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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Esau

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ESAU . 1 . The name is best explained as meaning ‘tawny’ or ‘shaggy’ ( Genesis 25:25 ); Edom or ‘ruddy’ was sometimes substituted for it ( Genesis 25:30 ), and Esau is represented as the progenitor of the Edomites ( Genesis 36:9 ; Genesis 36:43 , Jeremiah 49:8 ff., Obadiah 1:8 ). He displaced the Horites from the hilly land of Seir, and settled there with his followers ( Genesis 32:3 ; Genesis 36:8 , Deuteronomy 2:12 ). His career is sketched briefly but finely by weaving incidents collected from two sources (J [Note: Jahwist.] and E [Note: Elohist.] ; in the early part, chiefly the former), whilst the Priestly writer is supposed to have contributed a few particulars ( Genesis 26:34 f., Genesis 26:28 :9, 36). The standing feature of Esau’s history is rivalry with Jacob, which is represented as even preceding the birth of the twins ( Genesis 25:22 , Hosea 12:3 ). The facts may be collected into four groups. The sale of the birthright ( Genesis 25:29 ff.) carried with it the loss of precedence after the father’s death ( Genesis 27:29 ), and probably loss of the domestic priesthood ( Numbers 3:12-13 ), and of the double portion of the patrimony ( Deuteronomy 21:17 ). For this act the NT calls Esau’ profane’ ( Hebrews 12:16 ), thus revealing the secret of his character; the word (Gr. bebçlos ) suggests the quality of a man to whom nothing is sacred, whose heart and thought range over only what is material and sensibly present. To propitiate his parents, Esau sought a wife of his own kin ( Genesis 28:8-9 ), though already married to two Hittite women ( Genesis 26:34-35 ). His father’s proposed blessing was diverted by Jacob’s artifice; and, doomed to live by war and the chase ( Genesis 27:40 ), Esau resolved to recover his lost honours by killing his brother. Twenty years later the brothers were reconciled ( Genesis 33:4 ); after which Esau made Seir his principal abode, and on the death of Isaac settled there permanently ( Genesis 35:29 , Genesis 36:6 , Deuteronomy 2:4-5 , Joshua 24:4 ).

By a few writers Esau has been regarded as a mythical personage, the personification of the roughness of Idumæa. It is at least as likely that a man of Esau’s character and habits would himself choose to live in a country of such a kind (Malachi 1:3 ); and mere legends about the brothers, as the early Targums are a witness, would not have made Esau the more attractive man, and the venerated Jacob, in comparison, timid, tricky, and full of deceits. Against the historicity of the record there is really no substantial evidence.

2 . The head of one of the families of Nethinim, or Temple servants, who accompanied Nehemiah to Jerusalem ( 1Es 5:29 ); see Ziha.

R. W. Moss.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Esau'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/e/esau.html. 1909.

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