Understanding Esau—who he is and how his life has affected modern history—is of utmost importance in the study of Bible prophecy. To treat this important subject in a single bulletin is not possible, so this will be part one.
The descendants of Esau were called various names in the Bible. The first name was Edom, which means “red,” as we read in Genesis 25:30 in the NASB,
30 and Esau said to Jacob, "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished." Therefore his name was called Edom.
The Hebrew name, “Edom,” sometimes is written in its Greek form, “Idumea.” These are the same name, but in different languages.
Esau made an alliance with Seir the Horite just south of Canaan and moved there, as we read in Genesis 36:8,
8 So Esau lived in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom.
And so we find that in Ezekiel 35 the prophecy against Esau’s descendants is directed against “mount Seir and all Edom” (NASB of 35:15). The prophet also directs his anti-Esau prophecies against “Teman” in Ezekiel 20:46 and in 25:13. Teman was Esau’s grandson through Eliphaz (Gen. 36:11).
Eliphaz also had a son named Amalek (Gen. 36:12) who established a prominent Edomite tribe that was one of Israel’s fiercest enemies. The Amalekites were the ones who attacked Israel as they came out of Egypt. Israel won the battle as long as Moses interceded for Israel with his hands raised (Exodus 17:11).
Once we understand that the prophecies regarding Esau come under all of these various names, it is apparent that the Bible is full of prophecies against Esau’s descendants in the latter days. Many do not realize this, however, because many prophetic statements are directed at one of the other names: Edom, Idumea, Seir, Teman, or Amalek.
In Exodus 17:16, after Israel had defeated Amalek in battle, God told Moses,
16 and he said, "The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation."
From that time forward, the prophets consistently identify the descendants of Esau as being Israel’s enemy that would be overthrown in the latter days. The book of Obadiah is only one chapter, but it is entirely devoted to this subject. It says in verse 18 that the house of Esau would be consumed as a field of stubble is consumed by fire.
18 Then the house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau will be as stubble. And they will set them on fire and consume them, so that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau," for the LORD has spoken.
Interestingly enough, the “fire” is said to be first “the house of Jacob” (Israel) and more specifically “the house of Joseph.” You recall that Joseph was the birthright holder and carried the name “Israel,” ever since Jacob had given that name to the sons of Joseph in Gen. 48:16.
This shows a particular conflict between Joseph and Esau. The reason is that both houses were to fight over the birthright. Esau had lost it, and his descendants continually desired to take it back. Joseph had ultimately received it, but was to lose it temporarily in the latter days. The struggle over the birthright is called in Isaiah 34:8, “the controversy of Zion.”
The Struggle Between Jacob and Esau
This controversy, or struggle, began with Jacob and Esau even as they fought in the womb of their mother, Rebekah. Genesis 25:21-23 says,
21 And Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is so, why then am I this way?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger."
When the twins were born, they were named Esau and Jacob. Esau was the first that was born; Jacob was the younger twin. The Lord told Rebekah that the conflict within her womb was a prophetic picture of what their descendants would do in later years.
The Birthright Sale: Price-Gouging
Of course, Jacob and Esau themselves were rivals for the birthright and blessing (rulership, or dominion). When Esau was extra hungry one day, he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup (Gen. 25:29-34). The birthright was the ownership of all the property owned by Isaac.
When Jacob purchased the birthright for a bowl of soup, this was unlawful, according to Leviticus 25:14, which says,
14 If you make a sale, moreover, to your friend [Heb. amiyth, “an associate, neighbor”], or buy from your friend's hand, you shall not wrong [Heb. anah, “oppress, mistreat”] one another.
In the context of buying or selling, to mistreat or oppress means to take advantage of someone’s situation, buying something at a very low price or selling at a very high price. Jacob broke this law when he bought the birthright from Esau for a bowl of soup. Jacob did not have enough money to purchase the birthright for a fair price.
The Dominion Mandate Stolen by Fraud
The brothers’ conflict came to a head when Isaac got ready to pass on the blessing to Esau. The blessing was customary when a patriarch felt like he was coming toward the end of his life. It was done to formally establish his successor as ruler of the estate. It was the moment when the birthright holder was lawfully appointed as RULER.
The difference between the birthright and the rulership began in the first chapter of Genesis. In Gen. 1:26 God said to Adam and Eve, “Let them have dominion.” In verse 28 God said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” The blessing of being fruitful and multiplying was the birthright that Esau sold to Jacob for a bowl of soup. The dominion mandate is the blessing that Jacob stole.
