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Who was Esau in the Bible?

Abraham's son Isaac and his wife Rebekah had twin boys. Their firstborn was Esau and his younger twin brother was Jacob. Esau was given his name from his red, hairy appearance at birth. The boys' birth story was a reflection of their future roles. The pregnancy was tough for Rebekah. God told her "two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23). When they were born Jacob was holding onto his brother's heel and his name foretold his deceptive nature.

Esau was the victim of his brother's deception at least twice in his life. As they grew up, Esau became an excellent hunter while Jacob stayed near home. Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25:27–28). One day Esau came home exhausted and wanted to eat some of Jacob's red stew. Jacob agreed on the condition that Esau would give him his birthright. Blinded by hunger, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. He was foolishly swayed by his fleshly desires and "despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:29–34).

When Isaac was an old man and losing his eyesight, he asked Esau to hunt and prepare a meal for him. It was his desire to give Esau his blessing. However, Rebekah heard this and quickly advised Jacob to trick his father into blessing him instead. With his mother's help, Jacob dressed like his brother and wore goat hair on his arms so they felt like his brother's. She prepared her husband a delicious meal and Jacob served it to Isaac. Although Isaac questioned that it was really Esau, when he felt and smelled the goat hair, he was assured it was his oldest son and gave his blessing unknowingly to Jacob (Genesis 27).

Soon after, Esau arrived and prepared a meal for his father. He went into Isaac and both were overcome with grief realizing what had happened. Esau exclaimed, "Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing" (Genesis 27:36). Esau still wanted a blessing from his father, but Isaac knew there was little he could give him. Esau would have to serve his brother and would not inherit the land of his father. Isaac said, "Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke form your neck" (Genesis 27:39–40).

Esau planned to kill Jacob after his father died. Rebekah found out and told Jacob to flee (Genesis 27:41–45). Jacob fled to Laban, where he married Leah and Rachel. About twenty years later, Jacob's relationship with Laban became troublesome and God told him to return to his homeland (Genesis 31:1–3). When Jacob did so, he sent a lavish gift to Esau ahead of him and his party, hoping to allay any vengeance. However, Esau had forgiven Jacob and embraced him (Genesis 32—33). The brothers settled in different territories; Esau settled in the area of Seir, south of the Dead Sea.

Esau's descendants became the Edomites named from his nickname from liking red stew. The Edomites chose to worship pagan gods and did not get along with the Israelites. Although they would be freed from servitude to Jacob's descendants, they would one day be destroyed for their disobedience to God (2 Kings 8:20; Obadiah 1:18). Esau gave up his birthright to receive the blessing of God's covenant with Abraham. He chose the temporary pleasures of this world over the lasting treasures of God's blessing.


Related Truth:

What is the biblical account of Isaac?

Who was Rebekah in the Bible?

What is the biblical account of Jacob?

Why is knowing about the various characters in the Bible important?

What do we know about the Edomites?


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