Jewish king (Matthew 2:16-18).
The Edomites, by then known as the Idumaeans, would eventually disappear from history. One of the last mentions of the Idumeans was a reference to the land of Idumea by the church leader Jerome around AD 400. The prediction that Esau (the Edomites) would serve Jacob (the Israelites) proved true.
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