“will be divided.” This is a great example of how sometimes when we seek God for an answer, we really have to think and pray about the answer He gives. Although it may seem like God is saying that the two nations will be divided from Rebekah’s body when she gives birth, that is not the meaning of the text. The NRS gets the sense of what God is saying: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided.” This is an early prophecy of the future of Israel and the Arab tribes and how they will be divided and struggle with each other.
The two children were Jacob and Esau, and one of the two had to be greater, and the prophecy stated that the elder, who turned out to be Esau (who became the Edomite nation), would serve the younger, Jacob (who fathered the tribes of Israel). It was God’s choice to bring the Messiah through Jacob, although Esau and his descendants would have been blessed if they had obeyed Yahweh and stayed faithful to Him. Sadly, Rebekah did not believe that God could bring about His purposes in an honest manner (and she may have forgotten this prophecy), and worked with Jacob to deceive Isaac when he was blind so that Jacob could have his father’s blessing (Gen. 27:1-45). Her deceit cost her greatly because then her favorite son had to leave the country to escape Esau’s vengeance, and she died before seeing him again. Rebekah’s actions and consequences teach us that we need to remember what God said and trust it even when it does not look in the flesh as if God can bring His purposes to pass.