From the outset, these two characters were complete opposites. One was red and hairy, and the other was probably paler and smooth-skinned (Genesis 27:11). One enjoyed the outdoors with all its activities, while the other felt most comfortable indoors, perhaps engaging in more studious enterprises. Esau seems to have been driven to pursue one particular enterprise, hunting, with all of his energy, and he was no doubt quite skilled in it. Jacob, however, is described as a "mild man," which in Hebrew suggests he was a complete person, that is, he had a well-rounded personality and could divide his energies among a number of projects and interests. He was a man of great ability in several areas.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part One)
Genesis 25:27 describes Esau as "a skillful hunter, a man of the field." As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that he has a powerful black mark against him, yet despite this stain on his reputation, probably almost everyone, upon first impression, would choose Esau as a friend and companion over Jacob. "Man of the field" depicts him as a person of physical vigor, virile, an outdoorsman and frontiersman, a kind of Daniel Boone of ancient times. We would likely find him to be frank, impulsive, generous, even chivalrous—but also careless and sensuous.
It appears that Isaac gravitated toward him almost instinctively. If he wanted anything done, Esau was a man who could do it. As Isaac aged, he leaned increasingly on Esau's strengths. Esau seems to have been a warmhearted man who sincerely loved his aged father, with whom he was gentle and quick to respond to when he needed anything.
We need to understand that Esau was not a vile person. Today, we would label him as a common, ordinary, good citizen and neighbor. He was simply worldly. Because his interests were not the same as God's, he paid little or no attention to the things of God. He is one of the Bible's major portraits of a worldly person.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)
Genesis 25:27-29 helps us to zero in on what Esau treasured. Each of these short sentences tells us how much Esau treasured hunting. When a person is known to be skillful in some area, it can be assumed that he spent large amounts of time and energy honing his craft. That Isaac loved to eat the results of Esau's hunts validated the younger man in his love of hunting. Finally, when a man wearies himself by doing a task with all of his might, it points to where his interests lie—what he loves doing.
The Interlinear Bible renders Genesis 25:27 as, "And Esau became a man knowing hunting, a man of the field." "Field" is sadeh, translated as "country," "field," "ground," "land," or "soil." Vine's comments, "This word often represents the 'open field' where the animals roam wild." This verse could be read, "Esau was . . . a man of the wild," indicating where he felt most comfortable. He treasured his time out in the wild, and he had dedicated his life to pursuing the chase. By treasuring this "wild" existence over his birthright, Esau displayed how irresponsible he was toward it.
Would we want to bequeath our wealth to a child who was not preparing himself to govern it? It would be similar to the Prodigal Son taking his inheritance and squandering it (Luke 15:11-13). He, like Esau, was not disciplined and trained to govern it. If most of Esau's time was spent out in the wild, how would he have been able to tackle the responsibilities of governing flocks and herds, gold and silver, male and female servants, donkeys and camels, as well as being his family's head and leader?
Perhaps he should have stayed in the camp like Jacob so he would not have lost the vision of a wonderful time to come contained in his inheritance. Jacob obviously valued it, although he obtained it by trickery and deceit. He also showed himself capable of governing it, as he seemed to know plenty about managing flocks and herds, as Genesis 29-30 bear out. Laban prospered greatly from Jacob's expertise, and Jacob then prospered himself.
In Genesis 25:29, Esau came in from the field "weary." Some versions render it "faint." I can relate to this situation, having grown up hunting and fishing. In younger days, I would rather hunt than eat, and I often did. I remember coming home from a hunting trip on shaky legs, ready to eat anything, even if I did not like it. Esau came home in this condition and did his thinking and reasoning in this weakened state. Instead of reasoning with his head, he let his stomach decide.
His flesh was doing all the "thinking," as we see in his response to Jacob's opening offer: "And Esau said, 'Behold I am going to die; and what good is this birthright to me?'" (verse 32). Was he really so famished that he was going to die? Would he have said this had he been more involved with his inheritance and working with it?
If he had taken just a moment to think about his inheritance and what was involved, he would never have made such a rash decision. This could not have been the only food in the camp of a very wealthy man like Isaac; it was merely the first food he came to. Esau, the favorite of his father, could easily have gone to his father and told him what Jacob had tried to do and received food to satisfy his hunger. But he did not want to wait—he wanted immediate gratification of his fleshly desires. He thought he had to have it right away.
It is worthwhile to note that Esau sold his birthright when he came in from hunting and had his blessing stolen from him when he went out to hunt (Genesis 27:5). He lost his entire inheritance while doing what he liked to do the most—being out in the wilderness hunting. While there is nothing wrong with hunting, there is a lesson in Esau's single-minded pursuit of his physical desires.
What Is Your Lentil Soup?
Of Jacob, Moses writes, "So the boys grew. . . . Jacob was a mild [plain, KJV] man, dwelling in tents" (Genesis 25:27). Some modern translations render "mild" or "plain" as "quiet." Unlike the more volatile Esau, Jacob's temperament was virtually devoid of peaks and valleys. Despite this quietness, other scriptures show Jacob had distinct character contrasts, including a strong streak of craftiness. The biblical narrative portrays him as a man keenly alive to his own interests.
These characteristics probably made him less appealing to others, perhaps even a puzzle others avoided penetrating. Like Esau, he is shown to be a physically strong, robust person, yet quiet, reflective, pastoral, timid, steady, orderly, and contemplative.
It is interesting that each parent favored the son whose characteristics were most unlike him or her. The quiet peacemaking Isaac rejoices in the woodsy wildness of the adventurous Esau. The vigorous, take-charge Rebekah finds an outlet for her tenderness in the quiet, reflective, hesitant Jacob.
Genesis 27 shows Jacob, with Rebekah's urging, using food, clothing, and craftiness to take advantage of Isaac's blindness and deceive him. Other scriptures also show Jacob cunningly deceiving Laban, his father-in-law. The Bible shows a clear contrast in personality between Esau and Jacob. Jacob, rather than using his physical strength like Esau, employed perseverance and dogged tenacity, preferring to use clever deceits and inventive strategies to achieve his ambitions.
Undoubtedly, he was creative, a man who looked and planned ahead. He did not merely live for the moment. He was always planning how to get the upper hand and the best of a deal to come out on top. Clearly, he was not above lying to get what he wanted. However, he was persistent and persevering, and over a lifetime, he became a better man by far than his brother.
The story of these two sons also parallels the fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare. Jacob, like the tortoise, through much plodding persistence succeeded, while the more colorful Esau, like the hare, failed because he beat himself. Though Jacob was also his own worst enemy, he never despised or turned his back on the hallowed things of God. With the help of God's calling, he overcame, and in the end, he became one of the great men in the history of Israel. He is not labeled as worldly like his twin but a true man of faith like his father and grandfather before him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)