The Elder Shall Serve the Younger


‘The elder shall serve the younger’ juxtaposed against the Biblical data that suggests otherwise (Exodus 22:29; Numbers 8:14-17; Deuteronomy 21:17) is worth considering God’s formal decree to Rebekah (Genesis 25:23).  “This was contrary to ancient Near Eastern custom, but the elective purposes of God transcend custom.”[1]  Eventually, Esau would become “a servant forever in bondage to his brother,”[2] and Isaac’s blessing on Jacob “must reside in the activity of God”[3] since He asserted that the birthright belonged to the younger brother. 

Interestingly, the Midrash considers Esau lineage to have eventually become the Romans, who embraced Christianity, and Jacob to be the Jews who served them during the Constantinian empire’s rise to power and acceptance of the Christian faith.  S.H Smith argues that ‘achaz (took hold or grip) is not to be taken just literally, but also as a procreativity, because it asserts to “take possession” or to “inherit.”[4]  S. Gervitz follows through by saying “the divine promise in which the inheritance of the land was bound to the pledge of procreative power.”[5]  These two arguments largely rely on their exegesis of the terms found in Genesis 25:26 regarding ‘achaz (took hold) and ‘aqeb (heel).  In time, these two children “became bitter enemies,”[6] and the prophecy heralded onto them within Rebekah’s womb were eventually fulfilled in their life and progeny. 

As for the Biblical narrative, once Isaac blesses Jacob with the full Abrahamic blessing, “Jacob becomes the focal point of the developing text”[7] corroborating the centrality of Jacob as the rightful heir to the promise.  Some assert the hostilities between the two nations aren’t necessarily evident until the destruction of Solomon’s temple because “hostile activity at the time of the destruction of Judah appears in Obadiah and Ezek. xxv 12.”[8]  The culmination of this hostility eventually reached its climax when the Edomites participated in the fall of Judah because of their dispute between them over the election were part of Israeli heritage; they knew that they, Israel, had been chosen whereas ‘his brother’ Edom had been rejected.”[9]  Essentially, Jews believed that God’s oracle regarding Judah’s destruction was in part His abandonment of Israel and choosing Edom to replace them.[10]  The oracles that superseded the destruction of Judah provided hope for Israel that He had not abandoned them and the “sins of Edom against Judah will not remain unpunished.”[11]

The promise was delivered to Jacob, regardless of the circumstances, because God is transcendental and can move or remove obstacles in His way for the sake of fulfilling His promise.  Davis concludes that “what appears on the surface to be a series of accidents, failures, and deceptions turns out in the long run to be God’s providential working, which includes human frailty as well as strength,”[12] giving us a glimpse into the merciful and lovingkindness God has for those who love Him.

Footnotes:

[1] John J. Davis, “From Paradise to Prison,” (Salem, Sheffield Publishing, 1998), 232.

[2] Inbinder, Gary. “Jacob and Esau.” Humanitas 16, no. 1 (2003): 92. General OneFile (accessed July 3, 2017). http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA118496505&sid=summon&asid=db22a1f49ea6a5b261e0af9ded881e06

[3] Smith, Craig A. “Reinstating Isaac: the centrality of Abraham’s son in the ‘Jacob-Esau’ narrative of Genesis 27.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 31, no. 4 (2001): 130+. General OneFile (accessed July 3, 2017). http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA94332359&sid=summon&asid=def0d13d00b6c11da4ad051d3d654a19

[4] Malul, M. “‘āqēb “Heel” and ‘āqab “To Supplant” and the Concept of Succession in the Jacob-Esau Narratives.” Vetus Testamentum 46, no. 2 (1996): 190. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1585443.

[5] Ibid., 190-191.

[6] John J. Davis, “From Paradise to Prison,” (Salem, Sheffield Publishing, 1998), 232

[7] Smith, Craig A. “Reinstating Isaac: the centrality of Abraham’s son in the ‘Jacob-Esau’ narrative of Genesis 27.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 31, no. 4 (2001): 133. General OneFile (accessed July 3, 2017). http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA94332359&sid=summon&asid=def0d13d00b6c11da4ad051d3d654a19

[8] Assis, Elie. “Why Edom? On the Hostility Towards Jacob’s Brother in Prophetic Sources.” Vetus Testamentum 56, no. 1 (2006): 3. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20503993.

[9] Ibid., 11.

[10] Ibid., 19.

[11] Ibid., 19.

[12] John J. Davis, “From Paradise to Prison,” (Salem, Sheffield Publishing, 1998), 238.