Esau

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Men in the Old Testament

  • Rebekah is barren until Isaac prays for her.
  • She becomes pregnant with twins and the two babies “struggle together” in her womb.
  • In her despair, she “inquires of the Lord.”
  • The Lord tells her that “two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
  • Esau is born first, the elder.
  • He is “red, all over like a hairy garment.” • His name might mean “hairy” or “red.” “Hairy” is a play on the word Seir. “Red” means Edom. Esau becomes the ancestor of Edom in Seir.
  • Jacob is his twin.
  • Esau is described as “a cunning hunter, a man of the field.”
  • One day he returns from the field and is starving.
  • He sees that Jacob has made a pot of red lentil soup and asks for some.
  • Jacob says first he must sell him his birthright.
  • A birthright recognizes the firstborn and gives him authority over the family.
  • As firstborn, Esau is the real heir and Isaac’s successor. Readers already know that Jacob will be given that privilege.
  • Esau says his birthright is of no use to him if he dies of hunger.
  • Jacob makes him take an oath; he does.
  • Esau despises his birthright.
  • When Esau is forty, he marries two Hittite women, Judith and Basemath.
  • This greatly displeases his parents.
  • One day Isaac calls Esau to him and says, “Bring me venison and prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
  • Rebekah overhears Isaac and, while Esau is out hunting, orchestrates an elaborate ruse so Jacob is able to steal Esau’s blessing.
  • Right after Isaac blesses Jacob, Esau returns from the field.
  • Isaac tells him he has already blessed Jacob.
  • Esau cries out with a bitter cry and asks for another blessing.
  • Isaac blesses Esau: “Your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth and the dew of heaven above. Yet by your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restive, you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
  • Esau hates Jacob and vows to kill him as soon as Isaac is gone.
  • In order to save her sons, Rebekah convinces Jacob to leave to go to her brother’s house in Haran.
  • Esau marries Ishmael’s daughter, Mahalath, hoping to please his parents.
  • Shortly thereafter, with his three wives, all his children, and his belongings, Esau goes to Seir.
  • Eventually Esau has five sons.
  • Little is known about his life there, until Jacob and his entourage are on their way back to the Promised Land.
  • Jacob worries about meeting Esau.
  • He sends messengers to Esau.
  • The messengers return to Jacob and tell him that Esau is coming with 400 men.
  • Jacob assumes the worst, so he sends waves of gifts to Esau.
  • He hopes to curry favor with Esau so that he will be forgiven.
  • The next day they meet. • Esau gives him a big embrace and falls on his neck and weeps.
  • Initially, Esau refuses Jacob’s gifts, saying he is very wealthy and that he has all he needs.
  • Jacob keeps insisting and eventually Esau relents.
  • The brothers reconcile, but Jacob never actually apologizes for his actions.
  • Jacob does, however, bow down to Esau.
  • Esau forgives Jacob. • He wants to escort Jacob back to Seir where he lives.
  • Jacob agrees and persuades Esau to go on ahead because he can travel much faster.
  • Esau leaves, but Jacob and his entourage go in the opposite direction.
  • Esau and Jacob meet again when they come together to bury their father, Isaac.
  • Esau is the progenitor of Edom, an avowed enemy of Israel.
  • According to the prophet, Obadiah, the Edomites participate in the destruction of the first Temple in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, possibly by encouraging the Babylonians.
  • Over time, the Edomites are awarded full responsibility for its destruction.
  • In Malachi 1:2-3, God states, “Jacob, I loved but Esau I hated.” In this case, God is referring to the nations, not the sons themselves.
  • In the New Testament, Esau is disparaged for thoughtlessly throwing away his birthright.
  • Hebrews 12 states that Esau is immoral and unreligious.
  • According to legends found in the Babylonian Talmud, Esau dies at the hand of Jacob’s sons.
  • Apparently, he does not want Jacob buried at the cave of Machpelah.
  • Jacob’s sons believe Esau sold his right to burial in the cave when he gave his birthright to Jacob.
  • In order to resolve the dispute, Naphtali goes to get documents that recorded their agreement.
  • While things are still pending, Dan takes a club and kills Esau.
  • Jewish tradition always portrays Esau in a negative light.

Bible Characters