Biblical People

Biblical People: Esau

Esau is the oldest of Isaac and Rebekah’s twins. His father loves him, while his mother loves his younger brother, Jacob. Esau, also called Edom, will later become the father of a people called the Edomites.

The Bible records two key stories about Esau, neither of which works out well for him.

Esau grows up to be an accomplished hunter who loves the open country. One day after a long hunting expedition, Esau comes home famished. He smells the stew his younger brother, Jacob, is cooking.

“Quick, give me something to eat,” Esau says.

Jacob doesn’t. He sees an opportunity to best his older brother. “I’ll give you a taste if you sell me your birthright.” (A birthright is additional rights given to the firstborn son.)

“I’m starving,” Esau replies. “What good is a birthright if I’m dead?” 

He pledges his birthright to his brother and Jacob gives him food. Scripture concludes the story by confirming that Esau despised his birthright and the privileges of being the oldest brother.

If Esau is merely hungry when he asks Jacob for food, then selling his birthright as a quick way to fill his belly is indeed foolish. However, if Esau is dying from hunger, then he may indeed have easily given up his rights as the oldest son so that he may live.

Regardless, Jacob selfishly withholds food from his brother so he might usurp his brother’s position as the firstborn.

Our second story of Esau comes much later. Isaac is old and nearing the end of his life. He wants to bless Esau before he dies. But first he asks Esau to hunt some game and prepare his favorite meal for him. Excited, Esau heads out.

Rebekah overhears this and concocts a plan for Jacob, her favorite son, to trick his blind father into giving him the blessing instead of his brother. Her scheme works and Isaac blesses Jacob, thinking he’s blessing Esau instead. To accomplish this, Jacob first misleads and then lies to his father.

Esau’s incensed when he finds out. Though his father blesses him as well, Isaac has already proclaimed the best blessings on Jacob and has little left for Esau.

Esau begrudges Jacob for taking his birthright and his blessing. Esau’s anger simmers. He plans to kill his brother after Isaac dies. 

If we struggle with family relationships, what can we do to repair them? How can we better appreciate the family God gave us?

[Read Esau’s story in Genesis 25:24–34; 27:1–28:9; and 32:1–33:17. Discover more in Hebrews 12:16.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.