Isaac intended to give the dominion “blessing” to his oldest son, Esau. He sent Esau to hunt venison for the occasion, but Rebekah overheard the conversation and remembered the prophecy during her pregnancy that “the older shall serve the younger.” She immediately decided to help God secure the birthright for Jacob. Taking advantage of Isaac’s blindness (Genesis 27:1), Jacob pretended to be Esau, even dressing in Esau’s finest clothing. Genesis 27:15, 16 says,
15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck.
Isaac was suspicious, because he seemed to recognize Jacob’s voice. Verse 19 says,
19 And Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your first-born; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game [venison], that you may bless me."
Later, Isaac was still suspicious, so he gave it one more try. Verse 24 says,
24 And he said, "Are you really my son Esau?" And he said, "I am."
Isaac then blessed Jacob and proclaimed him as his successor from Adam, divinely appointed to rule the earth. But then Esau returned with the venison and requested the blessing. When he was told that Jacob had already usurped it, he was furious. One can hardly blame him. Isaac, too, was greatly disturbed. We then read in verse 36:
36 Then he said, "Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing." And he said, "Have you not reserved a blessing for me?"
Here we see a clear distinction between the birthright and the blessing. Many years later, Jacob preserved this distinction when he blessed his 12 sons, giving the blessing of the dominion mandate to Judah and the birthright to Joseph. 1 Chronicles 5:1, 2 says,
1 Now the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel for he was the first-born, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. 2 Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph.
It is clear from this that Judah received the blessing of leadership, and this meant that from him would come the kings of Israel—most importantly, the Messiah. On the other hand, Joseph received the birthright, which was the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.” The birthright was, then, the bulk of the population of Israel—that is, the Kingdom itself.
Thus, the blessing of having dominion was to produce the KING. Having the birthright was to have the KINGDOM. Jacob supplanted Esau in both of these. Jacob took the birthright by price-gouging, taking advantage of Esau’s hunger. But by deceit, he simply stole the blessing of the dominion mandate.
There is one thing I have learned about the divine law: it is impartial (James 2:9). That means Esau had lawful cause against Jacob, because Jacob wronged him. Many have attempted to justify Jacob’s actions here, but they cannot be justified. The Bible says Jacob lied to his blind father. Jacob was guilty of outright fraud.
Isaac’s Blessing on Esau
Isaac must have been well aware that God would judge Jacob for defrauding Esau. It made no difference that Esau was carnal, not having the character of God (or even of Isaac). Obviously, neither did Jacob. Isaac knew that there would be a day of reckoning, when Jacob would have to return the birthright and blessing to Esau and allow God to give it to whomsoever He would—and in His own way. So Isaac gave this blessing to Esau in Gen. 27:39, 40,
39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, "Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. 40 And by your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless[Heb. rood, “trample, rule”], that you shall break his yoke from your neck."
The key to understanding Esau’s blessing is in the meaning of the Hebrew word, rood. The NASB translates it “become restless,” but this is meaningless. The KJV renders it “have the dominion.” Young’s Concordance says it means “to rule.” Strong’s Concordance says it means “to tramp about; i.e., ramble (free or disconsolate).”
It is apparent that the word paints the picture of a man who is free to tramp where he wishes—as in the case when a man owns his own land and can tramp where he pleases. In the above verse, where it is used in the blessing to Esau, we may picture Esau breaking free of Jacob’s dominion, or rule, so that he is free to tramp about where he pleases. In fact, because Isaac has just prophesied that Esau would live by his sword, the word pictures Esau in a time when he would be free to do as he pleases.
In other words, the day would come when Esau would receive the dominion mandate by force and be free to trample upon whomsoever he pleased. This is consistent with the character of Esau, and oppressive rule is what we would expect out of his descendants. Because Jacob had stolen this dominion mandate from Esau, Jacob would have to return it to Esau for a season at some point in the future. This was Isaac’s righteous judgment in this case.
Esau, the First Zionist
Esau believed that the land of Canaan was rightfully his and that his brother, Jacob, had unlawfully usurped the land. All through history, it was his desire to evict Jacob and to conquer or settle the land in place of Jacob. While Jacob’s descendants were in Egypt, the main tribe called Edom settled in the Arabah just south of the Dead Sea all the way to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Amalekites, who were another branch from Esau, settled to their west in the Negev, directly south of Canaan.
The Amalekites attacked Israel as they were coming out of Egypt under Moses (Ex. 17). In this sense, they were Israel’s oldest enemies and probably were determined to prevent them from returning to Canaan.
In the days of Gideon, Israel was in captivity to an alliance of three people: Amalek, Midian, and the children of the East (Judges 6:3).
