Part 1 of an overview of the story of Jacob in Genesis 25-34 with some commentary.
In Genesis Chapter 25, Abraham sent his sons from his 2nd wife Keturah (after Sarah died) to the east with their inheritance. Then Abraham dies at 175 years old leaving everything to Isaac, his son from his first wife Sarah. Abraham is buried by Isaac and Ishmael (Abraham’s firstborn from his servant Hagar) in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron with Sarah. This happens when Isaac was 75 and Ishmael was 89, and Jacob and Esau were 15. After ending the saga of Abraham this chapter gives the genealogy of Ishmael and his 12 sons, and Ishmael’s saga is wrapped up here stating that he dies at 137 (48 years after Abraham’s death). Ishmael is the father of the Ishmaelites and they occupied the region from Havilah to Shur, east of Egypt in the direction of Asshur. There they lived in open hostility toward all their relatives. Then the chapter gives a flashback to 15 years before Abraham’s death, to the time of the birth of Jacob and Esau. Isaac and Rebekah got married when Isaac was 40 and they had no children for 20 years because she was barren. Then when Isaac was 60, he prayed to God for his wife, and she gave birth to the twins, Esau and Jacob. While she was pregnant with them they struggled in the womb and when Rebekah ask God about it he prophesied to her that there will be contention between the two and Jacob would win. Esau was named because of his hairy body. Jacob means “heel” or “supplant” because he was holding on to Esau’s heel when Esau was born. It was prophesied he would supplant or replace Esau so the name fits. The chapter comes back to the present after Abraham’s death and Esau had just come back exhausted and hungry from hunting while Jacob was cooking red lentil stew. Jacob would only give him some if he gave up his birthright, and Esau agreed. Esau didn’t value his birthright much since he gave it up for lentil stew and some bread. Esau’s later name would be Edom (father of the Edomites) which means “red” since the stew he traded his birthright for was red, in addition when he was born his skin was reddish. Later on in Genesis 32:22-28, Jacob wrestles with an angel (messenger of God) and gets the name Israel (“struggle with God”) and it becomes his permanent name from God in Genesis 35:9-10 when returns from Paddam-Aram to Bethel his father’s home.
In Chapter 26, famine hits the Negev, and Isaac who is at least 75, moved to Gerar where King Abimelech ruled. Isaac repeated the tricks of his father by lying and saying his wife is his sister out of fear that someone would kill him for her but Abimelech found out Isaac was lying. God blessed Isaac that year and made him very rich in crops and livestock. The Philistines were jealous of Isaac and filled up his father’s wells with dirt and sent Isaac away to the Gerar Valley. Isaac and the Philistines had strife over water rights for a while until Abimelech made a treaty with Isaac like he did his father Abraham, and they even named the place of the oath Beersheba (just like the Oath between Abimelech and Abraham). Later on, when Esau and Jacob were 40 (and Isaac was 100), Esau married two Hittite women, Judith, the daughter of Beeri, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon, but his parents did not like them.
Comment: The Philistines initially only respected Abraham when Abimelech made the oath with him and when he died, they sealed up the wells because they didn’t care for Isaac. God however moved on Isaac’s behalf and gave him the same favor that his father had with the Philistines in Gerar.
