Search Bible Outlines and commentaries





This passage should cause us to examine our own value system. What do we consider important? How much faith do we place in the promises of God and His kingdom agenda? Are we truly living in light of eternity with a long term perspective or are we driven to satisfy the lusts of the flesh and seek instant gratification at the expense of spiritual loss?

Hughes: The moral lessons that are here do not come from observing the moral virtues of Jacob or Esau, but from their faults. Jacob and Esau together dramatize the human predicament. Both the elect and non-elect are hopelessly self-centered and incapable by themselves of dong consistent good. Jacob is a scheming, Machiavellian figure, and Esau is a free spirit who lives for his appetites.


“Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son:”


A. (:19b) Isaac’s Father – Abraham

“Abraham became the father of Isaac;”

B. (:20) Isaac’s Wife – Rebekah from the Homeland

“and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.”

C. (:21) Isaac’s Offspring – Rebekah’s Conception as Answered Prayer

“And Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.”

Wife was barren for 20 years before she conceived; was becoming a crisis situation; 24:60 – her expectation upon marrying Isaac was that she would have a long line of offspring

Parunak: Clearly, Isaac is in the background in this story; he serves only as a bridge between Abraham and Jacob.


A. (:22-23) Prophecy of Jacob’s Preeminence From the Womb

1. (:22) Problem Pregnancy

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, why then am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.”

Parunak: Moses informs us that in fact the children were wrestling even in the womb, setting the stage for a recurring theme of Jacob’s life, that of struggle.

Hughes: The Hebrew graphically says, “The children smashed themselves inside her.” She felt as if her womb had become a battlefield. . . There was mayhem in her womb!

2. (:23) Perplexing Prophecy

“And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples shall be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.’”

Parunak: “Nation” indicates political structure, while “people” indicates culture and similar characteristics, the people as an organic unity. Both in their manner and in their national identity, the descendants of these two children will differ widely.

It is important to understand that this oracle is not simply predicting what will come to pass, but is revealing the action of God’s sovereign election, as explained by Rom. 9:10-13. It reveals God’s love for Jacob and hatred for Esau (Mal 1:2-5), a difference that is explicitly said to stem from the purpose of God and not from the works of the two men. The next several verses reinforce this point that the difference defies human explanation, as summarized in 1 Cor 1:26: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”

B. (:24-26) Prefiguring of Jacob’s Preeminence at Birth

1. (:24) Reality of Twins

“When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.”

2. (:25) Redness of Esau

“Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau.”

Constable: Hairiness seems to have been a mark of incivility in the ancient world, indicative of an animal-like nature.

3. (:26a) Resilience of Jacob

“And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob;”


• The etymology of Esau is not clear, but from the context, it must mean “hairy,” just as Edom, his other name, means “red.” His very appearance suggests a wild person, a man of passion.

• The full form of Jacob’s name is likely “Yaqob-El,” “God will guard.” The verbal form means “hold” in the sense of “guard, protect” in all the cognates, but in Jacob’s case the meaning shifts to a negative one; he is the “grasper,” born grasping Esau’s heel and continuing through life to seek the preeminence over him

Heel-grabber; Overreacher

4. (:26b) Record of the Important Birth

“and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.”


A. (:27-28) Contrast Between Esau and Jacob in Aptitudes and Attractions

1. (:27) Different Aptitudes – Aggressive vs. Peaceful

“When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field;

but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents.”

Nimrod only other one with this designation as a skillful hunter; so description has some negative undertones

Borgman: man of the field – unsophisticated, unrefined person

2. (:28) Different Attractions – Daddy’s Boy vs. Mommy’s Boy

“Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game;

but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

Parental favoritism

Borgman: no explicit reason given for Rebekah’s love for Jacob – probably because of God’s divine choice of Jacob revealed in divine oracle given to her while twins were still in her womb; Jacob will end up having his favorite son as well

B. (:29-34) Contrast Between Cunning of Jacob vs. Carelessness of Esau

1. (:29-30) Setting for the Deal – Vulnerability of Esau

a. (:29) Hungry

“And when Jacob had cooked stew,

Esau came in from the field and he was famished;”

A stew without any meat; a vegetarian dish; lentil stew

Borgman: Esau hunted all day and caught nothing

b. (:30) Helpless – but Demanding

“and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom.’”

Borgman: This rendering is far too polite; “Now, let me gulp down some of that red stuff” – not just a little polite swallow; he wants the stew and he wants it now

2. (:31-34a) Substance of the Deal – Cunning of Jacob vs. Carelessness of Esau

a. (:31) Selling at an Outrageous Price

“But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’”

Borgman: double inheritance and headship of family when father dies; in this case the heir of the covenant promises; Jacob sees an opportunity here; a deceitful character

b. (:32) Stating the Value Proposition from an Irrational Perspective

“And Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’”

c. (:33) Swearing to Bind the Deal

“And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.”

d. (:34a) Sealing the Deal

“Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way.”

Borgman: Staccato statements; you can hear Esau gulping and slurping down his lentil soup; no manners; over in a hurry; absolutely indifferent to what had just happened

3. (:34b) Significance of the Deal – Huge Long Term Consequences

“Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

Huge summary statement and interpretation of the significance of what just took place – seems on the surface like just a simple satisfying of intense hunger … but in the course of God’s kingdom purposes, Esau’s short-sighted decision had long term consequences.


Parunak: The birthright must be distinguished from the blessing of ch. 27.

• “Birthright” bekorah is literally “first-borned-ness.” This status conveyed on the holder a double portion of the inheritance and the position of being the family’s head in the next generation. Given the promise of seed and blessing granted to Abraham, this status would have a special, spiritual meaning.

• “Blessing” berakah is the father’s prayer for God’s bounty to a son. It would naturally encompass the benefits of the birthright, but as the example of Jacob’s blessing on the sons of Joseph shows (48:14), it is ultimately guided by parental discretion rather than birth order.

The author of Hebrews has this verse in mind in Heb 12:16 when he cites Esau as an example of a “profane person” because “for one morsel of meat [he] sold his birthright.” “Profane” is the opposite of “holy.” It describes someone or something that is common rather than set apart. As firstborn, priest and bearer of the Messianic blessing, Esau would have been holy, but this was inconsistent with his fundamental character, and so he casts away the privilege.