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What Happened to Esau?
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What Happened to Esau?

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Esau was the elder twin son of Isaac and Rebekah and the older brother of Jacob in the Old Testament. As the firstborn son, Esau was originally entitled to the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. However, through some unfortunate events and unwise choices, Esau ended up losing both his birthright and blessing to his younger brother Jacob. This had huge implications for the rest of Esau’s life and set up a conflict between the brothers that continued for generations.

In this blog post, we will take a close look at the story of Esau and try to understand exactly what happened to him and why. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Esau despised and sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew
  • He lost the paternal blessing due to Jacob’s deception
  • Esau became furious and hated Jacob, vowing to kill him
  • Jacob fled to Laban while Esau married local women and had children
  • Esau moved to Mount Seir and became the father of the Edomites
  • Jacob and Esau eventually reconciled when Jacob returned
  • The Edomites were longtime enemies of Israel throughout the Old Testament

Now, let’s dive into the details of Esau’s story and see what we can learn.

What happened to esau?

Esau Sells His Birthright

The story of Esau starts even before he and his twin brother Jacob were born. As Genesis 25:22-23 recounts, “the children struggled together within her. And she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb…One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.'”

So it was foretold that Esau, though being the firstborn twin, would end up serving his younger brother Jacob. This was opposite to the customary order where the firstborn had authority over the rest.

As the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter and outdoorsman, while Jacob was mild-mannered and dwelled in tents (Gen. 25:27). Isaac favored Esau, while Rebekah preferred Jacob (Gen. 25:28).

One day, Esau came in exhausted and hungry from the field. Seeing that Jacob had prepared a stew, Esau begged his brother to feed him some. Seizing the opportunity, Jacob offered to give Esau some stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright as the firstborn. Since Esau did not value the birthright compared to satisfying his immediate hunger and exhaustion, he agreed to the bargain. As Genesis 25:34 records, “And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

This foolish decision by Esau had huge consequences later on. By despising and selling his valuable birthright for temporary physical needs, Esau displayed shortsightedness and a lack of faith in God’s promises. As Hebrews 12:16 warns, he was “a profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.”

Jacob’s Deception for the Blessing

In Genesis 27, we see the next phase of the Jacob-Esau conflict when it came time for their elderly and blind father Isaac to give his paternal blessing. This blessing was irrevocable and would determine who would be the leader of the family after Isaac died.

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Since Esau was technically the firstborn, Isaac wanted to bless him. However, Rebekah wanted her favored son Jacob to receive the blessing instead. So she and Jacob conspired together to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau.

Rebekah helped disguise Jacob as Esau by covering his hands and neck with goatskins to mimic Esau’s hairy skin. Jacob brought his father a meal he had prepared according to Esau’s tasty game that Isaac loved. When Isaac questioned the quick timing, Jacob lied and said it was by God’s provision.

So Isaac ended up blessing Jacob, thinking he was Esau. He passed on the covenant blessing of Abraham, giving lordship and prosperity. Genesis 27:33 records Isaac’s reaction when learning he had been deceived: “Isaac trembled exceedingly, and said, ‘Who? Where is the one who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate all of it before you came, and I have blessed him—and indeed he shall be blessed.'”

Even though Isaac was distressed, he acknowledged that the blessing could not be taken back. This deceit by Jacob, aided by Rebekah, robbed Esau of the family leadership he was entitled to.

Esau’s Anger and Jacob’s Flight

When Esau returned from hunting and realized what had happened, he was devastated. Genesis 27:34 says, “When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me—me also, O my father!'”

Despite his pleas and tears, Isaac told Esau the blessing was irreversible. Esau then turned to thoughts of vengeance, as Genesis 27:41 records: “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.'”

When Rebekah heard of Esau’s murderous intentions, she warned Jacob to flee to her brother Laban’s house until Esau’s anger subsided. Genesis 27:43-44 records her words to Jacob: “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran. And stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury turns away, until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him.”

So Jacob hastily fled his home, leaving behind Esau in his rage over losing his birthright and blessing. This fractured the relationship between the twin brothers for the next couple decades.

Esau’s Marriages and Children

After Jacob fled, Esau realized his parents disapproved of his marrying local Hittite women (Gen. 26:34-35). So Esau took another wife to please his parents: “Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,’ and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Padan Aram. Also Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac. So Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had” (Gen. 28:6-9).

In addition to his three wives, Esau eventually had five sons: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah (Gen. 36:4-5). He accumulated many possessions and livestock in the land of Canaan. As Genesis 36:7 notes, “his possessions were too great for them to dwell together.”