In Chapter 27 Esau was a hunter and Isaac took pride in that, making him Isaac’s favorite son. At this time Esau (and Jacob) are around 77 years old at most, making Isaac 137. Isaac is starting to go blind, so he figures it is time to pass on the blessing before he dies. So one day, he promised to give Esau the blessing if he went out and got him some wild game and made his favorite dish. As Esau went out to do it and Rebekah overheard and came up with a scheme to trick Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing instead. She had Jacob bring her two young goats and she would prepare Isaac’s favorite meal. Jacob is concerned that Isaac will see through the plan and curse him instead because even though he is blind, he will know from feeling Jacob’s skin that he is not his hairy brother Esau. Rebekah says not to worry and that she will take any curse against him from Isaac. While preparing the meal she removed the hairy goat skins and had Jacob bind them to his arms and neck and then gave Jacob some of Esau’s clothes which smell like the wilderness. Jacob took the meal Isaac pretending to be Esau. At first, Isaac didn’t believe him. He was suspicious because the meal was prepared too quickly and Jacob’s voice didn’t match Esau’s. Jacob said God put the game right in front of him so he got the meal quickly, and the smell of Esau’s clothes and the textures of the goat hair helped sell Jacob’s lie. Isaac ate the meal and gave Jacob the blessing, saying that he would be “blessed with an abundant harvest of grain and new wine from the dew of heaven and richness of the earth and that he would rule over other nations including his brother, and all who curse him will be cursed and those who bless him will be blessed”. Then shortly afterward, Esau arrived with the freshly cooked game he hunted. Isaac realized what happened and told Esau that Jacob took the blessing, and Esau was bitter and angry at Jacob for tricking him twice. He begged Isaac for a blessing and Isaac gave him a simple blessing that said Esau would “live by the sword and would not inherit the abundance of the dew of heaven or the richness of the earth as Jacob would, and Jacob would rule over him, but Esau would break free eventually”. Esau threatened to kill Jacob after their father died. However, Rebekah had a plan for Jacob to escape to the house of her brother Laban in Haran, while Esau calms down. Rebekah will have him go there under the guise of getting wives from among her relatives. Then she starts her campaign by complaining about Esau’s Hittite wives to Isaac.
Comment: Esau’s “blessing” was that he would be a servant of his brother and eventually break free. This is fulfilled when King David subjugates Edom and they revolt at the time of King Jehoram. The Edomites are subjugated by David in 2 Samuel 8:11-14. Joab, David’s commander, killed off almost all the males in Edom but one named Hadad escaped to Egypt later in Solomon’s reign Hadad left Egypt to start a revolt in Edom against Israel and became a thorn in Solomon’s side (1 Kings 11:14-25). This was because Solomon had turned from God’s ways. Later on, it is noted that the Edomites were still subjugated and had no king just a deputy (1 Kings 22:47), and the King of Judah used them to help him and the king of Israel fight off the Moabites (2 Kings ch. 3) who were previously subjected by David (2 Samuel 8:11-12). However, in 2 Kings 8:20-22, they finally threw off the yoke of Judah and Israel.
In Chapter 28 Isaac sends Jacob off to Paddan-aram (Haran) to get wives from among Rebekah’s nieces. Esau realized that his father did not approve of his wives after seeing him send Jacob off to get wives from among his cousins, so he went to the Ishmaelites and got Mahalath, Ishmael’s daughter, from her brother Nebaioth. Jacob sleeps in the wilderness at a place called Luz and has a dream of a ladder of angels from heaven going up and down. God reiterated his promise to Abraham his grandfather, and Isaac his father, that Jacob’s descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. When Jacob awoke he made an altar to God, and he recognized where he slept as a holy place and he named it Beth-El meaning “house of God”. Jacob dedicated himself to God and promised to give him 10% of everything he owned.
Comment: One note is that at the time Jacob flees to Paddan-aram to live with Laban, he and Esau are 77 years old. Ishmael died 48 years after Abraham died. Jacob and Esau were 15 when this happen so they were 63 (and Isaac was 123) when Ishmael died. This is why Nebaioth, Ishmael’s oldest son, is mentioned when Esau goes to get a third wife from the Ishmaelites. Ishmael has been dead for 14 years and his oldest son would be the one to give his daughter away to a man for marriage.
In Chapter 29, Jacob arrives in Paddan-aram he meets some shepherds who are waiting at a well for watering the livestock. Jacob asks them if they know Nahor and they do and that they were waiting on his great-granddaughter to come with her father’s flock so they could water the flocks together. Rachel, the daughter of Laban, the grandson of Nahor, arrives and Jacob is captivated by her. He moves the stone from the well for her to water her flock and tells her that he is her cousin from Isaac and Rebekah, and she reports this to her father Laban. Jacob tells Laban his story and Laban agrees to take him in and pay Jacob to work for him. Jacob wants to marry Rachel and Laban agrees to give him Rachel if he works for him for 7 years. Rachel had an older sister named Leah, but Jacob didn’t see her as attractive as Rachel and only wanted Rachel. After 7 years of work Laban arranged the wedding for Jacob and Rachel, but before the consummation that night, Laban sent Leah instead of Rachel, and Jacob slept with her without realizing it. He confronted Laban on his trickery the next morning, but Laban says it was customary for the older daughters to get married first and promised to give him Rachel after the bridal week, for another 7 years of work of course. Jacob agreed to work another 7 years and married both sisters, and they each came with their own maids, Zilpah and Bilhah respectively. Since 7 years had passed since he left his father’s house Jacob was 84 when he married Leah and Rachel. Jacob showed more favor and affection for Rachel than Leah because she was his favorite wife. God saw how Jacob was treating Leah and made Rachel barren, while Leah was fertile and gave him four sons, Reuben ( “seen her misery”), Simon (“heard her cries”), Levi (“feeling affection”), and Judah (“praise”).
