What’s the historical enmity between Jacob and Esau?


By BibleAsk Team

The Enmity Between Jacob and Esau

The enmity between Jacob and Esau is a significant narrative in the biblical account of the patriarchs, found primarily in the book of Genesis. Their story is one of sibling rivalry, deception, reconciliation, and ultimately, divine providence. This essay will explore the historical enmity between Jacob and Esau, tracing its origins, development, and resolution.

The enmity between Jacob and Esau can be traced back to their birth and the circumstances surrounding it. In Genesis 25:19-28, the Bible recounts the story of their birth and the prophecy given to their mother, Rebekah, by the Lord. Rebekah conceived twins, who struggled within her womb, foreshadowing the conflict that would characterize their relationship.

Esau, the firstborn, emerged from the womb first, followed by Jacob, who was holding onto Esau’s heel. This act of grasping Esau’s heel earned Jacob the name “heel-catcher” or “supplanter,” foreshadowing his character as one who would supplant his brother. As the firstborn, Esau was entitled to the birthright, which included a double portion of the inheritance and leadership within the family (Genesis 25:31-34).

Despite Esau’s birthright status, Jacob schemed to obtain it for himself. In Genesis 27, Jacob, with the help of his mother, Rebekah, deceives his elderly and blind father, Isaac, into blessing him instead of Esau. Jacob disguises himself as Esau and presents himself to Isaac, who blesses him with the birthright blessing intended for the firstborn.

When Esau discovers that Jacob has deceived him and stolen his blessing, he is filled with rage and vows to kill his brother. Esau’s anger and desire for revenge escalate the conflict between them, leading Jacob to flee from his home and seek refuge with his uncle, Laban, in Haran (Genesis 27:41-45).

Reconciliation and Restoration

After many years of separation, Jacob decides to return to his homeland, fearing Esau’s wrath but also longing for reconciliation. In Genesis 32-33, Jacob prepares to meet Esau, sending gifts ahead of him and praying for God’s protection. On the night before their encounter, Jacob wrestles with God at Peniel, receiving a blessing and a new name, Israel, which means “he who struggles with God.”

When Jacob finally meets Esau, he bows before him seven times, demonstrating humility and submission. To Jacob’s surprise, Esau embraces him warmly and forgives him, reconciling with his brother and restoring their relationship. Esau’s forgiveness and reconciliation with Jacob signal the resolution of their longstanding enmity and the restoration of familial harmony.

Divine Providence and Redemptive Purpose

Throughout the narrative of Jacob and Esau, God’s providential care and redemptive purpose are evident. Despite their human flaws and conflicts, God works through their lives to fulfill His promises and advance His plan of redemption. The enmity between Jacob and Esau serves as a backdrop for the unfolding drama of God’s covenant with His people and the eventual coming of the Messiah.

Even before their birth, God foretold the destiny of Jacob and Esau, declaring that the older would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23). This prophecy foreshadowed the reversal of traditional birthright expectations and affirmed God’s sovereign choice in establishing His covenant line through Jacob.

Throughout their lives, God intervenes to guide, protect, and bless Jacob and Esau, despite their human failings and conflicts. God’s grace and mercy are evident in His dealings with them, demonstrating His faithfulness to His promises and His redemptive purposes for His chosen people.

Lessons and Applications

The story of Jacob and Esau offers several lessons and applications for believers today. It illustrates the destructive consequences of jealousy, deceit, and unresolved conflict within families and communities. It also highlights the importance of humility, forgiveness, and reconciliation in overcoming past hurts and restoring broken relationships.

Jacob’s humility and willingness to seek reconciliation with Esau serve as a model for believers in resolving conflicts and restoring relationships. Likewise, Esau’s forgiveness of Jacob demonstrates the transformative power of grace and the healing that comes from extending forgiveness to others.

Historical Perspectives

Although the brother reconciled, their descendants did not follow in their steps. This enmity continued in their descendants the Edomites and the Jews. This animosity surfaced when the descendants of Esau refused to give permission to the children of Israel to go through their land on the way to Canaan (Numbers 20:14–21).

In the promised land, this enmity became more evident during the wars who Saul waged against them (1 Samuel 14:47). Also, David took severe measures against the Edomites, slaying “every male” and placing garrisons “throughout all Edom,” making them “servants” (2 Samuels 8:13, 14; 1 Kings 11:15).

And this strife between the two enemies continued under David’s son, Solomon (1 Kings 11:14–22). During the reign of Jehoshaphat, the Edomites, called “the children of Seir” (Genesis 32:3; 36:8; Deuteronomy 2:5), united together with the Moabites and the Ammonites, to invade Judah (2 Chronicles 20:22).

The independence they lost under David, they regained under Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:8–10). And the struggle between Edom and the Israelites continued when Amaziah of Judah successfully attacked the Edomites, capturing their stronghold, Sela, and putting many of them to death (2 Kings 14:1, 7; 2 Chronicles 25:11, 12).

Still partially subdued, they again attacked Judah in the time of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:17). And when Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the Edomites rejoiced over the calamities that befell Judah (Psalms 137:7).

Finally, the Hasmonaean King John Hyrcanus I brought the Edomites’ independence to an end in the year 126 b.c., when he forced them to accept the rite of circumcision and the law of Moses, and to submit to a Jewish governor.


In conclusion, the historical enmity between Jacob and Esau is a compelling narrative of sibling rivalry, deception, reconciliation, and divine providence. Their story serves as a reminder of the destructive consequences of jealousy and deceit, as well as the transformative power of humility, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Ultimately, the resolution of their conflict reflects God’s faithfulness to His promises and His redemptive purposes for His chosen people. Despite the challenges and conflicts they face, believers can trust in God’s sovereign control and redemptive purposes, knowing that He works all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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