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ESAU (ē’saw, Heb. ‘ēsāw, hairy). The first-born of the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, sons of Isaac and Rebecca (Gen.25.24-Gen.25.25). Before their birth God had told their mother that the elder should serve the younger (Gen.25.23). Esau became a man of the fields. He apparently lived only for the present. This characteristic was demonstrated when he let Jacob have his birthright for a dinner of bread and stew because he was hungry (Gen.25.30-Gen.25.34).

At the age of forty he married two Hittite women (Gen.26.34). When the time came for Isaac to give his blessing to his son, he wanted to confer it on Esau, but, through trickery, Jacob obtained the blessing instead. This loss grieved Esau very much. He begged for another blessing, and when he received it he hated it because it made him the servant of his brother. He hated Jacob for cheating him and intended to kill him (Gen.27.1-Gen.27.46).

When Esau saw Jacob sent away to obtain a wife from his mother’s relatives he understood that Canaanite wives did not please his father, so he went out and took for himself two additional wives of the Ishmaelites (Gen.28.6-Gen.28.9).

Years later, when he was living in Mount Seir, Esau heard that Jacob was returning to Canaan (Gen.32.3-Gen.32.5). With four hundred men he set out to meet his brother warmly (Gen.32.7-Gen.33.15). They soon parted company and Esau went back to Mount Seir (Gen.33.16).

In the providence of God, Esau was made subservient to Jacob. In Heb.12.16-Heb.12.17 he is described as a profane person. Long after Esau’s death the Lord declared he had loved Jacob and hated Esau (Mal.1.2-Mal.1.3). The apostle Paul used this passage to illustrate how God carries out his purposes (Rom.9.10-Rom.9.13).

Sometimes in Scripture Esau is used as the name of the land of Edom in which his descendants lived (Gen.36.8).——CEH

ESAU e’ sô (עֵשָׂ֛ו, hairy), son of Isaac and Rebekah, and elder twin brother of Jacob. He is also named Edom, meaning Red. As Esau grew up he became an outdoor man who enjoyed hunting. He brought venison home to his father and became his father’s favorite. At the same time his brother Jacob won the favor of his mother by remaining indoors and learning to work in the house.

On one occasion Esau returned from the hunt to find his brother cooking some red pottage. Esau asked for some of the pottage, but his brother took advantage of the situation by asking Esau’s birthright in exchange. Esau, reasoning that his birthright would be meaning-less if he were to die of starvation, sold his birthright (Gen 25:29-34). Although Jacob took advantage of his brother’s weakness, Esau is censured for the little value he placed on the birthright. He did not trust God to provide for him in his need.

Esau showed his lack of concern for the covenant promises by marrying two local girls who were not related to the people of Abraham (Gen 26:34, 35; 36:1, 2). The mixed marriages caused grief to Esau’s parents, particularly his mother. When Isaac was old and feeble he decided to confer his blessing on Esau, his favorite son. Rebekah, however, determined to fool her husband into blessing Jacob instead. Esau was sent out to find the game which his father enjoyed eating. Rebekah, in the meantime, placed Esau’s clothes on Jacob and induced Jacob to go to his father with the meat that she had prepared, to get the blessing intended for Esau. The deception was successful. Jacob received the blessing meant for Esau, and Esau was angered. He planned to kill Jacob, but Jacob—with his mother’s aid—fled to the ancestral home in northern Mesopotamia where he married and began to raise his family. With the principal blessing given to Jacob, Esau had to be content with a lesser blessing. He would continue to be a man of the open spaces (Gen 27:39, 40), and while he would be subject to his brother, the time would come when he would regain his independence. This reflects the fact that the Edomites, descendants of Esau, were subject to Israel during times of Israelite strength. In Israelite weakness, however, Edom became an independent state. Jacob remained in northern Mesopotamia twenty years, and on his way back he sought means of appeasing Esau. Esau, however, had prospered in the region of Mt. Seir during Jacob’s absence. They had an amicable reunion, after which Jacob went on to Canaan, and Esau back to the region of Edom. The Biblical account of Jacob and Esau seeks to show that the line of promise went from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob-Israel, and that the later Israelites are the descendants of Jacob. Esau, who lost his birthright and blessing, forfeited the rights of the first-born. He ha d, however, a satisfying life in the region of Mt. Seir. His descendants are the Edomites.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(`esaw, "hairy"; Esau):

