Character Sketches » Jacob
Jacob's birth was delayed 20 years because Rebekah was barren. Before he came into the world he struggled with his twin brother, Esau, in the womb. God spoke to Rebekah and foretold that two nations were in her womb, and that the elder would be servant to the younger.
On the occasion of their birth in Gerar a medical Odyssey occurred. Jacob came out holding on to Esau's heel. His name means “he takes by the heel” or “supplanter,” and came from this unusual event.
Little, if anything is given of the boyhood of the twins, but Esau became a hunter and fighter and Jacob became the quiet man like his father Isaac, a plain man living in tents. Jacob was able to strip Esau of his birthright because of Esau's carelessness and Jacob's subtilty at a time when Esau was weary and hungry. Shortly after Esau gave in to Jacob's deception for a “mess of pottage” Isaac moved his family to Beersheba.
It is in Beersheba that Isaac's wife, Rebekah hears of his plan to give the patriarchal blessing to Esau and Rebekah formulates a plan to help Jacob obtain the inheritance that Jacob tricked Esau out of. The blessing that Isaac mistakenly gave to Jacob included the entire patriarchal succession, prosperity, prestige and protection. The whole story of Rebekah's treachery on behalf of her favored son can be found in detail in Genesis 27. The end of the whole scheme was that Isaac gave Jacob the blessing, and had nothing left for Esau which made Esau very angry and he wanted to kill his brother. Rebekah overheard the plan of Esau to kill Jacob and she arranged for Jacob to go to her brother Laban. As far as it is know in scripture, Jacob never sees his mother again after this time.
Jacob leaves Beersheba and arrives at Bethel where he lays down to sleep. In a dream he sees a ladder ascend from earth to Heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. God stood above the ladder and confirmed the promises of Abraham to Jacob. On awaking he vowed to serve the Lord giving a tenth of everything if the Lord would protect and prosper him.
The next move for Jacob was to Haran where he meets Rachel who brings Laban out to greet him. After a month staying with Laban he is offered the hand of Rachel under a contract to work seven years for her. Laban deceives Jacob and tricks him into marrying his older daughter Leah. Jacob is angry at being tricked. I wonder if this isn't payment for his trickery against his brother. Laban then offers Jacob Rachel but this would require him to work seven more years to gain her in marriage. Jacob tricked Laban into an agreement whereby Jacob's flocks would eventually become many more than Laban's so that Jacob increased exceedingly in cattle servants, camels and asses. Leah brings her maid Zilpah and Rachel brings her maid Bilhah as her maid. Through his wives and two servants Jacob has 11 sons and one daughter born to him. Then he secretly left Laban, but Laban and his men caught up with him, and after Jacob pleaded his case, they made a covenant together and Laban departed. Jacob wanted to return to his native land and was willing to face the wrath of Esau to do so.
After they had traveled a while, Jacob heard that Esau was coming toward him and he feared that his brother still had evil intentions against him and sent people out to meet him with presents hoping to gain his favor and mercy. He carefully guarded against destruction by separating his group into two bands and sending one group with a rich present to Esau.
After he sent the people ahead he tarried behind to make sure that nothing was forgotten. A man appeared and he wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the day dawned the son of Isaac was no longer Jacob the supplanter, but the angel of the Lord said to him; “As a prince hast thou power with God and with men and hath prevailed.” With the new name came a new nature. He was no long Jacob the supplanter, but Israel the soldier of God. When he finally came face-to-face with Esau he found Esau to be kind and forgiving and offering him gifts. Jacob would not accept the gifts but made peace with him, and they parted and Jacob settled in Schechem. This proved to be a tragic move filled with grief for Jacob.
The prince of the country invited Jacob and his family to a wedding feast, and during the feast Dinah was raped because of the lust of the son of the prince. The prince was sorry for what happened and expressed it to Jacob and made a promise to abide by the laws of Jacob and have all the men in his kingdom circumcised including himself and his son. While they were suffering from the affects of that circumcision, Jacob's sons took revenge against the son of the prince and killed every male in the city and burned the city to the ground. Jacob was ashamed and very angry at their foolish actions and was forced to leave the area for fear the neighboring princes would gather their forces against them and destroy them. God led him to Bethel where he paid his vow of many years before. Here again God appeared to him. Soon after Benjamin, Jacob's twelfth son was born, but his wife Rachel died in birth leaving Jacob in deep grief, for the love he had for her was above all other women. Shortly after that Isaac died and Jacob and Esau buried him. The twelve sons of Jacob were as follows: Leah bore him Reuben, Simeon, Judah and Levi. Bilhah conceived and bore him Dan and Naphtali. Zilpah conceived and bare Gad and Asher. Leah then conceived again and bare him Issachar and Zebulun. Finally Rachel conceived and bare Joseph and Benjamin. Leah also bore him a daughter whose name was Dinah.
Shortly after Rachel's death Jacob learns that his son Reuben goes in and lays with his concubine Bilhah. Jacob loved Joseph above all his sons, and because of this there was great resentment among his brothers against him. Joseph is betrayed and sold in slavery to some passing slave traders which brought intense grief to Jacob because his sons deceitfully led him to believe that Joseph was dead.
After many years a famine came to the land where Jacob and his family and servants lived, and eventually they would move to Egypt under the protection of Joseph who was not only alive, but had obtained a position that was second only to the Pharoah in power in all the land. Jacob and his family and servants settled in Goshen through Joseph's influence with Pharoah. Jacob meets and blesses Joseph's sons Mannaseh and Ephraim. It is interesting to note that he blesses the younger Ephraim first. Jacob also give Joseph the “double portion” which would have been Reuben's blessing if he had not betrayed his father.
Knowing his time has come to die, Jacob requests to be buried at Macpaleh, and Joseph promises to do so. When he dies he is embalmed by Joseph's command, a process which involved removing internal organs and viscera, soakng the remains in a solution of sodium carbonate (washing soda) and then wrapping the remains in many yard of linen cloth for preservation.
Egypt honored jacob with a seventy day mourning period, and then all Jacob's household, his sons, all Pharoah's servants, and all his chariots and horsemen made the 300 mile trek to Canaan to bury him. They mourned seven more days and then buried him.
In Character Jacob was domestic, resourceful, lacking courage, compromising, cunning, shrewd, deceitful and he believed that “the end justifies the means.” God changed him radically which eliminated many, if not all, his very superficial and negative traits. It is noteworthy that he never relinquished the head of his household to anyone. Jacob was sensitive to divine dealings, and had a teachable spirit in the end.
C. R. Lord © 1980