The Death of Abraham (25:1–11)
22–23 Rebekah had twin boys, who even in the womb jostled each other, a “jostling” or struggling that would continue between them during their lifetimes and between their descendants for generations to come.96
The jostling was so severe that Rebekah asked the Lord what was happening to her. (She might not have known she had twins.) The Lord cryptically indicated to her that the two sons inside her would each found a nation—Israel and Edom (verse 23). Furthermore, the elder son would be physically stronger, but would end up serving the younger. All of this came to pass.
24–25 The first of the twins to be born was ruddy and hairy, and so he was named Esau, which in Hebrew sounds like the word for “hairy.” He was also given a second name, Edom, meaning “red,” because of his ruddy complexion and also because he later traded his birthright for a bowl of red stew (verse 30).
26–28 As Esau was being born, his twin brother’s hand could be seen holding on to one of Esau’s heels. So when the second twin was born, he was given the name Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel”97 (verse 26).
29–34 Esau grew up to be an active and impetuous man, while Jacob became a quiet schemer, always looking for a chance to take advantage of someone. A chance came one day when Esau showed up in a state of extreme hunger and asked Jacob for some lentil stew. In exchange for the stew, Jacob persuaded Esau to give up his birthright (verse 31)—that is, the privileges assigned to the firstborn. In this case, those privileges included the covenant inheritance which had passed from Abraham to Isaac. To guarantee his claim to the birthright, Jacob even made Esau swear an oath, which made the transaction legally binding (verse 33).
Thus Jacob, though younger, gained the birthright of his elder brother and became the son through whom the covenant promises would continue. And thus the Lord’s word was fulfilled: the older will serve the younger98 (verse 23). This has been a recurring pattern in the book of Genesis so far: the younger Seth was chosen over Cain; the younger Isaac was chosen over Ishmael; and now the younger Jacob was chosen over Esau to inherit the covenant blessings.
It wasn’t Jacob’s scheming that gained him the birthright; it happened by God’s sovereign choice. God’s election is not according to the “natural right” of the firstborn; God’s election is according to grace. God is always prepared to intervene in the natural course of events to further His purposes (Romans 9:10–12).
Was God unjust in choosing Jacob over Esau? No. God is the Creator of the universe and the Sovereign Lord of all life; He has the right to choose whomever He pleases (Romans 9:14–16). Furthermore, Esau thought lightly of his birthright; he despised it (verse 34). In effect, he rejected it. In doing so, he rejected God’s covenant. He gave up the promises of God for a bowl of stew. He chose not to walk with God; he chose the world instead. Thus he proved himself to be godless (Hebrews 12:16).