The Patriarch Jacob

by Joseph Hunting

Of the three fathers of the Hebrew race, Jacob, Ya'acov, whilst thoughtlessly maligned by some as a deceiver, yet is revealed in the Scriptures as a spiritual giant. He was the man chosen by God to be renamed Israel, Prince with God, and that name has been associated with his descendants ever since -- for four thousand odd years.

Jacob is often portrayed as a man who did a shady deal and stole his brother's birthright and blessing. We are told that even the unborn sons of Isaac and Rebekah commenced their struggle for supremacy in the womb.

"Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, for she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah is wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her ... so she went to enquire 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).

So it is interesting that when Rebekah enquired of the Lord prior to his birth, it was told her that "the older shall serve the younger." In other words, Jacob's destiny was sealed by God even before he was born.

Jacob and the Birthright

A superficial observer might brand Jacob at worst a deceiver or at best an opportunist, when Esau, who had been out in the fields all day and had returned faint with hunger, and wanted some of Jacob's stew, was asked as a trade: "Sell me your birthright as of this day" (Genesis 25:31).

He replied: "Look, I am about to die; so what profit shall this birthright be to me?"

Here first of all we can see no deception or crafty deal on Jacob's part. He offered to buy the birthright, and Esau plainly declared he wasn't interested in it. In fact Scripture states that "Esau despised his birthright." Even in the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament we read that Esau "was a profane person who for one morsel of food sold his birthright" (12:16).

Rather than condemn Jacob, we should note that not only did Jacob act honourably, but he also had a deeper appreciation of the spiritual value associated with the birthright than did Esau, who despised it.

Jacob and the Blessing

The Bible says that "Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Genesis 25:28), and this state of affairs might have passed unnoticed if Rebekah had not overheard Isaac say to Esau: "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" Genesis 27:4).

Rebekah knew from the Lord that it was Jacob who was Divinely designated to receive the patriarchal blessing (the blessing and birthright went together), and 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 save the situation, rightly or wrongly, and that she arranged Jacob's actions in substituting himself for his brother to claim the blessing. When Jacob demurred: "I shall bring a curse on myself and not a blessing" she urgently replied: "Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice ..." (Genesis 27:12,13).

Thus the stage was set for the drama that shattered the family for fourteen years. Isaac blessed Jacob, and God's will was done in the matter, but the consequences were disastrous. Esau hated Jacob, and Rebekah warned Jacob that his brother planned to kill him.

"Surely your brother Esau comforts himself concerning you by intending to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise and flee to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a few days, until your brother's fury turns away." Jacob went to Haran, was there twenty years, and never saw his mother again.

Before Jacob left for Haran, however, Isaac confirmed to him the Abrahamic covenant: "May God 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).

Jacob and Esau Compared

The Bible reveals the characters of the two sons of Isaac. "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 no take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,' and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Padan Aram."

Jacob as a young man was subject to the will of his parents, whilst Esau brought them grief through his perverseness -- his Canaanitish wives "were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah."

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. Then as night drew on, "he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set ... and he dreamed, and behold a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven ... 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. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (Genesis 28:11-14).

Thus God, in confirming to Jacob the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant as He did to Isaac his father before him, vindicated His own words to Rebekah before Jacob was even born: " ...and the older shall serve the younger."

Jacob anointed the stone he had used for a pillow, called the name of the place Bethel meaning House of God, and he made a vow to serve the Lord and acknowledge Him as his God, and promised the Lord a tenth of all his possessions.

When Jacob arrived at Haran and saw Laban's daughter Rachel it was love at first sight, and he said to Laban: "I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter." And Laban agreed.

"So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her." But after the feasting and drinking following the marriage Jacob awoke next morning to find that Laban had substituted Leah the older sister for Rachel. This switch resulted in his serving another seven years for Rachel, but with Leah as wife as well.

These two wives together with their two handmaids were to provide Jacob with his twelve sons during the twenty years he sojourned in Haran and worked for Laban. During those years he "became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys" (Genesis 30:43) until the day when "the LORD said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.'"

Jacob's Transformation

On his journey home Jacob had the experience which transformed his whole life. As he journeyed "the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, 'This is God's camp.'" That in itself was a memorable experience, but for Jacob it was but the prelude to his great encounter with God in a very real and personal confrontation.

When Esau heard that Jacob was returning home he went to meet him. "so Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed ... and he 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, 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'" (Genesis 32:7-11).

It was at this point of despair and helplessness that God met Jacob. "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 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 he blessed him there" (Genesis 32:24-29).

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

Of his four wives, Jacob loved Rachel who bore him Joseph and Benjamin, but she died at Bethlehem in giving birth to Benjamin.

The treachery of Joseph's brothers who sold him as a slave to Midianite traders, but allowed Jacob to believe he had been torn by wild beasts, caused Jacob deep grief. However, the ultimate reconciliation between the brothers and Joseph thirteen years later 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" (Genesis 49:33).

His obituary is written in the Song of Moses which the children of Israel sang as they went in to possess their possessions after their exodus from Egypt. "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 ... so the LORD alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him" (Deuteronomy 32:9-12).