Our Father Jacob

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Formerly titled "In Defense of Jacob"
Published 11 October 2007; Revised 4 February 2023


Scripture Text: Passages quoted from Genesis are prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the WLC Hebrew text used in the online Interlinear Bible. Scripture quotations may be taken from other versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.

Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the article. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important early Jewish sources include the following:

LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C. Online.

Josephus: The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.), Jewish historian, trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.

Philo: Works by Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, the Jewish philosopher (20 B.C.─A.D. 50), consisting of 45 monographs. Online.

Talmud: the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud abbreviations.

Targums: Aramaic translation of Hebrew Scripture with commentary: Targum Onkelos (1st c. AD), and Targum Jonathan (2nd c. AD). Index of Targum texts.

Syntax: "SH" with a number corresponds to a Hebrew word with an assigned reference number from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. The meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Hebrew words is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Baker Book House, 1991). The meaning of Greek words used in the Septuagint (LXX) and Besekh is from Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich (The University of Chicago Press, 1957).

Special Terms: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of the Bible I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ). The sacred name, YHVH, is given as ADONAI in this article.


The book of Genesis (and indeed the entire Bible) has a single theme that builds on the promise God made to Chavah (Eve) of a Seed who would bring redemption from the Serpent's evil (Gen 3:15). Walter Kaiser calls it the Promise-Plan of God (19). God's promise of the Messiah is the reason for His working through a particular genealogy of men, all heroes of faithfulness, who would eventually bring forth Yeshua into the world as the Seed of the Woman, none other than Yeshua of Nazareth, the Son of God and Son of Man. The promise given to the patriarchs and God's plan for fulfillment is mentioned many times in the Besekh (e.g., Luke 1:54-55, 68-73; Acts 3:25; 5:30; 7:2-3, 17; 13:22-23, 26, 32-33; 26:6-7; Rom 9:4-13; 15:8; Gal 3:14-16; Eph 2:12; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:13-17; 11:39-40; 2Pet 3:3-9).

A central figure in fulfilling the promise-plan is Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, who lived c. 2006−1859 B.C. (Purkiser 441). His story is narrated in Genesis 25—50. When Moses wrote Genesis the bulk of his composition was derived from collecting actual written records of the past and bringing them together in final form as guided by the Holy Spirit. The written records are mentioned with the Hebrew word toledoth (SH-8435), which means "generations" and is used to indicate accounts of men and their descendants, or "records of the origins." God provided the records of creation to Adam (Gen 2:4), followed by ten mentions of records and who provided them (Gen 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; and 37:2). Each record mention acts as a subscript, meaning that the record contains all the narrative from the previous record mention (Morris 27). Ironically the story of Jacob and Esau was preserved by Esau (Gen 36:1).

However, throughout church history Jacob has been the subject of much criticism. Many commentators find fault with the manner that Jacob secured the birthright and blessing that God intended for him. The supposed jealous, grasping and deceptive manner must therefore indicate a defective nature. In his commentary on Genesis 25 Sailhamer summarizes the Christian attitude:

"The character of Jacob is easily understood. It has frequently been remarked of him that he is thoroughly a Jew, that in him you find the good and bad features of the Jewish character very prominent and conspicuous. He has that mingling of craft and endurance which has enabled his descendants to use for their own ends those who have wronged and persecuted them. The Jew has, with some justice and some injustice, been credited with an obstinate and unscrupulous resolution to forward his own interests, and there can be no question that in this respect Jacob is the typical Jew-ruthlessly taking advantage of his brother, watching and waiting till he was sure of his victim; deceiving his blind father, and robbing him of what he had intended for his favourite son; outwitting the grasping Laban, and making at least his own out of all attempts to rob him; unable to meet his brother without stratagem; not forgetting prudence even when the honour of his family is stained; and not thrown off his guard even by his true and deep affection for Joseph."

