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Jacob
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Jacob

This article is about the patriarch Jacob in the Book of Genesis. For Jacob from the Book of Mormon, see Jacob (Book of Mormon).

The Hebrew Bible portrays Jacob or Ya'akov (יעקב "Holder of the heel", Standard Hebrew Yaʿaqov, Tiberian Hebrew Yaʿăqōḇ), also known as Israel (ישראל "Prince with God", Standard Hebrew Yisraʾel, Tiberian Hebrew Yiśrāʾēl), as the patriarch of the Israelites and thus one of the patriarchs of the Jewish people.

Jacob was continually praised by God, and never criticized. In fact, he is the only person in Scripture whom God said he "loved." (Malachai 1:2-3, "...I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau...")

Some commentators believe that there is some suggestion that Israel may be another name for Jacob's father Isaac (Amos 7:9, 16) but it is far more common to take Israel to refer only to Jacob (Gen 32:22-28, especially 28). Since only Jacob was named "Israel" in Genesis, this is a safe assumption.

Jacob was the second born of the twin sons of Isaac, by Rebekah. During the pregnancy, "the children struggled together within her," (Gen.25:22) When Rebekah questioned God about the tumult, He told her that two very different nations were in her womb, and the elder would serve the younger. Later, Rebekah remembered this, but Isaac forgot it.

Jacob was probably born at Lahai-roi, twenty years after Isaac and Rebekah were married, at which time his father was sixty (Gen. 25:26), and Abraham one hundred and sixty years old. Like his father, Jacob was of a quiet and gentle disposition because, the Hebrew tells us, he was "tam," which means "simple" in the sense of simpleminded. Jacob dwelt "in tents" with his mother and did woman's work--e.g., stirring pottage--until he was 76 years of age, at which time he would be sent to find a wife from among his relatives in Haran.

Because Jacob was weak and simple, his mother favored him. His father, Isaac, favored Esau, who was "a man of the fields and a cunning hunter." Because Esau was intelligent and active, his father saw him as the one who could step into tribal leadership when Isaac could no longer lead. (Gen. 25:29-34).

According to the Bible, when Isaac was 136 years of age (60 at Jacob's birth + Jacob's age of 76 = 136), Rebekah learned that Isaac was about to give his blessing to the wrong son, Esau. patriarch (Gen. 27). She thought Isaac would confer BOTH the birthright blessing of material inheritance and the Abrahamic blessing of the Land and a Seed that would bless "all the families of the earth."

The birthright secured to him who possessed it:

The Abrahamic blessing secured to him who possessed it RIGHTLY: Since the Lord had said that Jacob was the one chosen to have these blessings, and since Esau had "despised" the birthright blessing (Gen. 25:34, "Esau despised his birthright"), trading it for a bowl of soup when--as the tribal chief's favored son--he could have simply walked to another tent for a meal. And since Esau had already married two pagan women, Rebekah knew that it would be a terrible miscarriage of justice, and a terrible distortion of the faith of Abraham, to give the Abrahamic blessing to Esau.

A woman couldn't directly confront a tribal chief, so Rebekah decided to disguise Jacob as Esau, so he could go to blind Isaac and get the blessings due him before Esau arrived to get them. Jacob objected (Gen. 27:12), saying his father might detect the disguise and curse him. But Rebekah told him not to worry, she would take any curse. This was due to his simplemindedness; she knew he was not able to fend for himself, and needed some way of making Isaac do what God had said to do many years before.

In the event, however, Isaac only gave Jacob the birthright blessing of material inheritance, and did not mention any aspect of the Abrahamic blessing.

Then, when Esau arrived to receive his blessing, the deception became known, and Esau and Isaac showed their contempt for Jacob by falsely accusing him of taking a blessing that did not rightly belong to him, and called him a supplanter, when it was Esau who had supplanted Jacob by struggling out of the womb first, and perhaps causing Jacob's simplemindedness by the damage he did him to wrongly achieve that firstborn status. Perhaps that damage to Jacob is why the Lord said "I have hated Esau."

