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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  

Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Beauty From Ashes: Redeeming Your Broken Moments

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this study is on relation- ships that are damaged when both parties are not looking out for each other. Jacob and Esau can help us see how restoration is possible even after a long time of hostility.”


April 17

Redeemed From Poor Choices


April 24

Redeemed From Broken Relationships


May 01

Redeemed From A Critical Spirit


May 08

Redeemed From Crippling Doubt


May 15

 Redeemed From Devastating Failure


May 22

Redeemed From An Unbelieving Past






Showing humility is critical to restoring relationships.


Genesis 27:41; 33:1-11





Self-centeredness Can Destroy Relationships (Gen. 27:41)

Displaying Humility Can Rebuild Relationships (Gen. 33:1-4)

Be Willing To Forgive and Move Forward (Gen. 33:5-11)


Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac (the son of Abraham and Sarah) and Rebekah.  The twins had been in conflict with each other since before they were born (Gen. 25:19-26). Jacob convinced Esau to trade his birthright to Jacob for bread and a bowl of lentil stew (vv. 29-34). The struggle between the brothers climaxed when Jacob, with the aid of his mother, tricked his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn son meant for Esau. Fearing Esau would murder Jacob, Rebekah arranged for Jacob to live with her brother Laban in her homeland of Haran, where he remained for 20 years (27:1–31:55). After that time, Jacob returned home with his family, uncertain as to the reception he would receive from his brother.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.


We don’t always get our own way in a relationship. A person who feels like he is continually getting the “short end of the stick” can develop ill feelings toward the other person. Relationships are damaged when both parties are not looking out for each other. The relationship between Jacob and Esau is a prime example of this, but they also offer us an example of what happens when humility becomes a part of the relationship.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Self-centeredness Can Destroy Relationships (Gen. 27:41)

41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. And Esau determined in his heart: “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”








1.   Who was Esau?  (See Digging Deeper and articles: “Esau, All We Know,” “Esau and the Edomites,” “Esau,” and “Deceiver.”)

2.   What was the setting for this focal passage?

3.   Why did Esau hold a grudge against Jacob (v. 41a)?

4.   What was inherent in a father’s birthright blessing?  (See “Blessing” and “Birthright” in Digging Deeper.)

5.   How would you describe the importance of the “Birthright Blessing”?

6.   Based on this verse, how serious did Esau take Jacob’s deception?

7.   What did Esau intend to do in retaliation for Jacob’s deception?

8.   What did Esau vow (v. 41b)?

9.   How would you best describe Esau’s reaction to Jacob’s deception?

10.   What apparently kept Esau form taking immediate action?

11.   What do you think was at the center of actions of both brothers?

12.   What part did Esau and Jacob’s mother play in this act of deceit?

13.   What chain of events resulted from this act of deceit?

14.   Do you think holding a grudge has an appealing side? 

15.   If so, how would you describe it?

16.   In what ways could Jacob and Esau both rationalize their actions?

17.   Why do you think we are quick to rationalize our behavior when we hold a grudge?

18.   Do you think that rationalization of our adverse behavior is a big reason that we are prone to hold a grudge rather than seek restoration?  Why, or why not?

19.   How would you explain the difference between self-centeredness and humility?

20.   Which do you think is the easiest to feed?  Why?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 27:41:

1.  Self-centeredness can spawn actions that lead to broken relationships with others.

2.  Holding a grudge is self-destructive and never leads to good.



Displaying Humility Can Rebuild Relationships (Gen. 33:1-4)

1 Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming toward him with 400 men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two female slaves. 2 He put the female slaves and their children first, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed to the ground seven times until he approached his brother. 4 But Esau ran to meet him, hugged him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Then they wept.

1.   What is the setting for this passage?

2.   What do you think were some thoughts and emotions that may have surfaced in Jacob’s mind when he saw Esau coming with a large attachment of men?

3.   What precautions did Jacob take that suggest he was motivated by his old mindset of self-centeredness?

4.   What strategy did Jacob employ to defend his family against Esau and his force?

5.   Even though Jacob took those precautions, where did he position himself that suggests he was willing to take responsibility for his actions?

6.   How did Jacob demonstrate humility?

7.   How did Esau respond to Jacob?

8.   What positive character traits were displayed by both brothers when they once again met that set the stage for restoration?

9.   What was the positive motivation for their behavior?

10.   What are some obstacles that are likely to hinder you from demonstrating humility? 

11.   Why do you think they are likely to be a hindrance?

12.   What do you think is the most striking about Jacob’s and Esau’s behavior?

13.   How are you likely to respond when you think you have been wronged?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 33:1-4:

1.  Time and trials are essential elements for the development of humility.

2.  Humility is sometimes demonstrated by the most unlikely people.

3.  Relationships are more likely to be rebuilt when there is a mutual display of humility.



Be Willing To Forgive and Move Forward (Gen. 33:5-11)


5 When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he asked, “Who are these with you?” He answered, “The children God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the female slaves and their children approached him and bowed down. 7 Leah and her children also approached and bowed down, and then Joseph and Rachel approached and bowed down. 8 So Esau said, “What do you mean by this whole procession I met?” “To find favor with you, my lord,” he answered. 9 “I have enough, my brother,” Esau replied. “Keep what you have.” 10 But Jacob said, “No, please! If I have found favor with you, take this gift from my hand. For indeed, I have seen your face, and it is like seeing God’s face, since you have accepted me. 11 Please take my present that was brought to you, because God has been gracious to me and I have everything I need.” So Jacob urged him until he accepted.

1.   Based on this whole passage, which brother do you think appears as the more dominant one in this exchange?

2.   If you answer is Esau, does that surprise you?  If so, why? 

3.   What two questions did Esau ask (vv. 5, 8)?

4.   Do you think Jacob’s answers helped advance reconciliation between the two brothers?  Why, or why not?

5.   In what ways did Jacob seek to make amends with Esau (vv. 6,7,8b)?

6.   How did Esau respond (v. 9)?

7.   Based on verse 10, how did Jacob seek to gain favor in Esau’s sight?

8.   What did this gift offering represent?

9.   How did Jacob describe the spiritual experience that came to him by seeing Esau?

10.   How was the bond of reconciliation between Jacob and Esau sealed?

11.   Do you think forgiveness must be accompanied with moving forward?  Why, or why not?

12.   Do you think insincere forgiveness leaves walls standing between the two parties?  If so, why?

13.   What do you think must motivate both parties in order to have a godly reconciliation and move forward?

14.   What do you think are some things a believer must do to lay the groundwork for the reconciliation of a broken relationship?

15.    What do we lose by avoiding damaged relationships rather than seeking restoration?

16.   Do you think there is a relationship between humility and forgiveness? 

17.   If so, how would you explain it? 

18.   How do we put an attitude of humility and forgiveness into action?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 33:5-11:

1.  A relationship that may be healed is worth the risk of someone being the first one willing to show humility.

2.  The humble demonstration that one is willing to forgive often results in the gracious acceptance of that forgiveness.

3.  We are never more like God than when we are willing to forgive.



Jacob and Esau let many years go by before their relationship was restored. Perhaps you have had a similar experience. Or maybe a relationship in your life has only recently experienced a strain that needs to be healed. Consider how God has spoken to your heart as you studied these passages. Which application will you adopt this week?

·   Admit your part. If you are living with a damaged relationship, examine to see if any of your actions have caused the damage. If so, stop rationalizing your actions. Admit to yourself and to God the hurt you have caused. Apologize to the person you hurt and seek forgiveness.

·   Let go of the grudge. If someone has hurt or offended you, let go of any grudge or bitterness, and forgive. By forgiving, you are not saying the offense doesn’t matter, but you are refusing to hold that offense against the person any longer. Forgive even as God in Christ has forgiven you (Eph.4:32).