The roots of criticism historically arose from antisemitism borne of replacement theology that began with the church fathers. Replacement theology is the belief that God rejected Israel because of failure to accept Yeshua the Messiah and decreed the Christian Church as the New Israel. This false theology pervades Christianity. Rightly did Edith Schaeffer quote an unknown author,

"How odd of God
"To choose the Jew
"But not so odd
"As those who choose
"The Jewish God
"And hate the Jew." (8)

Common Christian interpretation has conveniently ignored God's stated will and twisted the facts of the story in order to take up an offense for Esau, resulting in a pejorative view of Jacob. Indeed, in contrast to God, many Christians have loved Esau and hated Jacob (cf. Mal 1:2-3). Some Christians frankly hate the idea of the election of Israel and once Jacob can be painted as a scoundrel, then that reputation taints all his descendants. Even in this modern time Palestinian terrorists gain more sympathy from some Christian leaders than Israeli victims.

If Jacob and Rebekah were wrong in what they did to secure the divine birthright and blessing, then the basis of the Jewish claim to the holy land can also be challenged. Even today Muslims claim Jews stole the land they "occupy," and some Christians are too willing to believe the lie. God's promise of the Land and the Seed was not a defensive reaction to bring good out of "sin." The story of Jacob is not just a drama of a divided family in Canaan, but an important link in the (DNA) chain that would eventually produce Yeshua in the womb of Miriam of Nazareth. God's plan was determined before creation (cf. 1Cor 2:7-8; Eph 1:4-5; Heb 4:3; 1Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8).

In my view it's time for all followers of Yeshua to rise to the defense of Jacob and affirm his covenantal rights as God intended. This article is written to set the record straight and advocate the good name of Jacob.



"20 And Isaac was a son of forty years when he took Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-Aram, sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to ADONAI for his wife, because she was barren; and the prayer to ADONAI was granted and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the sons struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is so, why am I thus?" And she went to inquire of ADONAI. 23 And ADONAI said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; and two kingdoms shall be separated from your body; and one kingdom shall be stronger than the other kingdom; and the older shall serve the younger." (Gen 25:20-23)

Moses sets the stage for telling the story of Jacob by reviewing the relationship of his parents. Rebekah (Heb. Rivqah), the mother of Jacob, was the daughter of Bethuel, Abraham's nephew (Gen 24:15). She is introduced as a beautiful virgin (Gen 24:16), a willing servant (Gen 24:19), and as hospitable to strangers (Gen 24:25). In obedience to God's will, she left her home in the region of Paddan-Aram to be Isaac's wife (Gen 24:58, 67). Isaac (Heb. Yitschaq) was forty years old at his marriage, making him as much as twenty years older than his wife (Gen 25:19). When distressed by barrenness that lasted twenty years, Isaac prayed regularly for her and she finally conceived (Gen 25:21). The pregnancy was fine at first but eventually Rebekah began to experience turmoil in her womb.

Moses provides an interesting detail concerning embryonic development. The twins struggled with each other (Heb. ratstas, to bruise or crush), which reveals their competitive nature in the womb. The verb describes infant behavior not normally experienced by pregnant women. Babies in the womb do move and even kick, but twins are not known to get into fights. Modern science based on evolutionary principles does not recognize personality development in the womb, but Scripture does. Rebekah was deeply troubled by the aggressive movement in her womb, so she inquired of ADONAI for an explanation. Moses does not explain how Rebekah sought guidance.

Some Christian commentators have suggested she consulted with Melchizedek. The Genesis narrative offers no support for speculations about whether or with whom Rebekah might have sought advice. Thus far in Genesis individuals had personal conversations with God (Gen 12:1, 7; 13:14; 15:7; 16:9-10; 18:13; 20:3). Other women in Scripture spoke directly to God, such as Hagar (Gen 16:9-10) and Hannah (1Sam 1:10). Also Moses does not specify how ADONAI provided the answer, whether by dream or theophany, but the text is clear that ADONAI did speak to her.

Rebekah was given a special revelation of the future. Two nations and two kingdoms were her womb and ADONAI unequivocally declared that the older son would serve the younger son. Please note that God's sovereign plan was that Jacob would have the superior position over his brother! God's choice is not so unusual. Seth, Shem, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David were all younger sons. In the Messianic line only Abraham and Yeshua were firstborn sons in lists where brothers are mentioned! Rashi, the Medieval Jewish commentator, says that the verb "struggled" calls for a Midrashic interpretation, since Moses does not explain what the struggling was about.

