Study Guide

Esau in Book of Genesis

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Let's face it, Esau is a bit of a blockhead. If you think about it, Jacob walks all over him, but he's almost too dumb to feel bad for.

Brotherly Not-So-Love

The few sentences describing the birth of Jacob and Esau (25:24-26) pretty much sum it up: Esau is born all red and hairy, so they name him "hairy" (Esau) and the text gives us a not-so-subtle nod toward the nation which will come from his descendants, called Edom or "red." And when Esau emerges from his mother's womb, Jacob is already clutching his heel.

Esau is defined in contrast to Jacob—these two are as starkly different as the opposing candidates in a political attack ad. Esau is a rough and tumble hunter, so hairy and game-smelling that he doesn't require camouflage. Oh, and he marries foreign women. Cut to Jacob, smooth skin (27:11) and marrying the right women to boot (26:34-35; 28:1-2).

Seeing Red—then Pink

Did you notice that everything about Esau is red? And we're not just talking about his hair.

Esau literally sells his inheritance for a bowl of red soup, asking for some of that red, red stuff (35:30). Yep, the word for red repeats in the Hebrew text. That's how you know it's important.

Later, when Esau loses his father's blessing to his Catch Me If You Can brother, he begins to see red. Desire for revenge starts to consume him, and he starts pawing the ground in preparation to charge.

But things calm down for our blockheaded buddy. Many years later, after having fled the scene, Jacob comes back home, shaking in his boots. As Esau watches him approach alone (33:1-3), we can hear the high noon showdown music playing as a tumbleweed blows across the gap between them. But instead of a good ol' gunslinger duel, it becomes an Edward and Bella trope, complete with running to meet each other in the field. Esau takes the high ground, forgives, and breaks the yoke—just as the prophecy went—no longer his brother's yo-yo.

Chew on these scrambled eggs: is Esau heroic for his compassion toward his twin, or is he just one more person who lets Jacob get away with highway robbery?

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