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Esau

[Genesis 25, 26 & 27; don’t read, just mark your place.]  There is no story throughout human history that is more tragic than the story of Esau.  Esau, as the first-born son, had it all:  His portion of the inheritance was the double portion and the birthright.  The birthright is the advantages accruing to the eldest son.  These were not definitely fixed things in patriarchal times, but great respect was paid to him in the household, and as the family widened into a tribe, this grew into a sustained authority, undefined except by custom, in all matters of common interest.  [Numbers 7:2]  The "princes" of the congregation had probably rights of primogeniture (the state of being the firstborn). 

Gradually the rights of the eldest son came to be more definite: (1) The functions of the priesthood in the family with the paternal blessing. (2) A "double portion" of the paternal property was allotted by the Mosaic Law. (3) The eldest son succeeded to the official authority of the father. The first-born of the king was his successor by law.  (2 Chronicles 21:3)  In all these Jesus was the first-born of the father.  As Scripture shows, the birthright is not something that should be lightly esteemed; it’s something that we should put a high value on.  Esau’s story is a lesson for us all.

Isaac, the son of Abraham, found himself in a similar situation as his father had been:  His wife was barren and he needed a son; children were a form of social security.  Not only did he personally need one, but also God had promised that Abraham’s offspring would be great.  Isaac, however, did not follow the same crooked policy as his father (concerning Hagar & Ishmael), although we will see later that he followed a different crooked policy.  [Genesis 26:4]  Twenty years he continued unblessed with offspring, whose seed was to be "as the stars". But in answer to their mutual prayers, Rebekah was divinely informed that she was to be the mother of twins, who should be the progenitors or direct forefathers of two independent nations; that the descendants of the younger should be the more powerful and subdue those of the other [2 Chronicles 21:8].

[Genesis 25:22] tells us [Genesis 25:22].  Apparently, this was some time before she gave birth, and it was not quite normal.  She had apparently inquired of others and was told that it was not normal, so she went to seek information from Jehovah.  Sarah is informed that [Genesis 25:23].  It was as if they were already struggling for mastery. 

When time for birth came, [Genesis 25:25,26]. The name, “Esau”, is from uncertain origins.  The word Esau has been generally considered to imply made, formed, perfected, or robust, etc. But it appears to be a dialectical variation of the Arabic atha, to be covered with hair; whence athai, hairy, as no doubt the word Esau imports, in allusion to the circumstance of his being covered with red hair or down at his birth.  (If we derive it from asah it must signify made, performed, and, according to some, perfected; [Arabic] esa in Arabic signifies to make firm or hard, and also to come to man's estate, to grow old.  Probably he had this name from his appearing to be more perfect, robust.)

While we may not be certain where the name “Esau” originated, we do know where this word “hairy” comes from.  It is from the Hebrew word “sa’ir”, which is translated in some places as hairy and some places “kid”, as in goat.  Number 18:17 tells us that goats are holy.  The lost are never referred to as holy.  I did discover something interesting while studying, though.  I’ve often though, “How could anyone confuse a person, not matter how hairy, with a goat?”  I grew up around animals my whole life, and I’ve never seen a hairy person who felt like a goat.  Well, the goats in Israel have soft, supple fur that is often used for wigs.  So, Esau was a healthy, robust, Israeli goat.

Jacob, whose name is from akab, to defraud, deceive, to supplant, in other words, to overthrow a person by tripping up his heels. Hence this name was given to Jacob, because it was found he had laid hold on his brother's heel, which was symbolical of his supplanting Esau, and defrauding him of his birthright.  This is appropriate both in the current situation here in Genesis 25:26 (the grabbing of the heel at birth), and it will be appropriate in the future in which Jacob supplants Esau.

As the boys grew, from the beginning, they were opposites in manner and custom.  [Genesis 25:27,28].  Esau became “a cunning hunter, a man of the field,” i.e., a man wandering about in the fields. What is the field? [Matthew 13:38; keep your finger here.]

