Esau (“Red”, “Hairy” or “Rough”) is the older son of Isaac. He is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, and by the prophets, Obadiah and Malachi. The New Testament alludes to him in Romans and in Hebrews.
Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites and the elder twin brother of Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites. Esau and Jacob were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. Of the twins, Esau was the first to be born with Jacob following, holding his heel. Isaac was 60years old and Rebekah is believed to have been younger when the boys were born. Their grandfather, Abraham, was still alive, being 160 years old at that time.
Esau, a “man of the field” became a hunter who had “rough” qualities that distinguished him from his twin brother. Jacob was a shy or simple man, depending on the translation of the Hebrew word “Tam”. Throughout Genesis, Esau is frequently shown as being supplanted by his younger twin Jacob (Israel).
Birth of Esau
Genesis 25:25 narrates Esau’s birth, “Now the first came forth, red all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau.” In Hebrew, the name Esau means “hairy”, a wordplay on Seir, the region he settled in Edom after being 40years of age where he became the progenitor of the Edomites. The name Edom is also attributed to Esau, meaning “red”;the same color describing Esau’s skin tone (Genesis 25:25).
In Genesis, Esau returned to his twin brother Jacob, famished from the fields. He begged Jacob to give him some “red pottage” (a play on his nickname, Hebrew: Edom, meaning “red”). Jacob offers Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright (the right to be recognized as firstborn with authority over the family), and Esau agrees. Thus Jacob bought/exchanged Esau’s birthright.
In Genesis 27:1–40, Jacob used deception, motivated by his mother Rebekah, to lay claim to his blind father Isaac’s blessing that was inherently due to the firstborn, Esau.
In Genesis 27:5–7, Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son, Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for venison to bring home, Rebekah said to her son, Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother, Esau, saying: ‘Bring me venison and prepare a savory food, that I may eat, and bless you before the Lord before my death.'” Rebekah then instructed Jacob in an elaborate deception through which Jacob pretended to be Esau, in order to steal from Esau his blessing from Isaac and his inheritance – which, in theory, Esau had already agreed to give to Jacob. As a result, Jacob became the spiritual leader of the family after Isaac’s death and the heir of the promises of Abraham (Gen. 27:37).
Esau’s life was filled with choices he must have regretted. He appears to have been a person who made choices without considering the consequences, reacting to the perceived “need” of the moment rather than seeing what he was giving up to meet that need.
We can fall into the same trap. When we see something we like, our first impulse is to get it. But, immediate pleasure often clouds our sight of the future.
What are you willing to trade for the things you want? Do you find yourself, at times, willing to give up anything for what you feel you need now?
Ask God to help you clearly see the long-term effects of your choices today.
Esau was furious and vowed to kill Jacob (Gen. 27:41). Once again, Rebekah intervened to save her younger son from being murdered by his elder twin brother, Esau.
In his bitter anger, Esau overlooked the fact that it was a foolish mistake to forfeit his birthright to his brother in the first place.
Whenever we lose something of value, or when others conspire against us and succeed, anger may be the first and most natural reaction. In itself, that is not wrong as long as we direct that anger toward a solution and not toward ourselves or others as the cause of the problem. The alternative is to let anger critically impair your ability to make the right decisions.
Think about the things/people that make you angry. Where are you channeling that anger? Toward yourself? Toward the problem? Or Toward a solution?
* Jealous anger pollutes clear thinking.
So, at Rebekah’s urging, Jacob fled to a distant land to work for his uncle Laban (Gen. 28:5). Jacob did not immediately receive his father’s inheritance after the impersonation aimed at taking it from Esau. Having fled for his life, Jacob had left the wealth of Isaac’s flocks, land and tents in Esau’s hands.
Genesis 32,33 tells of Jacob’s and Esau’s eventual reconciliation. Jacob sent multiple waves of gifts to Esau as they approached each other, hoping Esau would spare his life. Esau refused the gifts, as he was now very wealthy and did not need them. Jacob never apologized to Esau for his actions; but, Jacob bowed down before Esau and insisted on his receiving the gifts. Esau showed forgiveness in spite of this bitter conflict. (After this, God confirms His renaming of Jacob as “Israel”.)
Genesis 26:34,35 described Esau’s marriage at the age of 40 to 2 Canaanite women. This arrangement grieved his parents. Upon seeing that his brother was blessed, and that his father rejected the union of a Canaanite, Esau went to the house of his uncle, Ishmael, and married his cousin, Mahalath.
Esau’s family is again revisited in Genesis 36.
Esau had five sons (Gen. 36:4,5).
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Esau was killed by Hushim, son of Dan, son of Jacob/Israel, because Esau obstructed a burial of mummified Jacob/Israel into the cave of Machpelah.
You can read Esau’s story in Genesis 25-36.