The elder Shall Serve the Younger (Genesis 25:23)


What is implied by the phrase “the elder shall serve the younger” according to Genesis 25:23?

Genesis 25:23 says, “The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.”’ The context of verse 23 is Isaac has been praying for a son and now his wife is pregnant with two babies. Because of the movement of the babies, Rebekah was concerned for her wellbeing so she enquired of the Lord what was happening.[1] God revealed to Rebekah that there were two nations in her womb, and that activity in her womb was the struggle of the two babies. The struggle in the womb was to be the great struggle between the two peoples in years to follow. The final revelation from God in the last phrase of verse 23; that the older shall serve the younger implies that the second born will lead the first born which goes against the norm of the culture.[2]

In the Near Eastern culture, the first born will become the head of the family once the father dies; this mean the oldest will be the leader of the family which included having control of the family property.[3] Verse 23 shows that God was going to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant in His own way; the promised seed will not be done in the normal way that the Semites performed inheritance rights.[4] Years after the birth of Esau (the first born) and Jacob (the second born), the blessing and heirship was given to Jacob by Isaac through deceptive means. Even though done through deception, the blessing and heirship remain Jacob’s based on the Near Eastern customs.[5] This act fulfilled the prophecy given to Rebekah. God chose to continue the covenant He made with Abraham through Jacob and not Esau.

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary. (Bible Gate, 2014),

[2] John Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis. (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co., 1998), 232.

[3] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 607.

[4] Victor H. Matthews, Manners and Customs in the Bible. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 24.

[5] Ibid.

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