Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Elder Shall Serve the Younger (Gen 25:23)

In consideration of the implications of this passage, it is clear that the elective purposes of God are ordained not only for individuals, but for nations as well. Paul, speaking of God’s purpose in the election of Jacob, remarks the following:
“11 For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ 13 Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”[1]
Paul’s point, which is demonstrated earlier in verse 8 of Romans chapter 9, is that God’s people are such through His promise, not through any particular lineage. Looking again to Genesis 25, this is an important thought to keep in mind as MacArthur notes that, “This was contrary to the custom in patriarchal times when the elder son enjoyed the privileges of precedence in the household and at the father’s death received a double share of the inheritance and became the recognized head of the family (cf. Ex 22:29; Nu 8:14-17; Dt 21:17). Grave offenses could annul such primogeniture rights (cf. Ge 35:22; 49:3,4; 1Ch 5:1) or the birthright could be sacrificed or legally transferred to another in the family, as in this case (vv. 29-34). In this case, God declared otherwise since His sovereign elective purposes did not necessarily have to follow custom (cf. Ro 9:10-14, esp. v. 12).”[2]
So, while MacArthur points out that the custom of the day was for the eldest son to be in headship over his brothers, particularly in regards to inheritance (the double portion) and family leadership as the father passed away, God’s sovereignty in the election of individuals is not necessarily concerned with family position or cultural custom.
Gill, regarding these customary relationships, notes further God’s elective purpose for these two then future nations as well with his comments that, “the offspring of Esau, the eldest, should become tributary to the posterity of Jacob, the younger; which was verified in the times of David, when the Edomites were subdued by him, (2 Samuel 8:14) ; and still more in the times of Hyrcanus, when the Edomites or Idumeans became one people with the Jews, and embraced their religion, rather than to be dispossessed of their country.”[3]
As both Biblical and extra-Biblical history attest to the fulfillment of this particular prophecy, God’s election again testifies that the smaller, more insignificant nation (Israel) was blessed solely by God’s choice. Henry also agrees with both MacArthur and Gill by noting that Rebekah was “now pregnant, not only with two children, but two nations, which should not only in their manners and dispositions greatly differ from each other, but in their interests clash and contend with each other; and the issue of the contest should be that the elder should serve the younger, which was fulfilled in the subjection of the Edomites, for many ages, to the house of David, till they revolted, 2 Chr. 21:8.”[4] Also considering the election of God and His choice in grace, Henry notes that, “God is a free agent in dispensing his grace; it is his prerogative to make a difference between those who have not as yet themselves done either good or evil.”[4]
So, in conclusion, it seems that this verse (Genesis 25:23) testifies to God’s grace in election of both individuals and nations. History as well supports this testimony which has proven that indeed, the elder and his progeny did serve the younger and his progeny, and that they (the elder brother/nation) may also be blessed through the younger as any in accordance with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

[1] Romans 9:11-13, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006), 1678.
[2] John F. MacArthur, Notes on Genesis 25:23, The MacArthur Study Bible (Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006), 50.
[3] John Gill, Commentary on Genesis 25:23, The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible, . 1999.
[4] Matthew Henry, Complete Commentary on Genesis 25, Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the
Whole Bible, . 1706.

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