When Judah was taken captive to Babylon, Edom rejoiced at their downfall, for this meant that they might be able to settle the land of Canaan. This is mentioned in Ezekiel 35 in a prophecy directed specifically at Edom.
2 Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it. . . .
5 Because you have had everlasting enmity and have delivered the sons of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of the punishment of the end, 6 therefore, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, I will give you over to bloodshed, and bloodshed will pursue you; since you have not hated bloodshed, therefore bloodshed will pursue you. . . .
10 Because you have said, These two nations and these two lands [Israel and Judah] will be mine, and we will possess them, although the LORD was there, 11 therefore, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, I will deal with you according to your anger and according to your envy which you showed because of your hatred against them; so I will make Myself known among them when I judge you.
Notice here that Mount Seir, or Edom, was not a peace-loving people. They desired blood and were thus violating the law against “eating blood” (Lev. 17). Today men would describe them as bloodthirsty. Blood is red; Edom means “red.” We cannot help but include Edom’s name in the prophetic description of national character.
In verse 10 above, we see by the mouth of the prophet that Edom’s desire was to possess the two lands of Israel and Judah. Though Isaac had prophesied Esau’s eventual dominion—and presumably his claim to the land of Canaan—this return to Canaan was not to be done under godly motives. Hence, God says He will judge them according to their envy, hatred, and anger.
Esau wanted to establish the Kingdom of God for his own personal gain and with carnal motives and methods. In Ezekiel 36, the prophet turns to Israel and tells them about Edom in verses 2-5,
2 Thus says the Lord GOD, Because the enemy has spoken against you, “Aha!” and, “the everlasting heights have become our possession,” 5 therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, Surely in the fire of My jealousy I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, who appropriated My land for themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and with scorn of soul, to drive it out for a prey.
The conflict between Jacob and Esau in this prophecy is very clear. The fight is over the land of Canaan, which both wanted as their possession. When God scattered the House of Israel from 745-721 B.C., only Judah stood in the way of Esau’s descendants from possessing the land. When Judah was taken to Babylon from 604-586 B.C., Edom then appropriated God’s land for themselves, not to use it for God’s will, but for their own selfish motives.
This prophecy was partially fulfilled in the days of Ezekiel, but at that time, not Edom, but Babylon actually possessed the land. The Assyrians before them had settled other people in the land to replace the Israelites that had been deported (2 Kings 17:24). The descendants of these people became known as Samaritans even in Jesus’ day.
So even though Edom would have liked to possess the two countries of Israel and Judah, they were prevented from doing so at that time. This means that the fulfillment of Isaac’s blessing upon Esau would come at a later time. The same is true of Ezekiel’s prophecy of Edom.
Malachi’s Prophecy of Esau
The prophet Malachi is probably the clearest statement of Esau’s Zionist motivations. In chapter one we read,
1 The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.2 "I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How hast Thou loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation, and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness. " 4 Though Edom says, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins"; thus says the LORD of hosts, "They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the peopletoward whom the LORD is indignant forever."
Esau’s Zionistic motive is in the statement, “We will return and build.” God’s response is “They may build, but I will tear down.” In essence, God is re-affirming Isaac’s blessing upon Jacob that they will indeed return and build, but at some point it will all be torn down. At that time the world will learn God’s view of Edom and his methods.
The Maccabee Conquest of Edom
The conquest of Edom, or Idumea, began with Judas Maccabeus in 163 B.C., according to 1 Maccabees 5:3-8. Edom ceased to be a nation in 126 B.C. when John Hyrcanus of Judah finished the conquest and forcibly converted the Edomites to Judaism. The story is told in great detail in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, ix, 1, where we read:
“Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would be circumcised, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision and the rest of the Jews’ ways of living; at which time therefore, this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.”
This is confirmed by the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1925 edition, Vol. 5, p. 41, which says, “Edom is in modern Jewry.”
Josephus was the first-century Jewish historian who initially fought against the Romans in the war that destroyed Jerusalem. He was himself a descendant of the Maccabees, so when he wrote of these things, he was writing of his own family history.
Edom was absorbed by the Jews and ceased to be a separate people in history. Hence, the Jews—or some branch of them—became the only people remaining to fulfill Isaac’s blessing and the Zionist prophecies of Edom. These will be known by their character, manifested by their Zionistic methods. We would expect Edom’s Zionism to be fulfilled by violence, theft, and bloodshed. We would expect the true Zionism of Israel (Joseph) to be fulfilled by peace, righteousness, and justice that would be a blessing all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3).
In our next issue, we will show the fulfillment of these things in the 20th century.