When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah. Isaac prayed hard for his wife because she could not have a child. God answered his prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. The two children fought with each other inside her womb.
She prayed and asked God, “Why is this happening to me?”
God told her, “Your sons will become two rival nations. One nation will be stronger than the other, and the older son will serve the younger son.”
When the first son was born he was very red and hairy; he looked like he was already wearing clothing! They called him Esau, which sounds like the word for “hair.” Then the other twin was born with his hand grabbing Esau’s heel. They named him Jacob, which means “grabbing the heel” but can also mean “deceiver.”
As the boys grew up, Esau became an expert hunter who loved the outdoors. His brother Jacob liked to stay indoors and live quietly in the tents. Isaac loved Esau and all the wild game he would bring home, but Rebekah favoured Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came home exhausted from hunting and said to Jacob, “I’m starving! Give me some of that stew you’ve made.”
Jacob replied, “All right, but trade me your inheritance for it.”
“Hey—I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my inheritance to me if I starve?”
Jacob demanded, “Swear to me right now that you will give me your inheritance.” So Esau gave an oath, much like a promise, trading away his inheritance and his rights as the firstborn son. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and stew. Esau quickly ate and drank and went on his way—not thinking about the fact he had just given up his inheritance.
Years later, when Isaac was old and almost blind, he called for Esau and said, “I am an old man now, and I will die soon. Hunt some wild game for me and prepare it just the way I like it. Then before I die I will pass on the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son.”
Rebekah overheard this conversation. When Esau left to go hunting, she said to Jacob, “Do exactly as I tell you. Go and bring back two of the finest goats from our flocks, and I’ll prepare your father’s favourite dish from them. Take the food to your father; then he will eat it and give you the blessing instead of Esau.”
Jacob replied, “Mother, he won’t be fooled that easily. Esau is hairy, and my skin is smooth! What if he touches me? He’ll see I’m trying to trick him, and then he’ll curse me instead of blessing me.”
“Just do as I say!” Rebekah demanded.
Jacob brought back two of their best goats, and Rebekah made Isaac’s favourite meal. Then she put Esau’s best clothes on Jacob and made him a pair of long hairy gloves from the skin of the goats. Then Jacob took the meal to his father, pretending he was Esau.
“The voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are Esau’s,” Isaac said to himself. “Are you really my son Esau?” Isaac asked.
“Yes, of course!” Jacob answered.
“If you are, come here and kiss your father,” Isaac said. So Jacob went and kissed Isaac. When he did this Isaac smelled his clothes and was finally convinced he was really Esau. Isaac gave his blessing to Jacob, saying, “May God pass on to you the blessing he promised to Abraham. Your family will grow large and become a great nation, and other nations will become your servants. God will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”
As soon as Isaac had blessed Jacob, Esau returned from his hunting trip. When he learned Isaac had given his blessing to his brother, he wept out loud, “Father, bless me, too!”
But Isaac said, “Your brother was here and tricked me. He has carried away your blessing.”
Esau hated Jacob and said to himself, “After my father is dead, I will kill Jacob.”
Rebekah found out Jacob was in danger and sent him far away to live with his uncle. On his journey God appeared to Jacob, saying, “I am the God of your grandfather and father. I am giving you and your descendants this land. Your family will grow large and be a blessing to the entire earth! I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, giving you everything I have promised.”
God blessed Jacob with great wealth and twelve sons! Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “struggler with God.” The Hebrews would later be called the people of Israel, named after Jacob.
Many years later Esau forgave his brother, Jacob. Then Jacob and his growing family moved back to the Promised Land of Canaan.