So Esau moved away from his parents and brother and went to live in the hill country of Seir, located south of the Dead Sea. Genesis 36:8 says, “So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir. Esau is Edom.” This is where Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, settled for generations after.

Jacob Returns and Reconciles with Esau

After 20 years of living with Laban, getting married, and starting his family, Jacob desired to return to his homeland. He sent messengers to let Esau know he was coming (Gen. 32:3). They brought back the report that Esau was coming to meet Jacob with 400 men.

Fearing Esau still wanted vengeance, Jacob divided his family and flocks into two groups so that if Esau attacked one, the other could escape. Jacob also sent many expensive gifts ahead meant to appease Esau. Then Jacob spent the night alone wrestling with God in prayer, and had his name changed to Israel.

When the brothers finally met again for the first time in 20 years, Jacob humbly bowed seven times as he approached. But to his surprise, Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, kissed him, and they both wept (Gen. 33:4). The gifts pleased Esau as well. So rather than vengeance, their reunion reflected forgiveness and brotherly affection.

Genesis 33:9 records Esau graciously telling Jacob, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob urged Esau to accept his gifts, saying “I see your face as one sees the face of God” (Gen. 33:10). So Esau accepted and returned to Seir, while Jacob journeyed on to Canaan.

Their reconciliation removed the threat of violence and sealed the separation of the brothers into their respective nations – Esau’s descendants in Edom, Jacob’s in Israel. Though still rivals, they were at peace. But this change of heart in Esau came after losing his birthright and blessing, and decades separated from Jacob. The consequences of previous mistakes can bring humility and wisdom.

The Edomites: Perpetual Enemies of Israel

Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, settled in Mount Seir and became neighbors and rivals of Israel throughout the Old Testament period. They descended from Esau’s three wives: Adah, Basemath, and Mahalath (Gen. 36:1-3).

The Edomites refused to let the Israelites pass through their land during the Exodus journey to Canaan (Numbers 20:18-21). As Israel wandered the wilderness 40 years, the Edomites harassed them along their borders (Numbers 33:55-56).

After entering Canaan under Joshua, frequent border skirmishes continued between Israel and Edom (Judges 11:17). King Saul fought the Edomites (1 Samuel 14:47) and David established garrisons in Edom (2 Samuel 8:13-14).

Later, during the reign of Jehoram, Edom successfully rebelled against Judah and became an independent kingdom (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were often sympathetic towards Judah’s enemies like Babylon (Psalm 137:7). The prophets repeatedly pronounced judgments on Edom for aggression against Israel (Isaiah 34:5-8, Jeremiah 49:7-22, Ezekiel 25:12-14, Amos 1:11-12).

So the rivalry originating between Esau and Jacob continued as a national feud throughout the Old Testament. The Edomites epitomized hostility towards God’s people. They felt entitled to Jacob’s blessing but remained outside of it through unbelief.

Lessons Learned from Esau’s Life

Though Esau suffered misfortune and wrongdoing from his brother, he also contributed to his downfall through shortsighted and faithless decisions. What lessons can believers today learn from Esau’s life?

First, do not sell your spiritual birthright for temporary appeasement of fleshly appetites. Esau’s sensual impulses kept him from valuing the lasting heritage of his firstborn status. God’s blessings must not be sacrificed for physical cravings.

Second, do not let bitterness take root in your heart, even when wronged. Esau harbored vengeful hatred towards Jacob for many years. This only hurt himself spiritually and tormented his soul. Forgive others and leave judgment to God.

Third, repentance and reconciliation are possible, even after long periods of strife. Esau’s unexpected forgiveness of Jacob shows that with humility and maturity, broken relationships can be restored. It is never too late to pursue peace.

Fourth, believers should not marry unbelievers as Esau did. This brings moral compromise into the home. Godly and ungodly do not mix. Marry only those who share your faith.

Fifth, parents should not play favorites among children. Isaac favoring Esau and Rebekah favoring Jacob bred rivalry and deception within the family. Treat children equally.

In summary, Esau’s life illustrates the blessings of submission to God’s word versus following fleshly impulses. His example can teach believers important lessons today about valuing our spiritual inheritance, promoting peace, reconciliation, and godly family practices. By learning from Esau’s mistakes, we can avoid his regrets.

Conclusion

Esau experienced a life full of conflict, regrets, and enmity – beginning as Jacob’s rival in the womb, losing his birthright and blessing unjustly, and fathering a nation which warred against Israel for centuries. His life offers both negative and positive examples for us today. Let us choose wisely to walk in faith and righteousness, not repeating Esau’s mistakes but learning from them. May we value our spiritual inheritance highly, promote reconciliation, marry in Christ, and teach our children rightly by God’s grace.

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Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.