Bible Question:

I have a question about Hebrews 11:20. The verse took me back to Genesis 27:40. I have two questions:1) when was Esau a servant to Jacob? and 2) when was the yoke thrown off?

Bible Answer:

The blessings pronounced upon Jacob and Esau by Isaac are described in Genesis 27. The blessing given to Jacob occurs in Genesis 27:27-30.

So he [Jacob] came close and kissed him [Isaac]; and when he [Isaac] smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed; Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.” Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. Gen. 27:27-30 (NASB)

In this blessing, Isaac promises that many nations of the world, including the descendants of his brother Esau will serve Jacob’s descendants. Jacob will rule over Esau. The blessing to Esau occurs in Genesis 27:38-40.

Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept. Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. “By your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you will break his yoke from your neck.” Gen. 27:38-40 (NASB)

In this blessing Isaac states that Esau: 1) would serve Jacob but eventually he: 2) would break free. History reveals that Esau eventually settled in the mountainous area below the Dead Sea known as Edom or Seir (Ge. 33:16; 36:8-9; Deut. 2:4-5). The nation became known as Edomites (Gen. 36:8).

After the Israelites left Egypt, the Edomites opposed the Israelites when they attempted to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:14-21; Judges 11:17). Consequently, the Israelites went around them on the east side of the Jordan River or the Trans-Jordan area through the wilderness (Num. 21:4; Judges 11:18). Yet God told the Israelites to be kind to the Edomites (Deut. 23:7-8) because they were related and God had promised. After the Israelites entered Canaan, warfare occurred with the Edomites and they were subdued (1 Sam. 14:47-48; 2 Sam. 8:13-14). King David’s victory in 2 Sam. 8:13-14 achieved dominant control over Edom during his reign. During King Solomon’s reign the Edomites rebelled (1 Kings 11:14-22) but were subjected again. The Edomites were under the control of King Jehosphat according to 1 Kings 22:47-50. The Edomites were defeated again by King Amaziah (2 Chron. 25:11-12). The book of Obadiah pronounces judgment on Edom for all of their treacheries. Malachi 1:2-5 clearly indicates the same message. Some day they would be defeated and cease to exist as a nation.

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever. “Your eyes will see this and you will say, ” The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!” Malachi 1:2-5 (NASB)

The passage echoes the history of the Edomites. They were in submission but not always. They went through periods of submission and freedom. But when the Babylonians fought against and defeated the nation of Israel, the Edomites were able to rejoice over the victory for they had allied themselves with the Babylonians and could celebrate the victory. Thus Edom finally broke the yoke from their neck. In the 500-475 B.C. period the Nabatean Arabs drove the Edomites out of Edom. The Edomites relocated to Idumea or the southern part of Judea. The Idumeans were subsequently conquered during the Maccabean Wars and forced to follow Judaism (Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews. 13.9.1; 14.7.9). The Idumeans fought against the Romans alongside the Jews in A.D. 70 and were defeated. Since then the Edomites have not existed as a nation.


Rather than being friends and brothers, Israel and Edom were adversaries from the womb. Consequently, the messages of Obadiah and Malachi were that God was against Edom and some day the nation of Edom would cease to exist.

The capital of the Edomites was Petra. It was a magnificent city. Today it is nothing but ruins. The prophecy has been fulfilled. The latter prophecies have been fulfilled. The Edomites do not exist as a nation today. The prophecies contained in the Genesis passages were fulfilled hundreds of years later. Obadaih contains a future prophecy about the Edomites that will occur when Christ’s return and establishes His earthly, thousand year, millennial kingdom. This reveals that some Edomites still exist today but not as a nation.

Suggested Links:

Searching For God
Where is Edom today?