Esau and Jacob: The Hungry Belly and a Birthright

Esau and Jacob: The Hungry Belly and a Birthright

  • an inheritance sold for a bowl of soup
  • a source of rivalry
  • a firstborn disrespects his blessing


Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. —Philippians 2:3-4

Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. —Luke 12:23

Rebekah and Isaac


It had been 20 years since Isaac took Rebekah to be his wife, and though they loved each other, there was one great big empty spot in their lives: they had no children. How could the Lord’s promise to Isaac’s father come to pass—the one that promised Abraham would become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5)—unless Isaac had a son to carry on the family name?


(This story is found in Genesis 25 and 27.)

A big surprise

Isaac knew the power of God. After all, it was by a huge miracle that Isaac himself had been born. Year after year had passed, and Isaac and Rebekah still did not have what they wanted most: a child. So it was only natural that Isaac would plead with the Lord to fill that emptiness in their lives. The Lord heard and answered his prayer, and soon the couple was eagerly waiting for the birth of their baby. The Bible says, “Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived” (Genesis 25:21). The Lord will always fulfill His promises, and sometimes in very unexpected ways.

Rebekah pregnant with Esau and Jacob

“Will this little one ever be born?” Rebekah fretted, shifting her position in an effort to get comfortable. “It’s so active I can’t get any rest, night or day!” Fearing something might be wrong, she took her worries to the Lord.

“Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body.”

What she learned was a big surprise! “The LORD said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger’” (Genesis 25:23). Rebekah was about to give birth to twins, and judging from her discomfort, a rivalry was starting before they were even born!

Pause for thought: There are other words that mean the same as the word rivalry, like competition, for instance. Can you think of some other similar words? What kinds of problems are likely to happen when there is rivalry among brothers and sisters?

Her days were fulfilled

Rebekah could hardly believe she had not one, but two babies: both boys, but not identical twins, that’s for sure. The firstborn was covered with baby-fine red hair all over his tiny body, so naming him was easy. They called him Esau (which in their language meant “hairy”). Soon afterward his brother Jacob arrived.

“The strangest thing happened when little Esau was born. His brother Jacob was hanging onto his heel and wouldn’t let go!”

The midwives washed and swaddled the babies, chatting happily with Rebekah. “The strangest thing happened when little Esau was born. His brother Jacob was hanging onto his heel and wouldn’t let go! We’ve never seen anything like it. You certainly picked the right name!” they laughed. (The name Jacob means “following after,” “heel-catcher” or “supplanter.”)

Pause for thought: How would you like to be called “Hairy” or “Heel-catcher”? Get your dictionary and check out the word supplanter. As you read through the rest of the story, see if you think Jacob lived up to his name.

Privilege of the firstborn

As the firstborn son, Esau received what is called a birthright. He had the right to a double portion of his father Isaac’s estate when he died (Deuteronomy 21:17). And Esau would someday become the head of the clan, making all the important decisions and managing family affairs. This meant more wealth for him and more respect, authority, and responsibility than his brother Jacob would have. The birthright would then be passed on to Esau’s firstborn son when Esau died, and so on down the line. It was something of great value and not to be treated lightly. It was also something that could easily spark the fires of envy.

Pause for thought: What does it mean to envy? Is envy a good thing or a bad thing? What can envy cause people to do? How can we put a stop to envy? (Hint: Check the Key Verses in this study.) 

Not a thing alike

As the years passed, each twin developed a distinct personality, and each parent had a favorite (which would sadly lead to trouble in the future). Esau was happiest in the out of doors. Nothing thrilled him more than hunting and the excitement of the chase. And for Isaac, there was nothing better than the smell of his son’s freshly killed venison roasting over a fire. Just the thought of it made his mouth water. He just loved that boy.

Jacob's stew cooking over an open fire

On the other hand, Rebekah preferred Jacob’s quiet nature and the fact that he didn’t have to fill his life with excitement. He was content with the predictable life of a herdsman and living off the produce of the land. Jacob was also the thinker of the two boys, and as Esau was soon to learn, Jacob could also be crafty.