·   Be an agent of restoration. Ask God to help you be a healing influence in a broken relationship between two people you know. Spend time in prayer before you make the first contact. Be sensitive to each person’s needs, and be patient to allow God to work in His time to bring about restoration.

  What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:  Genesis 27:41; 33:1-11

Genesis 27:41 (KJV)

41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.

Genesis 33:1-11 (KJV)

1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. 2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. 3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. 4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. 5 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant. 6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves. 7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves. 8 And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord. 9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. 10 And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me. 11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.



The Message:  Genesis 27:41; 33:1-11

Genesis 27:41 (MSG)

41 Esau seethed in anger against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him; he brooded, "The time for mourning my father's death is close. And then I'll kill my brother Jacob."

Genesis 33:1-11 (MSG)

1 Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming with his four hundred men. He divided the children between Leah and Rachel and the two maidservants. 2 He put the maidservants out in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3 He led the way and, as he approached his brother, bowed seven times, honoring his brother. 4 But Esau ran up and embraced him, held him tight and kissed him. And they both wept. 5 Then Esau looked around and saw the women and children: "And who are these with you?" Jacob said, "The children that God saw fit to bless me with." 6 Then the maidservants came up with their children and bowed; 7 then Leah and her children, also bowing; and finally, Joseph and Rachel came up and bowed to Esau. 8 Esau then asked, "And what was the meaning of all those herds that I met?" "I was hoping that they would pave the way for my master to welcome me." 9 Esau said, "Oh, brother. I have plenty of everything—keep what is yours for yourself." 10 Jacob said, "Please. If you can find it in your heart to welcome me, accept these gifts. When I saw your face, it was as the face of God smiling on me. 11 Accept the gifts I have brought for you. God has been good to me and I have more than enough." Jacob urged the gifts on him and Esau accepted.


New Living Translation:   Genesis 27:41; 33:1-11

Genesis 27:41 (NLT)

41 From that time on, Esau hated Jacob because their father had given Jacob the blessing. And Esau began to scheme: “I will soon be mourning my father’s death. Then I will kill my brother, Jacob.”

Genesis 33:1-11 (NLT)

1 Then Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming with his 400 men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and his two servant wives. 2 He put the servant wives and their children at the front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last.3 Then Jacob went on ahead. As he approached his brother, he bowed to the ground seven times before him. 4 Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept. 5 Then Esau looked at the women and children and asked, “Who are these people with you?” “These are the children God has graciously given to me, your servant,” Jacob replied. 6 Then the servant wives came forward with their children and bowed before him. 7 Next came Leah with her children, and they bowed before him. Finally, Joseph and Rachel came forward and bowed before him. 8 “And what were all the flocks and herds I met as I came?” Esau asked. Jacob replied, “They are a gift, my lord, to ensure your friendship.” 9 “My brother, I have plenty,” Esau answered. “Keep what you have for yourself.” 10 But Jacob insisted, “No, if I have found favor with you, please accept this gift from me. And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God! 11 Please take this gift I have brought you, for God has been very gracious to me. I have more than enough.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau finally accepted the gift.


(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: “The Old Testament Survey Series: The Pentateuch,” “Believer's Bible Commentary,” “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

Lesson Outline — “Redeemed From Broken Relationships” — Gen. 27:41; 33:1-11




Self-centeredness Can Destroy Relationships (Gen. 27:41)

Displaying Humility Can Rebuild Relationships (Gen. 33:1-4)

Be Willing To Forgive and Move Forward (Gen. 33:5-11)


The Old Testament Survey Series: The Pentateuch:   Gen. 27:41; 33:1-11

Troublesome Animosity Genesis 27:41-28:9

Despair was replaced by malice in the heart of Esau. He planned to murder his brother as soon as Isaac died. While Esau did not share the faith of his father, he nonetheless loved and respected him. He did not wish to do anything which might hasten Isaac’s death (27:41). Esau did not keep his intentions to himself. Somehow Rebekah heard of his murderous plan. She summoned Jacob at once and strongly urged him to take refuge with her brother in Haran until Esau’s anger subsided. Rebekah obviously anticipated a short separation. She would send for him the moment she was convinced that he was no longer in danger from his brother. Rebekah worried that if Esau killed Jacob, he would forfeit his own life under the principle of blood revenge. Then she would lose both of her sons in one day (27:42-45). Rebekah did not mention Esau’s plot to Isaac. He probably would not have believed her anyway. She chose rather to raise another matter of concern, viz., where would Jacob get a wife? She knew full well that Isaac loathed the Hittite women Esau had married. If Jacob married a Hittite woman, life would be absolutely unbearable. Rebekah wanted Isaac to send Jacob away, for then Esau would not interfere (27:46). Isaac summoned Jacob and commanded him not to marry a Canaanite. He was to depart immediately for Paddan Aram and take a wife from among the relatives of his mother. Isaac had another blessing for Jacob, and this one he pronounced “in faith” (Heb 11:20). He said nothing of the deceit used to secure the first blessing doubtless because he himself was not entirely without fault in that incident. The second blessing is similar in some respects to the first. El Shaddai (God Almighty) would make Jacob a community of peoples. The ultimate fulfillment of this prediction awaited the Messianic age when Gentiles became part of the new Israel of God. Jacob would inherit all the blessings of Abraham, including the land in which he presently resided as an alien. With these prophetic words of blessing, Isaac sent Jacob on his way (28:1-5). For the most part, Esau appears in these narratives as a spiritual dimwit. When he heard of the marriage commands his father had issued to Jacob, he realized how displeasing his Hittite wives were to his parents. Esau took a third wife, this time from among the Ishmaelites. The text does not indicate whether or not she was a believer. Esau probably did not care about that. He aimed to please his father by marrying someone who was connected, albeit loosely, with the covenant family (28:6-9). Isaac’s long life was filled with unhappiness. His faith, like that of his father, was tested again and again. A barren wife and the disappointment with his older son tested the progeny promise. A famine in the land and the conflict over water with the herdsmen of Gerar tested the land and blessing promises.

Encounter with Esau ( Gn 33:1-16).

Spotting Esau and his four hundred men coming in the distance, Jacob prepared his family. The concubines and their children were put in front, then Leah and her sons, and finally Rachel and Joseph. He planned to introduce his family to Esau in the order of their importance. Jacob himself was out in front of all his family. Here is a new courage which is further evidence of the transformation. As he approached his brother he bowed seven times to the ground, a custom attested in the literature of the ancient world. Here is a new humility which points again to the change in Jacob (33:1-3). Esau would have none of this exaggerated homage. He ran to Jacob, embraced and kissed him. The two brothers wept. Esau was surprised to see Jacob’s family, and was anxious to meet them. One by one the concubines and wives with their children came and bowed down before Esau (33:4-7). When the introductions were over, Esau asked about the several droves of livestock which he had met as he approached Jacob’s camp. Jacob explained that these were gifts which he wished to give to his brother. The transformed Jacob possessed a new generosity. Esau would have none of that either. He had accumulated his own material wealth. He needed nothing which his brother was offering. Jacob insisted, however, because this amicable reunion deserved such celebration. Seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God! Finally Esau agreed to accept the gift (33:8-11). Esau then offered to accompany Jacob on the remainder of his journey. Jacob, however, rejected this offer on the grounds that he had to move his children and livestock very slowly. Jacob urged Esau to go on ahead. He would join his brother in Seir later. Esau then offered to leave some of his men to assist in the journey. Jacob again declined, citing the favor of his brother as more than enough compensation for the generous gifts. So Esau departed to return to Seir. The text does not record Jacob’s visit to Seir (33:12-20).

SOURCE: The Old Testament Survey Series: The Pentateuch; By James E. Smith; College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri.


