Genesis 25:27-34 “Isaac Loved Esau…”

Posted on February 27, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 25:27-34

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom. ) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Introduction: Last week we looked at the conception and birth of Jacob and Esau, and saw that long barren Rebekah had received an oracle from God telling her that in her womb were two nations, two peoples who shall be divided and that the older shall serve the younger. In today’s lesson we will see how this prophecy is worked out within the family, and between the twins.

But before I go any further, I want to do a little survey with three questions:

1)      What other pairs of brothers has Moses already taught us about in Genesis, and how did those pairs of brothers work out?

2)      When you mention these twins, how do you say their names? Esau and Jacob or Jacob and Esau? Why?

3)      When you read the story or heard it taught in VBS or Sunday School as a child, which guy did you come away thinking was the bad guy?

The reason for this survey is that in my experience, Jacob tends to be the one getting bashed for very bad behaviour. But that is not how Moses portrays it in the Hebrew, nor is that how the rest of the Bible portrays it, and furthermore, some of the commentators don’t slam Jacob as well. I am beginning to think that I have been too harsh with Jacob. Now none of this means that Jacob is blameless in the red stew incident, there clearly are some character flaws that Moses points out here. But what I am saying is that there may be a tendency to give Esau too much sympathy. After we study the text together you can let me know if your opinion of the two young men has changed.

There are four main ideas from the text that I want us to look at today:

1)      The character traits displayed by the young men in their occupations.

2)      The problem of favoritism in Isaac’s family. Specifically, why did Isaac seem to ignore the oracle Rebekah received?

3)      Esau treats his birthright with disdain and focuses on the here and now.

4)      Jacob properly valued the birthright, but was trying to do God’s will, man’s way.


