A-Z: Famous stories from the Bible: Jacob cheats Esau


When Isaac had grown old and was almost blind, he wanted to bestow his blessing on Esau, his eldest son, before he died. (This was the traditional way of recognising the eldest son as the one who would inherit his father’s position when he died.) So Isaac summoned Esau and instructed him to hunt for game and prepare it for him to eat, after which he would give Esau the traditional blessing. 

While Esau was out hunting, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, who had overheard the conversation, told Jacob, the younger twin to Esau, to prepare two goats from their flock for Isaac’s meal so that they could cheat Esau out of his inheritance. (Jacob was her favourite.) She also suggested Jacob wear Esau’s clothes and put a goatskin on his neck and arms so that Isaac would be fooled into thinking it was Esau, who was much hairier than Jacob.

Jacob tricks Isaac; Bible image available through Creative CommonsJacob served up the roasted goat to his father, and although Isaac was suspicious, he ate the delicious meal and gave Jacob the family blessing. 

No sooner had Jacob left his father than Esau arrived, prepared the game he had hunted and presented it to his father. As soon as Isaac heard Esau speak, he knew he had been tricked, as Jacob’s voice was quite different to Esau’s. He shook violently at the realisation of what he had done, but, despite Esau’s pleas, could not undo his blessing, simply confirming that Esau was now subservient to his younger twin. 

Esau was furious towards Jacob for robbing him of his birth-right. From that day on he planned how he would kill him and Isaac wisely sent Jacob away. 

The story illustrates:

  • Jacob was a cheat and a liar, but God still had plans for him
  • It is not only good people who can further God’s purposes
  • Christians believe that God never gives up on humankind, however badly they behave.

Related topics

Big ideas from the Bible: Parents and children; Patriarchs

Bible References

Genesis 27:1-41
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