“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.”” Gen. 25:21-23
Many of our English translations tell us that Isaac prayed on behalf of Rebekah, however the Hebrew word used is “nokach” which means “opposite“, or “in the sight of”, indicating they were likely praying together.
During the pregnancy the children are struggling in Rebekah’s womb, and she questions God “What good is life if I have to suffer like this?” (Plaut). We see a similar questioning of God in disbelief in Sarah’s words in Gen. 18:13, “Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?” There are many such parallels and similar aspects between narratives in the Genesis scriptures.
Everett Fox notes that this struggle in the womb foreshadows Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. The original Hebrew could be translated as there being two “kingdoms” in the womb. Some Rabbis believe that the reason the children are struggling are for superiority but with different aims; Esau for power in the things of this world, Jacob for the inheritance in the world to come (Olam Ha-Ba).
This is said because of what transpires with the birthright; the holder of the birthright was sort of a preface to the Levitical priesthood – the child with the birthright (by birth order) was to perform the service of God in the household; in essence, Jacob was fighting for this.