Son of Isaac, twin brother of Jacob. The name was given on account of the hairy covering on his body at birth: "all over like a hairy garment" (Ge 25:25). There was a prenatal foreshadowing of the relation his descendants were to sustain to those of his younger brother, Jacob (Ge 25:23). The moment of his birth also was signalized by a circumstance that betokened the same destiny (Ge 25:26).

The young Esau was fond of the strenuous, daring life of the chase--he became a skillful hunter, "a man of the field" (’ish sadheh). His father warmed toward him rather than toward Jacob, because Esau’s hunting expeditions resulted in meats that appealed to the old man’s taste (Ge 25:28). Returning hungry from one of these expeditions, however, Esau exhibited a characteristic that marked him for the inferior position which had been foretokened at the time of his birth. Enticed by the pottage which Jacob had boiled, he could not deny himself, but must, at once, gratify his appetite, though the calm and calculating Jacob should demand the birthright of the firstborn as the price (Ge 25:30-34). Impulsively he snatched an immediate and sensual gratification at the forfeit of a future glory. Thus he lost the headship of the people through whom God’s redemptive purpose was to be wrought out in the world, no less than the mere secular advantage of the firstborn son’s chief share in the father’s temporal possessions. Though Esau had so recklessly disposed of his birthright, he afterward would have secured from Isaac the blessing that appertained, had not the cunning of Rebekah provided for Jacob. Jacob, to be sure, had some misgiving about the plan of his mother (Ge 27:12), but she reassured him; the deception was successful and he secured the blessing. Now, too late, Esau bitterly realized somewhat, at least, of his loss, though he blamed Jacob altogether, and himself not at all (Ge 27:34,36). Hating his brother on account of the grievance thus held against him, he determined upon fratricide as soon as his father should pass away (Ge 27:41); but the watchful Rebekah sent Jacob to Haran, there to abide with her kindred till Esau’s wrath should subside (Ge 27:42-45).

Esau, at the age of forty, had taken two Hittite wives, and had thus displeased his parents. Rebekah had shrewdly used this fact to induce Isaac to fall in with her plan to send Jacob to Mesopotamia; and Esau, seeing this, seems to have thought he might please both Isaac and Rebekah by a marriage of a sort different from those already contracted with Canaanitish women. Accordingly, he married a kinswoman in the person of a daughter of Ishmael (Ge 28:6,9). Connected thus with the "land of Seir," and by the fitness of that land for one who was to live by the sword, Esau was dwelling there when Jacob returned from Mesopotamia. While Jacob dreaded meeting him, and took great pains to propitiate him, and made careful preparations against a possible hostile meeting, very earnestly seeking Divine help, Esau, at the head of four hundred men, graciously received the brother against whom his anger had so hotly burned. Though Esau had thus cordially received Jacob, the latter was still doubtful about him, and, by a sort of duplicity, managed to become separated from him, Esau returning to Seir (Ge 33:12-17). Esau met his brother again at the death of their father, about twenty years later (Ge 35:29). Of the after years of his life we know nothing.

Esau was also called Edom ("red"), because he said to Jacob: "Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage" (Ge 25:30). The land in which he established himself was "the land of Seir," so called from Seir, ancestor of the Horites whom Esau found there; and called also Edom from Esau’s surname, and, it may be, too, from the red sandstone of the country (Sayce).

"Esau" is sometimes found in the sense of the descendants of Esau, and of the land in which they dwelt (De 2:5; Ob 1:6,8,18,19).