The evidence that Isaac knew what he was supposed to have done with the blessings--both of them--is that he then calls Jacob to him and gives him the Abrahamic blessing! (Gen. 28:1-4) Or most of it. He left a lot out--maybe he had forgotten how it went. Since he had not taught his sons about the importance of the faith of Abraham, or about their roles in the continuation of the family faith that would change the world, or about the importance of choosing wives of their own people (Gen. 28:6-9), we can assume that either he didn't believe in it, or his mind was dim and forgetful.

In any case, the FULL Abrahamic blessing was delivered directly by God to Jacob as he traveled to Haran in Padan-aram to find a wife. Isaac had gotten his petty revenge on Jacob by sending him out for the long journey through wild country peopled by cutthroat bandits and prowled by lions and bears with nothing but his staff in his hand and a backpack (Gen. 32:10). And this is the blessing God gave Jacob:

And, behold, the Lord stood above [the ladder], and said, "I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." (Gen. 28:13-15)

Thus God put his seal on Jacob's divine right of the inheritance of the birthright and the Abrahamic blessing by giving them to him in person.

After this blessing, Jacob was stunned and joyous, and worshipped God. Then he continued the journey to find a wife among his relatives. Unguided, he arrived in Haran--for the location of Haran, see www.oxleigh.freeserve.co.uk/rt12.htm--and found the family of Laban, his mother's brother. (28). There he met Rachel (29) and burst into tears: He had survived the journey of hundreds of miles and found his cousin, Rachel. He asked for her to wife, but Laban would not consent to give Jacob his daughter in marriage until he had served seven years; but to Jacob these years "seemed but a few days, for the love he had to her."

But when the seven years were expired, Laban craftily deceived Jacob, and gave him his older daughter, Leah. In the morning, when Jacob discovered the switch and complained, Laban told him "fulfill her week." That is, Jacob could have Rachel after he gave a week of "honeymoon" to Leah (Gen. 29:27-28). And that was on the condition that Jacob stay and serve another seven years for Rachel.

Some question why Laban was so cruel to Jacob. The Bible shows us that when Abraham wanted a bride for Isaac, he sent a servant with a well-supplied retinue of servants and camels and gifts for the bride of silver and gold and clothing, and "precious" gifts for her family (24). Then many years later, a raggedy feebleminded old man named Jacob comes out of the wilderness with nothing but the staff in his hand, and claims to be the son of wealthy Rebekah and Isaac, and the grandson of fabulously wealthy Abraham. Was this believeable?

So Laban acted with great caution. He didn't forbid the match, but he extracted a promise of seven years labor for Rachel--in advance of the wedding. And switched brides. And extracted another seven years for Rachel. He apparently didn't believe this was his nephew, but a simpleminded senior citizen impersonating his nephew in order to find a place to live and work. So he worked him.

At the close of his fourteen years of service, around the time that Joseph was born (after the 14 years had been served!), Jacob desired to return to "mine own place and to my country," but at the entreaty of Laban he tarried yet six years with him, tending his flocks (31:41). Laban had begged him to stay, since "the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake." But when God warned Jacob to leave, and Jacob noted that Laban's sons were hostile to him, Jacob felt it was time to return home and establish his "own house." He then set out with his family and property "to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan" (Gen. 31:18).

Laban was furious when he heard that Jacob had set out three days earlier on his journey--really a flight to preserve his life and property. So he pursued after Jacob, overtaking him in seven days. But the night before he caught up with Jacob, God spoke to Laban in a dream and said:

"Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad." (Gen. 31:24)

So Laban was constrained from his original plan of taking all Jacob had, including wives and children, and perhaps killing Jacob if he resisted--which was the implication of Laban's sons' threatenings. So instead of a battle, there was a conference. Laban kept starting to explode, then regained his composure. Jacob told Laban that after all his labor, "Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight." (Gen. 31:42)

Laban's response confirmed that. He said, "These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born? Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee." (Gen. 31:43-44)

After offering worship to God, and a sacrifice, and having a meal together, they tarried all night. And early in the morning, a chastened Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren goodbye, and returned home.