Believer's Bible Commentary: Gen. 27:41; 33:1-11

27:41-46.  Esau planned to kill his brother Jacob as soon as his father would die and the period of mourning would end. When Rebekah learned of this, she told Jacob to head for her brother Laban's home in Haran. She feared not only that Jacob would be killed but that Esau would run away or be killed in a blood feud, and she would lose two sons at once. However, to explain Jacob's departure to Isaac, she said she was afraid Jacob might marry a Hittite, as Esau had done. Jacob expected to return soon, but it was not to be for more than twenty years. His father would still be living, but his mother would have passed on.

33:1-11.  As Esau drew near, Jacob lapsed back into fearfulness and merely natural behavior, arranging his household in such a way as to afford maximum protection for those he loved most. Jacob bowed himself to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. Esau, by comparison, was relaxed, warm, and effusive as he met Jacob first, then Jacob's wives and children. He protested mildly against the extravagant gift of livestock but finally consented to accept it. Jacob seems to have shown undue servility to his brother, speaking of himself as his servant. Some think that he resorted to flattery and exaggeration in telling Esau that seeing his face was like seeing God. Others think that the face of God here means a reconciled face.

33:12-17.  When Esau suggested that they travel back together, Jacob pretended that this would be impossible because of the slow pace required by the children and young animals. Jacob promised to meet Esau in Seir (Edom), although he had no intention of doing so. Even when Esau tried to leave behind some of his men to travel with Jacob's household, the latter refused the offer without revealing the real reasons—fear and suspicion.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary:  Gen. 27:41; 33:1-11

27:41. Esau could not forgive Jacob and his animosity grew until he began making threats (when among his friends) that as soon as Isaac died and the days of mourning were over, he would kill Jacob. He may have been a little self-righteous in thinking he would spare his father’s feelings by waiting until after Isaac died.

27:42-45. When Rebekah heard about Esau’s threats, she called Jacob in and told him how Esau was scheming revenge. She was afraid that if Esau killed Jacob, Esau would have to be put to death, so she would lose both her sons. So she commanded Jacob to flee for his life to her brother Laban in Haran and stay with him a few days until the heat of Esau’s anger would subside. She thought time would heal Esau’s wounds and he would forget. Then she would send for Jacob and she would enjoy having him home again. What she did not know was that she would die before Jacob returned. Actually, all four who were involved in the schemes of this chapter suffered. Esau lost the blessing. Esau’s delicious food never tasted good to Isaac again, Now that his spiritual eyes were opened, he never had the same fellowship with his favorite son Esau. Rebekah never saw her favorite son again. Jacob had to flee alone with nothing but what he could carry on his back. He would have to work hard, be deceived by his future father-in-law, and by his own sons.

33:1-3.  When Esau and his 400 men came in sight Jacob distributed his wives and children in an order that if anything happened, the maidservants and their children would get the brunt of it while Rachel and Joseph in the rear would be in the most protected position. But this time, Jacob went on ahead to be the first to meet Esau. Nearing Esau, he bowed down so his forehead touched the ground. Then he went on a few steps and bowed again. Bowing seven times indicated a completeness of humility and was customarily done before kings.

33:4. What a wonderful change Jacob saw in Esau as Esau ran to meet him, hugged and kissed him. It was a very emotional encounter as both wept. Esau’s hatred was replaced with generosity and love.

33:5-7. As Jacob responded to Esau and presented his wives and children he gave God the credit for giving them to him by His grace—His undeserved favor. Each of them bowed down humbly.

33:8-9.  When Esau asked about the gifts sent ahead to him, Jacob confessed they were meant to seek Esau’s favor. Esau replied that he had much (plenty, an abundance, enough). This reply may have been oriental politeness, but it was typical of Esau. In this entire interchange between Jacob and Esau, Jacob keeps giving God the credit, the praise and the honor. Esau never mentions God once. “I” have enough—this is the statement of a person who thinks he does not need God. That is another reason for calling Esau a “profane” (that is, a secular) person (Heb. 13:16). Esau was not an atheist; he simply left God out of his life. Then he called Jacob his brother, and told him to keep the gifts for himself.

33:10-11.  Jacob insisted that Esau keep the gift (minchah, a gift or offering for a king or for God; the same word is used in Genesis 4:3-4 and Leviticus 2:1-15). Behind the hug, the kiss, and the tears of Esau, Jacob saw the face of the one true God, the God who had blessed him and given him everything he needed. In verse 11 Jacob calls this gift or offering, “my blessing.” Since Jacob continued to insist, Esau accepted the gifts and Jacob was satisfied. Again, God was faithful to His promise.

33:12-14.  Jacob refused Esau’s offer to accompany him on his way because Esau’s 400 men would be anxious to get back home, and would want to push on faster than Jacob could go with his flocks and children. There is no record that Jacob actually went to visit Esau in Seir (Edom), though he may have. Some Jewish rabbis say the final fulfillment will be in the days of the Messiah (what we call the Millennium).

33:15. Jacob also refused Esau’s offer to leave some of his men with them. Perhaps Esau thought Jacob needed protection and his men could act as guards. But Jacob was just happy to find favor in Esau’s eyes. The fear of Esau had been in the back of his mind for 20 years. Now he was relieved because all of those fears had been unnecessary.

33:16-17.  After Esau left, going south toward Seir, the mountainous country south of the Dead Sea, Jacob went west toward the Jordan about five miles and built a house and made shelters for his livestock, calling the place Succoth (“shelters”).

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Genesis.  Copyright © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.


The Moody Bible Commentary; Matthew 5:43-48:

Body: Jacob Strives for a Blessing (27:1-28:5)

27:1-46. The story of Isaac blessing Jacob emphasizes the transference of the patriarchal blessing. This single narrative section (26:34-28:9) uses the word "blessing" in either a noun or verb form 28 times in the NASB. As a background to this present narrative, it begins with Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew (25:29-34). The birthright appears to have included the blessing of the firstborn. For this reason, Heb 12:16-17 correctly equates the birthright with the blessing.

Now that Isaac had grown old (at least 100, since Esau was born when Isaac was 60 [see 25:26] and was married prior to this at 40 [26:34]) and his eyes were too dim to see, he decided that it was to time to pass on the patriarchal blessing before he died (27:4). Although Isaac lived on for many more decades, seeing all 12 of his grandsons by Jacob (see 35:22b-27), this was now the crucial moment when the "path of redemption"—the genealogical line that would carry on the Abrahamic covenant—was decided, since preeminence in the covenant was bound up with the patriarchal blessing (see also 49:8-12). Since Isaac intended to bless Esau, it may be that Rebekah had not yet revealed to her husband God's birth oracle, indicating His choice of "the younger" son over "the older" (25:23). Rebekah's silence is consistent with the two parents each favoring different sons. However, it is more likely that Isaac knew of the birth oracle and of Esau's sale of the birthright but was choosing to ignore these facts in granting the blessing.

So Rebekah, rather than trusting God to accomplish His purposes, when overhearing Isaac's intention, initiated a plot to deceive her husband into blessing her favored son Jacob instead (27:5-13). At Rebekah's direction, Jacob succeeded in stealing the blessing by presenting himself as Esau to the touch and smell of his blind father. He used the deceptive stratagem of wearing Esau's clothes and counterfeiting Esau's hairy arms by wearing goat skins (27:15-17). When his brother found this out, he pointed out that Jacob (whose name means "he supplants" had again lived up to his name, for he has supplanted me these two times (referring to Jacob trading red lentil stew for Esau's birthright [25:29-34] and then to deceiving Isaac into granting the patriarchal blessing, v. 36). When Esau's plan to avenge himself on Jacob by kill[ing] him was reported to Rebekah (v. 42), she urged her favored son to take refuge with her brother Laban until Esau's fury would subside (v. 44).

