Profile Of The Prophets - JACOB

by Joseph Hunting

Of the three Fathers of the Hebrew race Jacob (Hebrew Ya'acov), whilst thoughtlessly maligned by some as a deceiver, is revealed by Scripture to be a spiritual giant. He was the man chosen by God to be renamed ISRAEL, a Prince with God. The name Israel has been associated with his descendants for nearly four thousand years and at the present time is rarely off the front page news.

Why is Jacob so often portrayed as a man who did a shady deal and stole his brother's blessing? It would appear that even the unborn babes commenced their struggle for supremacy: "Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, 'If all is well, why am I this way?' So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger'" (Genesis 25:21-23).

When Rebekah inquired of the Lord prior to Jacob's birth it was clearly told her that "the older shall serve the younger." So his destiny was sealed by God even before he was born.

Jacob and the Birthright

Let us look closely at the events which to a superficial observer would brand Jacob at the worst a deceiver or at best an opportunist. Esau had been in the fields all day and he returned home faint with hunger. It so happened that Jacob had brewed a pot of soup, and when Esau asked for a serve, "Jacob said, 'Sell me your birthright as of this day.' And Esau said, 'Look, I am about to die; so what profit shall this birthright be to me?'"

Here first of all we can see no deception on Jacob's part. He offered to buy Esau's birthright and Esau plainly declared he wasn't interested in it. In fact Scripture plainly states that he despised his birthright. "Thus Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:34). So Jacob not only did not deceive his brother, but he acted honourably, and he also had a deeper appreciation of the spiritual value associated with the birthright than did Esau, who despised it.

The Bible gives us another clue that sheds light on the next incident. "And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Genesis 25:28). Isaac's preference for Esau may have passed unnoticed had it not been that Rebekah overheard her husband when he called Esau and said to him: "... make me savoury food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die" (27:4).

Rebekah knew that it was Jacob who was Divinely designed to receive the patriarchal blessing, and the blessing accompanied the birthright, which Jacob already had secured. We are not told why it was that Isaac did not act in accordance with the Divine revelation given to Rebekah before the boys were born. But we are told that Rebekah acted instantly to circumvent such a disastrous error being made; she felt there was only one way to save the situation, and that was to substitute Jacob for Esau.

So calling Jacob she said: "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to what I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me from there two choice kids of the goats, and I will make savoury food from them for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall take it to your father, that he may eat it, and that he may bless you before his death."

Jacob demurred saying that he would seem to be a deceiver and so attract his father's curse should Isaac feel his smooth skin. We now note the urgency in Rebekah's reply: "Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice ..."

Thus the stage was set for the drama that shattered the family for twenty years. Isaac blessed Jacob and so God's will was done in the matter. But the consequences were disastrous. Esau hated Jacob, who at his mother's suggestion: "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him for a few days, until your brother's fury turns away" , fled to Haran and never saw his mother again.

Before Jacob left Isaac again confirmed unto him the Abrahamic covenant: "May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may be an assembly of peoples; and give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham" (Genesis 28:3,4).

The following Scripture should silence any unthinking criticism of Jacob's actions as we see the character of the two sons. "Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, 'You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan' and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother ... also Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac. So Esau went to Ishmael and took ... the daughter of Ishmael ... to be his wife in addition to the wives he had (Canaanitish women) " (Genesis 28:6-9).

Jacob was subject to the will of his parents, whilst Esau brought them grief through his perverseness – his Canaanitish wives who "were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah" (26:35).

Jacob's Sojourn With Laban

As Jacob journeyed north he must have passed the Jebusite fortress high in the hill country that was later to become Jerusalem, the beloved city of his descendants to this day. As night drew on "he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set ... then he dreamed, and behold a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

"And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: 'I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants ... and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

'Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you'" (Genesis 28:11-15). Thus God, in confirming to Jacob the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant as he did to Isaac his father before him, vindicated the action taken by Rebekah and Jacob to circumvent Isaac's passing this covenant on to Esau!

Jacob arose next morning and anointed the stone he had used as a pillow and called the name of the place Bethel, house of God. He then made a vow to serve the Lord and to acknowledge Him as his God and give Him a tenth of all his possessions.

When Jacob arrived at Haran and saw Laban's daughter it was love at first sight. "Now Jacob loved Rachel; and he said, 'I will serve you seven years for Rachel' ... and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her'" (29:18,20). But after the feasting and drinking following the marriage Jacob awoke next morning to find that Laban had substituted Leah his older daughter for Rachel. This switch resulted in Jacob's serving a further seven years for Rachel, with Leah as a bonus. These two wives and their handmaids were to provide Jacob with his twelve sons during the twenty years he sojourned in Haran.

During those years Jacob "became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys ... then the LORD said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you'" (30:43; 31:3).

Jacob's Transformation

In his journey home Jacob had the experience that transformed his whole life. As he went he heard that Esau was coming to meet him, "so Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed ... and said, 'O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, "Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will deal well with you", I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which you have shown your servant ... deliver me, I pray you, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children'" (32:7-11).

It was at this point of despair and helplessness that Jacob was met by God, when he had sent his family on ahead. "Then Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. Now when he saw that he did not prevail against him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as he wrestled with him.

"And he said, 'Let me go for the day breaks.' But he said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me!' So he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob.' And he said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed' ... And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel; 'For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved'" (32:24-30).

Thus Jacob's name was changed; his character was also changed, for he was desperate for God to bless him, and he wrestled with the Lord until He did. The Scriptures reveal that from his earliest days he had an appreciation of spiritual values.

Of his four wives he loved Rachel, who bore him Joseph and Benjamin, and died at Bethlehem as he journeyed south to be reunited with Esau.

Later the treachery of Joseph's brothers, who sold him as a slave to Midianite traders, but told Jacob that he was torn by wild beasts, caused Jacob deep grief. However, the ultimate reconciliation between the brothers and Joseph brought about Jacob's sojourn in Egypt with his family numbering seventy souls.

Just prior to his death Jacob gathered his twelve sons to his bedside and prophesied concerning their future with deep insight into their characters. "And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people" (49:33).

His obituary is written in the Song of Moses which the people of Israel sang as they went in to possess their possessions much later after his death: "For the LORD's portion is his people; Jacob is the place of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; he encircled him, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, so the LORD alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him ..." (Deuteronomy 32:9-12).