  1. I.                   Esau the Hunter, Jacob the Shepherd, vs.27
    1. A.      When the boys grew up
      1. 1.      Vs. 27 provides a shift in the setting which is Moses’ way of telling u she is changing from one story to the next. The previous story was of the birth of the twins, now he is going to demonstrate how the prophecy begins to come true.
      2. 2.      The word for “boys” is na’ar and is vague enough to cover everything from being an infant to being a young teenager. We cannot tell their age from this verse, just that they were now grown up.
      3. 3.      From the ages of Abraham and Isaac, we know that Abraham died when the twins were about 15 years old. There is a high likelihood that they knew their grandfather and that he related his faith journey to them. But, there is no textual evidence for this other than the ages of all concerned.
    2. B.      Esau was a skillful Hunter, a man of the field
      1. 1.      The text says that Esau was a “skillful hunter”- skillful is the Hebrew yodea’ meaning “knowing”, he knew about hunting, he had mastered hunting.
      2. 2.      Do you know of any other hunters in Genesis prior to this? Look at 21:20 to see Ishmael living in the wilderness with a bow and 10:9 for Nimrod, the mighty hunter, a descendant of Ham, who had sinned against his father, Noah. Moses is likely linking Esau with Ishmael and Nimrod to some degree as an outcast who lives away from civilization and hunts for his food.
      3. 3.      Victor Hamilton writes, p.181, “Esau resembles Enkidu of the Gilgamesh Epic. Created by Aruru to relieve the poplace of Uruk of Gilgamesh’s tyrannical rule, Enkidu is described as ‘Shaggy with hair is his whole body’ and as a ‘hunter, a trapping man’. Esau is the outdoors type.”
      4. 4.      Waltke, perhaps too harshly, writes, p.362, “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country- This is generally an unfavorable description by biblical standards. While the law made provision for eating game, the biblical writers commend the pastoralists and condemn predators. Nimrod, the founder of the cities that stood opposed to God, is identified as a mighty hunter. Later, Esau is described as one who lives by the sword (27:40). The biblical ideal for a leader is symbolized by that of a shepherd (Ps.23; Ezek.34; John 10:1-18; 1Peter 5:3-4). True Israel, like his God, behaves like a shepherd, not a hunter.”
      5. 5.      Application: I do not think there is anything here with which you can criticize hunting as a sport today. Lev. 17:13 allows for hunting as long you do not eat the blood. Probably the best way to look at this is that Esau loved the self absorbed freedom that came from not being tied down to the herds, roaming the wild places freely, depending on his skill and his bow for food. This is contrasted with Jacob, the shepherd.
      6. 6.      Mathews writes, p.391, “That he was a skillful hunter yet unsuccessful in his hunt gives the first hint that Esau is a failure. The depiction of Esau is unflattering; he is impetuous and clumsy, certainly no match for the wily Jacob. He fits the caricature of the unrefined brute whose irreverence toward his birthright disqualifies him.”
    3. C.      Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents
      1. 1.      quiet- tam– means perfect, blameless (Job.1:1,8; 8:20; Psalm 37:37; Prov. 29:10), innocent, having moral integrity, a wholesome man (Hamilton, p.181).
      2. 2.      Mathews, p.391, “Here it indicates the normal or ordinary man. By double entendre this description ironically shows that Jacob is hardly ‘blameless’ in this transaction. The succession of Jacob is not grounded in the character of Jacob but in the sovereignty of the Lord. Jacob was not an outdoorsman but a tent dweller, meaning that his work kept him close to the family’s settlement, perhaps involved in small animal husbandry. He was perceived as socialized, whereas Esau possessed the ‘sword’, casting aside authority (27:40).”
      3. 3.      While Hamilton agrees that Jacob is “anything but blameless” he goes on to say that tam should be interpreted as it is in Job 1:8. He points out, and rightfully so, that Moses does not anywhere criticize Jacob.
      4. 4.      Calvin, however, says that Moses praises ESAU by way of the contrast with Jacob who he calls “indolent” and “addicted to domestic leisure” (p.49). But then Calvin goes on to say much of how Jacob gave up his food for Esau under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “Moses commends the piety of holy Jacob, who in aspiring to a heavenly life, was able to bridle the appetite for food.”
      5. 5.      Waltke writes, p.362, “To judge from Jacob’s reprehensible method of inveighling the birthright from his famished brother, the adjective cannot refer to his moral behavior. In this unique occurrence of the adjective in narrative, it probably denotes Jacob as being well-cultured, civilized….fine man. Jacob’s completeness stands in opposition to Esau’s particular skill of hunting.”
      6. 6.      In sticking to the text as much as possible I think I must side with Hamilton who rightly points out that Moses does not criticize Jacob at all. As we shall see, the further into the text you go, the harsher Moses is with Esau. But, I do not think we have to ignore the actions of Jacob. We will discuss this later, but he is to some degree, culpable, but Moses does not make it pronounced at all. We must wait for Jacob’s dealings with Laban to Moses to make the point that Jacob got what he had been giving.
      7. 7.      Conclusion: Jacob and Esau are contrasted by Moses through using the comparisons of their professions. Esau the hunter was the wild and hairy one who preferred the solitude of the field; he is uncivilized. Jacob the quiet one stays in the tents, herds sheep and goats and is civilized. Their coming behavior shows this contrast even more starkly.


