Meet Esau: Jacob's Twin Brother

Esau paid dearly for making poor choices

Esau forgives Jacob

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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.

Life Lessons from Esau

"Instant gratification" is a modern term, but it applied to the Old Testament character Esau, whose shortsightedness led to disastrous consequences in his life. Sin always has consequences, even if they are not immediately apparent. Esau rejected spiritual things in favor of his urgent physical needs. Following God is always the wisest choice.

Esau's Story in the Bible

Once, when the red-haired Esau came home famished from hunting, he found his brother Jacob cooking stew. Esau asked Jacob for some stew, but Jacob demanded that Esau first sell him his birthright. 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 to make a meal, planning to give Esau his blessing after. 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 choosing his own way, Esau 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 the father of the Jewish nation through his twelve sons. Esau, also named Edom, became the 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.

Strengths

Esau was strong-willed and a leader of men. On his own, he founded a mighty nation in Seir, as detailed in Genesis 36.

Weaknesses

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

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 and warrior.

Family Tree

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

Key Verse

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)

Sources

  • Why did God love Jacob and hate Esau?. https://www.gotquestions.org/Jacob-Esau-love-hate.html.
  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. James Orr, general editor.
  • Bible History: Old Testament by Alfred Edersheim.