Important People in the Bible – Jacob

The story of Jacob can be found in Genesis 25 to 50.

In the order of things Abraham & Sarah had a son called Isaac late in life and Isaac married Rebekah who in turn gave birth to twin sons Esau and Jacob.

These sons were very different in many ways. Esau was the older and had an impetuous temperament, was a cunning hunter and much loved by his father. Jacob was an upright and sincere man who dwelled in tents and was much loved by his mother. It was to Jacob, although younger, that God chose to inherit the promise. (Romans 9:10-13)

The first recorded incident in the lives of the two brothers shows that they were very different in their spiritual characteristics yet neither appears in good light as a result of this incident.

Esau came in, quite worn out from an unsuccessful hunting expedition and finds Jacob preparing a meal and so famished was Esau that in order to obtain a portion of the meal he is told by Jacob to forfeit his birthright which was Esau’s as a matter of his firstborn status. An oath was obtained from Esau that this agreement had been made, so Esau surrendered his birthright for a pot of stew.

Isaac had become blind and very ill such that he was near death. He called Esau and requested that he prepare venison for him and he (Isaac) would give him a blessing. Rebekah heard the request and she prepared a suitable dish for Isaac and helped disguise Jacob as his brother so that Jacob would receive the blessing. As a result, Jacob did receive the blessing from Isaac which was that God would give him the blessing of Abraham, that he would develop into a multitude of people and he would inherit the land in which he was a stranger (Genesis 27:28-29).

Esau upon his return from hunting realizes that the blessing had gone to Jacob instead of himself. He vows to slay Jacob as a result of this incident whereupon Jacob leaves home and travels to Padam-aram in Syria to the house of Laban.

It is here in Padam-aram that Jacob marries firstly Leah, her sister Rachel and their two handmaids and raises a very large family of twelve sons and a daughter and  after working off his dowry with Laban, his father-in-law, for some fourteen years for Leah and Rachel Jacob remains in Laban’s employ for an additional six years.

God advises Jacob to return to his father’s house and together with his large family and flocks he moves south. As he travelled word came that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men and being much fearful of the upcoming meeting Jacob seeks God’s protection and the night before his encounter with Esau meets and wrestles all night with an angel. At the break of day, when neither had prevailed, the angel sought release. He touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and put it out of joint. Jacob, however, would not let the angel go and desired a blessing be granted whereupon Jacob was told his name would be changed to Israel, meaning “Prince with God” (Genesis 32:26-28).

Jacob (Israel) settles in the land that was previously occupied by Abraham and his father Isaac but his sons developed a great hatred for the second youngest brother Joseph and they see, instead of killing him, an opportunity to sell Joseph into captivity in Egypt.

A great famine comes upon the land occupied by Jacob and in desperate need of food Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to obtain food. Unknown to the tens sons Joseph has been elevated to second in command next to the Pharaoh and has been given the responsibilities of distributing the food resources of Egypt. The brothers on a later visit, accompanied by their younger brother Benjamin, do not recognize Joseph and after a period testing for the eleven sons Joseph reveals himself and invites Jacob to join him in Egypt. Jacob remained in Egypt until his death.  At his request his body was returned to the family burial site in Hebron.

Jacob had started life with very questionable habits and thinking but over a life of some 147 years he came through much trial and learned to put his full trust in God instead of himself and became the father of God’s chosen nation.

Illustration by John Paul Stanley ( CCA-4.0

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