We are studying Genesis 36 and the generations of Esau. Several questions arose that has generated some good discussion, but we are needing some help. The questions asked "Were Esau and Ishmael's families considered Gentiles? Or were they Jews? We are a little confused on when the Jewish nation was established and when were they first considered to be "Jews" or "Jewish?" Does not the Jewish faith trace its lineage back to Abraham, but was the Jewish nation built through Judah? As always, thanks for your guidance!
The word "Gentiles" just means "nations." It is used to refer to all the nations other than the nation of Israel. So the descendants of Esau who were the Edomites and the descendants of Ishmael who were the Arabs were a part of the other nations.
Israel did see Abraham as its founding father. "They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham"" (John 8:39). But this is because of the promises made to Abraham, which were passed down to Isaac, and then to Jacob who was also called Israel. Ishmael and Esau were not a part of these promises. "And Abraham said to God, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!" Then God said: "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him"" (Genesis 17:18-19). "Then Isaac answered and said to Esau, "Indeed I have made him your master, and all his brethren I have given to him as servants; with grain and wine I have sustained him. What shall I do now for you, my son?"" (Genesis 27:37).
Israel's laws were not established, however, until Moses lead the people out of Egypt.
After Israel divided under Rehoboam. The northern kingdom of ten tribes remained known as Israel. The southern kingdom, essentially consisting of the tribe of Judah was known as Judah. By the time of the captivity the people became known as the Jews (I Kings 25:25; Ezra 4:12). Even though all the Israelites were released from captivity by the Medo-Persians, the name Jews stuck with the people and that is what we see them predominately called in Jesus' day.