Esau's name in Hebrew means "hairy", and, according to Genesis 25:25, it is a reference to his hairiness at birth. He is also called "Edom", which means red. Genesis relates this directly to his selling his birthright for some "red lentil stew" (Gen. 25:30). However, Genesis makes a point of mentioning that he was red when he emerged from the womb (Gen 25:25). However, this may be an example of retroactive nomenclature, as the land which was supposedly inhabited by his descendants, Edom, contains a great abundance of red rock, and some believe that the name of the land is a topographical reference. However, this is speculation, and has no basis in the biblical text.
Genesis 25:19-25 narrates Esau's birth. He emerges from the womb with Jacob grasping his heel. He is described thusly: "Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau."
Curiously, the Old Testament of the Bible does not tell us which of these views is correct, whether in God's eyes Esau was cheated by Jacob or whether Esau carelessly sold his birthright to Jacob. However, the New Testament Book of Hebrews in Chapter 12, verse 15-16, depicts Esau as unspiritual for thoughtlessly throwing away his birthright. It appears that in Isaac's eyes, at least, the deception was not wrong, as he not only refuses to take it back after learning he was tricked, but also will not give a second blessing to Esau (Gen. 27:34-40). He then reiterates his blessing of Jacob shortly before Jacob flees (Gen. 28:1-4).
In Genesis 27:1-40, Jacob uses deception to trick their father Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing normally due to the eldest, instead of giving it to Esau. Jacob's deception also engenders controversy, while motivated in fact by Rebekah, the mother of both Jacob and Esau and Isaac's beloved wife. In Genesis 25:22-23, And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
Genesis 25:28 explains the conflict between the parents and their children: "Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob." (emphasis added).
In Genesis 27:5-7, "Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 7 'Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.'". Rebekah then instructs Jacob in an elaborate deception through which Jacob pretends to be Esau, in order to steal from Esau Isaac's blessing and birthright -- which in theory Esau had agreed to give to Jacob. As a result, Jacob becomes the spiritual leader of the family after Isaac's death and the heir of the promises of Abraham (Gen. 27:37).
Esau, naturally, is furious and vows to kill Jacob (Gen. 27:41). Once again Rebekah intervenes to save her youngest son Jacob from being murdered by her eldest son, Esau.
Therefore, at Rebekah's urging, Jacob flees to a distant land to work for a relative, Laban (Gen. 28:5). To engineer Jacob's escape unharmed, Rebekah invents a story about not wanting Jacob to marry a local Heth-ite woman (Gen. 27:46).
Esau married Canaanite women, but, upon hearing that this greatly displeased his parents, Esau married his cousin Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael (Gen. 28:6-9). Esau thus demonstrates loyalty to his parents and their wishes. However, the Bible portrays Rebekah's expression of displeasure with the women of the region as actually being only a ruse to facilitate Jacob's escape from Esau's murderous threats.
Jacob does not immediately receive his father's inheritance after the elaborate deception aimed at taking it from Esau. Jacob having fled for his life, leaves behind the wealth of Isaac's flocks and land and tents in Esau's hands. Jacob is forced to sleep out on the open ground and then work for wages as a servant in Laban's household. Jacob, who had deceived and cheated his brother, is in turn deceived and cheated by his relative Laban concerning Jacob's seven years of service (lacking money for a dowry) for the hand of Rachel, receiving Leah instead. However, despite Laban, Jacob eventually becomes so rich as to incite the envy of Laban and Laban's sons.
Meanwhile, Esau also shows forgiveness and reconciliation. In spite of this bitter conflict, Genesis Chapters 32-33 tells of Jacob and Esau's eventual reconciliation. Jacob sends multiple waves of gifts to Esau as they approach each other in hopes of Esau sparing his life. Esau refuses the gifts, as he is now very wealthy and does not need them. Jacob never apologizes to Esau for his actions through the sending of these gifts. Jacob nevertheless bows down before Esau and insists of his receiving the gifts. (After this, God confirms his renaming of Jacob as "Israel.") Nevertheless, commentaries through the ages have read - between the lines - of an animosity only superficially concealed.
According to Jewish tradition, Esau was a rebellious son. He kept this life secret until he was 15, when he sold his birthright to Jacob. Abraham died earlier the same day, so that he would not witness the demise of his grandson Esau. The lentils Jacob was cooking were meant for his father Isaac, because lentils are the traditional mourner's meal for Jews. Jacob coerced Esau to sell his birthright, because he knew that Esau wasn't responsible enough to receive it.
Some of the sons of Esau are spared, but they are sworn to serve and pay fealty to Jacob.
Hundreds of years later, when the Israelites returned from captivity in Egypt during the Exodus, God commands the Israelites to honor and respect their "brothers" the Edomites, the descendants of Esau. The Israelites are commanded to be careful not to provoke the Edomites or take anything from them without paying for it. However, although the Bible does not record it in connection with those events, later God expresses anger at the Edomites for not showing the Israelites hospitality, such as in Numbers 20:14-22.
There are several Biblical references to hostility between the people of Israel and the people of Edom (e.g., 2 Samuel 8:12-14; 2 Kings 8:20-22; Psalm 137:7), and it is possible that some of the narrative of Genesis is intended to explain the origins and justification of that hostility. The Edomites (also known as Idumeans) came to be dominated by the larger kingdom of Israel, but from time to time fought wars with Israel throughout Israel's history.
Approximately 1000 years after Esau's and Jacob's common birthday, God expresses extreme anger and condemnation upon the Edomites such as in the prophesies of the Book of Malachi Chapter 1 and the Book of Obadiah Chapter 1. However, although the Bible follows the convention of describing the Edomites by the name of their long-dead patriarch Esau, the specific reasons given for God's anger involve then-recent sins of the Edomite people, not of the individual man Esau. Id.
The prophesies of Obadiah and Malachi indicate that the Edomite race will be destroyed during the end times. In Obadiah Chapter 1:18, it is declared: ' "But the house of Esau will be as stubble. And they will set them on fire and consume them, So that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau," For the LORD has spoken. ' (Emphasis added.)
According to Jewish tradition, Edomites were the progenitors of Rome. Because the Romans adopted Christianity as their religion, Christians are sometimes referred to as Edomites. Thus the prophecies in Obadiah and Malachi refer the Messianic age, where Edom will be punished for their cruelty to Israel during their exile.