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Jacob - Christian Resource Centre (Bermuda)
Biblical People
Jacob. [Heb. Yaaqob, "he takes by the heel," "he supplants." The name occurs repeatedly in cuneiform records, usually spelled YaqubÐEl, "Jacob of (the god) El," and in Egyptian texts as YÔqb ©r. Gr. Iako µb.]

1. Isaac's 2nd son, twin of Esau, father of the 12 patriarchs, and a progenitor of the Hebrew people. Rebekah, Isaac's wife, bore Esau and Jacob 20 years after her marriage to Isaac. She had been childless, and Isaac had interceded with the Lord on her behalf when he was about 60 years old (Gen 25:21, 22). Prior to the birth of the twins the Lord told Rebekah that the elder should serve the younger, thus indicating that Jacob was to become inheritor of the birthright (v 23). The name Jacob commemorates the fact that Jacob was born grasping Esau's heel, an incident the parents noted and later seem to have taken as an omen of the destined relationship between the 2 brothers (Gen 25:26; 27:36; Hos 12:3). While Esau took to the adventuresome life of the hunter, at which he excelled, Jacob grew up to be a "quiet man" who preferred the domestic, pastoral routine of the encampment (Gen 25:27, RSV). Rivalry developed between the 2 brothers because Isaac favoured Esau, his first-born, while Rebekah was partial to Jacob. Isaac seems never to have been wholly reconciled to the idea that Jacob should become his heir, as implied by the prenatal communication from the Lord to Rebekah (Gen 25:23), but apparently preferred Esau because he admired his bold, adventuresome, masculine traits. Rebekah, on the other hand, remained loyal to the prenatal admonition, doubtless also appreciating Jacob's practical, industrious disposition (v 28).

The incident recorded in Gen 25:29-34 graphically portrays the dominant character traits of Jacob and Esau, and provides a clue that explains why God rejected Esau as custodian of the covenant trust (cf. Rom 9:10-13). Jacob was preparing a meal of red lentil pottage when Esau, faint and discouraged after a fruitless hunting expedition, approached and asked for a portion. Grasping what he saw as an opportunity to obtain the birthright, Jacob covetously demanded that Esau sell him his birthright before he could have any food. Esau, manifesting his lack of a sense of relative values and of emotional stability, renounced the birthright for a dish of lentils (see Heb 12:16).

At the age of about 137 Isaac proposed to Esau that the time had come for the formal transfer of the patriarchal blessing to him as the first-born (Gen 27:1-4). The rite was to take place over a meal of venison which Esau was to bring in fresh from the field (vs. 3, 4). However, on Rebekah's initiative, Jacob conspired to impersonate Esau before the nearly blind Isaac in order to secure the blessing by subterfuge, in the mistaken belief that the prenatal promise of primacy would otherwise be lost (vs. 5-29). Dressed in Esau's clothes and wearing hairy skins to make him as much as possible like Esau, who was hairy, Jacob presented his father with food hastily prepared by Rebekah, and received the blessing. This thinly disguised intrigue at first shocked Esau into utter despair (vs. 30-38), which, however, soon turned into hatred and a desire for revenge (v 41). Learning of Esau's furtive plot to slay his brother, Rebekah, under the guise of finding a suitable wife for Jacob, arranged that Jacob should temporarily leave Canaan for the safety of her childhood home in Haran (vs. 42-46).

