Esau (//; Hebrew: עֵשָׂו; Standard Hebrew: Esav; Tiberian Hebrew: ʿĒśāw; ISO 259-3 ʕeśaw; Greek: Ἡσαῦ; Arabic: عِيسُو "Hairy" or "Rough"), in the Jewish Bible, is the older son of Isaac. He is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, and by the prophets, Obadiah and Malachi. The New Testament of the Christian Bible alludes to him in St Paul's Letter to the Romans and in the Letter to the Hebrews.
Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites and the elder twin brother of Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites. Esau and Jacob were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. Of the twins, Esau was the first to be born with Jacob following, holding his heel (the Hebrew name Yaacov meaning "Heel-holder"). Isaac was sixty years old and Rebekah is believed to have been younger when the boys were born. The grandfather Abraham was still alive, being 160 years old at that time.
Esau, a "man of the field" became a hunter who had "rough" qualities that distinguished him from his twin brother. Jacob was a shy or simple man, depending on the translation of the Hebrew word "Tam" (which also means "relatively perfect man"). Throughout Genesis, Esau is frequently shown as being supplanted by his younger twin Jacob (Israel).
Esau in Genesis
Birth of Esau
Genesis 25:25 narrates Esau's birth, "Now the first came forth, red all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau." In Hebrew, the name Esau means "hairy" (Heb: se’ir) a wordplay on Seir, the region he settled in Edom after being 40 years of age where he became the progenitor of the Edomites. The name Edom is also attributed to Esau, meaning "red" (Heb: `admoni); the same color describing Esau's skintone (Genesis 25:25). Genesis parallels his redness to the "red lentil pottage" that he sold his birthright for (Genesis 25:30).
In Genesis, Esau returned to his twin brother Jacob, famished from the fields. He begs Jacob to give him some "red pottage" (a play on his nickname, Hebrew: אדום`Edom, meaning "red".) Jacob offers Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for Esau's birthright (the right to be recognized as firstborn with authority over the family), and Esau agrees. Thus Jacob bought/exchanged Esau's birthright. This is believed to be the origin of the English phrase "for a mess of pottage".
In Genesis 27:1–40, Jacob uses deception, motivated by his mother Rebekah, to lay claim to his blind father Isaac's blessing that was inherently due to the firstborn, Esau.
In Genesis 27:5–7, Rebekah is listening while Isaac speaks to his son Esau. So when Esau goes to the field to hunt for venison to bring home, Rebekah says to her son Jacob, "Behold, I heard thy father speak to thy brother Esau, saying: 'Bring me venison and prepare a savoury food, that I may eat, and bless thee before the Lord before my death.'" Rebekah then instructs Jacob in an elaborate deception through which Jacob pretends to be Esau, in order to steal from Esau his blessing from Isaac and his inheritance — which in theory Esau had already agreed to give to Jacob. As a result, Jacob becomes the spiritual leader of the family after Isaac's death and the heir of the promises of Abraham (Genesis 27:37).
Esau is furious and vows to kill Jacob (Genesis 27:41). Once again Rebekah intervenes to save her younger son from being murdered by his elder twin brother, Esau.
Therefore, at Rebekah's urging, Jacob flees to a distant land to work for his uncle Laban (Genesis 28:5). Jacob does not immediately receive his father's inheritance after the impersonation aimed at taking it from Esau. Having fled for his life, Jacob has left the wealth of Isaac's flocks, land and tents in Esau's hands. Jacob is forced to sleep out on the open ground and then work for wages as a servant in Laban's household. Jacob, who had deceived and cheated his brother, is in turn deceived and cheated by his uncle. Jacob asks to marry Laban's daughter Rachel, whom he has met at the well, and Laban agrees, if Jacob will give him seven years of service. Jacob does so, but after the wedding finds that beneath the veil is not Rachel but Leah, Laban's elder daughter. He agrees to work another seven years and Jacob and Rachel are finally wed. However, despite Laban, Jacob eventually becomes so rich as to incite the envy of Laban and Laban's sons.
Genesis 32–33 tells of Jacob's and Esau's eventual reconciliation. Jacob sends multiple waves of gifts to Esau as they approach each other, hoping that Esau will spare his life. Esau refuses the gifts, as he is now very wealthy and does not need them. Jacob never apologizes to Esau for his actions; Jacob nevertheless bows down before Esau and insists on his receiving the gifts. Esau shows forgiveness in spite of this bitter conflict. (After this, God confirms his renaming of Jacob as "Israel".)
