Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.


Question: Did Jacob steal, or cheat his brother Esau out of the birthright (Genesis 25: 29-34)?


Answer: The birthright consisted of special privileges to which the firstborn son was entitled in

Bible times. Israel and the rest of the ancient world recognized this favored position of the

firstborn male child. The birthright consisted of: (1) a double portion of the father’s estate upon

his death (Deuteronomy 21: 17). For example, if the father had two sons, his estate would be

divided into three portions, and the older son would receive two, etc.; (2) a special blessing from

the father (Genesis 27: 27); and (3) leadership in the family upon the father’s death, or in his

absence (Genesis 43: 33).


Esau, the older twin brother of Jacob, was entitled to the birthright. Many Bible teachers and

others claim that Jacob stole or cheated Esau out of his birthright, but Hebrews 12: 16 tells us

plainly that Esau “for one morsel of meat sold his birthright”; and Genesis 25: 33, 34 states

clearly that he “sold his birthright unto Jacob” and bound the sale with an oath, for “Esau

despised his birthright.”


An Ancient Oriental Custom


Archeologists and historians have shed much light on the duty of a firstborn to fast and the

afterborn to feast on the birthday anniversary of a notable ancestor, especially one in which the

bulk of his wealth was to be transmitted to a firstborn descendant. For a firstborn to feast on such

an ancestral birthday anniversary was a renunciation of his birthright, while any younger brother

who fasted in his place would thereby gain the birthright. Accordingly, Esau evidently asked

Jacob to fast in his place on Abraham’s birthday anniversary, while Esau feasted in Jacob’s

place, thus forfeiting the birthright!


Jacob knew of the great blessings of God’s Covenant that He had made with his grandfather

Abraham. He appreciated the Covenant greatly and discerned that his brother Esau did not

appreciate it, so he bought it from his brother at the latter’s own estimation of its value. Jacob,

doubting Esau’s willingness to give up such a valuable birthright for such a poor return, said:

“Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him” (Genesis 25: 33).


No wonder that God said in Romans 9: 13: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated [loved

less; compare Deuteronomy 21: 15-17].” No wonder that Esau’s unbelief in God’s Oath-bound

Covenant made God hate him – disapprove and disesteem him; and no wonder that Jacob’s faith

and desire for God’s favor and blessing made God love him – approve and esteem him. In the

light of this oriental custom, Jacob stands vindicated and Esau condemned, just as the Scriptures

set forth the matter.





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