“The Elder Shall Serve The Younger”: A Look At Genesis 25: 23

In Genesis 25:23, The Lord approaches a pregnant Rebekah and says: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” This passage has both historical and prophetical implications that should be explored.

First, we must discuss the passage itself. Davis wrote of this passage: “Esau became the progenitor of the Edomites, Jacob of the Israelites. They were brothers, but they became bitter enemies”[1] Burge and Hill write: “This is a departure from the normal procedure, where priority went to the firstborn. That the prophecy is made before the birth of the children stresses that Jacob’s elevation is due to God’s grace and decree and is not based on any merit in Jacob.”[2] Jacob was considered a plain man while Esau was an outdoorsman who was restless physically and emotionally[3].

Davies writes: “Not only by selling his birthright to his brother but also by his marriages, Esau shows that he does not care to be the chosen one. The inheritor of God’s promise cannot marry women from the people still living in the promised land, as Esau does.”[4] This becomes an important rationale as Edom comes into many conflicts with Israel. Of course, Israel is Jacob’s land as he received the blessing.

We know that, ultimately, Edom is taken by King David in 2 Samuel.  Encyclopedia Judaica states: “Edom suffered a decisive defeat, apparently after a difficult battle. Contrary to his custom with regard to the other nations of Transjordan, David did not leave the Edomite monarchy in power but made Edom into an Israelite province ruled by appointed governors (II Sam. 8:14; I Chron. 18:13).”[5] Yet the battle between the two nations would wage for years to come.

Perhaps the most compelling meaning for this passage comes from the Genesis Rabba. The Genesis Rabba  is an exegetical midrash on the Book of Genesis compiled in the land of Israel and is considered the earliest amoraic aggadic midrash extant and it attributes this passage as a reference to the worship of Jesus in the future because Jesus is a descendant of Jacob, the younger brother of Esau[6]. Ronald Brown writes: “Esau’s descendents, understood as the Romans, were in fact stronger militarily than the Jews. In the darshan’s eyes, the later part of the verse, ‘and the elder shall serve the younger’ was realized when Rome embraced Christianity and was therefore, in a sense, serving a descendent of the younger brother.”[7]

Through this last meaning, we can effectively see the prophecy fulfilled and Abraham’s line being a very important factor in it. God knew what was to come for Jacob and Esau and Jacob’s faithfulness to the Lord, despite his deception, saw the land of Israel come to be and ultimately provided groundwork for the coming of the Messiah.

[1] Davis, John J.  Paradise to Prison.  Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co., 1998. p. 232

[2] Burge, Gary M. & Hill, Andrew E. The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2012. p. 34

[3] Davis, John J. p. 232

[4] Davies, Philip R. Edom, Israel’s Brother and Antagonist : The Role of Edom in Biblical Prophecy and Story. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 1995. p. 122

[5] Berenbaum, Michael & Skolnik, Fred. Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed. vol 6. “Edom”. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. p. 155

[6] Brown, Ronald N. “And the Elder Shall Serve the Younger”: A Midrash about Jesus. The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 87, No. 3. Cambridge University Press, 1994. p. 363

[7] Ibid. p. 366


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My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. I post theology and have leaned towards an emphasis on domestic violence and forgiveness. I serve as Ambassador for the state of Virginia in the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. I hold a Masters of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor from Liberty University. I have studied in the two “major fields” of theological thought. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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