Readers often see this story through the eyes of Esau—emphasizing Jacob's culpability in deceiving his father and stealing the blessing. Nevertheless, the narrator wants to emphasize that all four parties to this story are guilty. Isaac and Esau are guilty of deliberately overlooking God's intended recipient of the blessing. Isaac chose to ignore Esau's sale of the birthright and the birth oracle. Esau chose to ignore that he willingly sold his birthright. Rebekah and Jacob are guilty of deliberately deceiving to achieve their goal of blessing. Rebekah deceived her beloved husband by preparing savory food and using clothing and hairy goat skins to present Jacob as a counterfeit Esau to blind Isaac. Jacob somewhat begrudgingly went along with his mother's scheming to achieve his goal of being blessed. Jacob's deception was wrong not because he stole the blessing—it was rightfully his because he had already purchased it. Rather, his deception was wrong because it lacked faith in God to accomplish His will without Jacob's human deceit and manipulation. Thus, God, who had sovereignly decreed that "the older shall serve the younger" (25:23), accomplished His sovereign purpose despite human failings. Once again, the blessing of God was unmerited but still given an act of divine grace and election.

Though Rebekah's deception of Isaac was clearly condemnable, she was not a completely ill-natured person, and—no doubt feeling guilty over what she had done—her words and actions in vv. 45-46 evince a tender concern for her ailing husband. Rather than informing Isaac of his favored son's intention to kill his brother, which would undoubtedly have caused the patriarch great distress (by the phrase you both [v. 45] she is probably referring to Jacob and his frail father, not Esau), she exhorted him to send Jacob away for the single purpose (not pretense, since the goal is valid—even spiritually requisite) of finding a wife among their relatives back in Mesopotamia.

Although the narrator never explicitly condemned Jacob's deceitfulness, the events of Jacob's life show that, by manipulating his father instead of trusting God, he brought suffering to himself and others. First, Jacob, a homebody, now had to flee his home. Second, as the favorite son of Rebekah, he never saw his beloved mother again. Third, Jacob would be exploited by his uncle Laban even as he had taken advantage of Esau. Fourth, even as his father's blindness was a veil to enable Jacob to deceive, so Laban used a veil over Leah's face to deceive Jacob (note how both Isaac and Jacob say they were deceived, 27:35; 29:25). Fifth, just as Jacob deceived his father using Esau's garments, so his sons would deceive him using Joseph's garments (37:32). Sixth, Jacob was miserable at the end of his life (47:9) in contrast to both Abraham (25:8) and Isaac (35:28-29) who both appeared to have been satisfied with life when they died.

Jacob's Restoration with Esau (33:1-17)

33:1-4. Having received the blessing from God, Jacob still anticipated difficulties with Esau. As he saw Esau arriving with what appeared to be a war party (v. 1), Jacob next acted nobly, placing his wives and children behind him so that he could meet Esau first. After he passed on ahead of them and approached his brother, he bowed down to the ground seven times before Esau (vv. 2-3). In a totally unexpected act, Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept (v. 4). After years of bitterness and even threats of murder (27:41), Esau was reconciled to his brother. This was the result of God's work in his heart and not of any manipulation by Jacob.

33:5-17.  After introducing his family to Esau (vv. 5-7), Jacob gave Esau gifts and insisted that his brother take them (vv. 8-11). Jacob also declined Esau's offer of an escort back to the land out of concern for his own children and his flocks and herds at their slower pace (vv. 12-15) and perhaps in part out of fear, lest Esau experience a change of heart. Thus, Jacob returned to the promised land, settling temporarily in booths in a place named Succoth (booths), east of the Jordan River and north of the Jabbok River (v. 17), in the opposite direction of Seir, where Esau had gone (v. 16).

This story of the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob was designed to identify the transformations of both Esau and Jacob as works of God. Esau was changed from threatening to murder his brother to a desire to be at peace and even provide protection for him. This was clearly the work of God in answer to Jacob's prayer in 32:9-10. Jacob was also changed from a schemer to a follower of the Lord. This is evident in his bravery, going before his family to meet Esau (33:3), his humility, bowing before Esau (33:3) and his generosity, insisting that Esau take his gifts even though it was apparent that Jacob was no longer in danger (33:10-11). Jacob's behavior became the model for Israel-like Jacob, they would be able to conquer and settle in the land of promise only if they were to rely on the Lord for the victory.

Jacob's Restoration to the Land (33:18-20)

33:18-20.  In a brief epilogue to the story of his reconciliation with Esau, Jacob is depicted as settled back in Canaan, the land of promise. He settled in the city of Shechem, about 20 miles (32 km) west of the Jabbok River, and there purchased land from the sons of Hamor just as his grandfather Abraham had purchased land near Hebron from the sons of Heth (23:1-20). Most significantly, Jacob built an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel (v. 20), meaning "El (is) the God of Israel." "Israel" at this point refers specifically to Jacob (as opposed to the later nation). This act of worship emphasized Jacob's spiritual transformation. When Jacob left the land, he vowed that if God kept His promise and brought him back, then He the God of his fathers would be his God (28:21). Throughout the Jacob narrative following that vow made 20 years earlier, Jacob always referred to the Lord as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac but never as his own God. Now, with God having kept His promise and returned him in safety, Jacob, in naming the altar, finally identified the Lord as his own God. Jacob's spiritual transformation is now complete—he is not perfect and will still have his struggles, but he is clearly now a man of God and a follower of the God of Israel.

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.





The blessing (v. 41)—The family patriarch called upon God to grant abundance, health, wealth, wisdom, and descendants to his son. Isaac’s blessing of Jacob passed on God’s blessing of Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3).

Seven times (v. 3)—In the ancient world, bowing was the established, proper ceremonial approach by subjects to their rulers or superiors. Bowing seven times expressed extreme courtesy and deep respect.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Birthright:  Esau forfeited his birthright to his brother Jacob for the sake of a meal of lentil stew and bread (Gen. 25:29-34). The birthright consisted of the special privileges that belonged to the firstborn male child in a family. Prominent among those privileges was a double portion of the estate as an inheritance. If a man had two sons, his estate would be divided into three portions, and the older son would receive two. If there were three sons, the estate would be divided into four portions, and the oldest son would receive two. The oldest son also normally received the father’s major blessing. Indeed, the Hebrew word for blessing (berakah) is virtually an anagram of the word that means both birthright and firstborn (bekorah). Legal continuation of the family line may also have been included among the privileges of the firstborn son. Deuteronomy 21:15-17 prohibited a father from playing favorites among his sons by trying to give the birthright to other than the firstborn.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Esau (ee’ ssayyoo): Personal name whose meaning is not known. Son of Isaac and Rebecca; elder twin brother of Jacob (Gen. 25:24-26; 27:1,32,42; 1 Chron. 1:34); father of the Edomite nation (Gen. 26; Deut. 2:4-29; Mal. 1:2-3). At birth his body was hairy and red “and they called his name Esau” (Gen. 25:25,30; 27:11,21-23). The second born twin, Jacob, father of the nation Israel, held Esau’s heel at birth (Gen. 25:22-26); thus depicting the struggle between the descendants of the two which ended when David lead Israel in the conquest of Edom (2 Sam. 8:12-14; 1 Chron. 18:13; compare Num. 24:18).

From the first Jacob sought to gain advantage over Esau (Hos. 12:3). Esau, the extrovert, was a favorite of his father and as a hunter provided him with his favorite meats. Jacob was the favorite of his mother Rebecca.

As a famished returning hunter, Esau, lacking self-control, sold his birthright to Jacob for food (Gen. 25:30-34). Birthright involved the right as head of the family (Gen. 27:29) and a double share of the inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). This stripped Esau of the headship of the people through which Messiah would come. Thus, the lineage became Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Having lost his birthright, he was still eligible to receive from Isaac the blessing of the eldest son. Rebecca devised a deception whereby Jacob received this blessing (Gen. 27:1-30).

