Why Jacob Over Esau



By: William Jackson

There hasn’t been twins more diverse than Esau and Jacob in the history of mankind.  As we see in Genesis 25:27 it tells us that “Esau became a skillful hunter, an outdoorsman; while Jacob was a quiet man who stayed in the tents”.  In short we have a jock and a homebody.  So why wouldn’t a warrior type like Esau be fitting to establish God’s chosen nation? Warriors like King David where Israel’s best leaders 1?  Also this would have been an especially good fit since it was Esau’s birthright to begin with.  Conversely, what seems more confounding is why should such an unadventurous type, like Jacob, who is prone to deception establish the beginning to this great nation. Let’s go back to a time when we first see tension in there relationship.


We are first introduced to Jacob’s descriptive nature when he trades a bowl of soup for his brother’s birthright.  But we need to investigate a little deeper.  Jacob never deceived Esau here, he simply asked an unrealistic price for a service.  The confounding part is that Esau agreed to it.  I now when I am confronted by an over marked “price tag” I walk away but Esau didn’t.  Yet some might argue Esau was “starving” and Jacob’s soup held the power of life and death, this makes Jacob out to be an opportunist.  Before we fully believe this let’s look at the Hebrew, the word some Christian bibles use for “starving”.  The word is “ayeph” which actually means exhausted, famished or weary.  We must admit that the consequences behind “self-preservation” and being fatigued are very drastic.  The point of this story really isn’t about Jacob’s scheming.  If it was, Jacob would have received the birthright and would not have had to deceive his father for it some 50 years later. The point of the story is addressed at the end of verse 34 “…Esau showed how little he valued his birthright.”


Then we move onto Chapter 26 which appears almost inconsistent with the flow of the story because it focuses on Isaac and a famine, instead of the twins.  At the beginning of this chapter God reestablishes His blessing, which is the Abrahamic covenant, with Isaac (Genesis 26:2-4) but with the conditions that Isaac will be a foreigner in a foreign land when he relocates to Gerar (Genesis 26:3).  On the surface this appears to equate to saying “when you’re going into another nation remember to behave like you would at home”.  The problem is that Isaac was actually born in Canaan (Genesis 20:1, 21:5, 14).  So how could he act like a foreigner in his country of birth?  Simple, the inhabitants of his homeland, the Canaanites, were pagan2 and Isaac was not to abandon God’s ways and adopt the ways of the pagans.  This is further reinforced in verse 5 where God uses an example of Abraham for Isaac by saying “…he followed my mitzvot (commandments), my regulations and my teachings.” As out of place as this story may appear to us the reader just remember there is nothing written in Torah that inconsistent.


Before Chapter 26 ends, in verse 34 we find out that Esau does the unthinkable, he marries foreign women. Bear in mind a half century earlier Abraham was very specific in warning against marrying these types of women (Genesis 24:3, 37). So as we draw a close on Chapter 26 we see Esau’s parents being embittered about what he had done (Genesis 26:35). Esau has forfeited his right to the Abrahamic blessing well before Jacob tries to steal his birthright.


Than we return to the story of the twins in Chapter 27 which shows us Jacobs’s most sinister side.  Here he lies (Genesis 27:19) and deceive (Genesis 27:22) his very own father for his brother’s birthright.  This “kick starts” Jacob into getting out of his comfort zone as he flees an understandably enraged Esau.  The journey forces Jacob to grow.


1st Travels over 600 miles (v 28:10-29:1)

2nd Shows leadership (v 29:7) and strength (v 29:10) in Haran.

3rd Labors 20 years as a shepherd (v 31:38)

4th Becomes the husband (v 29:23, 29:28)

5th Becomes a father (v 29:32 – 35:18)

6th Wrestles all not for God’s blessing (v 32:24-30)

7th Makes amends with his brother (v 33:7-9)

This were certainly not the accomplishments of a “home body”.  Jacob got out of his comfort zone and grew. Whereas Esau continues on his pagan path.  Even after Jacob and Esau make amends Esau marries two other Canaanite women (Genesis 36:2), this guy is out of control.


We also need to harken back to when Jacob first left Beersheba. God confronted him at Bethel about 80 miles into the trip.  He reinforced with Jacob the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 28:13-15).  Esau already began to violate the conditions of this covenant 49 years3 earlier in Genesis 26:34.


(1) Barbara Cohen, David: A Biography, Clarion Books, New York: 1995

(2) Pagan Religion In Canaan, Internet Bible College.net

(3) Bible Timeline