You know what we haven't had for a little while in through the whole Bible? A genealogy! Fortunately, we can remedy that problem today with Genesis 36 (link). I hope that you're as happy about that as I am :)
I think I've mentioned before (yep) that these sections of Scripture can be a challenge to get through. It's tempting to skip them outright, and it's tempting to add in all sorts of ideas about who the people were. You have to hit the middle ground. Scripture does not leave us with all the details of all these lives. Any fill-in information is brought to us without the benefit of being perfectly inspired. Plus, since I don't have a lot of resources on the shelf that deal with Esau's line, it's harder for me to get that information.
What can be done with what we've got, then?
1. As seems to constantly bear repeating: one husband, one wife just works better for marriage. That's the template from Eden, when things were "very good." All manner of issues today cloud that concept, but if we believe Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 then we see intentionality in this. Esau's life and the lives of his descendants drew additional complications from his polygamy.
2. Sometimes, you have to part ways: Genesis 36:7 shows Esau moving on when he and Jacob could not share the land. This is likely about more than just material—Canaan's a big space for sheep at the time. However, Esau had traded away his birthright to the space and so he moves on.
3. Did you notice the name Reuel? Does that ring a bell for anyone? It should. Reuel shows up as a name some four centuries later in Exodus 2:18.
Let's take that thought and jump to a conclusion or two. First of all, here's an assumption that I think you can count on: cultures and families re-use names. Seriously. I've encountered a few criticisms of Scripture that point out that the authors just reuse the same names and the claim was that it showed a lack of creativity in making up the stories.
Hogwash. It just shows that those critics aren't from the South. Around here, we use and reuse names from one generation to the fourth generation. We borrow from that family and this family and the other family. Proof? My son's name is my father's middle name, my mother-in-law's maiden name, and my last name (well, all of us in this house have that in common). My name matches several of the nuts going back up the family tree as well as being given me specifically to honor non-family members.
It should be no surprise for us, then, to find Reuel show up again in the time of Moses. We're not talking about the same guy, we're talking about someone named after the same guy.
There's a connection that traces here from Esau, out into the wilderness, and down into the land of Midian. This is how Moses finds a family that worships the One True God when he flees Egypt. This is how God provides for those 40 years in the desert as a shepherd for Moses before he spends 40 years in the desert shepherding people.
Esau leaves a mixed legacy behind him. Even the Midianites as a whole are a mixed legacy behind him!
Yet along the way, the worship of the One True God was continued in parts of his family.
What are the impacts of a life? The actions echo forward into time and are hard to stop. In time, some of Esau's descendants did what was right, but others did not. Mixing his obedience with disobedience leaves him with a mixed legacy.
Therefore, let us focus our lives on being as fixed as possible in our obedience!