  1. II.                Isaac Loved Esau, but Rebekah Loved Jacob, v. 28
    1. A.      Isaac Loved Esau Because…of His Game
      1. 1.      Can you think of anyone else we have studied in Genesis who had a failure relating to eating or drinking? Adam, Noah, Lot.
      2. 2.      Given the oracle from the LORD while Rebekah was pregnant, and assuming that Isaac knew of the oracle and its contents, how do you get to the point where you ignore the Word of the LORD and favor the child you know that God has NOT chosen? The fact that Isaac goes blind by ch.27 may be also inferring that he cannot see God’s will. But here we have Isaac ignoring the revealed will of God. God has stated that the older will serve the younger; the covenant is going to go Jacob. Waltke expresses it much stronger, “God’s sovereign grace must now prevail over Isaac’s efforts to thwart the divine intention” (p.363).
      3. 3.      In those other pairs of brothers, how many of them had the older brother outside the covenant?
      4. 4.      Ross gives his literal translation of the text as “Isaac loved Esau because the game was in his mouth” (p.449).  Wenham translates it as, “Isaac loved Esau for his hunting” (p.171. Ross says that the Hebrew construction is a causal clause which then stresses Isaac’s self-gratification.
      5. 5.      Calvin writes, p.50, “But how is it possible for the father, who was not ignorant of the oracle, to be thus pre-disposed in favour of the first-born, whom he knew to be divinely rejected? It would rather have been the part of piety and of modesty to subdue his own private affection, that he might yield obedience to God. The first-born prefers a natural claim to the chief place in the parent’s affection; but the father was not at liberty to exalt him above his brother, who had been placed in subjection by the oracle of God. That also is still more shameful and more unworthy of the holy patriarch, which Moses adds; namely, that he had been induced to give this preference to Esau, by the taste of his venison. Was he so enslaved to the indulgence of the palate, that, forgetting the oracle, he despised the grace of God in Jacob, while he preposterously set his affection on him whom God had rejected?”
      6. 6.      Application: Mark 4:18-19, what cares of this world, what fleshly riches, will tempt you to not properly interpret or apply God’s Word? Isaac had a clear word from God, but chose to ignore it because his son was a hunter and he loved to eat venison. How easy it is for us to slowly, slip day by day out of the will of God.
      7. 7.      Do you think that maybe Esau knew how much his father loved his wild game? Once you find out what pleases your father you tend to emphasize it. They were reinforcing each other’s fleshly nature! WARNING: this is why we must be very careful about whom we hang out with, date, etc. Do we build each other up in the Lord and spiritual things or do we reinforce our fleshly desires?


  1. B.      But Rebekah Loved Jacob
    1. 1.      While there is no explanation for Rebekah’s love for Jacob it is set up to contrast with Isaac’s love for Esau. This is not, strictly according to the text, to mean ill of Rebekah. She was rightly believing in God’s Word. But it does bring the division of the twins into the lives of the parents and sets up ch. 27.
    2. 2.      Mathews writes, p.391, “The division between the parents’ love for the boys further exhibits the contrast between the two sons and offers another omen of the struggle that will ensue (27:7-10). The syntax of the verse, ‘but Rebekah’, heightens the contrast between the parents’ affections. Eash parent ‘loved’ a different son. ‘Loved’ (‘ahab) translates the common term that expresses affection among family members. We should not conclude that the parent felt animosity toward the disfavored son; rather, ‘loved’ means each showed a strong preference toward one….”
    3. 3.       Calvin writes, p.50, “Rebekah loved son Jacob more than Esau. If, in so doing, she was obeying the oracle, she acted rightly; but it is possible that her love was ill regulated. And on this point the corruption of nature too much betrays itself. There is no bond of mutual concord more sacred than that of marriage: children form still further links of connection; and yet they often prove the occasion of dissension. But since we soon after see Rebekah chiefly in earnest respecting the blessing of God, the conjecture is probably, that she had been induced, by divine authority, to prefer the younger to the first-born. Meanwhile, the foolish affection of the father only the more fully illustrates the grace of the divine adoption.”
    4. 4.      Application: was anyone here the subject of parental partiality for the good or the bad? Have you seen ill affects for parental partiality? Are we tempted to show partiality with our own children? 


