The most important things in life are usually quite ordinary.
Genesis 35-36 recounts a season of returns, renewals, and partings. Jacob gathers his family and returns to Bethel, and later to Kiriath-arba. He calls his family to remember the covenant God had established, and God Himself shows up, renewing His covenant and giving Jacob a new name. Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, dies and is buried. Rachel dies in childbirth. Isaac, the patriarch, also passes away. From births and burials, to sojournings and parting brothers, this narrative of the family of Jacob is full of ordinary and important things.
These chapters of Jacob’s story reminds us that God is a God of the ordinary. In the midst of partings and returns, God alone is sure and steadfast because His covenant is everlasting. God calls His people to ordinary faithfulness, while He Himself is the root and guarantor of His promises.
Edom and Jacob, in this passage, represent two radically different economies when it comes to ordinary faithfulness. When Jacob assembles his family together outside Shechem, in the aftermath of Simeon and Levi’s rash violence, he beckons them to once again return to the Lord. So also, the Lord beckons us to return to Him—to cast aside our idols, our foolish love of the world, and return to “the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone” (Genesis 35:3).
The story of Edom, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast to Jacob. Esau, though he had mended much with his brother, established his home like the Canaanites (36:1) and went to a land far “away from his brother Jacob” (36:6). The details of Esau’s family history are minimal, but telling. Among his sons, one name stands out: Amalek (36:12), the father of some of Israel’s fiercest enemies. Later, the prophet Malachi would speak about the unfaithful drift of the sons of Esau (Malachi 1:1-4).
We are easily enamored with the spectacular glories of earth, which makes it hard to pay attention to ordinary, but more important, daily faithfulness. But that ordinary faithfulness, in God’s economy, is at the heart of what matters; it is where our fidelities and failures play out. As Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It is the ordinariness of Genesis 35-36 that is so profound: the journeys, returns, deaths, burials, partings, and the daily covenant faithfulness of God.
The gospel is not a Sunday-only religion. It affects everything. It is true in the most ordinary events of our lives. More than kings who rise and fall, the ordinary things have far greater impact on the shape and direction of our lives. May we, like Jacob, remember the God who answers us in the day of our distress and has been with us wherever we have gone.
Written By Caleb Faires