"They were struggling with each other and quarreling about the inheritance of the two worlds. However, God did provide an answer to Rebekah's concern about the turmoil in her womb. The struggle portended the future struggle between two nations and two kingdoms." (Gen 25:22)

The terms ADONAI uses are Heb. goyim (SH-1471; BDB 156; LXX ethnē); nations, peoples; and Heb. leom (SH-3816; BDB 522; LXX laoi), peoples, kingdoms. In the Tanakh goyim is used for people groups defined by language and culture, including descendants of Jacob and the nation of Israel (cf. Gen 10:5; 12:2; 17:4; 18:18; Ex 19:6; Deut 4:6; Ps 106:5; Isa 9:1; 42:1, 6; Jer 5:15; Ezek 4:13; 36:13-14; Mic 4:2-3). The term leom is used to indicate the population of a geographical area and can function as a synonym of goyim (e.g., Ps 44:14; 149:7; Isa 17:12). Leom can also refer to subjects of a prince (Prov 14:28). The revelation indicated that Isaac's progeny would consist of two distinct types of people (TWOT 1:465).

Wesley commented that the prophecy of two nations was fulfilled in the subjection of the Edomites for many ages to the house of David. The Edomites were later subjected by the Hasmonean dynasty (c. 140-116 BC). The Jewish sages, as noted by Rashi, interpreted leom to mean "kingdoms" (Avodah Zarah 2b). The Sages swerved into an important biblical truth. The two nations are obviously Israel and Edom. However, the two kingdoms are the Kingdom of Messiah and the Kingdom of Satan (or the Anti-Messiah).


24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, twins were in her womb. 25 And the first came out red all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after this his brother came out and his hand had taken hold of the heel of Esau, and his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was a son sixty years when she delivered them." (Gen 25:24-26)

Moses informs us that twins were in the womb of Rebekah. Counting from the day of conception we might say the boys were the same age in the womb, but since only one infant can be birthed at a time, the first one to emerge will be considered the older. The struggle that occurred during pregnancy continued into the birthing process. However, twins are not created simultaneously. The sperm fertilizes the egg and the fertilized egg would normally develop into a single baby.

Identical twins occur when a single fertilized egg splits into two. Identical twins look almost exactly alike and share the exact same genes. Fraternal twins occur when two, separate eggs are fertilized by two, separate sperm. Fraternal twins do not share the exact same genes; they are no more alike than they are to their siblings from different pregnancies. Thus, we may say that Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins.

Rashi notes the assertion of Jewish tradition that Jacob was formed first and Esau second.

"Jacob was formed from the first drop and Esau from the second. Go forth and learn from a tube that has a narrow opening. Insert two stones into it, one after the other. The one that entered first will emerge last, and the one that entered last will emerge first. The result is that Esau, who was formed last, emerged first, and Jacob, who was formed first emerged last, and Jacob came to restrain him so that he (Jacob) should be the first to be born as he was the first to be formed, and he would open her womb and take the birthright by law." — [From Gen. Rabbah 63:8] (Gen 25:26)

The priority of Jacob is confirmed when Moses lists the sons of Rebekah and places the name of Jacob before Esau (Gen 28:5; cf. Josh 24:4; Heb 11:20).

The parents gave names to the twins that described the nature of their birth. The meaning of the name Esau (Heb. Ęsav) is not known, although NASBEC and SECB suggest that it is derived from Heb. asah, to press or squeeze (SH-6213). The name might illustrate the conflict that began in the womb and Esau pressed ahead of Jacob to be born first. However, this is only speculation. Moses notes that Esau was born with a reddish or reddish-brown color and an unusual amount of hair (hypertrichosis), which is sometimes the case with new-born infants, but was a sign in this instance of excessive sensual vigor and wildness (Keil 172).