On his way into 20 years of exile, during which Rebekah died, the 77-year-old Jacob, for the first time as heir to the privileges and responsibilities of the covenant, experienced a personal encounter with God and vowed to fulfil his part should he be able to return home (Gen 28:10-22). Upon arriving in the vicinity of Haran, Jacob met Rachel, his mother's niece, under circumstances reminiscent of those in which Abraham's trusty steward had found a wife for his father in the same vicinity nearly a century before (ch 29:1-12; cf. ch 24:10-28). Now, perhaps, Jacob sensed the blessing of God on his own mission. About a month after his arrival, Jacob arranged to marry Rachel by serving her father, Laban, for 7 years (ch 29:14-20). At the end of the period Jacob, the artful deceiver, was deceived into marrying Rachel's older sister Leah, and was then required to serve an additional 7 years for Rachel (vs. 21-30). During the second 7 years 11 sons and 1 daughter were born to Jacob €”Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah by Leah; Gad and Asher by Leah's maid, Zilpah; Joseph by Rachel; and Dan and Naphtali by Rachel's maid, Bilhah (chs 29:32 to 30:24). After 6 additional years of service, during which Jacob developed his own flocks of cattle and herds of sheep, thereby arousing the jealousy of Laban and his sons (ch 31:1, 43), Jacob suspected a plot to deprive him of his property, and departed surreptitiously for his home in Canaan (chs 30:25 to 31:18-21, 31). Learning of Jacob's flight, Laban and his sons pursued Jacob and overtook him 7 days later (ch 31:19-25). Warned on the way by God, Laban confined himself to expostulating with Jacob (vs. 24-35), and the 2 men entered into a mutual non-aggression pact before parting (vs. 36-55).

Tokens of divine presence and blessing marked Jacob's return journey to Canaan, 1st a vision of angels at Mahanaim (Gen 31:1, 2), and then the encounter with the Angel of the Lord in person at the Jabbok (Gen 32:24-30; cf. Hos 12:4). Prior to the 2nd token Jacob had sent a peace mission to placate Esau's anger, but Esau had responded by setting out with 400 men, ostensibly to attack Jacob (Gen 32:3-8). This confronted Jacob with the crisis of his life, later called "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer 30:7). In this, his 2nd recorded personal encounter with the Lord, Jacob experienced a thorough conversion and change of heart (Gen 32:9-30). He was also given a new name €”Israel, "God contends" or "God rules" €”in token of his submission to God under the covenant relationship (v 28). The next day Jacob met Esau, and a spirit of brotherhood was re-established between them (Gen 33:1-15). Jacob remained for a time at Succoth, east of the Jordan, and later moved to the vicinity of Shechem, where he bought a piece of land (vs. 17-20). Here his sons dealt treacherously with the men of Shechem in the matter of their sister Dinah, and greatly embarrassed and perplexed Jacob (ch 34), so that he removed to Bethel (ch 35:1-8), where God again confirmed His covenant with him (vs. 9-15). As Jacob journeyed from Bethel to meet his father at Mamre, near Hebron (v 27), Rachel died in giving birth to Benjamin, and Jacob buried her near Ephrath (vs. 16-20). A little later Isaac died, and his 2 sons laid him to rest in the family burial ground at Hebron (vs. 28, 29; cf. ch 49:31). For several years Jacob remained in the southland, where Abraham and Isaac had spent so many years, doubtless moving from place to place to find pasture for his flocks and herds (ch 37:1).

During this time Jacob manifested the same unwise partiality for his favourite son, Joseph (Gen 37:3, 4), that his father Isaac had shown toward Esau (ch 25:28), with similarly disastrous results. The crisis came about 12 years before the death of Isaac (cf. chs 25:26; 37:2; 41:46, 47, 54; 45:6; 47:9) when Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt by his older brothers (ch 37:23-36). Bereft of Joseph (vs. 32-35), whom for about 22 years he had thought to be dead, Jacob at first reacted with incredulity upon hearing that Joseph not only was alive but was a prince in the land of Egypt (ch 45:25, 26). But upon Joseph's invitation, and because of the severe drought then prevailing in Palestine (vs. 9-15), Jacob migrated to Egypt (chs 45:27, 28; 46:1) at the age of 130 (ch 47:9), and spent the 17 remaining years of his life there. At the age of 147 he summoned his 12 sons, pronounced a blessing upon each, and then died (chs 48; 49). Joseph had his father embalmed, and buried him in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the ancestral burial ground (ch 50:1-13; cf. chs 23:3-20; 49:29-33).

2. The descendants of Jacob, collectively, in all generations (Num 23:21; Is 2:5; etc.).

3. The father of Joseph, husband of Mary according to Matthew's genealogy of Christ (Mt 1:15, 16) -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.

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