“When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents.” Gen. 24:27
This is one of many verses in scripture where what is being conveyed is missed if we do not think about what the words imply. It is plain enough to understand that Jacob is ‘peaceful’, which in the original Hebrew means simple, wholesome, without blemish (like a sacrifice). For Esau however, it seems we are told more about what he does than we are of his nature: He is a skillful hunter. However, ultimately this reveals his nature to us; to be a skillful hunter, you need to be able to deceive animals – to trap them. A Hebrew translation may read “one who knows trapping.” There are also several rabbinical stories about Esau’s deceit. And so what is being illustrated to the reader is a contrast between the twins. This is a continuation of the previous verses where we see that although they are twins, they do not look alike.
The contrast continues. Esau is a man of the field, he is active, probably more comfortable outside than in. With Jacob however the scripture tells us he “lives in tents”. This may sound obvious to the reader, as where else would he live? And wouldn’t Esau live in a tent as well? The physical abode is not what is being discussed here, but rather this is a reference to the “tents of Shem” from Genesis 9:27:
“And let him dwell in the tents of Shem”
The tents of Shem in long-standing rabbinical tradition is where the teaching of God was taught, a prerequisite of theological seminary of sorts. (Bereishis Rabbah 63:10, also, Rashi) On the surface the contrast is that Esau is more prone to be outside, and Jacob inside, and this appears to hold true to their personalities as well, as we see a litany of action verbs peppered throughout the story with regard to Esau, not so much with Jacob. (Alter) Esau is also a man of careless words, not thinking before he speaks.
As the next verses unfold however, we see the reader, too, is deceived by all outward appearances, for it is Jacob who ends up being the deceiver.