(noun) a coat of delicate, downy hairs, esp. that with which the human fetus or a newborn infant is covered. A type of pelage.
(noun) the hair, fur, wool, or other soft covering of a mammal.
The two brothers, Jacob and Esau, were set apart from the womb. As the Lord said to their mother, Rebekah, “two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels.” (Genesis 25:23 KJV) From day one, each brother showed out a picture of what he would become.
Esau was born covered in red hair, like a garment. His hairiness was the basis of his name, “Hairy”, and connects him to the fur-clad animals he was expert at hunting. “Red” also became his second name, Edom, when he traded for the red stew Jacob fed him.
This red fur he was covered in at birth is called “lanugo”. This is the downy fetal hair, or animal pelage, which falls off the fetus’ body during gestation and is swallowed, where it remains in the bowels, until after birth, when the meconium is released. Since twins like Jacob and Esau, who shared the same uterine sac, must ingest their brothers’ lanugo in utero, Jacob had more of his brother in him than most.
Now Jacob was a “heel catcher” or “supplanter”. What Esau was by nature, Jacob shared in by proximity. It served Jacob to have more than a hair of familiarity with his worldly brother, who intended to kill him, and with his uncle Laban, who would cheat him. Nine months wrestling with Esau, and ingesting the pelage of his body, was a material inoculation that prepared Jacob to grasp both crafty and resourceful tactics when in need. He did so yet remained a man of God.
When people say take “a hair of the dog that bit you,” this refers to curing a rabid dog bite by putting a few hairs from that dog into the wound, or more recently, to curing a hangover with a bit more alcohol. Jacob never became a hunter or a murderer, but he showed a capacity for wrestling, and defending himself and his family.
When his brother was born first, Jacob caught him by the heel before he emerged. And within a handful of verses, he had won the birthright from him. Esau’s second name was a signal of his defeat, for the highest expression of that poor man was the lamenting cry he brought before his father, “hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father.” (Genesis 27:38 KJV) Thus the words of 2 Peter 2:19, with the power of a divine law, impress on him the name Edom because of his weakness before that red meal, “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (KJV)
On the other hand, Jacob acquires the name Israel by a victory of perseverance. What began with a heel hold, was fully wrought in that night of prayer and God wrestling, so that the Lord redeemed his first name, and crowned him with a second, Israel. This combines the words “prince” and “God”, or “contends” and “God”.
According to Strong’s, Israel means “to rule as God”, and Christ does promise that his children will rule with him. (1 Corinthians 6:2,3, Revelation 3:21) Yet there is still that law sovereign over Israel, “the disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” (Luke 6:40)
Jacob’s life was marked by restraint, and eventual reward. Esau, failing to get started on the right foot, never got started at all. Esau was one of whom it may be said, “and thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, and say, how I have hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof.” (Proverbs 5:11,12 KJV)
While they wrestled, did they also cry? For babies can cry in the womb, both with tears, and with the exercise of their mouths and lungs, though it does not produce a sound. Around the 30th week, babies can cry tears, about the time they may grasp objects and move about freely some.
As Hebrews speaks of Melchizedek as eternal, because he had neither birth nor parentage, so the struggle between brothers began before they began, revealing a battle that precedes personal existence. Thus it is a type for the struggle between the Son of Man and the Devil.
As Jacob ate up Esau’s downy red fur, so did Jesus Christ bear and put on our sins in their most accursed form. In the exchanged life, our own wretched garments, become those white robes of the Lord’s own good deeds. The same picture is found in Zechariah 3, where Joshua the High Priest is shown under Satan’s accusation to wear filthy garments. Yet that scarlet, and that stained, is exchanged for the snow white and the regal.
The word “gestation” is also helpful here, for it signifies 9 months of the child’s formation, but it also means “to wear clothes or ornaments”, and that “exercise by which one is borne or carried, as on horseback, or in a carriage, by passive exercise, and without his own exertion”. Even when we first become ourselves, our very being already undergoes an exchange of destiny-shaping in His hand.
Inside Rebekah was the travail of two peoples, progressing to another world, to two distinct worlds. Huge and important was her womb, and condensed as a soul. This woman was full of water, and full of ships on the water. She held floods like Sheol, and like the grave of Jonah before his faith breakthrough. (Psalm 69) In these floods there were tears, and there was an exchange of garments.