Jacob’s early life in farming and obtaining the birthright and blessing are detailed above under the life of Isaac.
Genesis 27:43-28:5, Jacob was sent by his parents back to Haran to Laban (his mother’s brother) to seek a wife and to escape Esau’s wrath and death threats. Although not explicitly stated at this point in time; working back from the ages given for Jacob when he arrives in Egypt, coupled with a calculated age of Joseph at that point in time, plus the knowledge that Joseph was born within Jacob’s 14 years of service for his two wives implies he was over 70 years of age when he departed to Haran.
The following summarises the main events detailed of Jacob’s life after leaving his parents:-
Genesis 28:16-22, Jacob leaves Beer-sheba for Haran, stopping to rest at Bethel he receives a vision of a ladder between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending. He receives confirmation that he is recipient of the Abramic promises. Jacob builds an altar and makes a covenant that; if God brings him again to Canaan the Lord (‘Yahweh’) would be his God.
Genesis 29:1-14, Jacob on arrival at Haran finds Nahor’s descendants, meeting Rachel first coming to the local well to water her sheep. He waters them for her and informs her that he is her cousin. Jacob is invited into Laban’s household.
Genesis 29:15-19, Jacob agrees to serve Laban for 7 years for Rachel.
Genesis 29:20-24, Laban gives Jacob Leah his older daughter to wife.
Genesis 29:25-30, Laban claims that local custom demands; that the older daughter be first married before the younger and that Jacob needs to serve another 7 years for Rachel, which he does. Jacob’s preference for Rachel is a cause of friction within the household for many years.
Genesis 29:32-35, Leah has 4 sons by Jacob, Reuben (see ye a son), Simeon (hearing), Levi (joined or attached), Judah (praise or celebrated). The names chosen by Leah are illustrative of the household friction as she feels Jacob will now recognise her with these 4 sons, whilst Rachel remains barren.
Genesis 30:1-8, Rachel, seeking to compete with her sister gives her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob as a concubine and she has 2 sons Daniel (judged) and Naphtali (wrestling). So named as Rachel feels she has been vindicated and, in her wresting with Leah has prevailed.
Genesis 30:9-13, Leah gave Jacob her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob as a concubine and she has 2 sons; Gad (a troop) and Asher (blessed) so named by Leah, who saw Gad as indicative of further sons coming and Asher that she was so blessed with children.
Genesis 30:14-21, Reuben finds mandrakes (a plant associated with fecundity) and Rachel agrees a deal with Leah to get them for herself. Leah demanded connubial rights of Jacob calling her resulting son Issachar (hire) and she also has a further son Zebulun (habitation) so named after she feels she has a good dowry and Jacob will be pleased to dwell with her, he is followed by a daughter, Dinah.
Genesis 30:22-24, Rachel has a son, she calls Joseph (let him add), hoping for further children.
Genesis 30:25-43, Jacob agrees further service to Laban, his wages being speckled, spotted and brown cattle, sheep and goats.
Genesis 31:1-21, Over 6 years of service, Jacob’s flocks and herds do better than Laban’s and although Laban changed his wages 10 times, Jacob’s beasts still remain stronger. Jacob hearing complaints by Laban’s sons, agrees with Leah and Rachel to escape.
Genesis 31:23-55, Laban chases after Jacob with complaints that he had run off and accuses him of stealing his household gods. A search does not reveal the missing items as unbeknown to Jacob, Rachel has stolen them, but remains sitting upon them claiming she is unable to rise to greet her father because she is indisposed. Jacob and Laban agree a truce and swear not to seek each other’s harm.
Genesis 32:1-23, Jacob in fear of meeting Esau arranges presentation of his household and prepares a gift for Esau.
Genesis 32:24-32, Jacob wrestled with an angel, refusing to let him go until he is blessed. He is told that his name would be ‘Israel’ not Jacob, because ‘as a prince hast thou power with God and with men’.
Genesis 33:1-16, Jacob met Esau and separates amicably.
Genesis 33:17-20, Jacob erected altar at Shechem calling it – El-Elohe-Israel (God, the God of Israel).
Genesis 34:1-31, Shechem, a son of Hamor the Hivite, a local prince, defiled Dinah and then sought her hand in marriage. Simeon and Levi, two of her brothers seek revenge, claiming that marriage could only be approved if the males of the city are circumcised and then when the citizens are indisposed, they slaughter them. These events bring fear to Jacob as to how the other inhabitants of Canaan will then treat him and his household and it impacts his declaration at the end of his life when he blesses his sons (Genesis 49:5-7), he calls then instruments of cruelty and states that they would not have their own tribal inheritance in the land of Canaan.
Genesis 35:1-15, Jacob returns to Bethel where he saw the ladder vision when fleeing from Esau. He builds there an altar. God confirms the renaming of Jacob as Israel and promises his seed will be given the land of Canaan.
Genesis 35:18-19, Rachel dies in childbirth bearing Jacob’s twelfth son Benjamin at Bethlehem.
Genesis 35:22, Reuben commits adultery with his father’s concubine, Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. This act is given as the reason for him not receiving the firstborn’s birthright Genesis 49:4 thou shalt not excel or as the Revised Standard Version translates you shall not have pre-eminence. The birthright was given to Joseph.
Genesis 35:23-26, lists the 12 sons of Jacob and Genesis 36 details Esau’s descendants the Edomites.
The remainder of Genesis is detailed under the life of Joseph including Jacobs’s journey into Egypt and his death there.
The following passages detail the blessings given to Jacob, demonstrating that he was designated by God as heir to the Abramic promises.
Genesis 28:13-15 I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
Genesis 32:27-28 he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
Genesis 35:10-12 God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
Next time we will look at the Life of Joseph.