The first part of Chapter 30 takes place over the course of the next 7 years, starting when Jacob is 84 and ending when he is 91. Rachel grows jealous of the fact that Leah is having children and she isn’t and gives Jacob her maid Bilhah to have children for her. Bilhah had two sons from Jacob, and Rachel named them Dan (“judged” or “vindicated”) and Naphtali (“her struggle”). Leah wasn’t having any more children and grew jealous of Rachel’s cheating by using her maid Bilhah and decided to do the same with her own maid Zilpah. Zilpah got 2 sons from Jacob, and Leah named them Gad (“good fortune”) and Asher (“happy”). One day Reuben found some mandrakes during the harvest and gave them to his mother Leah. Mandrakes were a plant whose roots were believed to help with childbearing. Rachel asked for her Mandrakes and in exchange would let Leah sleep with Jacob that night. Leah got pregnant again with a fifth son Issachar (“reward”), and later a sixth son Zebulun (“honor”). The last child we know of that comes from Leah is a daughter named Dinah. Rachel felt ashamed and disgraced that she had no natural children. God showed her mercy and she became pregnant with Joseph (“added another son”). Joseph was born when Jacob was 91 years old and had now finished the 14 years of work for Laban and wished to go home. Laban didn’t want him to leave because he considered Jacob a good luck charm because of the blessing on him. Laban wants to pay him to stay so Jacob agrees to take any speckled and spotted goats, and black sheep from his flock. Laban removes all the speckled flock animals and gives them to his sons so that Jacob can’t leave. God gives Jacob a way out using bark from poplar, almond, and plane trees. He puts them near where the flocks drank, which is where they also mated. This caused them to give birth to speckled and spotted goats and black sheep. Jacob separated those flock animals and continued this trick to make more spotted animals. He breed them so that the healthier stronger animals became spotted for him to keep, and the weaker animals would be the unspotted animals for Laban. Jacob made himself very rich this way.
In Chapter 31, it is revealed that Jacob had been doing the speckled flock trick for 6 years. This means he worked for Laban for 20 years in servitude and Jacob was now 97 years old. Laban’s sons realized what Jacob was doing and started grumbling about it and Laban’s attitude towards Jacob changed. Jacob is told by God to leave that year and God promised to protect him. Jacob told Rachel and Leah about how their father had been cheating him by constantly changing the terms of their agreement, but God had blessed him in the process. He revealed that God told him in a dream about a method of manipulation through breeding that would put the wealth in Jacob’s hand, and it would bless him for all the trouble Laban caused. Rachel and Leah agreed to leave because their father eliminated their inheritance and reduced their rights to those of foreign women, and wasted all the money Jacob gave him for the bride price. They said all the wealth God has given Jacob legally belongs to them and their children anyway so they are better off without their father. Jacob leaves Paddan-aram with his family, servants, and livestock for Gilead in secret while Laban is far away shearing sheep and Rachel secretly stole some of Laban’s idols. After three days Laban realized what Jacob had done and went after Jacob with a band of his relatives, but God warned Laban in a dream that Jacob is protected and Laban couldn’t harm him. When Laban caught up with Jacob in Gilead, he confronted him for sneaking off with his daughters without saying goodbye and stealing his idols and even told Jacob that if it wasn’t for God’s protection he would kill him. Jacob was not aware of the stolen idols and had no idea what Laban was talking about. Laban was allowed to search Jacob’s family’s possessions. Rachels was sitting on them and when Laban came to search her belongings she claimed she was menstruating and she didn’t want to get up, so he let her be and never found them. Jacob scolded him for mistreating him for the past 20 years. Jacob said he had never stolen from him and did good work, and when livestock was eaten by a wild animal he dealt with the loss himself, paying for all Laban’s lost animals. Jacob says Laban changed his wages 10 ten times, as he worked in the scorching heat for 14 years for his daughters and 6 more years for his flock. If it weren’t for God’s favor Laban would have sent Jacob away empty-handed. Laban claimed that the daughters and grandchildren were his, but he agreed to make a covenant with Jacob where neither would harm the other and he made Jacob swear not to marry any other wives. Jacob had everyone gather some stones and put them in a pile and they had a covenant meal in front of it and Jacob offered sacrifices. To commemorate the event, Laban called the place Jegar-sahadutha (which means “witness pile” in Aramaic), and Jacob called it Galeed (which means “witness pile” in Hebrew). The piles of stones functioned as ceremonial witnesses to the covenant. Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren goodbye and left Jacob in peace.