The meaning of the name of Jacob (Heb. Ya'akov) is also not known for certain, although Keil suggests the name is derived from the verb aqav (SH-6117), "follow at the heel," denominative of aqev (SH-6119), "heel," thus "heel-holder," since he was holding on to the heel of Esau at birth. On the other hand, David Stern says the name means "May God be your defending rear guard" (cf. Isa 52:12) (CJSB 46). The name certainly had no pejorative connotation when the parents gave it to him contrary to the Christian definitions such as given by Adam Clarke "to defraud, deceive, to supplant, i.e., to overthrow a person by tripping up his heels" (comment on Gen 25:26). Christian commentators essentially treat Jacob as someone committing a coup against the one rightfully holding the office, when the office belonged to Jacob by divine decree.

According to Jewish interpretation Jacob held onto Esau's heel lawfully, to restrain him. The birth order reflects the principle asserted by Yeshua that the first shall be last (Mark 10:31). Rebekah delivered the sons when Isaac was sixty years old (Gen 25:26), probably at Beer-Lachai-Roi in the Negev (cf. Gen 24:62; 25:11). An interesting historical point is that Abraham was living with Isaac when Jacob and Esau were born (Heb 11:9), making him 160 years old at their birth (cf. Gen 21:5; 25:26). Abraham died at 175 years of age (Gen 25:7). So, Jacob and Esau would have been 15 years old when he died.


"27 And the boys grew up, and Esau was a man, a skillful hunter, a man of the field, and Jacob was a complete man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob." (Gen 25:27-28)

Moses provides an important summation of the character of the two adult men. Their character is reflected in their respective interests. For some reason, many people think the attributes of Esau are commendable, but those of Jacob deficient. Exactly opposite is the truth. Moses tells us that Esau was "a man's man," the rugged outdoor type who spent his time in the boonies and became a skillful hunter. Yet, with their extensive flocks there was no need to slaughter wild game for food. The only other hunter mentioned in Scripture is Nimrod in Genesis 10:9 who was a rebel against God. Esau apparently hunted for sport and his prowess along with the game he brought home appealed to his father (Gen 27:4).

Esau is also described as an immoral and godless man who became a grief to his parents because of his ungodly associations (Gen 26:34-35; Heb 12:16). On the other hand Moses describes Jacob as a "complete" man. The Hebrew word tam means "perfect, complete, blameless, morally innocent, having integrity" [BDB 1070]. This is the same word used to describe Job (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) and Noah (Gen 6:9) and prescribed as God's expectation of Abraham (Gen 17:1). However, Bible scholars do not want to accord Jacob the same status as Noah and Job and inexplicably render tam in his case as "quiet," "peaceful," "plain," or "mild." (Check your own version.)

The common translation may be influenced by the fact that Jacob stayed home with his family, thus occupying most of his time caring for the flocks and herds of his father. Some interpreters demean Jacob by considering him as a "mama's boy." In contrast to other versions The Complete Tanach, a non-Messianic Jewish version, translates tam as "innocent." Rashi says "Like his heart, so was his mouth. A person who is not astute at deceiving is called innocent." Calling Jacob tam does not mean that he had achieved a state of perfection superior to everyone else, but like Job and Noah, Jacob was morally blameless before God.

In fact, God never accused Jacob of any wrongdoing. Jacob was a reliable, mature, godly person, not a carnal playboy like his brother. Rebekah and Jacob were of kindred minds, spiritually speaking, and so Rebekah loved Jacob. Jacob had learned of God's promises from his mother and father, and no doubt also knew of God's word that he, not Esau was to be the inheritor of the promises made to Abraham.