"And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him," perhaps to congratulate him on his great 20-year victory over evil through his faith in the God of Abraham. He called the name of the place Mahanaim, i.e., "the double camp," probably his own camp and that of the angels. Here he saw the angels; previously he'd had a dream and seen the angels of God "ascending and descending on the ladder whose top reached to Heaven" (28:12).

As he neared the Promised Land, Jacob sent a message ahead to his brother, Esau. His scouts returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet Jacob with an army of 400 men. In great agony of mind Jacob prepares for the worst. He feels that he must now depend only on God, and he betakes himself to Him in earnest prayer, then sends on before him a munificent present to Esau, "a present to my lord Esau from thy servant Jacob."

Jacob then transported his family and flocks back across the ford Jabbok, then crossed over towards the direction from which Esau would come, spending the night alone, in communion with God. While thus engaged, there appeared one in the form of a man who wrestled with him. In this mysterious contest Jacob prevailed.

It is important to compare this confrontation (Gen. 32:24-32) with Jacob's later meeting with God at Bethel (Gen. 35:9:13).

In the first meeting with a "man," there are many indications that Jacob is not wrestling with God, but with a fallen angel.

  1. The man is losing the wrestling match, so
  2. He puts Jacob's hip bone out of joint, which doesn't make Jacob let him go, so
  3. He asks to be let go "for the day breaketh,"
  4. And when Jacob says he won't let the man go without a blessing from him, the man asks, "What is thy name?"
  5. When Jacob says "Jacob," the man says, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."
  6. Then Jacob asks the man his name, and he refuses to tell him.
  7. And the man blessed Jacob there.
  8. Then Jacob named the place Pnei-el [face-god], saying "I have seen [either "a god" or "God"] face-to-face and lived.

Why might this "man" not have been God?
  1. He was losing the fight; God is not a loser.
  2. He seriously wounded Jacob with a foul move; God is not a cheat.
  3. He had to go because "the day breaketh"; God isn't afraid of the light!
  4. The man didn't know Jacob's name; God knows every hair on our head.
  5. The man told a lie, saying "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel..."; God doesn't lie, and Jacob was called Jacob and only Jacob until God appeared to him at Bethel and changed his name. And why would he change it then if He'd already changed it at Pnei-el?
  6. The man refused to tell Jacob his name; God wants His people to know His name;
  7. Why would Jacob want a blessing from this character? Jacob had been oppressed all his life, and wanted a promise of cease-fire from this "man."
  8. Why would Jacob--who had seen God face-to-face at Bethel twenty years earlier--be relieved that he hadn't been killed by this "man," if he believed the man to be God? He knew it was an evil being by the way it acted, and he knew his life had been spared because God had helped him fight the evil being. So though he limped away, he limped away a victor.

Compare that with Jacob's meeting with God sometime later, after he'd been in the Promised Land a while:

  1. God tells Jacob to meet Him at Bethel.
  2. "And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him.
  3. "And God said unto him, 'Thy name is Jacob:
  4. "'thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name':
  5. "and he called his name Israel.
  6. "And God said unto him, 'I am God Almighty:
  7. "be fruitful and multiply;
  8. "a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;
  9. "And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it,
  10. "and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
  11. "And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him. (Gen. 35:9-13)

Notice the contrasts:
  1. God sets up a meeting, whereas the "man" sneaked up on Jacob in the dark.
  2. God appeared and blessed Jacob without him having to ask for a blessing.
  3. God told Jacob his name, "Thy name is Jacob." That is, God was demonstrating He knew who He was talking to.
  4. And God said Jacob would now be called "Israel"
  5. "And He called his name "Israel." That is, for the first time, Jacob was called Israel, and he was first called that by God Himself.
  6. God told Jacob His own name, God Almighty, whereas the "man" had refused to tell his name.
  7. God told Jacob, "Be fruitful and multiply." Only two other men in history had been told that: Adam and Noah. Adam established humanity; Noah established a cleansed humanity; and Jacob would establish a people who would create a nation, a land, and a faith that would bring Messiah to the world.
  8. Jacob is promised great descendants, and a great many of them.
  9. God promises Jacob the Land he gave to Abraham and Isaac.
  10. God promises the Land to Jacob's descendants.
  11. And God leaves without wounding Jacob or criticizing him in any way.

