Genesis 25:27-34 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. How highly does Esau regard his birthright? See Genesis 25:29-34 (printed below)

One day Jacob was boiling some stew. Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. (30) Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I beg you, with some of that red stew, because I am famished. Therefore he was called Edom. (31) But Jacob said, First sell me your birthright. (32) Esau said, Look, I am about to die. What profit shall the birthright be to me? (33) Jacob said, Before I give you some stew, first swear to me that you will give me your birthright. So Esau took an oath and sold his birthright to Jacob. (34) Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. After he had eaten and drank, Esau got up and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34)

Esau comes in from the fields after a long day of hunting and he is faint (verse 29); he is exhausted and famished. When he smells the hearty stew Jacob is cooking, quite naturally he asks for a bowl to satisfy his hunger (verse 30). Jacob sees here the opportunity to secure the precious covenantal birthright for himself, so he offers to give Esau some stew in exchange for the birthright. Scripture not only records the transaction Esau made with Jacob, it also reveals to us Esau’s thinking: “Esau said, Look, I am about to die. What profit shall the birthright be to me?” (verse 32) Following the transaction, Esau ate and drank, then got up and went his way (verse 34a). He had no remorse, no sense of loss, no regard for what he had just given away. Indeed, as Genesis 25:34b states, “Esau despised his birthright.”

2. Why do you think Esau had this attitude with regard to his sacred birthright? Note Hebrews 12:16 (printed below)

…and that there be no fornicator, or profane person, like Esau, who for one portion of stew sold his own birthright. (Hebrews 12:16)

Esau lost, indeed, gave away, the spiritual possession that was his, because he discounted its value. In Hebrews 12:16 Esau is identified as a “profane person.” As used in Scripture, the term “profane” often means “secular,” a life that is oriented around this present world, not God-centered. Esau fits the description of the natural man given in Philippians 3:19, “their god is their own appetites, and they glory in their shameful conduct. They set their minds on earthly things.”

3. Genesis 26:34-35 (printed below) describes Esau’s marriages. What two commandments did he violate?

…when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. (35) They were a source of grief to Isaac and to Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34-35)

Genesis 26:34-35 records the fact that Esau took two wives, both from among the Canaanites. Not only does Esau ignore the spiritual boundaries of the covenant—note Genesis 24:3 which records Abraham’s instructions to his servant with regard to the choosing of a wife for Isaac (“I will make you swear by Jehovah, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I am living”)—Esau does not even respect the original creation ordinance of God (note Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall be bound to his wife (singular); and they shall be one flesh.”) It is stated that Esau entered into these marriages when he was 40 years old; i.e., he was old enough to know better, if there had been any spiritual sensitivity in his life.

4. Describe Esau’s third marriage as it is recorded in Genesis 28:6-9 (printed below).

Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. (7) Esau observed that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother and went to Paddan-aram. (8) Esau realized that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac. (9) So Esau went to Ishmael and married Mahalath who was the sister of Nebaioth and the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son—besides the wives that he had. (Genesis 28:6-9)

Esau saw that Isaac blessed Jacob, and charged him not to take a wife from among the Canaanites; and Jacob obeyed his father’s command. “Esau realized that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father, Isaac.” Therefore, Esau went to Ishmael, and took one of Ishmael’s daughters as his third wife. Apparently, Esau’s motivation was to win his father’s approval; but his action shows a total lack of spiritual perception. He does not comprehend that Ishmael is not a part of the covenant community. Consequently, his gesture is only superficially religious, because he lacks any true spiritual sensitivity or vitality.

5. What move does Esau make following the death of his father Isaac and what does this reveal about him? See Genesis 35:28-29 and 36:6-8 (printed below.) Note: The hill country of Seir is located outside the land of Canaan.

Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. (29) Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. (Genesis 35:28-29)

Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. (7) Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock. (8) So Esau (that is, Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir. (Genesis 36:6-8)

Esau and Jacob are together in the Promised Land at the time of Isaac’s death (Genesis 35:29). After the death of Isaac, Esau makes his full and final departure out of the land of Canaan: he packs up everything and settles in the hill country of Seir. Apparently, it was only respect for his father Isaac that gave Esau any attachment to the Promised Land. When Isaac was removed by death, Esau felt free to make his final departure from the land of Canaan—he had no personal connection to the Promised Land or to the covenant of the Lord.