Philo, the first century Jewish philosopher, offered this analysis of the comparison between Esau and Jacob:

"Now that the wicked man is destitute of a city and destitute of a home, Moses testifies in speaking of that hairy man who was also a man of varied wickedness, Esau, when he says, "But Esau was skilful in hunting, and a rude Man." For it is not natural for vice which is inclined to be subservient to the passions to inhabit the city of virtue, inasmuch as it is devoted to the pursuit of rudeness and ignorance, with great folly. But Jacob, who is full of wisdom, is both a citizen and one who dwells in a house, that is to say, in virtue. Accordingly Moses says of him, "But Jacob is a man without guile, dwelling in a house." (Allegorical Interpretation III, §2)



29 And Jacob was boiling a stew, and Esau came from the field, and he was weary. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, "Feed me now this really red stuff, for I am weary," thus his name was called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, "Sell now your birthright to me." 32 Esau said, "Behold, I am at the point to die and what is this birthright to me?" 33 Jacob said, "Swear to me now." And he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. (Gen 25:29-33)

In ancient times the concept of "birthright" included three important rights for the firstborn son. (1) The firstborn would be superior rank in his family and therefore exercise leadership authority over the clan (Gen 49:3). (2) The firstborn had the spiritual responsibility of performing the priestly office and officiating at the altar (Gen 22:9; 26:25; 35:1; Num 8:17-19). Then, the firstborn received a double portion of the paternal inheritance (Deut 21:17). With two sons the father's goods were divided into three parts, and the firstborn took two parts, and the second son the third part.

In this family birthright carried with it special and significant responsibilities no other family had. Jacob's family had the responsibility of transmitting the tablets bearing the record of God's history that would be used by Moses to construct the Genesis story. Keil suggests the birthright also carried the title to the blessing of the promise (Gen 27:4, 27-29), which included the future possession of Canaan and of covenant fellowship with ADONAI (Gen 28:4). Most important of all was maintaining the Messianic line that would produce the Seed of Salvation, first promised to Chavah (Gen 3:15) and then to Abraham (Gen 22:17-18; cf. Matt 16:18; Acts 3:25; Gal 3:6; Heb 2:16). Esau did not possess the character worthy of these great privileges and responsibilities.

Moses narrates an unusual circumstance that brought about Esau's sale of his birthright. According to Jewish tradition Jacob prepared the stew on the occasion of Abraham's death:

"It has been taught [in connection with this] that that was the day on which Abraham our father died, and Jacob our father made a broth of lentils to comfort his father Isaac. Why was it of lentils? — In the West they say in the name of Rabbah b. Mari: Just as the lentil has no mouth, so the mourner has no mouth [for speech]. Others say: Just as the lentil is round, so mourning comes round to all the denizens of this world." (Baba Bathra 16b)

Targum Jonathan tradition explains the cause of Esau's weary condition:

"On the day that Abraham died, Jakob dressed pottage of lentiles, and was going to comfort his father. And Esau came from the wilderness, exhausted; for in that day he had committed five transgressions: he had worshipped with strange worship, he had shed innocent blood, he had gone in unto a betrothed damsel, he had denied the life of the world to come, and had despised the birthright." (Genesis 25:9).

Rashi quotes from the Midrash: "Since the [sacrificial] service was performed by the firstborn, Jacob said, "This wicked man does not deserve to sacrifice to the Holy One, blessed be He." - [Gen. Rabbah 63:13]

"Esau replied, "Behold, I am going to die": (The birthright is something unstable, for the [sacrificial] service will not always be the function of the firstborn, for the tribe of Levi will take it. Furthermore,) said Esau [to Jacob], "What is the nature of this service?" He replied, "There are many prohibitions and punishments and death penalties involved with it, as we learned (Sanh. 83a): 'These are the ones who are liable to death: Those [performing the Temple service] who have imbibed wine and those who have not cut their hair.'" He (Esau) said, "Behold, I am going to die because of it (i.e., the birthright); if so, why should I want it?" (Gen 25:31-32)

Ginzberg in his book Legends of the Jews (Chap. VI) presents Jacob's rationale for proposing the barter of the birthright as spiritual, not materialistic:

"Jacob was little concerned about the double share of the inheritance that went with the birthright. What he thought of was the priestly service, which was the prerogative of the first-born in ancient times, and Jacob was loath to have his impious brother Esau play the priest, he who despised all Divine service. The scorn manifested by Esau for the resurrection of the dead he felt also for the promise of God to give the Holy Land to the seed of Abraham. He did not believe in it, and therefore he was willing to cede his birthright and the blessing attached thereto in exchange for a mess of pottage."

