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As the firstborn of Isaac’s twin sons, Esau was entitled to the family birthright. This meant that, upon his father’s death, he would receive twice the inheritance of any other sons and become family head. Moreover, in the case of Isaac’s firstborn, it included headship of God’s chosen people and the right to possess the land of Canaan. But Esau was an unspiritual and irresponsible person, preferring temporary benefits to lasting blessings. Foolishly he sold his birthright to his ruthless twin, Jacob (Genesis 25:29-34; Hebrews 12:16).

The custom was for the father to confirm the birthright by giving his special blessing before he died. Esau tried to gain this blessing ahead of Jacob, but again Jacob’s cunning defeated him (Genesis 27:1-29). Overcome with misery and anger, Esau tried to kill Jacob, but Jacob found out and escaped (Genesis 27:30-38; Genesis 27:41-45; Hebrews 12:17).

Although God’s purpose was that his promises to Abraham and Isaac be fulfilled through Jacob and not Esau, that did not excuse either of them for their disgraceful behaviour (Genesis 25:23; Romans 9:10-13). Nevertheless, God had a blessing for Esau. Esau would not father the nation that God would make his own, but he would father a nation that would establish a name for itself in the region. This was the nation Edom, which occupied the barren regions south and east of the Dead Sea (Genesis 27:39-40; see EDOM).

Esau confirmed his position as being outside God’s covenant blessings by marrying firstly two local Hittite women, and later a daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 26:34-35; Genesis 28:8-9). When Jacob returned to Canaan after twenty years, Esau went to meet him. Fearful of what might happen, Jacob begged Esau’s mercy, but Esau responded with such generous forgiveness that the dreaded meeting turned into a happy reunion (Genesis 32:1-21; Genesis 33:1-16). The two brothers met again when together they buried their father Isaac (Genesis 35:27-29).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Esau'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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