“When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom.” Gen. 25:29-30
As we began to explore in the previous post, there is speculation, at least in rabbinical stories, that Esau had a murderous nature. In addition, I argue the case that this portion of the Genesis narrative contains some strong allusions to the Cain and Abel story – some elements are parallels, while in other cases the roles are switched.
First we have brothers. Jacob and Esau are twins. Cain and Abel may be twins as well, though we are not told explicitly. We should consider this possibility due to the text, which tells us of one conception and two births: “…she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said “I have gotten a manchild with the LORD.” Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel.” Or as another translation reads “…she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, saying “Both I and the Eternal have made a man.” She then continued, giving birth to his brother Abel.” (Gen. 4:1-2) Ultimately we do not know how much time passes in between these births, if any. At the very least we are dealing with siblings.
One of the brothers is associated with animals, the other with vegetables. In the case of Abel we see he was a shepherd, taking care of the animals, which we contrast with Esau who traps and kills animals. Jacob is not a hunter; instead we see him cooking lentil stew. Cain brought his offering from the harvest.
In both cases, the firstborn seems to be prone to impetuousness. Cain was filled with rage when his offering was not accepted before God, and later kills his brother in a fit of anger. With Esau, the narrative is filled with action verbs: He returns from hunting; he declares he is famished and wants to gulp down Jacob’s stew hastily. So hastily in fact, that he was willing to sell his birthright for mere temporary hunger. Alter’s commentary tells us that this verb used here for gulping down the food in rabbinical Hebrew would be used for feeding animals. Then, he ate, drank, arose, and left (Fox).
Upon the tragedy of the murder of Abel, God confronts Cain, then pronouncing his punishment says “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Gen. 4:11). Bear in mind that Esau also went by the name Edom, which means “red” but is also closely related to Adam/Adamah, which means “ground”. So when Esau says “Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff”, there is a picture of “red stuff” being poured into Edom/the ground. This portends what is about to unfold; after all the deceit of Jacob taking the birthright, and later the blessing also, Esau determines to kill his brother Jacob.
Ultimately we see a beautiful picture of reconciliation in the case of Jacob and Esau. When Esau is coming toward Jacob with 400 men, Jacob decides to show his brother lovingkindness and respect by sending forth gifts to ‘master Esau’. This disarms him, showing us that love can overcame hatred and anger, and that things can end in reconciliation instead of death.