Bible Story of Jacob and Esau

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers born to Isaac and Rebekah. The Bible tells us that they struggled together in Rebekah's womb, a foreshadowing of their troubled relationship. Esau was born first and thereby became legal heir to the family birthright which included, among other things, being heir to the Covenant between God and Abraham. This birthright was a link in the line of descent through which the Promised Messiah was to come (Numbers 24:17-19).

In contrast with Esau who was a skillful hunter and his father's favorite, Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents (Genesis 25:27), and his mother's favorite. The Hebrew word for plain is the same word translated in other Scripture as perfect, upright, undefiled. So the word plain refers to Jacob's character as a man of God. God records His highest praise and blessing for Jacob: The LORD hath chosen Jacob unto Himself (Psalm 135:4).

Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me . . . with that same red pottage (stew); for I am faint (Genesis 25:29-30). Knowing the character of his brother, Jacob replied: Sell me this day thy birthright (25:31). Esau had no interest in spiritual things so he agreed, saying: I am at the point (about) to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? (25:32-34). Esau could not have been at the point to die by missing one meal but he revealed how worthless he considered the birthright.

When Issac was close to death it became time to give Esau his blessings. Issac asked Esau to go hunt for a special meal after which he would pass the blessing. Rebekah overhead and helped Jacob disguise himself as Esau and bring Issac the meal instead while his brother was still hunting. Because Issac had poor sight he was tricked into giving the blessing to Jacob. Esau was enraged and Jacob had to run away to save his life. 

The writer of Hebrews referred to Esau as a profane (godless) person (Hebrews 12:16). Before their births, God knew that Esau's descendants would become enemies of Israel for generations to come and He knew Jacob was a man of integrity. He had preordained that Jacob would be in the lineage of Jesus. Read the Biblical account of these two important Old Testament brothers in the Scripture below, followed by helpful commentary and video, audio Bible studies.

Lesson from Jacob and Esau

In the New Testament, Esau’s decision to sell his birthright is utilized as an illustration of ungodliness—a “godless” person who will put worldly attractions over spiritual blessings (Hebrews 12:15-17). By his instructive example, Esau warns us to hold firm to what is truly valuable, even if it means rebuking the desires of the flesh. The Bible uses the account of Jacob and Esau to represent God’s calling and election. God chose the younger Jacob to carry on the Abrahamic Covenant, while Esau was providentially excluded from the Messianic lineage (Romans 9:11-14).

Image: Esau Selling His Birthright by Hendrick ter Brugghen, c.1627