Esau blamed Jacob for all his problems failing to realize that the character flaw revealed in his selling of his birthright followed him all of his life. Esau received a blessing, but neither he nor his descendants were to occupy the fertile land of Palestine (Gen. 27:39). At age 40 he married two Hittite wives (Gen. 26:34-35).

Years later the two brothers were reconciled when Jacob returned from Mesopotamia. Esau had lived in the land of Seir. As Jacob neared Palestine, he made plans for confronting his wronged brother and allaying his anger. Esau, with an army of 400, surprised Jacob, his guilty brother, and received him without bitterness (Gen. 33:4-16).

The two reconciled brothers met again for the final time at the death of their father (Gen. 35:29). Though their hostility was personally resolved, their descendants continue to this day to struggle against one another.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.




Esau  All We Know

By Dorman Laird

Dorman Laird is professor of religion emeritus, William Carey University, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.


SAU WAS BORN TO Isaac and Rebekah, along with his twin brother, Jacob, after Isaac prayed that Rebekah could have children.  Esau was considered the firstborn because he was the first to come from the womb.  Before her sons were born, Rebekah received from God a prophecy that the younger son would take the place of the older (Gen. 25:21-26).

The records of their births and early lives portray Jacob and Esau as being radically different from each other.  For example, their names were given for different reasons—one for looks and the other for action.  Esau’s name reflected his appearance.  He was born with a red complexion, or possibly red hair, and was hairy all over.  The name Esau comes from the verb asah, which means to be covered with hair.1  Jacob, on the other hand, was named for the action of grasping the heel of Esau (v. 26).

Also the personalities of Esau and Jacob were different.  The description of Esau as a “cunning hunter” (v. 27),2 in Hebrew literally means “a man knowing hunting,” or “a man knowing game.”  This suggests Esau learned the methods of hunting by studying the nature of the prey.  The text further describes him as “a man of the field” (v. 27), indicating he not only knew the places where he could hunt, but that hunting took priority in his use of time.  The description of Jacob as “a plain man, dwelling in tents” (v. 27) served to heighten the contrast between Esau and his brother.  Jacob seemed naturally suited to the life of a shepherd; Esau did not.  Esau’s preference for hunting was not conducive to the life of a shepherd because hunting trips took him away from family and flock.

Probably, the event that best revealed Esau’s personality traits occurred when he sold Jacob his birthright.  Being Isaac’s firstborn, Esau was in line to inherit the patriarchal birthright and the blessing.  On one occasion, however, Esau returned home from hunting exhausted and desperately hungry.  Jacob had made some pottage of lentils and Esau asked for some of it.  Jacob wanted the birthright and seized the opportunity to wrest it from Esau.  Later Deuteronomic Law provided the inheritor of the birthright to receive a double portion of the father’s estate (Deut. 21:17).  Exactly what the recipient of the birthright received at this point in history, though, is unclear.

Regardless, Esau without hesitation agreed to sell his birthright to Jacob for a portion of the pottage.  At first reading, one might conclude Esau acted impulsively on the spur of the moment.3  That he sold his birthright by taking an oath (Gen. 25:33), however, might suggest that instead of making a rash decision, Esau made a deliberate one.4  Because herding and hunting were not compatible, the statement, “thus, Esau despised his birthright” (v. 34) could cause one could ponder whether Esau ever desired his birthright.

Because the pottage was red, Esau was given the name Edom (v. 30), which means “red.”5  The nickname was so dominant that the descendants of Esau were called Edomites and the land where they lived, formerly Mount Seir, was known as Edom (36:8).  Centuries later, Obadiah prophesied against the Edomites (Obad. V. 1) because they stood by and watched an enemy break through the walls of Jerusalem and capture some Jews, whom the prophet referred to as Edom’s brother (v. 10).

Even though Esau despised his birthright, he sincerely wanted to receive Isaac’s blessing.  Customarily, the father pronounced his blessing in a solemn ceremony; the blessing was a kind of prophetic wish in which the father declared favor and goodness upon his sons.  “The blessing is not only the good effect of words; it also has the power to bring them to pass.”6  Together with his mother, Rebekah, Jacob conspired to trick Isaac, who was nearly blind, into pronouncing the blessing upon Jacob instead of Esau.  The trick was successful; Isaac gave to Jacob the blessing that customarily should have been Esau’s (27:1-29).

The Hebrew words for blessing (birakah) and birthright (bekorah) use the same consonants, making them a virtual anagram.7  One might speculate, then, that by using these two words, Esau was subtly reasserting his claim to the birthright at the same time he was seeking the blessing.  That he accused Jacob of supplanting him two times (v. 36) could indicate Esau regretted the loss of his birthright.  Regardless, the picture is clear; Esau deeply desired the blessing—and he hated Jacob for his trickery.

Earlier, Esau had shown disrespect toward his parents by choosing wives from the Hittite women (26:34-35).  But after he lost his blessing, Esau married a daughter of Ishmael (28:8-9).  By marrying closer to the family, Esau might have attempted to ease Isaac’s displeasure about Esau’s Hittite wives.  More than this, however, by marrying idolaters, Esau showed little or no reverence for God.

Another event that helped define Esau involved his reconciliation with his brother.  After Jacob took Esau’s blessing by fraud, Esau determined to kill Jacob after Isaac died.  Rebekah sent Jacob away to live with her brother Laban in order to save her son’s life.  Jacob remained with Laban for 20 years (31:38) and amassed wealth before the Lord instructed Jacob to return home (v. 3).

On the way back, Jacob knew he would encounter Esau.  Jacob sent messengers ahead to meet his brother.  The servants returned and informed Jacob that Esau had with him 400 men.  The purpose of the 400 men is not clear.  One could surmise that Esau was relying on their help to kill Jacob if he threatened Esau.  Upon hearing the report about the 400 men, “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (32:7a).

Jacob divided his family into groups as he went to meet Esau.  As he drew near to Esau, Jacob bowed to the ground seven times.  When Esau saw Jacob’s acts of contrition he went to Jacob, lifted him from the ground, kissed him, and wept (33:1-4).  Thus, Esau demonstrated some good character traits.  He showed compassion toward his repentant brother, demonstrated forgiveness toward him, and also showed a generous disposition as well (v. 9).  The personal reconciliation between Jacob and Esau was permanent; they both participated in their father’s burial (35:29). 

The divine judgment of Esau was historically negative, as expressed by Malachi who said that God “loved” Jacob and “hated” Esau (Mal. 1:2-3).  This is probably covenant language, which is best understood to mean that God “chose” Jacob and “did not choose” Esau8 (cf. Rom. 9:11-15).

With all of Jacob’s faults, he repented and became a man whom his descendants were proud to claim as their ancestor.  But no record of Esau’s repentance exists.  Instead, the writer of Hebrews described him as a profane individual who sold his birthright for a morsel of food (Heb. 12:16).  Tragically, selling his birthright was the defining experience of Esau’s life.  His behavior is a reminder that when people focus on the mundane and choose the pleasures of the moment, they risk losing not only the treasures that the future might hold, but more importantly, the blessings of God.                                                                                                     Bi

1.   (asah, covered with hair) in Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexion to the Old Testament Scriptures [Gensenius], trans. Tregelles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 658.

2.   Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.

3.   “Esau” in Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary [Nelson], gen. ed. Youngblood (Nashville: Nelson, 1986), 412.

4.   Davis, “Israel’s Inheritance: Birthright of the Firstborn Son,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 13 (Spring 2008): 90-91.  Accessed April 21, 2014. Available from the Internet: www.chafer.edu/cts-journal.

5.   (adom, red) in Gesenius, 13.

6.   “Bless, Blessing” in Nelson, 220.

7.   “Birthright” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Brand, Draper, & England (Nashville: Holman Bible Publ. 2003), 220.

8.   R.L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, vol. 32 in Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1984), 305.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 41, No. 3; Spring 2015.