All for a bowl of soup

Jacob had a big pot of his special red lentil stew simmering on the hot coals when Esau arrived from a hunting trip tired, grubby and very hungry.

“Jacob, I’m starving,” he cried. “Give me some of that stew before I die!”

Jacob coolly replied, “Sure. But first sell me your birthright,” stirring the mixture so its tempting aroma filled the air.

“My birthright? What good is it if I die of starvation? You can have it!” Esau replied.

red lentil stew

“Swear that you are selling your birthright to me. Swear!” his brother insisted.

“It is yours. Now give me something to eat!” Esau said, hardly able to wait for his bowl of very expensive stew.

“One people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.”

Minutes later Esau left, his belly full, his thirst quenched, and his birthright gone. For a mere bowl of red lentil stew, he had given up his firstborn rights of inheritance. The stage was now set to bring to pass the Lord’s words to Rebekah: “One people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.”

Pause for thought: Based on the decision Esau made, do you think he would have made a good manager for Isaac’s estate? Why or why not? Why is it wise to think about what could happen as a result of our decisions before we make them?


It was only later that Esau would realize what a foolish thing he had done and what an expensive price he had paid. It wouldn’t be long before he lost something else, but this time it would be because of trickery.


1. Knowledge

What did the name Esau mean? What did Jacob mean?

2. Comprehension

Why was a birthright worth more than a bowl of soup? What did Esau lose in this sale? What did Jacob gain?

3. Connections

Can you think of some other Bible brothers who were jealous of each other? Do you remember the one who was his father’s favorite and that favoritism caused his brothers to hate him? He had a beautiful coat of many colors. Can you find his story in your Bible?



1. If you choose to cook and serve lentil stew as an activity (see Activities below), think about and discuss whether it is delicious enough to trade a birthright for. How long does satisfaction last after a meal? How long would a birthright last?

2. Crafty means “skillful at deceiving others” or “using trickery to get something that’s wanted.” Why do you suppose Jacob wanted the birthright? Do you think he might have had a plan to get it away from Esau for some time? Why or why not?


1. Cook Lentil Stew

Plan a Friday evening meal that features lentil soup. Have the children help with its preparation and perhaps serve it during or after the Story and Study.

The following is a recipe for Jacob’s Lentil Stew (from, based on what would have been used by cooks in ancient times.

(Please note: Sumac and hyssop are now only available in specialty food shops.)

Disclaimer: This recipe has not been tested by the author, so if you have one you are more familiar with, please substitute it.


ingredients going into a large pot

  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro (coriander), divided
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks, including leaves
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups dry red lentils (rinsed and examined for small stones, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley
  • 2 qts vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp hyssop or parsley
  • 1/2 tsp sumac (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Servings: 6


Roughly chop the cilantro. Scrub the carrots, then cut them into chunks (do not peel). Cut celery into chunks, including leaves. Set aside. In a medium-sized soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and sauté till translucent. Add garlic, carrot chunks, and celery. Continue to sauté till onion turns golden and ingredients begin to caramelize. Add red lentils and barley to the pot; stir. Cover mixture with 2 quarts of broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add 1/4 cup of the fresh cilantro to the pot along with the cumin, hyssop or parsley, sumac (optional) and bay leaf; stir. Cover the pot and let the stew simmer slowly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, until barley is tender and the stew is thickened. Serve using the rest of the cilantro as a garnish. Delicious with slices of fresh-baked bread or bread sticks warm from the oven.

name tag of

2. What’s My Name?


Select one person to look up the meanings of the names of every person in the household prior to reading the study. This can be done by doing an Internet search for the name or checking out a book from the library on baby names and their meanings. Then that person writes just the meaning (without the name) on a label such as an address label and places it in a container.

To play:

Each player draws out one label, reads the meaning of the name aloud and tries to guess who it belongs to. Once the correct person is identified, that person sticks the label on his or her shirt and is called by that “new name” for the rest of the evening.

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