Jacob Becomes Israel – Through Rivalry & Deception to Blessing [Faith of Our Fathers 6]

JACOB–Distracted, Deceived, and Blessed

Steve Daskal, CMAA


 We must begin by going back to Genesis 25:19-34. If we aren’t clear on this, there is little to be gained from the rest of the story of Isaac and Jacob.


          In v.19-21, we see the “generations of Isaac” discussed primarily as leading to the birth of Jacob and Esau.

The great events of Isaac’s life are his miraculous birth to elderly Sarah, the testing on Mt. Moriah when he was about 12 or 13, his marriage to Rebecca, his repeating his father’s failed deception with a later Abimelekh of the Philistines, and the passing on of the covenantal blessing to Jacob. Isaac was something of a prodigy of faith — like Solomon much later, he started well, but didn’t end very well.

          In v.21 we learn that, like Sarah, Rivkah (Rebecca) had trouble conceiving. Of course, modern medical science would lead us to believe that the problem may have been with Isaac, but from the Scriptural perspective, God tells us that it was Rebecca who was barren. Isaac prays for her, and she conceives.

In v.22-26 we are told of God’s dialogue with Rebecca. God never directly dialogued with Sarah — the only direct communication was when God scolded her for laughing over the prophesy of the birth of Isaac. In this dialogue, Rebecca asks God about the turmoil in her womb, and God tells her that she will give birth to two children nearly simultaneously (note that they are never described as twins, even though they are born virtually at the same time), and that the elder (ruddy, hairy Esau, aka Edom) will serve the younger (who came out gripping his elder brother’s foot). God has fore-ordained that Jacob/Israel would receive the birthright and the covenant.

          In v.27-34, we are told how “Esau despised his birthright” — those are God’s words as delivered through Moses, not mine. This deal made manifest what God had foretold to Rebecca before they were born.

 Now, understanding the prophesy and the exchange, let’s continue forward into Jacob’s adult life. But first, one brief side-trip to Gen 26:34-35. Here, we see Esau marrying into a local tribe (actually these are el-Khite’im — a Canaanite tribe, not the more sophisticated and powerful nation we know from archaeology and history as the Hittites whose empire was centered well to the north in Asia Minor). We are told nothing about these two women, except that Esau’s marriage to them grieved his parents. Remember, the Hebrews were not supposed to intermarry with the local Hamitic Canaanites, but were to marry other Semites from the lands along the Euphrates and Tigris, as Jacob ultimately does.

 Gen 27 — Jacob, encouraged by his mother, tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing [vv. 28-29] of the holder of the birthright, which was nominally due to his slightly elder brother (& his father’s favorite) Esau. But Esau had sold his birthright to Isaac, though apparently neither Jacob nor Esau had told Isaac about the exchange. At that time, Esau didn’t care about the birthright or the divine covenant that went with it, but now, as a man with two wives and children, it made a difference to him. Nevertheless, Esau no longer deserved the blessing which was intrinsically connected to the birthright. Esau claims that Jacob “took my birthright” by deception in v. 36, but we’ve seen that this was not the case. Esau always sought the easy way, the quick way, the “way of the nations around them,” and then begrudges the benefits accruing to the one who remains true to and values the things of God.

What does the birthright mean to each? to Esau — wealth; but to Jacob — wealth and more.

Gen 27:46-28:4   — Rebecca has Isaac urge Jacob to go and find a wife from his mother’s family — the Arameans of the house of Bethuel. Isaac now explicitly and knowingly passes on to Jacob the Abrahamic covenant of the blessing of the land, and then sends him to Padan-Aram. Jacob obeys.

An aside: in 28:8-9, we’re told that Esau marries Ishmael’s daughter. Apparently, he still doesn’t understand what’s going on — he seems to thinks he can regain his parents’ blessing and birthright by getting a better marriage, but there is no reason to believe that there is a positive relationship between Isaac and his half-Egyptian step-brother.

Gen 28:10-19 — God’s second restatement of His covenant with the house of Abraham to Jacob, this time in a dream.

