Esau was one of the most important yet controversial figures in the Old Testament. As the elder twin son of Isaac and Rebekah, Esau was the firstborn and entitled to inherit the blessings and birthright of his father. However, through a series of events involving his younger twin Jacob, Esau lost his birthright and his father’s main blessing. This leads to a lifelong rivalry and conflict between the twin brothers that shaped the future of God’s chosen people.
- Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac and Rebekah, twin brother of Jacob.
- As the firstborn, he was entitled to the birthright and his father’s blessing.
- Esau foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.
- Through deception, Jacob later stole Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac.
- Esau became furious and hated Jacob, vowing to kill him once Isaac died.
- Esau married pagan Hittite women, which grieved his parents greatly.
- Jacob fled from Esau’s wrath, not reconciling until years later when Jacob returned with wealth.
- Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, were perpetual enemies of Israel.
- Key Takeaways:
- Esau's Birth and Early Life
- Esau Sells His Birthright
- Jacob's Deception for Isaac's Blessing
- Esau's Anger and Reconciliation with Jacob
- Esau's Marriages that Grieved His Parents
- The Legacy of Esau's Descendants
- Lessons Christians Can Learn from Esau
- Frequently Asked Questions about Esau
Esau’s Birth and Early Life
Esau’s story began even before his birth, as Rebekah was pregnant with twins who “struggled together within her” (Genesis 25:22 NKJV). God told Rebekah that “two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 NKJV).
So it was foretold that Esau, being born first, would serve his younger twin Jacob. Esau means “hairy” in Hebrew, referring to his red and hairy appearance at birth (Genesis 25:25). He grew up to be “a skillful hunter, a man of the field” (Genesis 25:27 NKJV).
Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob because he enjoyed the wild game that Esau brought home from his hunts (Genesis 25:28). However, Rebekah showed greater affection for her younger son Jacob. So from the very beginning, there was a rift within this family between the twin brothers.
Esau Sells His Birthright
The first major event that defined Esau’s life happens in Genesis 25. Coming in famished from the fields one day, Esau sees Jacob cooking a stew of lentils. Esau asks his brother for some of the stew, to which Jacob replies “Sell me your birthright as of this day” (Genesis 25:31 NKJV).
The birthright was the highly valued firstborn’s privileges of inheritance and headship over the family. But in his impulsive hunger, Esau agrees, selling his birthright to Jacob for a mere bowl of stew. The Scripture condemns Esau’s choice, calling him “a profane person” for so lightly esteeming his sacred birthright (Hebrews 12:16 NKJV).
This fateful choice revealed much about Esau’s character. He was rash and impetuous, driven by temporal desires rather than spiritual blessings. The writer of Hebrews warns against being immoral and godless like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal (Hebrews 12:16).
By despising his birthright, Esau showed disregard for the spiritual blessings that should have been most important to him. This pivotal mistake would cost him dearly.
Jacob’s Deception for Isaac’s Blessing
In Genesis 27, we see the next significant event in Esau’s life. Isaac had grown old and blind, telling Esau he wished to give him his formal patriarchal blessing before he died. Rebekah overheard this and conspired with Jacob to deceive Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing instead.
Rebekah instructs Jacob to bring two young goats to her so she can make the tasty meat dishes Isaac loved. She dresses Jacob in Esau’s garments and covers his arms in goatskins to mimic Esau’s hairy arms. Jacob brings the meal to his blind father, deceitfully claiming to be Esau so that Isaac blesses him.
Just after Jacob leaves, Esau returns from hunting and prepares his game to bring to Isaac. But when Isaac realizes he has been tricked, he confirms that he has already given Jacob the irrevocable blessing meant for Esau. Esau weeps bitterly at this deception, begging Isaac for any possible blessing.
Isaac sadly responds, “Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing” (Genesis 27:35 NKJV). He prophesies that Esau would live by the sword and serve his brother, though he would eventually break Jacob’s yoke from his neck.
Esau’s Anger and Reconciliation with Jacob
Furious over losing his blessing, Esau vows to kill Jacob after their father’s death (Genesis 27:41). Rebekah warns Jacob to flee from Esau’s wrath and seek refuge with her brother Laban. Before Jacob departs, he receives Isaac’s blessing for prosperity, leadership over the family, and divine inheritance of Abraham’s blessings and the land (Genesis 28:1-4).
Jacob lives with Laban for 20 years, marrying Leah and Rachel and building great wealth. As he finally returns home, he hears Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men! Jacob fears Esau still intends to kill him. But Jacob humbles himself when they meet, calling Esau “my lord” and offering him lavish gifts (Genesis 33:8 NKJV).