  1. III.             Esau Despised His Birthright, Jacob Sought It
    1. A.      Esau is portrayed as uncouth Jacob as Presumptuous
      1. 1.      Jacob was cooking stew, v.29- the words written by Moses form a wordplay that leans towards showing that Jacob had laid a trap for Esau. The phrase for cooking stew is wayyazed ya aqob nazid which recalls the sound of the word used for hunter, sayid. Zid commonly means boil but can be used as a character trait- presumptuous- as well. Ross writes, pp.449-450, “Jacob’s boiling the pottage seemed a simple act, but by the choice of this word the narrator implies that Jacob was hunting his prey and that he was acting presumptuously.” Calvin on the other hand, interprets it as self-sacrificing on the part of Jacob, who had been cooking the stew for his own hunger (p.52). I think I am going to side with Ross on this, however, Moses is clearly understating the duplicity of Jacob and focusing on the immediate problem of Esau’s despising of his birthright.
      2. 2.      “Esau said to Jacob” the modern translations clean it up considerably, and at the expense of what the text is saying. Wenham says, “Please let me swallow some of the red stuff, this red stuff” (p.177f). Hamilton says, “He wants to swallow it or gulp it down …Skinner notes that this is a coarse expression suggesting bestial voracity. Speiser labels Esau and uncouth glutton”.
      3. 3.      Kidner, p.152, “If Jacob is ruthless here, Esau is feckless: the versions have toned down his spluttering: ‘Let me gulp some of the red stuff, this red stuff…’ Embracing the present and the tangible at any cost, going through with the choice (33) and walking away unconcerned (34) – incidentally far from dead, in spite of 32a- he earned the epithet of Hebrews 12:16: ‘a profane person’.”
      4. 4.      Vs.34  has a series of four verbs describing Esau’s animalistic nature in this story, “ate-drank-stood-went”.
      5. 5.      As Jacob realizes his brother’s immediate need, he does not hesitate to set his terms- he demands the birthright as payment for the stew. There is no doubt that Jacob knew from his mother that he was the chosen one by God. Therefore, this could have been a carefully laid trap for Esau, knowing his brother’s character flaw of focusing on the immediate, or it could have been taking advantage as the opportunity presented itself.
      6. 6.      Application: Both men seem to have a problem. Esau despises that which is lasting and valuable-his birthright- and Jacob seems to be trying to outpace God, doing God’s work man’s way. Which sin are we more prone to fall into? Or both?
      7. 7.      Keep in mind however, that Moses comments, “Thus Esau despised his birthright” and NOT, “Thus Jacob stole the birthright from his brother.” In the end, sticking with the text, Moses condemns Esau and not Jacob.
      8. 8.      Now remember the questions I asked at the start: when you read or heard this story as a child whose side did you choose? Did you change your mind?
      9.   GOSPEL TRUTH: our birthright is entirely connected to the person and work of Jesus Christ. We belong to our Heavenly Father and have our inheritance in him as long as we are related to the Firstborn over all Creation through faith by God’s sovereign grace. There are more than enough examples of those who were raised in the church, baptized after a public profession of faith, but who seem to eagerly sell their spiritual birthright for the pleasures of this world as Mark 4 points out. Even those of who remain faithful, struggle with either selling our birthright cheaply at times or trying to do God’s work man’


Did Esau somehow point back to Nimrod in ch. 10?

 “ The chapter does not comment ‘So Jacob supplanted his brother’, but ‘So Esau despised his birthright’; and Hebrews 12 shares its standpoint, presenting flippant Esau as the antithesis of the pilgrims of Hebrews 11.”

Wenham, p.178f, on vs.33-34, “Jacob’s curt, three-word reply, ‘Swear/to me/at once,’ confirms that he is cold and calculating, determined to cash in on his brother’s folly….The four verbs, ‘he ate, drank, stood up, and went away,’ allow us a chance to reflect on his behavior. After his earlier loquaciousness, Esau’s silence is eerie. Does he really care about his birthright, or is bitterness already making it impossible to talk to his brother? The final comment of the narrator, ‘So Esau treated his rights of the firstborn with contempt,’ is important, because explicit moral commentary is rare in the Bible. It emphasizes…that Esau has treated with flippancy something of great worth. Though Jacob has been portrayed as heartlessly exploitative, the narrator finds it unnecessary to comment on that aspect here. The subsequent stories will show how Jacob had to pay for the enmity he had stirred up.”

 See Hebrews 12:15-17


Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary,Vol.2 Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1985 (pp.258-269.)

Calvin, John. The Geneva Series of Commentaries. Genesis. Translated and edited by John King, 1847. Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, Scotland 1965 (vol. 2,pp. 49-55.)

Gibson, John C.L. The Daily Study Bible series, Genesis, vol 2. The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, PA. 1982 (pp.136-144.)

Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Genesis: an Introduction and Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, ILL. 1967 (pp.150-152.)

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1991 (361-365.)

Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books: Dallas, TX 1994 (170-181.)


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