This is how I see the story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25 and 26):

They are two very different twins who seem to fight a lot. Esau goes hunting and he is starving when he gets back. He asks Jacob for some stew. Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright." "Look, I am about to die," Esau said. "What good is the birthright to me?" So Esau accepts the trade and it says "he despised his birthright."

1) When Esau says he is about to die, is this figuratively (from hunger) or literally he thinks he is close to dying from old age?

Then it gets kinda weird because Isaac's wife, Rebekah, tells her son, Jacob, to trick Isaac into thinking he is Esau and give the blessing to him. Jacob is hesitant and says "I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing." But then she says, "Let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say." Jacob then lies and tricks his father into believe he is Esau so Isaac blesses him.

2) Isn't Rebekah promoting lying, deception, and disrespecting elders?

3) What is the difference between birthright and blessing? They sound similar.

4) If they are similar, why didn't Jacob just tell his father that Esau willingly gave up his birthright?

5) Are Isaac's words/blessings/curses really powerful enough to change the course of Jacob/Esau's life?

Sorry for all the questions but this whole passage seems really confusing to me.

  • Probably better on Biblical Hermeneutics. Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 14:32
  • I think this is too broad. Too many questions for a single answer. You could ask one and two as separate questions, then 3, 4, and 5 as another, perhaps.
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:50

3 Answers 3


I think that the lesson learned here is essentially the same one as the parenthood dispute in King Solomon's court: regardless of who the blessing actually originally belonged to by birth, it ended up going to the one who could truly appreciate its worth.

We have here the story of Jacob, a man of spiritual sensitivity, contrasted with his brother Esau, who was a hunter. Hunters are not well-regarded in the Old Testament, (the archetype being Nimrod, the "mighty hunter" who is traditionally equated with the founder of Babylon and the one who directed the construction of the Tower of Babel, and standing in opposition to God and his people,) and we see Esau following the stereotype, caring more for temporal things than for the things of God.

Where his character really shows is in the matter of the birthright. This was the continuation of the great covenant blessing, given by God to Abraham and then passed down to Isaac, to have a numberless posterity and be the father of many nations, (see Genesis 15 and 17) and, most impressive of all, that "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," (Genesis 22:18) which was literally fulfilled by Christ being born through his lineage.

Jacob appreciated these blessings, whereas Esau--who is by this point a grown man able to go out on hunts alone and look after himself--comes across as a petulant child. You can almost hear the whiny tone in his voice as he says, "who cares about the stupid birthright? I'm starving!" All he cared about in the moment was the needs of the moment, and for that he was willing to sacrifice great eternal blessings.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Esau was his father's favorite. And as the transaction had occurred between Jacob and Esau in private, with no witnesses, if Jacob were to claim that Esau had sold him the birthright, it would be his word against his brother's. And as we see from subsequent events, Esau had every intention of taking the birthright that was no longer his, even if it be by force. Bear in mind, when asking why Jacob used deception to obtain the blessing that was rightfully his, that Esau was willing to use deception (claiming that he was still entitled to it) and worse to obtain it when it was not rightfully his.

As for Isaac's words being powerful enough to change the course of his sons' lives, bear in mind that they aren't ordinary words in this case. They're carrying the weight of a covenant established with the Lord, and the Lord does have the power to change the course of people's lives.


Ultimately, there was a very practical effect - the descendants of Esau (the Edomites) never prospered in the way that the descendants of Jacob (the Israelites) did.

This lesson was not lost on the exilic descendants of the Israelites, as noted here in Malachi:

2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”

But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD. 5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

Malachi then goes on to lambast the Israelites for essentially the same error. They are so caught up in their daily greed that everything has been corrupted, from the priests to the tithes, to everything. In doing so, they are trading their eternal inheritance for a pot of stew.

Hebrews 12 also shows this practical effect:

16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

By "despising his birthright," Esau becomes effectively godless. So caught up in his current feeling, Esau seems to think God's blessing has no practical benefit. It is this floccinaucinihilipilification that shows how utterly earthbound Esau is. (Always wanted to use that word!) Becuase Esau doesn't care about the things above him, he loses the things around him.

Esau probably would not have consciously said that he was giving up his birthright (because that would have also meant his physcial inheritance), but the point of the story is that the unseen blessing - the part that Esau was blind to - was actually the more important part.

As for Rebekah, well, yeah, she's being pretty dishonest here, not at all unlike what Jacob is going to be on the receiving end later, when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Genesis isn't a book of black and white - even good people do bad things. Abraham, Jacob, Judah - they all are imperfect to say the least.

What binds them as "the good guys" however, is that they are looking forward to that which is seen just far off - a city whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11). That faith, which is intangible and unseen, is worth far more than mere temporal concerns - and that is the point of this story.


1)From my understanding its Hunger. Depending on where you are from, you may not have experience the kind of hunger that makes you feel like you are going to die. But it happens, especially in 3rd world countries

2) Yes she is. Humans do that.

3) Birthright from my understanding, is like your right as for example the first child. You have certain privileges/upper hand, a 2nd child doesn't have.

4) Well that would also make him sound as bad as his brother or even worse, as he took advantage of his brother's condition and got his birthright from him. That is wrong.

5)Yes they are. The bible talks about the power of the tongue. Its even more powerful when it comes from the one who birth you, your parents. And Judging from Isaac's relationship with God, that was a blessing to worth it!

Hope this answer helps

  • 1
    can you provide some sources/references for your answers?
    – warren
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 13:41

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