[Genesis 25:28] tells us Esau was his father's favorite, for “venison was in his mouth,”; he was fond of it.  But Jacob was “a pious man” (verse 27 says “plain”, but it’s the same word); this Hebrew word used here denotes a disposition that finds pleasure in the quiet life of home.  Not dwelling or living in tents, but sitting in the tents at other times, pondering, in contrast with the wild hunter's life led by his brother; hence he was his mother's favorite.  Esau is a man of the world; Jacob is a man of faith.     

When the boys were about fifteen years old, Esau came in from the field and was faint with hunger.  According to the Targum of Jonathan (an explanatory translation or paraphrase sometimes passed down orally), this happened in the day in which Abraham died.

[2 Kings 4:38; keep your place.]  Pottage is the food of mourners and prophets.  This food, which was a dainty, possibly prepared for this reason, would have been irresistibly tempting to someone just out of the field who had not been successful.  Esau, was obviously unfamiliar with it, as he said (in the Hebrew), “Let me eat, I pray thee, some of this red red thing”.  (Incidentally, from this, Esau received the name “Edom”, or “Red”.)

[Genesis 25:31].  Jacob, a pious man, realized the importance of the birthright; he esteemed it.  The birthright entailed not only the double portion of his father’s worldly goods in the future, but also spiritual blessings (the blessing was usually earned, but the birthright was automatic).  Esau, being a man of the world, did not esteem the spiritual blessings, nor did he look to the future.  His mind was in the present in the world.

There is plenty of evidence that he knew what he was giving away, but because of the daily risks he took, he did not value the possibility of his inheritance.  How many of us today aren’t concerned with the future?  It could be the daily cares of life or it could just be an attitude of “I’m number one”.  But, you need to be concerned with the future.  Esau showed himself to be a profane person who cared for nothing but the present.  [Genesis 25:34]  The words in Genesis 25:34 judges and condemns the behavior of Esau.  He despised the birthright.  “Despise” means to hold in contempt or disdain; he despised the birthright.  Don’t despise the birthright; don’t be a profane person.

During the famine talked about in chapter 26, Isaac and his family move to the land of the Philistines.  There, Esau, still demonstrating his unconcern for righteousness, marries two daughters of the Philistines instead of those of his family in Mesopotamia.  He didn’t just move one, but two of the idolatrous women into the house.  This undoubtedly created much dissension and unrest in the family of Isaac.  I can almost feel the tension still, emanating from these pages.

When Isaac was 137 years old and knowing his death was eminent, he sent his eldest son out to the field to bring back venison, which pleased Isaac greatly, after which, he would bless him.  (Isaac loves the world, doesn’t he?  Remember the field is the world.)  Scripture does not say if Isaac was ignorant of, or simply ignoring the revelation of God that said the elder shall serve the younger.  Also, Scripture does not say if Isaac was even aware of the sale of the birthright to Jacob, so we can only assume he does.  (The blessing is usually part of the birth right; Isaac doesn’t seem to care that Esau is unrighteous.)  Isaac, as much of the Christian world today, is not simply forgiving of unrighteousness, but also accepting of the ways of the world if those ways please him, or if he gains by those ways.  How many of us here today are guilty of this?

Rebekah, hearing Isaac’s intentions, contrives a plan to get the blessing for Jacob.  Her intentions are good, but the methods are crooked.  Esau had sold the birthright to Jacob; even so, taking advantage of the infirmities of an old man is not righteous.  If she had gone to Isaac and reminded him of the promise and of the selling of the birthright and of the unrighteousness of Esau (marrying the Canaanite and Hittite women), he would most likely have voluntarily bestowed the blessing upon Jacob.  Instead, she used bad means to achieve good ends; the ends were the will of God, but there were serious consequences for taking things into her own hands.  

[Overhead]  The center of the chiastic structure is revealed when Esau returned from the field and the deception of Rebekah and Jacob is discovered.  The words in [Genesis 27:30] are very important:  “Jacob is just going out” and “his brother hath come in” rings to mind how they were born.  Jacob simply thinks he has realized his destiny as revealed in a revelation from Jehovah.

