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Genesis 25:19-34 – The Elder Shall Serve the Younger


God announces to Rebekah that the twins in her womb--Jacob and Esau--will have differing futures in relation to the divine promise.


God responds to Rebekah's troubled pregnancy with an announcement regarding the future relationship between the twins in her womb (25:23). Basically, the divine oracle specifies that the older of the twins (Esau) will serve the younger (and weaker!), namely, Jacob. Is this an instance of God choosing the weak to shame the strong (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-31)? Certainly the text does not seek to justify Jacob's behaviors, yet God is able to work in and through them. God's choices do generate conflict on the way to God's desired future. The dysfunctionality in this family cannot simply be explained in social or psychological terms.

This oracle reflects later conflicts between the descendants of Esau (Edom) and Jacob (Israel). At the same time, the move from the oracle to future reality was not necessary or inevitable (see many prophetic texts; for example, 2 Kings 20:1-7). God's oracle sets into motion a certain direction for the future, but does not absolutely predetermine that future. At least Rebekah so understands the oracle. What she does and says on behalf of Jacob assumes that her actions count in giving shape to that future. And God chooses to work in and through her actions in pursuing the divine purposes. The divine oracle expresses the kind of future that God desires and, through the oracle, God enlists Rebekah to work with God toward that end.

Genesis 25:19-34

The Birth and Youth of Esau and Jacob

19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’* So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
   and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
   the elder shall serve the younger.’
24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.* Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Esau Sells His Birthright

29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.*) 31Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ 32Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ 33Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’* So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

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