The Story of Esau and Jacob
Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. (Genesis 25:20) After twenty years of marriage, they still had no children because Rebekah was barren. Distressed and impatient, Isaac prayed and asked the Lord to open Rebekah’s womb.
The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah became pregnant, but her pregnancy was troublesome. It seemed as though a great battle was taking place within her abdomen and the tumult became so vigorous that she asked the Lord about it! “The Lord said to her, 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.” (Genesis 25:23)
“When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau [meaning: the red man]. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob [meaning: the sneaky one, the cheater].
Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:24-28, insertions mine)
“Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished! (That is why he was also called Edom [the red man].) Jacob replied, First sell me your birthright.
Look, I am about to die, Esau said. What good is the birthright to me [if I am dead]? But Jacob said, Swear to me first. So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised [was not interested in the possessions or the obligations of] his birthright.” (Genesis 25:29-34, insertions mine)
Esau cared so little for the birthright that belonged to him because he loved the open country; he was a born explorer. He wanted to go where no one else had gone. Esau possessed the mind of a hunter/warrior. Esau was much like those who would come after him in history like Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Daniel Boone, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark gifted men who were determined to discover the length and breadth of the world. Esau was not content to be confined to a homestead and a garden.
He was not interested in tending sheep. He was not interested in settling down and becoming the spiritual leader of a nation. Esau was a free spirit who truly loved to roam the earth, and his father, Isaac, who grew up tending sheep and taking care of the home place admired the bold and adventuresome spirit of his firstborn son, Esau.
Rebekah loved Jacob because he was a “mother’s boy.” Jacob lived in the shadow of his stronger brother. Esau was physically agile, skilled in the use of weapons, and clever as a wilderness survivor/hunter. Jacob was studious and content to live “among the tents.”
As he began to understand the covenant which God had given his grandfather, Abraham, Jacob coveted the birthright that he had missed by a few measly seconds! Jacob had a heart for God. He was aware of the prophecy God gave Rebekah, but he could not figure out how “the older will serve the younger.” He could only wait upon the Lord. As far as Rebekah was concerned, she favored Jacob. She wanted Isaac’s birthright passed on to Jacob because she knew that Jacob was a spiritual man, a man who loved God.
In spite of what many people think, the Bible does not indicate that Esau was an evil man although he did have some missteps. When Esau was forty, he went against his parents wishes and married two Canaanites. (Genesis 26:34) While Esau was entitled to Isaac’s birthright (and the responsibilities that went with the birthright), he did not care for it.
However, he did want his father’s blessing. Esau and Isaac were very close and Isaac intended to bestow the birthright blessing upon Esau before he died (Genesis 27:4). I am sure that Isaac would not have done this if he thought Esau was not worthy of the birthright.
Esau and Jacob had serious character flaws (don’t we all?). Esau shirked his responsibilities as Isaac’s firstborn and he showed no interest in the covenant God gave to Abraham. On the other hand, mild-mannered Jacob was greedy, a liar, and a sneaky cheat. It is interesting to see how Jacob’s dishonesty and Esau’s indifference intersected. When Esau came in from a hunt that produced nothing, Jacob leveraged the birthright out of Esau. Jacob’s greed enabled him to take advantage of his brother.
His act was despicable and evil in God’s sight. (Leviticus 25:17; Deuteronomy 24:14,15) Esau, who regarded the obligations of his birthright as an unnecessary burden, let them go for a bowl of lentils. Esau was not worried because (a) he was much closer to his father than Jacob, and (b) both men knew that to make the birthright transfer legitimate, there was another hurdle their father’s approval and blessing.
One day, Rebekah overheard Isaac (who was blind) tell Esau to go on a hunt. Isaac wanted a tasty meal of wild game so that he could pronounce the birthright blessing upon Esau before he died. Rebekah raced to Jacob’s tent with a plan and Jacob’s greed caused him to conspire with his mother to steal Esau’s blessing so that the birthright transfer could be consummated.
This fact may surprise you, but Esau and Jacob were seventy years old. (Note: As I calculate it, Jacob was about 70 years old when he deceived his father, Isaac. Here is the evidence: (a) Jacob was 130 years old when he moved into Egypt. (b) Joseph was 39 or 40 when his father moved into Egypt. (Genesis 41:46,48; 45:4-6) (c) Joseph was born during Jacob’s twentieth year with Laban (Genesis 30:25; 31:38). So, 130 minus 40 minus 20 equals 70.)
“Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. He went to his father and said, My father. Yes, my son, he answered. Who is it? Jacob said to his father, I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.
Isaac asked his son, How did you find it so quickly, my son? The Lord your God gave me success, he replied. Then Isaac said to Jacob, Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not. Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau . . .
Then his father Isaac said to him, Come here, my son, and kiss me. So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.
May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” (Genesis 27:15-29)
Soon after Jacob left Isaac’s tent, Esau showed up with fresh game. Of course, Jacob’s deception became known immediately. Esau was furious, but he controlled himself out of respect for his father. He would wait and kill Jacob after Isaac died and in so doing, spare his father the agony.
Meanwhile, Rachel overheard Esau’s plans and she told Jacob that he must flee to her brother in Haran. Shortly after, Rebekah went to Isaac under the pretense of sending Jacob to her brother’s house so that Jacob would not marry a “Canaanite” as Esau had done. Isaac agreed and he sent Jacob away with his blessing. Rebekah and Jacob did not see each other again and Esau probably scorned his mother for betraying him. Sin always extracts a greater price than the benefit anticipated.
So, Jacob fled to the house of his mother’s brother, Laban. There, Jacob met a man who was a lying cheater, but was even more greedy than himself! For twenty years, Jacob was a victim of Laban’s dishonesty. Jacob was cheated out of his wife and he was cheated out of his wages ten times. (Genesis 31:41) I am sure you remember how Jacob worked for seven years to marry Rachel only to discover, when morning light finally illuminated the wedding tent, there was Leah! Now that we have examined something of Jacob’s conduct and character, we will examine Jacob’s conversion in Part II.