Esau – Twin Brother of Jacob

Profile of Esau, Who Ruined His Life With Poor Choices

Esau
Esau returns from the hunt; Jacob deceives his father Isaac and steals the blessing due first-born son Esau. DEA PICTURE LIBRARY / Getty Images

"Instant gratification" is a modern term, but it applied to the Old Testament character Esau, whose shortsightedness led to disastrous consequences in his life.

Esau, whose name means "hairy," was the twin brother of Jacob.  Since Esau was born first, he was the elder son who inherited the all-important birthright, a Jewish law that made him the major heir in his father Isaac's will.

Once, when the red-haired Esau came home famished from hunting, he found his brother Jacob cooking stew.

  Esau asked Jacob for some, but Jacob demanded that Esau first sell him his birthright for the stew.  Esau made a poor choice, not considering the consequences.  He swore to Jacob and exchanged his precious birthright for a mere bowl of stew.

Later, when Isaac's eyesight had failed, he sent his son Esau out to hunt for game for a meal, planning to give Esau his blessing later.  Isaac's scheming wife Rebekah overheard and quickly prepared meat.  Then she put goatskins on her favorite son Jacob's arms and neck, so that when Isaac touched them, he would think it was his hairy son Esau.  Jacob thus impersonated Esau, and Isaac blessed him by mistake.

When Esau returned and found out what had happened, he became furious.  He asked for another blessing, but it was too late.  Isaac told his firstborn son he would have to serve Jacob, but would later "throw his yoke from off your neck." (Genesis 27:40, NIV)

Because of his treachery, Jacob feared Esau would kill him.  He fled to his uncle Laban in Paddan Aram.  Again going his own way, Esau had married two Hittite women, angering his parents.  To try to make amends, he married Mahalath, a cousin, but she was a daughter of Ishmael, the outcast.

Twenty years later, Jacob had become a rich man.

  He went back home but was terrified of meeting Esau, who had become a powerful warrior with an army of 400 men.  Jacob sent servants ahead with flocks of animals as gifts for Esau.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. (Genesis 33:4, NIV)

Jacob returned to Canaan and Esau went to Mount Seir.  Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, became father of the Jewish nation through his twelve sons.  Esau, also named Edom, became father of the Edomites, an enemy of ancient Israel.  The Bible does not mention Esau's death.

A very confusing verse regarding Esau appears in Romans 9:13: Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (NIV)  Understanding that the name Jacob stood for Israel and Esau stood for the Edomite people helps us decipher what is meant.

If we substitute "chose" for "loved" and "did not choose" for "hated," the meaning becomes clearer:  Israel God chose, but Edom God did not choose. 

God chose Abraham and the Jews, from whom the Savior Jesus Christ would come.  The Edomites, founded by Esau who sold his birthright, were not the chosen line.

Esau's Accomplishments:

Esau, a skilled archer, became rich and powerful, father of the Edomite people.

  Without doubt his greatest accomplishment was forgiving his brother Jacob after Jacob had cheated him out of his birthright and blessing.

Esau's Strengths:

Esau was strong-willed and a leader of men.  He set out on his own and founded a mighty nation in Seir, as detailed in Genesis 36.

Esau's Weaknesses:

His impulsiveness often led Esau into making bad decisions.  He thought only of his momentary need, giving little thought to the future.

Life Lessons:

Sin always has consequences, even if they are not immediately apparent.  Esau rejected the spiritual in favor of his urgent physical needs.  Following God is always the wisest choice.

Hometown:

Canaan.

References to Esau in the Bible:

Esau's story appears in Genesis 25-36.  Other mentions include Malachi 1:2, 3; Romans 9:13; and Hebrews 12:16, 17.

Occupation:

Hunter.

Family Tree:

Father:  Isaac
Mother:  Rebekah
Brother:  Jacob
Wives: Judith, Basemath, Mahalath

Key Verses:

Genesis 25:23
The LORD said to her (Rebekah), “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (NIV)

Genesis 33:10
“No, please!” said Jacob (to Esau). “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably." (NIV)

(Sources:  gotquestions.org; International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, general editor; Bible History: Old Testament, by Alfred Edersheim) 

Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.