Jacob and Esau: Deception

“Is not he rightly named Jacob? … He hath supplanted me these two times.” – Genesis 27:36[1]

Jude, a half-brother of Jesus Christ, warned his readers about “certain men” who had “crept” into the church “unawares” (4). These men “speak evil of those things which they know not. … What they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves” (10). Jude then named three men from the Old Testament who acted in this manner: Cain, Balaam, and Korah (11). Was Esau evil like the men Jude described? No. But he was still godless.

Corruption and Slander

esau-and-jacobEsau corrupted himself in natural things, specifically sex and food. He took more than one wife, which is polygamy (Genesis 26:34; cf 4:19); married Hittite women, even though God said that Abraham’s seed – not Hittites – would inherit the land (26:34; cf 15:7-21); and married a Canaanite daughter of Ishmael, who wasn’t the son of the covenant (28:9; cf 17:19-21). These women were unworthy of a grandson of Abraham. Esau also “despised his birthright” by selling it for food (25:34). How did he corrupt himself? Physical needs in the moment loomed larger than spiritual needs in the future. The birthright was the one and only key to the blessing, so it wasn’t for sale, but Esau didn’t care. As a result, the book of Hebrews rightly calls him “profane” (12:16).

Esau also spoke evil of, or slandered, Jacob by calling him a supplanter (Genesis 27:36), just as Cain slandered Abel (4:9) and Korah Moses (Numbers 16:3). Esau couldn’t see that Jacob was righteous in first valuing and then seeking both the birthright and blessing of the firstborn. The name “Jacob” (Ya’aqob) means “heel catcher” or “heel holder” in Hebrew (H3290), since Jacob “took hold on Esau’s heel” at birth (Genesis 25:26). The root word ‘aqab (H6117) is translated supplant (Genesis 27:36, Jeremiah 9:4), stay (Job 37:4), and take by the heel (Hosea 12:3). Figurative translations of the name Jacob – deceiver, defrauder, layer of snares, supplanter, etc – add something to the text that isn’t there. The same is true of the definitions of ‘aqab below. Does “come from behind” mean “supplant, circumvent, or defraud”? No. Are Jacob’s actions in Genesis 27 identical to the men God condemns in Jeremiah 9:4? No. Only two people in the Bible accused Jacob of deception: Esau and his father Isaac, who said that he “came with subtlety” (27:35). God and his servants never accused Jacob of fraud. This man was an anointed prophet after all (Psalm 105:15).

  • Genesius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon: (1) to be behind, to come from behind; (2) denominative from H6119 to take hold of anyone’s heel, to trip one up; (3) to supplant, to circumvent, to defraud; Piel, to hold back, to retard.
  • Strong’s Definitions: to swell out or up; used only as denominative from H6119, to seize by the heel; figuratively, to circumvent (as if tripping up the heels); also to restrain (as if holding by the heel).

Yes, Jacob pretended to be Esau. But this act doesn’t make him a man of “subtlety” (27:35) who “supplanted” (27:36) his brother. Taking the firstborn’s blessing was an act of faith that only eyes of faith can see. Profane people like Esau, however, “speak evil of those things which they know not” (Jude 10). Isaac was little better. He accused Jacob of “subtlety” (Genesis 27:35) or mirmah (H4820), which means “fraud.” The Bible says that, “by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Hebrews 11:20). I think credit for that blessing goes to Rebekah.

True Deception

jacob-esau-birthrightDid Jacob commit fraud by taking Esau’s blessing, as Isaac claimed (Genesis 27:35)? No. The true supplanter was Esau. First, his moral nature didn’t fit his status as the firstborn son. If anyone should have been the firstborn, it was Jacob; he was righteous in seeking the birthright and blessing. Esau treated the birthright like dung. Sadly, Isaac was deceived by appearances – Esau’s hunting skill (25:27-28). Rebekah, however, had a word from the Lord: “the elder shall serve the younger” (25:23). But since Isaac couldn’t spiritually discern his sons’ moral natures, it was fitting that this now-blind father couldn’t physically discern Jacob’s hairy hands (27:1, 23). Second, by having lost the birthright, it was Esau who approached Isaac “with subtlety” (27:35). He tried to inherit something that he no longer had a right to: the double blessing of the firstborn. Jacob had obtained the birthright, so taking the blessing was his rightful due. If Isaac had learned that Esau had sold his birthright, then the appearance of deception could have been avoided. Isaac would have knowingly blessed Jacob; instead of hunting, Esau would have stayed home!

What did Jacob do when he took the firstborn’s blessing, as prophesied by his name? What does it mean to “take hold of” something? The woman with the “issue of blood … when she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment” so she could be healed (Mark 5:25, 27). Matthew (9:20) and Luke (8:44) also say that she came from behind. What’s the difference between this woman and Jacob? Paul followed Jesus Christ in order to “apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of” him (Philippians 3:12). He “press[ed] toward the mark for the prize” of the resurrection of the dead (3:14). Paul later told Timothy to “lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12). Faith is a journey. It begins by taking hold of Jesus, continues by keeping hold on him, and ends – via death or the rapture – by not letting go. Unlike Jacob, Esau let the birthright slide. When weary, he prized “one morsel of meat” (Hebrews 12:16).


“Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:11-12

hypocrisy-in-the-churchThe church today is filled with people like Jacob and Esau. The former are righteous, the latter profane. These godless people do more than just “speak evil of those things which they know not” and “corrupt themselves” in natural things – food, sex, money, etc (Jude 10). They’re like the “evil men and seducers” whom Paul describes, “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). Having “crept” into the church “unawares,” they have the appearance of righteousness yet slander true saints (Jude 4). A few Christians are like Rebekah. Having received a word from the Lord – prophetic words, visions, or dreams – they see the Jacobs as righteous. Most Christians, however, are like Isaac. Deceived by appearances and without spiritual discernment, they prefer the rich, beautiful, and well-spoken-of Esaus.

One day, there’ll be a reckoning. Appearances will no longer deceive. The scene of Isaac’s blessing foreshadows the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He has righteousness (rapture) in one hand and judgment (wrath) in the other. When Jesus returns, the righteous Jacobs will inherit the kingdom of God; the profane Esaus will be cast into the eternal fires of hell. They’ll find “no place of repentance,” even if they seek “it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).

[1] All Scripture references are from the King James Version (KJV). Archaic spellings have been modernized.


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