In Chapter 32 Jacob is visited by messengers of God (angels) and names the place Mahanaim meaning two camps, because it was his camp and God’s camp. Jacob sent his own messengers ahead of him to meet with Esau who was living in Sier, to let Esau know he was coming. Esau sent the messengers back and said they are on their way to meet Jacob in the middle, and they reported that Esau was traveling with 400 men. This scarred Jacob so he decided to appease him by sending 3 waves of gifts of livestock with servants ahead of him. He prayed to God to give him favor with Esau and protect him from Esau’s fury. Jacob sent his wives, children, and prized possession across the Jabbok River and isolated himself from them. Then that night he wrestled with a man (presumably an angel) until dawn. The man popped Jacob’s hip out of its socket and told Jacob to let him go, but Jacob held on and refused to let him go until the man blessed him. The man gave him the new name, “Israel” because he “wrestled with God”. The man blessed Jacob and left, and Jacob named the place Peniel meaning “face of God”.
Chapter 33 picks up right after 32 and Jacob sees Esau coming and organizes his wives and children with the maids and their kids first, then Leah and her kids, and Rachel & Joseph last. Just in case Esau attacks he wants Rachel and Joseph to have the best chance of escape. Jacob then runs ahead and bows down to Esau 7 times Esau runs to him and hugs him and they wept together. Esau asked about the women and children and the gifts and Jacob introduced his family and insisted on Esau taking the gifts of livestock. Esau invited him to come to Sier with him and Jacob said he need to go at his own pace for the sake of the young children and animals. So Esau went ahead, while Jacob stopped to rest and built some shelters along the way for his young animals and called the place Succoth (“shelters”). Jacob eventually arrived at Shechem and bought a plot of land outside the city from the local clan leader Hamor father of Shechem. Then Jacob built an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel (“God, the God of Israel”).
In Chapter 34, prince Shechem spotted Dinah (Leah’s daughter) in the city and raped her. He then became infatuated with her and tried to win her affection. He asked his father to purchase her as a wife from Jacob. Hamor, Shechem’s father went to meet with Jacob to discuss Dinah, but her brothers came in from the field to the meeting, they just found out she was raped and were angry with Shechem. Hamor tried to smooth things over by offering a mutual exchange of marriages between daughters on both sides, as well as access to land and trade, and Hamor offered to let them live amongst the people of Shechem as citizens instead of foreigners. Shechem himself agreed to pay any dowry they ask. Dinah’s brothers conjured up a scheme to get revenge for their sister. They said that all of the men of Shechem would have to be circumcised first in order for the Israelites to live amongst them and inter-marry. Shechem was highly respected in town since he was the son of Hamor and convinced the men to all get circumcised in exchange for the Israelite daughters and livestock. Three days after they all get circumcised and were still recovering, Simeon and Levi take advantage and attack the town. They killed all of the men while they are too weak to fight back and they rescue Dinah. Then the other sons of Jacob go in and plunder the town of its wealth, and livestock, and even took captives of the wives and children. Jacob was furious because he was afraid of what the Canaanites and Perizzites may do in response to what they did to Shechem. Simeon and Levi retorted that they deserved it for what they did to their sister.