Who Were Esau And Jacob In The Bible?
BIBLE TEXT: GENESIS 25-37
The Bible contains lots of intriguing stories of great men who were flawed, yet became great heroes of faith. One of such stories is the story of Esau and Jacob, the twin children of Isaac and Rebecca.
These were twins of extraordinary characters, each of them unique in his way. Their fates were predetermined while they were still in their mother’s womb. God told their mother that the older will serve the younger, and this prophecy came to pass as they both journeyed through life.
Come with me as we dig deeper into the treasure of the story of these great sons of Isaac!
Esau was the twin brother of Jacob; both of them were born to Isaac and Rebecca in their old age. The Bible tells us that they struggled together in Rebecca’s womb, and when she enquired from God, she was told that each of the boys would be a progenitor of a nation. God also told her that the older of the boys would serve the younger. Esau was born first and thereby became legal heir to the family birthright which included, among other things, being heir to the Abrahamic covenant of God with Abraham, the father of many nations.
Esau was his father’s favourite. He was red and hairy. He grew up to become a skilled hunter, a simple person, impatient, an outdoor man and easily manipulated by his deceitful brother, Jacob.
One fateful day, Esau returned from the field very hungry and famished. He met his brother cooking red porridge, and he said to him, “I am so starving! Please give me some of the red porridge.” Jacob told him to give him his birthright in exchange for the plate of red porridge. In those days, the birthright is certain blessings and privileges which are passed down from the father to the oldest son. Therefore, by virtue of being the oldest son, Esau was entitled to the birthright. Esau replied, “Behold, I am so hungry that I am almost dying. What good would this birthright do to me if I were dead?” So he agreed to trade his birthright for a plate of porridge. Esau ignorantly gave away his birthright; therefore indirectly throwing away his blessings. Jacob then gave him the porridge. He ate his fill and went away. He never knew he would still seek for the birthright with tears later!
Years went by, and Isaac grew old and was about to die. He decided to bless his oldest son, but he would first eat from his venison (this was a special meal that sons prepared for their parents to eat and bless them). He called Esau and instructed him to go to the fields, hunt and prepare venison for him, so that he might eat and bless him. Meanwhile, Rebecca overheard the instruction and went ahead to tell Jacob, her favourite son. With her help, she prepared a goat and used the skin to cover Jacob in order to deceive Isaac into thinking he was Esau.
The plan was successfully executed and Jacob stole Esau’s blessings. Isaac almost discovered that Jacob had impersonated Esau. He said, “The body is the body of Esau, and the smell is his; but the voice is Jacob’s.” When Esau came back from hunting, and prepared the venison for his father, Isaac was terrified. His worst nightmare had played out right in front of him! The younger had taken the blessing meant for the older. This made Esau very bitter and resentful towards his brother, and he sought to slay him. In fear, Rebecca sent Jacob to stay with her brother Laban in Haran.
Years rolled by, and Esau became a very great man with lots of possessions and four hundred bodyguards. He forgave his brother Jacob and reconciled with him.
Jacob is the son of Isaac and Rebecca, and the twin brother of Esau. He was named Jacob because he was born grasping the heels of his brother Esau. His name actually means “deceiver, supplanter or wrong-doer”.
However, reading through the book of Genesis chapter 25 through chapter 37, we can see the story of a transformed man, who from being a deceiver became a believer.
From the beginning, in his early life, Jacob was a deceiver, an opportunist, a manipulator, and a liar; who has always wanted to take the place of his older brother Esau. He has always been after Esau.
Through trickery, he acquired both his brother’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of red porridge. Also, when it was time for Isaac their father to pass on the special blessing to the oldest son, Jacob through the help of Rebecca their mother acquired the birthright blessing meant for Esau.
When Esau found out that Jacob had deceived their father and took the blessing meant for him, he hated Jacob and said in his heart, “My father will soon die, and then will I slay my brother Jacob.”
Rebecca found out what Esau had threatened to do and called Jacob to her. She knew that the Lord had a special mission for Jacob, and she wanted to protect him so he could live to perform that mission. “Behold,” said she to Jacob, “thy brother Esau is planning to kill thee. Therefore, I arose and fled to Laban, my brother who lives in Haran. Stay with him until thy brother’s anger is turned away, and then I will send for thee.”
JACOB LEFT HIS FATHER’S HOUSE
Following his mother’s advice, Jacob left his home. Before he left, Isaac instructed Jacob not to marry any of the daughters of Canaan, but to go to Laban’s home and seek a wife there. Laban welcomed Jacob and took him to his home. He was pleased with his sister’s son.
And as the years passed, he married Laban’s eldest daughter Leah, and then her younger sister Rachel. He loved Rachael more than Leah, and for this reason, God blessed Leah with four sons while Rachael had none. After much prayer, God opened her womb and she gave birth to Joseph. He continued serving his uncle Laban for many years before he decided to go back to his father’s house to face his brother Esau.
ESAU RECONCILED WITH HIS JACOB
After leaving Laban, Jacob sent messengers to Esau, his brother. His messengers came back with the news that Esau was coming to meet him, bringing 400 men with him. He became worried that this was an army coming to kill him. Jacob therefore sent out a gift of livestock to Esau and cautiously began moving toward a place where they could meet.
After his party had crossed River Jabbok, Jacob sent his family and possessions ahead and spent a night alone. A man appeared who wrestled with Jacob. He refused to let go until after the man had blessed him by changing his name from Jacob (meaning deceiver) to Israel (meaning a Prince that prevails with God). The man replied that Jacob was wrestling with God himself.
The next day, Jacob returned to his party, and saw Esau arriving. He then moved Leah and her children to the front of his group, Rachel and Joseph to the back, and approached Esau in a humble manner. Jacob approached bowing and moving slowly, but Esau ran to him and embraced him. They wept, and Esau asked about the animals Jacob had sent, protesting that he didn’t need a gift. On Jacob’s insistence, he took the gift and returned home. Jacob traveled further into Canaan and bought some land that he settled on, naming it Elohe Israel.
Thus, the prophecy that the younger will be greater than the older came to pass. Although Esau became great and became the progenitor of the Edomites, Jacob became stronger and carried on the Abrahamic covenant.