Esau and the Edomites

By Phillip J. Swanson

Phillip J. Swanson is pastor, Colts Neck Baptist Church, Colts Neck, New Jersey.

MOST, IF NOT ALL children in Sunday School classes have heard the story of Esau and Jacob.  The stories focus on Jacob, the one who would carry forward the covenant made between God and Abraham.  As a result, students usually know Esau only as the foolish brother of Jacob, the last of the three named great patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Unknown to most of the children’s stories, the history of Esau parallels that of Jacob, his younger twin brother.  Their lives remained a significant factor in Israel’s history, long after their deaths.

Sibling Rivalry and Reconciliation

Jacob and Esau struggled with each other in the womb and throughout most of their days and actually beyond, even though they eventually enjoyed a reconciliation.  At birth, Jacob held on to the heel of his twin brother, suggesting Jacob’s desire to surpass or supplant Esau as the firstborn (Gen. 25:24-26).  His firstborn twin being “red” and “hairy” (v. 25), Isaac named him Esau.  Others, though, called Esau, “Edom,” meaning “red.”

The twins grew up and apart.  Esau, a man’s man, grew up as a hunter, roaming the countryside.  Jacob spent his time among the tents, with his mother.  Possibly because of different lifestyles, Esau became the favorite of their father, Isaac, while Jacob found favor in the eyes of their mother, Rebekah.  The contest between the two brothers continued throughout their adulthood.

One of the first events the Bible records after describing the birth of twin brothers involved the sale of Esau’s birthright to Jacob.  The birthright was a significant part of their ancient culture.  As possessor of that birthright, Esau was to receive first place in the tribe or clan, as well as a double portion of their inheritance at the death of their father, Isaac.  Out of physical hunger, Esau traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of “red stew,” a thick bean soup (v. 30).

Esau appeared to do everything in his power to alienate himself from his family.  At the age of 40, he chose to marry 2 Canaanite women (26:34).  Not only did it grieve the parents, but it further separated Esau from his family.  Still later, after discovering that his marriage to the Canaanite women upset Isaac, he married yet another Canaanite woman.  Esau did little throughout his lifetime to make his life easier or more peaceful (28:8).

When Isaac was approaching death, time came for him to give his blessing to Esau, who was still the first-born, even though Jacob had usurped his birthright. Jacob and Rebekah conspired to trick Isaac.  Esau’s blessing went to Jacob instead (27:27-30).  After Esau begged his father for a blessing of his own, Isaac pronounced a blessing on his eldest son (vv. 39-40).

Compared to the blessing of Jacob, the blessing Esau received seemed more of a curse than a blessing.  Esau, as one might expect, become enraged.  While still mourning the death of his father, Esau threatened Jacob with death as soon as the period for mourning ended.  Jacob chose to flee.

While Jacob went on with his life, prospering in the process, his mind probably never wandered far from Esau and the vow Esau made to kill him.  Finally, Jacob’s day of reckoning came; his meeting with Esau was inevitable.  Instead of the murder promised by Esau, their meeting brought about one of the great stories of reconciliation in Scripture.  Upon meeting his brother, Esau ran to Jacob and threw his arms around the one he had promised to kill (Gen. 33).

Edom, the Land

The history of Esau’s namesake, Edom, did not end with the same harmony.  Esau, in Genesis 36:9, is named the “father of the Edomites.”  The prophet Amos, in declaring judgment to come on the nations around Judah, described the relationship between Edom and Judah.  He called them “brothers” and proclaimed that Edom’s judgment was deserved because they lifted their sword against their brother, the people of God (Amos. 1:11).

The boundaries of Edom appear fluid during the biblical period.  Generally, Edom’s territory extended eastward from the Arabah, the desert between the northern tip of the Red Sea and the southern tip of the Dead Sea.  Their boundary extended to the north until it met the southern boundary of their neighbor, Moab.1  Several Edomite cities the Scriptures mention, such as Ezion-geber, Punon, Bozrah, and Temani, are all in a straight north-south line along the western border of Edom.  The concentration of these cities suggest that the Edomites settled only a small portion of their territory, east of the Arabah.2  Archaeological evidence suggests that Edom existed as a relatively strong nation from the 13th to the 8th centuries B.C.  From the 8th century onward, the nation declined in strength and influence until its destruction during the 6th century.3  However, even without a king to lead them, the Edomites remained an antagonistic neighbor of Judah.

Edom, Israel, and Judah

The dispute and carelessness characteristic of Esau were always present in the Edomites, even from the beginning.  In fact, the Edomites played a significant role in frustrating Israel in nearly every major period of its history.

During the earliest history of the Hebrews, the exodus, Moses sought permission from the king of Edom to journey through his country.  The king flatly refused.  In order to reinforce his refusal, the Edomite king called out his army and arrayed his force against the Hebrews.  Moses prudently found another path to follow (Num. 20:14-21).

In the period of Israel’s united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon, Edom remained a source of annoyance and war, though not always at their own choosing.  When King Saul assumed rule over Israel, he maintained the character of a warrior king by attacking most of his neighbors.  Among others, Saul defeated the territory of Edom as well as the Amalekites in the process (1 Sam. 14:47-48).  The Book of 2 Samuel indicates that David won his fame through a victorious battle with the Edomites, killing 18,000 of them.  David thoroughly dominated Edom and brought them under Israel’s control (8:13-14).  Under Solomon’s rule, Edom again caught an Israelite king’s eye.  Solomon built ships at Ezion-geber, which was in Edom’s territory.  Edom’s king, Hadad, who was among the few escaping the wrath of David’s war, rose against Solomon.  Along with Rezon, king of Syria, the two kings tormented Solomon throughout his rule (see 1 Kings 11:14-25).

At the division of the kingdom following the death of Solomon, Edom remained Judah’s antagonist.  At times, however, hostilities ceased.  Edom aligned herself with Judah when it suited her best interest.  When Jehoshaphat ruled as king of Judah, his counterpart in Israel, Joram, requested that Judah’s military join with Israel and Edom’s king in putting down a revolt instigated by the king of Moab.  Unlike earlier times, Edom’s king allowed Israel and Judah to journey through his land and added his army to theirs (2 Kings 3).  Nonetheless, the battle ended in a stalemate and the combatant nations returned to their own homes.

A few years later any treaty that existed between Judah and Edom broke down, and Edom rebelled against the tribute demanded by Judah.  Jehoshaphat, who had formed the alliance with Edom passed the rule to his son, Jehoram.  Jehoram attacked Edom but was forced to retreat (2 Kings 8:16-24).  Second Kings 8:22 reports that Edom remained a thorn in Judah’s side throughout the entire period.

Once Judah and its capital of Jerusalem fell, there was no king in Judah to confront the Edomites.  However, Edom continued to find antagonists in Judah.  Prophets replaced Judah’s kings as national leaders, roles they had assumed even before the destruction.  Among those who prophesied judgment on Edom were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, among the major prophets, and Joel, Amos, and Obadiah among the minor prophets.4  Obadiah directed his entire prophecy toward Edom, chastising them for their part in Jerusalem’s fall and for plundering the Holy City following its capture (Obad. 1-21).

While Judah ceased to be an independent nation following the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of many of her leading inhabitants, Edom refused to fade from the biblical scene.  In the third century B.C., an Arabic people known as the Nabateans took over the old territory of Edom.  The area south of Judah, later called Idumaea, eventually provided a place for the Edomites west of the Arabah.5  Consequently, even though the Edomite nation suffered the same end as that of Judah, their influence extended into the Christian history of the area through a murderous king who was from Idumaea; Herod the Great.6

1.“Edom” in Holman Bible Dictionary (HBD), Trent butler, gen. ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 395.

2.J.R. Bartlett, “The Moabites and Edomites” in Peoples of Old Testament Times, D. J. Wiseman, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 229.