Gen 29:31-30:24 (don’t need to read, just summarize ) Jacob’s initial failing in polygamy could arguably have been inflicted on him by Laban’s deceit (he had agreed to work for Rakhel, not Leah). (Some like John MacArthur and Ryrie claim this was justice for Jacob’s deception of Isaac, but that was in keeping with his mother’s urgent pleading, his brother’s rebellion and lack of concern for God or the covenant, and his father’s stubborn preference for Esau despite his worldliness). But Jacob’s accepting the two handmaidens as additional wives appears to have been entirely his own failing, giving in to his short-sighted, overly-competitive wives’ nagging and the fleshly desire for new bedmates and more children (would not even one have been enough if he were the God-chosen covenant-bearer?). Surely Jacob could have remembered the problems his grandmother had reaped by pushing her handmaid Hagar onto grandfather Abraham! Jacob’s 4 wife, 12 son+1 daughter family appears to have been too large for him to have properly led or disciplined. Like so many in Scripture, despite his own faith and commitment to God, he was still prone to doubts, concerns about his posterity, and other fleshly desires, and also proved to be a less than effective father in terms of developing the spiritual maturity of his sons (at least most of them). But we’ll discuss that further in the next two weeks.

Gen 31:1-3, 11-13, 17-24 — Jacob’s years-overdue departure from Kharan was reasonable, and indeed, God directed it (v.3). Jacob interpreted God’s command as direction to leave “at once” (v.13) indicating he thought God meant for him to not wait for any further formalities or dealings with Laban, but “split.” Some argue, citing v.20, that fleeing “like a thief in the night” was wrong — BECAUSE of God’s repeated promise, provision, & protection. Laban had cause to be angered by this — even though his long list of treacheries made it a deserved slight — but Jacob obeyed God, even though his way of doing so violated standing customs and made an open enemy out of Laban. It was Rakhel, not Jacob, who really wronged Laban by stealing his household idols and thus stealing the family birthright (possession of the family idols in Aramean society indicated family headship). God nevertheless warned Laban (v.24) not to either threaten or lure Jacob back to Kharan — for His will for Jacob was for him to settle in the Promised Land, not remain a satellite of a deceitful pagan Aramean. Laban obeyed God — even though he was a pagan — perhaps because he recognized that despite his power and duplicity, Jacob had prospered by the hand of “his” God.

Jacob could have parted more openly in accordance with custom, but that also might have created an opportunity for the Aramean to attempt to prevent him from leaving or withholding that which was rightfully Jacob’s. {Note that Laban set off with all his kinsmen after Jacob, even though Jacob legally had the right to leave — his wives and herds and children were lawfully his, and Laban had no legal claim to them.} There is no reason to believe that Jacob’s departure would have been a peaceful separation analogous to that of Abraham and Lot save for God’s warning to Laban, which Jacob could in fact have depended upon (based upon the covenant), but didn’t know about.

— New Testament Perspective —

Hebrews 11:21 — “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”

 Gen 32:1-21 — The first part of the story of Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau after returning from Kharan reflects his obedience to God and courageously taking responsibility for his past actions. He could have tried to live as a fugitive (going further north before returning to the Promised Land), but instead goes through the land that became known as Edom, the land where his brother had settled.

Jacob’s plan is to placate Esau with a stream of gifts and apologies, while being prepared for the worst by breaking up his family into separated groups so that Esau would not be able to wipe out all of his wives, children, and herds in one sweep. This indicates a growing maturity in Jacob — learning that he cannot rely on deception or flight to solve his conflicts. He is learning to build/restore bonds rather than break them. But, at the same time, despite God’s promises, he also “hedges his bets.”   To be fair, this is also Esau’s finest hour — he is magnanimous in accepting the apologies and reconciling with his brother.

Jacob both prays to God for protection and guidance and plans in a clever yet generous way to protect himself. There is no indication as to any answer coming from God — perhaps because he had already made a plan begun a process of dealing with Esau in a worldly way BEFORE praying.

And now a suspenseful interlude before the conclusion of this momentous meeting between the two estranged brothers.