In a surprise change of heart, Esau forgives and embraces Jacob, even declining his peace offering gifts. They both weep with joy at this reconciliation (Genesis 33:4). By God’s grace, the brothers were restored, though friction remained between their descendants.
Esau’s Marriages that Grieved His Parents
Another vital aspect of Esau’s life was his marriages to pagan wives that caused great grief to Isaac and Rebekah. The Scripture says when Esau was forty years old “he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34-35 NKJV).
Later, Esau realized his marriages displeased his parents, so he took another wife – Machlath, the daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:8-9). But this still did not remedy the situation, as she also worshiped false gods. Esau’s choices to marry pagan women outside the covenant reflected his worldly, faithless character.
In contrast, Isaac commanded Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman, stressing the importance of marrying only those within the covenant community (Genesis 28:1-2). Esau’s marriages became symbolic of his rebellion against the faith of his parents.
The Legacy of Esau’s Descendants
The conflict between Esau and Jacob set up a rivalry that continued between their descendants. Esau moved to the hill country of Seir and became the father of the Edomites (Genesis 36:8-9). The nations of Israel and Edom would contend for centuries to come.
When Israel wandered in the wilderness, the Edomites refused to let them pass through their lands (Numbers 20:14-21). Years later, King David conquered Edom and made them servants of Israel (2 Samuel 8:13-14).
The Old Testament prophets also foretold judgment upon Edom for violence against Israel (Isaiah 34:5-6, Obadiah 1:10-14). Yet God also promised that one day even Esau’s descendants would be restored and worship Him (Obadiah 1:18-21). The Gospel writer Matthew mentions Edom, picturing redemption reaching even Israel’s historic enemies (Matthew 1:1-2).
Lessons Christians Can Learn from Esau
Though Esau acted foolishly at times, his life offers vital lessons for Christians today:
- Do not sell your spiritual birthright for temporary pleasure: Like Esau, we can easily trade what is eternal for indulgences that never satisfy. Stay focused on treasures in heaven.
- Beware bitterness and unforgiveness: Esau harbored bitter grudges, though Jacob sought his forgiveness. We must let go of bitterness to walk in joy and peace.
- Guard against impulsive decisions: Esau was rash and emotion-driven. Godly wisdom comes from prayerfully seeking the Lord’s guidance.
- Choose spouses who share your faith: Being “unequally yoked” leads to great conflict and grief. Marry only strong believers.
- God can use anyone: Though Esau sinned greatly, God’s redemptive plan worked even through his descendants. No one is beyond God’s reach.
In summary, Esau’s life reminds us of the grace of God that works through even the most unlikely people and circumstances. By learning from Esau’s mistakes, we can grow wiser in pursuing God’s purposes and obey the fullness of Scripture.
Frequently Asked Questions about Esau
Here are answers to some common questions people have about this fascinating biblical figure:
Who were Esau’s wives?
Esau’s first wives mentioned were Judith and Basemath, both Hittite women who brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 26:34-35). He later married Machlath, the daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:8-9).
How did Esau and Jacob reconcile?
After being estranged for over 20 years, Esau graciously forgave Jacob when they met again, embracing and kissing him as they wept together (Genesis 33:4, 8). Esau refused gifts, showing he desired true reconciliation.
Did Esau have any children?
Yes, Esau had five sons with his wives: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam and Korah (Genesis 36:4-5). These sons became chieftains and fathers of the tribes of Edom.
Where did the Edomites live after Esau?
Esau moved his family to the rugged hill country of Seir, south of the Dead Sea. This land later became the homeland of the Edomites, who were known for their fierce warriors (Genesis 36:8-9).
Why does the New Testament call Esau “godless”?
The book of Hebrews calls Esau “godless” for selling his birthright and failing to treasure his spiritual inheritance. His worldly attitudes showed lack of faith in God’s promises (Hebrews 12:16-17).
Did Esau truly forgive Jacob?
Though Esau embraced Jacob warmly, there remained animosity between their descendants that suggests Esau may not have fully reconciled in his heart. Only God knows his heart for certain.
Esau’s life stands as a cautionary tale of squandering our spiritual blessings and acting out of ungodly passions. Through his conflict with Jacob that echoed through history, Esau reminds us to highly value our faith inheritance and walk in the Spirit’s wisdom. By doing so, we avoid much hardship and strife.
While Esau often failed, we serve a merciful God who worked redemptively even through his descendants. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. May we live each day under the lordship of Jesus, pursuing eternal treasures and forgiveness above all.