Genesis 26:34–35 describes Esau's marriage at the age of forty to two Canaanite women: Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. This arrangement grieved his parents. Upon seeing that his brother was blessed and that his father rejected the union of a Canaanite, Esau went to the house of his uncle Ishmael and married his cousin, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, and sister of Nebajoth. Esau's family is again revisited in Genesis 36, this passage names two Canaanite wives; Adah, the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah, the daughter of Anah, daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and a third: Bashemath, Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth. Some scholars equate the three wives mentioned in Genesis 26 with those in Genesis 36. Casting his lot with the Ishmaelites, he was able to drive the Horites out of Mount Seir to settle in that region.
Esau had five sons. (Genesis 36:4–5)
According to Babylonian Talmud 'Sotah' folio 13b Esau was killed by Hushim son of Dan son of Jacob Israel, because Esau obstructed a burial of mummified Jacob Israel into cave of Machpelah.
Minor prophet references
Esau was also known as Edom, the progenitor of the Edomites who were established to the south of the Israelites. They were an enemy nation of Israel. The minor prophets, such as Obadiah, claim that the Edomites participated in the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. Exactly how the Edomites participated is not clear. Psalm 137 ("By the waters of Babylon") suggests merely that Edom had encouraged the Babylonians: The Lord is asked to "remember against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said 'raze it, raze it to its foundations'" (Psalm 137: 7). But the prophecy of Obadiah insists on the literal "violence done" by Esau "unto your brother Jacob" when the Edomites "entered the gate of my people..., looted his goods..., stood at the parting of the ways to cut off the fugitive,... delivered up his survivors on his day of distress" (Obadiah 10:13-14). By the intertestamental period, Edom had replaced Babylon as the nation that actually burned the Temple ("Thou hast also vowed to build thy temple, which the Edomites burned when Judah was laid waste by the Chaldees" [1 Esdras 45]).
New Testament references
Jewish commentaries have shed a negative view on Esau because of his rivalry with Jacob. He is considered to be a rebellious son who kept a double life until he was 15, when he sold his birthright to Jacob. According to the Talmud, the sale of the birthright took place immediately after Abraham died. The Talmudic dating would give both Esau and Jacob an age of 15 at the time. It is also suggested that the death of Abraham on the same day was appropriate, so that he would not witness the demise of his grandson Esau. The lentils Jacob was cooking were meant for his father Isaac, because lentils are the traditional mourner's meal for Jews.
In the Book of Jubilees, Esau's father, Isaac, compels Esau to swear not to attack or kill Jacob after Isaac has died. However, after the death of Isaac, the sons of Esau convince their father to lead them, and hired mercenaries, against Jacob in order to kill Jacob and his family and seize their wealth (especially the portion of Isaac's wealth that Isaac had left to Jacob upon his death). In the ensuing battle, then the brothers come and make peace.
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Reputed grave on the West Bank
South of the Palestinian town of Sa'ir on the West Bank there is a tomb reputed to be that of Esau - El 'Ais in his Arab name.
The Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine (SWP), wrote that: "The tomb is in a chamber 37 feet east and west by 20 feet north and south, with a Mihrab on the south wall. The tomb is 12 feet long, 3 1/2 feet broad, 5 feet high, covered with a dark green cloth and a canopy above. An ostrich egg is hung near. North of the chamber is a vaulted room of equal size, and to the east is an open court with a fig-tree, and a second cenotaph rudely plastered, said to be that of Esau's slave. Rock-cut tombs exist south-west of this place."
- Metzeger, Bruce M. (ed); Michael D. Coogan (ed.) (1993). The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504645-5.
- Easton, M. Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (ISBN 1596059478, ISBN 978-1-59605-947-4 ), 2006, p.236
- Mandel, D. The Ultimate Who's Who in the Bible, (ISBN 0882703722, ISBN 978-0-88270-372-5), 2007, p. 175
- Genesis 25
- Obadiah 1:8-21
- Malachi 1:2,3
- Romans 9:13
- Hebrews 11:20,12:16
- Metzger & Coogan (1993). Oxford Companion to the Bible, pp. 191–2.
- Attridge & Meeks. The Harper Collins Study Bible, (ISBN 0060786841, ISBN 978-0-06-078684-7 ), 2006, p. 40
- Genesis 26:34-35
- Mandel. Ultimate Who's Who, p. 176
- Phillips. Exploring Genesis, p. 284
- Jamieson-Fausset-Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
- Peter Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study in Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B.C., 1968, p. 224.
- Bava Batra 16b.
- Conder and Kitchener, 1883, p. 379.