Gen 32:21-32 — Jacob’s struggle with the angel of God happens as he awaits the outcome of his plan to engage and be reconciled to Esau. There are many interpretations of this passage. Some take it literally, as a wrestling match, possibly with an angel (see Hosea 12:4), possibly with a theophany of Christ — who in the Tenakh was sometimes referred to as “the Angel of the LORD.” Angel means messenger. Some take it to mean that he wrestled with God in prayer (more analogous to Christ at Gethsemane than a physical grappling with a tangible opponent. Jacob himself says he saw the face of God and lived, hence naming the place Peniel. The nameless opponent tells Jacob that Jacob had wrestled with (grappled with) God and with men. According to Strong’s Dictionary, the Hebrew word AVKo, used for wrestled or grappled, has a root meaning to be like a vapor — which doesn’t shed much light on the subject!

My impression here is the lesson that we must wrestle with God to gain His blessing and understand His vision for our lives — we must grapple with His glory, His holiness, His beauty, and not let go! It is also noteworthy that the divine messenger comes to Jacob only after he has sent all that had ever mattered to him — his wealth, his wives and concubines, and his children — across the Jabbok before him.

Hosea 12:2-6 (NASB) “The LORD also has a dispute with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; He will repay him according to his deeds. 3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God. 4 Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; He wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel And there He spoke with us, 5 Even the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is His name. 6 Therefore, return to your God, Observe kindness and justice, and wait for your God continually.”

Gen 33 (especially vv. 1-16) The reconciliation of Esau and Jacob is successfully completed. Jacob and his clan travel through Edom in peace, and re-enter Cana’an, and Jacob builds an altar there to the Lord, calling it “A Mighty God is the God of Israel.” We do not know what has gone through Esau’s mind through this whole episode — whether he initially sought vengeance and was placated by Jacob’s gifts and apologies, or whether he had prospered to the point where he no longer held a grudge against Jacob even before receiving the gifts. Jacob in all likelihood believed his plan worked, but he nevertheless thanked God for His protection and provision in making it work.

Note that Jacob, despite the reconciliation, does not accept Esau’s offers to come dwell with him in Mount Seir (aka Edom), nor Esau’s offer of protection from some of his fighting men. Either of these offers implicitly would have meant accepting Esau’s authority as senior, as a protector, in a tribal or feudal sense. He camps for a time at Succoth, between the southward bend of the Jabbok and the Jordan, and then crosses over into the promised land.

Gen 34 describes the conflicts that developed between the Children of Israel and the children of Cana’an. As is common between tribal peoples, most conflicts arise over resources (land/water or flocks) or women. Jacob appears largely unable to control his sons — indeed Hamor the Cana’anite talks to Jacob’s sons — Jacob does nothing until they are present, and once present, they act on their own. Only at the end does Jacob chastise them for putting his clan at risk of retaliation from the neighboring tribes by their extreme over-reaction for the rape of Dinah.   Of course, Dinah had no business going out to visit with “the daughters of the land” and thereby exposing herself unnecessarily to such attentions. Women, and especially foreign women, did not travel unescorted in ancient times, least of all in a comparatively uncivilized and lawless land like Cana’an. She indeed had acted in a “loose” manner by the standards of the time and place, but the brothers wildly overreact — not only was Hamor’s offer of an honorable marriage rejected (Jacob’s commitment to not intermarry had been violated by his sons, so there was nothing inappropriate in having Dinah to do likewise), and not only was the rapist himself killed, but the brothers went on to wipe out the entire clan and seize all their goods. This was totally unacceptable conduct — even for heathen Cana’anites!   It isn’t surprising that Jacob was now afraid that the surrounding tribes would unite against them.

Gen 35:1-15 — describes the renewal of the covenant through Jacob. Note that in verse 2, Jacob has to order his family to get rid of their “foreign gods” (idols), purify themselves, and put on fresh garments, because they had obviously been living with and like Cana’anites. This may be why God called Jacob to move back south to Bethel from the vicinity of Shechem, and to rededicate himself and his family to Him at the site where they had last done so. God protected them as they travelled by sending a terror into the cities (tribes) along the way.

16-28 — recounts the death of Rakhel while bearing Jacob his last son, Benjamin, and also recounts the death of Isaac and his burial by Jacob and Esau at the Caves of Makhpelah near the great oak of Mamre (modern Hebron) alongside Abraham and Sarah.



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Filed under Judeo-Christianity, Steven E. Daskal

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