Ethical Dilemma

Many Bible interpreters criticize Jacob for the tactic he employed to secure the birthright. Surely he could have trusted God to accomplish His sovereign choice. "Do nothing and everything will work out." Some would accuse Jacob of being jealous of his brother for having the birthright and having no faith that God would accomplish His sovereign will. He also took advantage of his hungry brother in his moment of weakness. Yet, are we to believe there was no other cook in the camp and no other food in the camp? Esau coming to Jacob was deliberate and Esau's description of the stew amounted to belittling Jacob's domestic activity.

There is no evidence from the narrative or indeed any Scripture that Jacob's motive was less than pure. He wanted to see God's purposes advanced (Morris 418). Jacob's problem was that he could not be sure that the other two key parties were trustworthy to obey God. Isaac had been co-opted by his preference for venison. He had forgotten or ignored the example of Abraham who obeyed all of God's commandments (Gen 26:5). In Jacob's mind his father's obedience to the divine will was not a sure thing. Jacob also knew the character of his brother.

Esau may have known the prophecy given to his mother but he attached no value to it. "The only thing of value to him was the sensual enjoyment of the present; the spiritual blessings of the future his carnal mind was unable to estimate" (Keil). Jacob knew that Esau would never be the spiritual head of the family. So the bargain could be viewed as a spiritual test. Jacob wanted to establish just how much interest Esau had in the birthright and being a godly leader.

Contrary to Adam Clarke's claim that Jacob defrauded Esau out of his birthright, there was nothing unfair about the contract. The terms of transfer were unambiguous and the exchange was freely made. Esau could have said no. We should not fault Jacob because Esau agreed to the terms. Jacob's bargain served the will of God.

The Outcome

34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils, and he ate and drank, and got up and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright." (Gen 25:34)

Keil notes that with these words the Scriptures judge and condemn the conduct of Esau, not the conduct of Jacob. Just as Ishmael was excluded from the promised blessing because he was begotten "according to the flesh," so Esau lost it because his disposition was according to the flesh. Esau's willingness to sell his birthright for so little is truly shocking, but in doing so revealed his rejection of the weightier responsibilities of those in the Messianic line. Wesley comments that at the time Esau "used no means to get the bargain revoked, made no appeal to his father about it but the bargain which his necessity had made, (supposing it were so) his profaneness confirmed, and by his subsequent neglect and contempt, he put the bargain past recall." Of course, decades later Esau complained to his father that Jacob had taken his birthright (Gen 27:36), but that was a lie. He had freely surrendered something precious for something of little value.


Blessing of Isaac

1 And there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2 And ADONAI appeared to him and said, "Do not go to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your seed I will give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. 4 And I will increase your seed as the stars of the heavens, and will give to your seed all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." (Gen 26:1-5)

This passage is important because God reiterated the covenant He made with Abraham, and passed its promises to Isaac to multiply, to give and to bless (verse 4). The verb "multiply" is rabah (SH-7235), which may mean (1) to multiply, become numerous, or increase; or (2) become great. Bible versions translate the verb with the first meaning. The verb is set in contrast to the stars of heaven. The contrast may be hyperbole, but it is part of the covenantal promise (Gen 15:5; 22:17; Ex 32:13) and ADONAI does not make idle promises.

Astronomers have estimated there are 1025 (10 million billion billion) stars in the universe, although the number of visible stars that may be seen without the aid of a telescope is about four thousand (BBMS 156). All the stars were created on the fourth day of creation (Gen 1:16). Man does not have the ability to count the stars (Jer 33:22), but God knows the number of stars and He has named each one (Ps 147:4). At the time the Torah was written the population of Israel ran into the millions. Other passages correlate the number of the chosen people to the number of stars (Deut 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; 1Chr 27:23; Neh 9:23; Jer 33:22; Heb 11:12), but the comparison is not meant to be equivalent. Rather it represents the permanency of Israel's election (cf. Jer 31:35-37; 33:25-26) and the fact that the final number of God's people cannot be counted (Gen 15:5; Rev 7:9).