3.“Edom; Edomites” in The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, Avraham Negev, ed. rev. ed (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), 122.

4.For example, see Isaiah 34:5-6; Jeremiah 49:17; Ezekiel 25:13; Joel 3:19; and Amos l:11-12.

5.John Bright, A History of Israel, 4th ed. (Lousiville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 344.

6.“Idumea” in HBD, 686.

SOURCE:  Biblical Illustrator, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist convention; Nashville, TN 37234, Spring 2004.



By Gary C. Huckaby

Gary C. Huckaby is Dean, college of adult and continuing education, Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas.


HE ARABAH, the name seems to whisper the hint of a desert wind with a touch of and mystique. The Arabah is a desolate but ruggedly beautiful area stretching south from the Dead Sea. The ruddy appearance of the terrain captures an impression of the ancient people of Edom-the people of Esau.

In times past the Arabah was the western boundary of Edom. The Brook of Zered served as its northern boundary with Moab as the neighbor across the brook. These boundaries extended east and south into the hill country to include Mount Seir.

Today, a sparse population of “modern” Jordanians roam the dusty hills of Us region and tend their meandering flocks as did the people of Esau in the biblical era.

Visitors to the area are struck by its vast emptiness and yet an intense presence, especially at night. The sands hide the footprints of centuries of sojourners who have walked this way in loneliness and yet sensed God's nearness.

Esau was one of these. In a metaphorical sense, the region symbolizes his W and his choices-eternal emptiness or God's presence. Unfortunately, Esau held tightly to an empty earthly existence, and let go of God. The legacy of that decision surfaced again and again in Esau's heirs, the people of Edom.

Esau's story is simple but dramatic. Born to Isaac and Rebekah, he was the twin brother of Jacob (Israel). As the eldest son he would have received the birthright and a special blessing, but he sold the former and lost the latter to his brother, Jacob. The hostility from the situation resulted 'm tension between the brothers and their heirs.

There is more to the story. As with many of us, Esau's life might best be described by his closest relationships. The markers of his life's pilgrimage are carved with images of his mother (Rebekah), his father (Isaac), his brother (Jacob), and his God. Let’s examine each of these relationships and explore how the rest of the Bible views them.

Rebekah was Esau's mother (Gen. 25:19-26). Yet, from the moment the two children wrestled in her womb, Rebekah knew something was amiss. When she sought the Lord's counsel, He confirmed her suspicions. The children would experience no harmony, not then, not ever. Physically, she was to give birth to two nations (Israel and Edom); but emotionally she would love only the one, Jacob (Gen. 25:23,28).

Although Esau was the eldest son and deserved the rights due the firstborn, Rebekah chose to give her attention to Jacob. She also determined to ensure that Jacob received the birthright and the blessing. 'Me Bible does not record Rebekah's inner thoughts. We can only imagine the various plots she devised- except for one (see Gen. 27:5-17 for Rebekah's scheme).

The conniving sibling, Jacob, did not devise the plan to get his brother's blessing; Esau's mother was responsible (Gen. 27:5-10). What rationale convinced Rebekah that she was justified to weave such a web of deceit against her son? We do not know, but Esau's marriage to the Hittite women may have had something to do with it (Gen. 26:34-35).

Isaac, in contrast to Rebekah, loved Esau (Gen. 25:28). He appreciated Esau's skill as a hunter (Gen. 25:27). Although Isaac was troubled by Esau's marriage to the Hittite women, his love for Esau or his love of savory game apparently caused him to "look the other way.'

When time came to pass the blessing of the covenant on to the eldest son, Isaac was ready to bless Esau (Gen. 27:1-4). Had Rebekah concealed God's revelation from her husband? Either Isaac was unaware of the Lord's counsel before the birth of his sons (that the elder would serve the younger, Gen. 25:23), or he chose to ignore the possible implications. On the other hand, maybe Isaac did know about the prophecy but disagreed with Rebekah about its interpretation or his heart may have been as blind as were his eyes.

Whatever the case, Esau was convinced his quiver would be filled with his father's blessings. Sent to fetch fresh game before receiving his blessing, Esau returned to find that Isaac had missed his mark; only broken dreams were left for the hunter’s house. Isaac's love could not change the course of Esau's previous decision to forsake his birthright, a decision made in the face of death with worse-than-death consequences.

The whole relationship of Jacob and Esau, and all their conflict revolved around a bowl of red stew. For whatever reason, Esau was starving to death. When Esau came to his brother for help, Jacob was ready to claim the promise that the older would serve the younger. Jacob probably had heard this many times from his mother.

Jacob asked for his brother's birthright in exchange for the red stew. Esau apparently did not see the value of something he could not enjoy in death; so he sold his birthright for the bowl of pottage. Why was the birthright so important? Why would Esau be condemned for giving it up?

The birthright represented two blessings. First it is a double portion of the family riches. For example, if six sons were born to a family, the property would be divided into seven shares. The firstborn son then received two of the shares.

Did Isaac have nothing to offer his eldest? Although Isaac inherited all of Abraham's property, possibly the family had become poor. That Isaac ate wild game instead of mutton and Jacob had to work for his bride may suggest severe poverty. Although this is unlikely, Esau may have thought that he would receive little, if anything, for his birthright

Even if poverty had been the situation, Esau would have had to ignore the second part of the blessing: The birthright represented the continuance of the family line with all the privileges and promises granted by God. When Esau said, “I swear!” he not only gave up his property but also sold out his forefathers and the future generations of his family. Essentially he was saying that the covenant of God was not worth dying for. The ripples of this decision are found throughout the Bible.

This situation was compounded by Jacob's stealing Esau's blessing. Jacob, a man of peace and a herdsman, feared for his life and did not want to face his brother, the hunter. Jacob fled north to Aram (Syria) at his mother’s urging.

Despite the hatred that must have dwelt in Esau's heart, he and Jacob were later reconciled. Some people have suggested that Esau only feigned acceptance of his brother and was really waiting for an opportunity to gain his revenge.

Some merit may be seen in this suggestion since the two nations, Israel and Edom, exhibited the remnants of the brother's grudge throughout history. Edom suffered more for the conflict than did Israel and is the subject of condemnation by the Prophets (see lsa. 34:5-14; Jer. 49:7-22; Obad.).

God hated Esau (Mal. 1:3).  Spurned by his mother and supplanted by his brother, was Esau a victim of a wrathful and capricious God too? Or was he simply abandoned to suffer in his own carnality and pride (see Rom. 9:10-18;)? Maybe the point is not hatred, wrath, or even rejection, but rather mercy.

If we compare Esau and Jacob, we do not find much in them worthy of favor. Only by the grace of God was Jacob chosen. Only by the grace of God was Israel chosen. But then, only by the grace of God were the disciples chosen to carry God's grace to the world, and only by the same grace is the church chosen to carry God's grace.  In Jacob and Esau's lives we find an example of the unwarranted mercy of God.

Did Esau deserve God's rejection? Of course (and so do all of us); but would Esau have appreciated God's mercy? Only God knows. Maybe that is the reason Jacob was chosen and Esau was not.

Ironically, the shadow of the conflict between Esau and Jacob extends across the pages of the Bible all the way into the New Testament.  Edom's actions against Israel betray Esau's deep enmity, passed from generation to generation. Finally, Christ Himself encountered the age-old conflict when he faced Herod and his sons, Idumeans (better known as Edomites), sons of Esau. Here the drama seems to end in the face of overwhelming grace-and justice.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 1993.



By Robert A. Street

Robert A. Street is professor of computer information systems and Old Testament, Campbellsville University, Campbellsville, Kentucky.

IF YOU WERE TO WRITE about a hero of the biblical faith, you would probably depict the hero’s character as outstanding and without a doubt a model of proper action. You would show that his faith was unwavering and steadfast. Your hero would be a great man with unquestionable integrity, honor, and virtue.

