How do you respond to Genesis 25:23?

The Lord told Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” (cf. Rom. 9:12–16)

Old Testament scholars agree that the author (and later, Paul in Romans 9) has the descendants of Jacob and Esau more in mind than the individuals themselves. The Lord is exercising his sovereign right to choose the lineage of his elect people—viz. a unique nation intended to function as priests to the entire world. When read in the light of Romans 9, it is clear that the Lord doesn’t just “happen” to know that the descendants of Esau will serve the descendants of Jacob. Rather, for providential reasons the sovereign God is ensuring that this will be the case. The passage, then, is not about something which God “happens” to know: it’s about God’s ability to sovereignly shape history according to his will.

We should also note that, as in most biblical prophecies, there is a conditional element in this declaration. Interestingly enough, Esau never actually served Jacob in his lifetime. Nor has it usually been the case that the descendants of Esau have served the descendants of Jacob. This illustrates God’s flexibility in giving prophecies. He can say in very general terms that the descendants of Esau shall serve the descendants of Jacob without specifying how long and to what extent this will be true. In the light of the passages which reflect a partly open future, we might conclude that God chose to leave these matters somewhat open to be decided by free agents.

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