When the deception was discovered, Isaac trembled violently (Genesis 27:33) and Esau cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry (Genesis 27:34).  Isaac could not take back the blessing and the oracle from God was fulfilled.

Esau stated his hatred for his brother and vowed to kill him when his father died.  Rebekah had to heap more lies to cover the actions of the previous deceptions.  When she heard of Esau’s intentions to kill Jacob, she wanted to send Jacob away to Laban’s.  But, in order to do this, she told Isaac that it was to prevent Jacob from marrying a Hittite as Esau had done.  By her deceptions, she had lost (spiritually) one son (Esau); she didn’t want to lose another one.  Well… she lost him any way; she never saw him again.  Her deceptions and her attempt at achieving the will of God through her own means had cost her both sons.

Esau, seeing Jacob blessed and sent away to take a wife, still wants to please his father.  Knowing that they see the Canaanite women as evil, he takes a daughter of Ishmael as his wife.  Remember, Ishmael was the first child of Abraham, but not the blessed line.  Esau once again, turns to the way of the world and his own understanding to please his father.  By failing to take into account the spiritual, he is still departed from righteousness.  We need to learn that we can’t achieve righteousness through our own worldly understanding!

After many years, Jacob returned to the land.  Esau came out to meet him with 400 men, either to scare him or to show what a mighty prince he had become.  Jacob did not know if Esau’s intentions were still to kill him.  Think about it; the last time you saw your brother, he vowed to kill you, you show up and he meets you with 400 men…  When they met, Esau embraced him as a brother and gave him gifts.

The story of Esau is one that teaches many spiritual lessons, but the types involved should be considered at great length.  These types give a necessary foundation for understanding other spiritual truths.

[1 Corinthians 10:11]  [Hebrews 12:15,16]  “Profane” means treating something sacred with irreverence or contempt or one who debases by an unworthy use.  We are admonished to not be as Esau.  Don’t be a goat!

[Galatians 6]  In type, what was Esau?  Matthew 13:38 says, “and the field is the world”.  In type, Esau was a man of the field or a man of the world.  (Where do goats eat and live?)  We are not to live for this world because [Galatians 6:8]. 

By living in the world, we are losing our inheritance.  What is inheritance?  It is the birthright of the first-born; it’s what we get from our Father.  Esau forfeited his birthright; his inheritance; to satisfy fleshly gratification; it was his to lose!  To receive the birthright, one must be the first-born son; mature.  But, we can lose it.  This is not talking about salvation, because, thank God, we can never lose that!

Being a first-born son first requires being a son.  In all three sections of Scripture where Christians are presently referred to as “sons,” adoption is also in view.  In both Romans and Galatians, in the Greek text, the word huiothesia (the word translated as “adoption”, or literally “son-placing”) appears in the context of the verses where Christians are referred to as “sons”.  (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5)  In Hebrews, adoption is seen in the context as well, though from a different perspective. It is seen following the verses referring to Christians as “sons” (in Hebrews 12:16,17 —verses forming the heart of the fifth and final major warning in the book, dealing with Esau [the firstborn] forfeiting his birthright).  We can see that as Christians, we must be adopted or placed as a first-born son, to receive an inheritance in the coming Kingdom.  We can lose that inheritance!  This is not talking about salvation!

Finally, we have types of those who are called and those who are elect.  The called must come from the family; the elect are chosen from the called.  Jacob and Esau were both called; Esau lost out.  Not all Christians are called; not all who are called will be elected.

Esau was a man who potentially had everything that could be desired, but he wasted it all on one moment’s gratification of the flesh.  He lived for the world instead of for the spiritual.  Let Esau’s life serve as an antitype:  Don’t live for the world; don’t be a goat.  Live for God today, and esteem your inheritance.  Don’t live in the field and try to please man through your own designs; live for God that you may achieve the blessed hope and be adopted as a first-born son that you may receive a double portion.  Serve God that you may be found acceptable in His sight and that your inheritance won’t be laid waste as was Esau’s.