The firstborn of Isaac and Rebekah; the twin brother of Jacob and the forefather of the Edomites. He was given the name Esau because of his unusual hairy appearance at birth, but he got the name Edom (meaning “Red”) from the red lentil stew for which he sold his birthright.—Ge 25:25, 26, 30.
Even before the birth of the twins in 1858 B.C.E., when Isaac was 60 years of age, the infants struggled in their mother’s womb. Answering Rebekah’s inquiry concerning the meaning of this, Jehovah revealed to her that two national groups would be separated from her inward parts and that the older would serve the younger.—Ge 25:22, 23.
Disdain for Spiritual Matters. Esau became a skilled and adventurous hunter, “a wild man.” Unlike his brother, “blameless” Jacob, Esau was fleshly-minded and materialistic. (Ge 25:27) But Isaac loved Esau, “because it meant game in his mouth.”—Ge 25:28.
One day Esau, tired and hungry, came along from the field while Jacob was boiling up some stew. In response to Esau’s request, “Quick, please, give me a swallow of the red—the red there,” Jacob asked him to sell his birthright. Having no appreciation for sacred things, namely, the promise of Jehovah to Abraham respecting the seed through whom all nations of the earth would bless themselves, Esau impetuously, by sworn oath, sold his birthright to Jacob for one meal of lentil stew and bread. By thus despising the birthright, viewing it as of little value, Esau showed a complete lack of faith. He perhaps wanted no part in suffering the fulfillment of God’s word concerning Abraham’s seed: “Your seed will become an alien resident in a land not theirs, and they will have to serve them, and these will certainly afflict them for four hundred years.”—Ge 15:13; 25:29-34; Heb 12:16.
At the age of 40, Esau made his own arrangements for marriage. By choice he became a polygamist, and unlike his father Isaac, who had let his father Abraham arrange for a wife from the worshipers of Jehovah, Esau took two pagan Hittite women, Judith (Oholibamah?) and Basemath (Adah?), as wives. These women proved to be a source of bitterness of spirit to both Isaac and Rebekah.—Ge 26:34, 35; 36:2; 24:1-4, 50, 51; see BASEMATH No. 1; JUDITH.
Bestowal of Jacob’s Blessing. When Isaac was advanced in years he desired to give his blessing to his older son Esau. First Isaac directed Esau to hunt some venison and to make a tasty dish for him. This Esau proceeded to do with a view to receiving the blessing as firstborn, though he actually was no longer entitled to that blessing by reason of his having sold his birthright. Thus, he was willing to break his oath-bound covenant made at the sale of the birthright. Knowing what Jehovah had said to her before the birth of her twins, Rebekah intervened, advising Jacob to present himself before his father as Esau and thus procure the blessing that was rightfully his. When presenting himself before his blind father, Jacob was dressed in Esau’s garments, with the skins of kids on his hands and on the hairless part of his neck. Hence, Isaac did not recognize him.—Ge 25:23; 27:1-23.
No sooner had Isaac finished blessing Jacob than Esau came in from the hunt and proceeded to prepare a tasty dish for his father. On coming in before his father to receive the blessing dishonestly and learning that Isaac had blessed Jacob, “Esau began to cry out in an extremely loud and bitter manner.” Earnestly, but with selfish motive, he sought a blessing from his father, but even his breaking out in tears did not change Isaac’s mind and cause him to retract the blessing that he had pronounced upon Jacob. Likely Isaac recognized Jehovah’s leading in the matter. He then proceeded to say to Esau: “Behold, away from the fertile soils of the earth your dwelling will be found, and away from the dew of the heavens above. And by your sword you will live, and your brother you will serve. But it will certainly occur that, when you grow restless, you will indeed break his yoke off your neck.”—Ge 25:33; 27:30-40; Heb 12:17.
Esau knew that Jacob was entitled to the blessing because he had legally acquired the birthright. (Archaeological testimony confirms that among ancient peoples of the Middle East the practice existed of exchanging a birthright for something material. For example, a text from Nuzi tells of one brother’s receiving three sheep in exchange for his share of the inheritance.) But Esau, like Cain, harbored animosity toward his brother Jacob and was waiting for an opportunity to put him to death. Therefore, Rebekah, on learning of this, advised Jacob to run away to her brother Laban at Haran. When seeking Isaac’s consent in this matter, she kindly chose not to reveal to Isaac the murderous intention of Esau but voiced her feelings as to how she would be affected if Jacob ever took a wife like the daughters of Heth. Isaac then called Jacob, blessed him, and directed him to go to Paddan-aram to Rebekah’s relatives to obtain a wife. When Esau saw this, he was prompted to take a third wife, Mahalath (Basemath?) the daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael.—Ge 27:41–28:9; 36:3; see BASEMATH No. 2.
Later Events. Sometime during the 20 years that Jacob was away, Esau began to establish interests in Seir, the field of Edom. (Ge 32:3; Jos 24:4) It appears that it was years later that he made the complete move, taking his family and all of his possessions to Seir. (Ge 36:6-8) When Jacob returned to Canaan, he became quite alarmed upon receiving word from the messengers he had sent that Esau, along with 400 men, was on his way to meet him. Esau’s reason for coming with a band of 400 men may have been to impress his brother with his superior strength or possibly to show that he was a mighty chieftain. Jacob, after praying to Jehovah, sent ahead a generous gift of more than 550 head of livestock. On seeing Esau, Jacob, in humility, “proceeded to bow down to the earth seven times until he got near to his brother.” Esau then went running to meet him, embraced Jacob, fell upon his neck, and kissed him. Both of them burst into tears. Esau at first refused to accept Jacob’s gift of livestock, saying: “I have a great many, my brother. Let continue yours what is yours.” However, at Jacob’s urging, Esau finally accepted the gift. He then offered to accompany Jacob, but his brother tactfully declined this as well as Esau’s later proposal to place some of his men at Jacob’s disposal, likely for protection. Esau and his men then departed and returned to Seir. The Bible record mentions that, about 23 years later, at the death of Isaac, Esau and Jacob buried their father.—Ge 32:6, 7, 10-15; 33:1-3, 8, 9, 11-16; 35:29.
Divine Principles Illustrated. The personality of Esau clearly shows that the choosing of Jacob as a forefather of the promised Seed was no arbitrary choice or unreasonable favoritism on the part of Jehovah God. Esau’s lack of appreciation for spiritual things, coupled with his strong tendency toward satisfying fleshly desires, made Esau unfit to be in the direct line of the promised Seed. Hence, Jehovah’s words, through his prophet Malachi: “But I loved Jacob, and Esau I have hated.” Esau is excluded from among the faithful cloud of witnesses listed in Hebrews, chapter 11, when Paul says: “By faith Abraham . . . dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise.”—Mal 1:2, 3; Heb 11:8, 9; 12:1.
Jehovah’s selection of Jacob over Esau shows that God’s choosing does not depend on man’s dictates. The apostle Paul uses this incident as an illustration of the fact that the true children of Abraham are not necessarily those of fleshly descent, nor those who depend on their own works, but those of the faith of Abraham.—Ro 9:6-12.
Esau is set forth as a warning example to Christians so that they will not be guilty, as was Esau the materialist, of lack of appreciation for sacred or spiritual things.—Heb 12:16; see EDOM, EDOMITES.