And Jacob worshipped there, which he did not do at Pnei-el, and poured wine and oil on a pillar, and again called the place Beth-el, House [of] God. Here we can appropriately use the capital G because this was obviously God. He behaved as we would expect God to behave from what we read in the rest of Scripture, and He treated Jacob exactly as He had treated him at every encounter: with respect and honor.

To return to Jacob's journey toward Esau: After the night of wrestling with the evil man, Jacob sees that Esau is coming. So he sets his wives and sons in order, with his most beloved Rachel and Joseph in the read, then PLACES HIMSELF BEFORE THEM TO DEFEND THEM (Gen. 33:3)

Esau came forth and met him; but his spirit of revenge had been somewhat appeased by the gifts. But Jacob refused to travel with Esau, or to allow any of Esau's men to accompany him. And shortly thereafter, Esau moved all his family and belongings far to the south of the Promised Land. Jacob settled in Succot for a time, then while journeying to Ephrath (the Canaanitish name of Bethlehem), Rachel died in giving birth to her second son Benjamin (35:16-20), about six years after the birth of Joseph.

Jacob then pitched his tent near Shechem, (33:18); but at length, under divine directions, he moved to Bethel, where he made an altar unto God (35:6,7), and where God appeared to him, changed his name to Israel, and renewed the Adamic, the Noahic, and the Abrahamic covenants with him, as described above.

After the appearance of God at Bethel--and all his family there to witness it--Jacob reached the old family residence at Mamre, the dwelling place of Isaac.

Isaac died at the age of 180, 44 years after he blessed Jacob and sent him to Haran to find a wife, and at the time that Joseph (age 30) was raised from prison in Egypt and made ruler of that land. This means that Jacob and his family had been back in the Promised Land about 24 years at the time of Isaac's death. Esau and Jacob buried their father in the burial place of Abraham and Sarah and Rebekah (35:27-29).

Long before this, Jacob had been deeply grieved by the disappearance of his beloved son, Joseph, through the jealousy of his brothers (37:33). The rest of Genesis follows the story of the famine, and the successive goings down into Egypt to buy corn (Gen. 42), which led to the discovery of the long-lost Joseph, and the patriarch's going down with all his household, numbering about seventy souls (Ex. 1:5; Deut. 10:22; Acts 7:14), to sojourn in the land of Goshen.

In Egypt, Jacob, "after being strangely tossed about on a very rough ocean, found at last a tranquil harbour, where all the best affections of his nature were gently exercised and largely unfolded" (described in Gen. 48). At length the end of his course draws nigh, and he summons his sons to his bedside that he may bless them. Among his last words he repeats the story of Rachel's death, although 51 years had passed since that event took place, as tenderly as if it had happened only yesterday; and when "he had made an end of charging his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost" (49:33) at the age of 147 (Gen. 47:28).

At that time, Joseph was about 57, having been about 40 when Jacob was 130 (at the time he and his family arrived in Egypt). This means Joseph was born when Jacob was 90, at the end of the 14 years of service for Rachel, which means his father was 76 when he arrived in Haran, and not a youth as many suppose.

Jacob's body was embalmed and carried with great pomp into the land of Canaan, and buried beside his wife Leah in the cave of Machpelah, according to his dying charge.

The story of Jacob in the Quran is vaguely similar, which may be why Mohammed said that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews. Jacob is known as Yaqub in the Quran.

See also: History of ancient Israel and Judah

Initial text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897. Please update.

Jacob's sons

Jacob had twelve sons.

By his first wife Leah, Jacob had Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and his only daughter Dinah.

By Bilhah, handmaiden of Rachel, he had Dan and Naphtali.

By Zilpah, handmaiden of Leah, he had Gad and Asher.

Finally, by his favourite wife Rachel, he had Joseph and Benjamin.

Ten of these founded ten of the twelve Tribes of Israel. However with Levi and Joseph it is a bit more complicated. The Tribe of Levi were priests, and as such had no lands. In order to make up the number of tribes to twelve, where the tribes are listed without Levi, there is no Tribe of Joseph, instead there are listed with the other ten the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph's two sons by his Egyptian wife Asenath.