That is not the image the Bible presents to us when we read about the heroes of Hebrew faith. Rather, the Bible presents men and women who often did questionable, if not disreputable, acts. The stories are not always flattering and often show an all-too-human side of the heroes of the biblical faith.

The Name Jacob

The above description is especially true with Jacob. Even his name gives a glimpse into his character. The Book of Genesis gives two explanations of his name. When he was born (Gen. 25:26), the babe was said to be holding on to his elder twin brother’s heel as if trying to stop his brother from being born first. Thus from the beginning Jacob is seen as attempting to supplant or replace Esau as the firstborn if Isaac and Rebecca. Later in Genesis 27:36, Esau said that Jacob’s name fit him for “he has supplanted me.” The word “supplant” means to replace, to displace, to remove, or even to cut out.

Further investigation into the meaning of the Hebrew verb associated with the name Jacob indicates that the basic idea is that of grasping and even defrauding. Hosea 12:3 states that Jacob “defrauded his brother in the womb.” Jeremiah 9:4 may be translated, “every brother defrauds like Jacob.”1 Obviously, the biblical record presents a darker side of the biblical hero. Those who defraud others are deceivers. Jacob’s life, as shown in Genesis, supports not only the idea that Jacob was a supplanter or deceiver but that he was himself often deceived.

Jacob as a Deceiver

The Jacob stories in Genesis are informative about Jacob’s character. Even before the births of Jacob and Esau, Rebecca sensed that there would be a struggle between them (Gen. 25:22-23). Jacob’s grasping at Esau’s heel at birth leads the reader of Genesis to suspect that all will not be well with the brothers.

This is quickly confirmed in Genesis 25:27-34 in the well-known story of Esau’s sale of this birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup. The birthright was primarily related to property inheritance. If scholars are correct, then the sale would mean that Jacob and Esau switched inheritances. As the first-born Esau would have received a double share or portion of Isaac’s estate when their father died. Through the legitimate, but definitely not honorable, purchase Jacob would receive the larger share and Esau would then receive the lesser share that was to come to Jacob. From Genesis 25:34 the idea that Esau cared little about being defrauded or cheated is clear.

Genesis 27:1-45 has not only Jacob involved in deceit but his mother Rebecca as well. Thinking he was approaching death, Isaac asked Esau, whom he favored over Jacob, to go on a hunting trip to secure wild game for food. Isaac told Esau that when he returned Esau would receive his blessing. The father’s blessing passed on the right to rule or succeed the father. Rebecca overheard the request and approached Jacob convincing him to deceive his father. Rebecca cooked food to fool Isaac and dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes. Though Isaac suspected something was not quite right and did his best to discover the truth (Gen. 27:16-27), the trickery worked.

Jacob received the blessing Isaac intended for Esau. The blessing consisted of prosperity through the good of the land (Gen. 27:28), servants and ruling over his mother’s descendants (Gen. 27:29a), and protection (Gen.27:29b). From the content of the blessing, Isaac clearly intended Esau to be the head of the family and to have the best of Isaac’s property.

When the deceit was uncovered, Isaac could not repeal his blessing that was mistakenly given to Jacob since it was a blessing given in the name of God. While this might seem strange, obviously Isaac felt that the blessing was more than just a legal passing on of property and authority. An oath or blessing before the Lord was a sacred thing not to be broken. Though Isaac could not revoke the blessing erroneously given to Jacob, he could and did give Esau a lesser blessing. When Jacob received the best land, Esau got the poor land, Where Jacob got the right to rule over the family, Esau was told that he would break free from the rule of his brother. Where Jacob had divine protection, Esau would live by the sword.

Esau’s reaction was that of anger and rightly so; he had been cheated. Esau planned to kill his brother when Isaac died. Rebecca once again got involved. She got permission form Isaac for Jacob to go to Haran and her brother Laban. Though the official reason for the trip was to find a suitable wife for Jacob, the real reason for Rebecca’s action was to get Jacob away from Esau (Gen. 27:42 – 28:5). Once again Jacob was involved in deception and deceit.

A Turning Point

After Jacob’s being involved in deceiving others, his role in deception changed from being the deceiver to being the one deceived. The change in his role occurred after his encounter with God on the way to Haran. His dream experience is recounted in Genesis 28:10-22.

Jacob as the Deceived

While Jacob was in Haran, he felt the other side of deception. The story of Jacob’s working for Laban to obtain Rachel as his wife and being tricked by his uncle is well known. After serving for seven years to pay a bride price for Rachel, Jacob awoke to find that he had married her sister Leah. Laban simply told Jacob that he should have known about the custom of the elder daughter having to be married before the younger. Jacob, whose reaction was quite similar to Esau’s reaction after the sale of the birthright, seems to have taken in all in stride for he agreed to work another seven years for Rachel. However, he didn’t have to wait the full seven years before his marriage to Rachel (Gen. 29:28).

After 20 years with Laban (Gen. 31:41), Jacob felt a pressing need to return to his father’s house, since the sons of Laban and even Laban himself became hostile toward him (Gen. 31:1-2). Rachel’s departing action from Haran was to steal Laban’s household gods (Gen. 31:19). Though Jacob deceived Laban by not letting him know that he was leaving, Jacob did not know about the theft performed by his wife (Gen. 31:32). Even his beloved Rachel deceived him.

As he returned to Canaan, Jacob was fearful for his life (Gen. 32). Unexpectedly, when Jacob and Esau met, Esau greeted him not as an enemy but as a long missing brother. Evidently, Esau has come to accept what had happened and held no grudge against Jacob.

Like his mother and his father, Jacob seems to have favored one some over the others. Joseph, the first son of Rachel, was his favorite son. Elevating Joseph to a position above his brothers resulted in Joseph’s being sold into slavery in Egypt. Joseph’s half brothers claimed that wild beast had killed him (Gen. 37:29-35). The brothers conspired and deceived their father, just as mother and son had deceived Isaac.

The final deceit, that Jacob endured, was caused by his favorite son. When the brothers went to Egypt to buy grain due to a famine in the land of Canaan, Benjamin, the youngest brother and the son of Rachel, was left at home. Jacob was afraid something might happen to him (Gen. 42:3-4). In Egypt the brothers unknowingly encountered Joseph. Having risen to a position of power in Egypt, Joseph did not reveal himself to them. Even though Joseph permitted them to buy grain, he demanded that one of them stay in Egypt as hostage until they returned with the youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph took Simeon, the second son of Leah, as a guarantee that they would return (Gen. 42:18-24).

The return of Jacob’s sons to Egypt was not immediate for Jacob feared losing yet another son (Gen. 42:36 – 43:17). In Egypt Joseph continued to play tricks on or deceive his family (Gen. 42:18 – 44:34). But Judah’s pleading was too much for Joseph, and he revealed his identity and invited the entire family to Egypt (Gen. 45:1-25). The deception was finished.

When the brothers returned home, they told Jacob that Joseph was still alive; but Jacob didn’t believe it at first (Gen. 45:26-28). Convinced, Jacob with his family ventured into Egypt to live under the protection of Joseph and the pharaoh (Gen. 46:1 – 47:12).

The deceptions and deceits that surrounded Jacob all his life were at an end. The one who grasped at his brother’s heel at birth did supplant his elder brother through trickery. The son who learned favoritism from his parents learned to practice it with his own sons. Then the deceiver became the deceived. The son who deceived his father was deceived by his sons, even his favored son.                   Bi

1. H.J. Zobel, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), VI:188.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1999




(5.475)  What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? What nation did God toss His shoes upon?  Answer Next Week:

Last week’s question: Who dropped dead as a stone on hearing bad news the morning after being drunk?  Answer: Nabal, Abigail’s husband; 1 Samuel 25:36-37.