The promise to Isaac contains a word play on "seed," a singular noun, and not only refers to descendants but one particular descendant, the Seed of the Woman, or Messiah, as Paul declares in Galatians 3:16, "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It doesn't say, "and to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "and to your seed," who is the Messiah" (Gal 3:16 TLV). In fact, each of the three mentions of "seed" can apply to the Messiah. The Seed of Isaac is comparable to the stars of the heavens. The stars are symbolic of eternity and the majesty of God (cf. Ps 19:1; Jer 31:35-37; Dan 12:3), and thus will be greater than any man. The Seed of Isaac will inherit the land and rule as King over Israel (cf. John 1:49). Lastly, through the Seed of Isaac all nations will be blessed with the grace of God.

The mention of the fact that Abraham obeyed God's commandments is significant. God's standards of right living were well known since Adam, and people and cities were judged by those standards. Just as Isaac inherited the covenantal blessing and promises from his father, so he was to pass on that covenantal blessing to the son of God's choice. Morris notes that the allusion to Abraham's righteous character may represent an indirect rebuke of Isaac along with a plea to emulate his father (419). In the next chapter we shall see just how quickly Isaac was ready to disobey the divine will.

Blessing of Jacob

28 "Therefore may Elohim give you the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the Land, and an abundance of grain and new wine; 29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your kinsmen, and let the descendants of your mother bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you." (Gen 27:28-29)

Chapter 27 leaps forward in the story of Jacob many decades after the birthright bargain, the interlude of the Abimelech story in Chapter 26 and the incident of Esau taking two wives (26:34-35). No doubt the dynamic of family life described in 25:27 continued without marked change for all those years. The next great event in Jacob's life occurred when Isaac was old. Commentators estimate that Isaac was 137 years of age at this time (cf. Gen 25:16, 26; 26:34; 41:46; 45:6; 47:9). His brother Ishmael was also 137 when he died (Gen 25:17), which may have made Isaac think his own death was near at hand (so Gill and Keil). However, he lived another 43 years and died at 180 years of age (Gen 35:28).

In any event Isaac sent Esau, now 77 years of age, on a mission to hunt game and prepare a savory dish before his death. He promised his son that if the mission was faithfully completed he would receive a blessing (verse 4). We should note that the verb "bless," Heb. barak (SH-1288; BDB 138), means to kneel or bless, to invoke divine favor or to express high praise, to bless, to offer a blessing; in this case the latter meaning. In the Tanakh barak is an endowment of favor or beneficial power (cf. Gen 1:28), ordinarily transmitted from the greater to the lesser, either from God to man, from man to man or parent to child (DNTT 1:208).

Relevant to the drama of Chapter 27 is that Rebekah clearly favored Jacob and Isaac favored Esau. Such preference does not mean that the less favored son was not loved, but simply that the favored son was loved more. This kind of family dynamic can naturally lead to severe stress and conflict. Yet this was not the usual kind of parental favoritism. This was the conflict of Spirit versus flesh (Rom 8:5). Just consider that a son who values spiritual things is likely to be favored by the parent with the same values. Knowing the mission of Esau and the fleshly appetite of Isaac, and that Isaac was about to disobey God's expressed will and pass the covenantal blessing and rights to Esau, Rebekah made the decision for Jacob to deceive his father. The deception could work because Isaac had failing eyesight. According to Jewish Midrash, the eyes of Isaac had been dimmed by God to enable Jacob to take the blessings (Gen. Rabbah 65:8, cited by Rashi).

The competition for the blessing of Isaac implies something very important about this act. Isaac could have blessed his sons on any number of occasions, such as later given in the Aaronic Benediction, a kind of wish prayer (Num 6:24). However, the blessing in this context functioned as a "last will and testament" (verses 2, 4), so the blessing would have great weight for the recipient. From the viewpoint of Esau and Jacob the blessing probably implied the conveyance of the special favor of God. In this context Isaac would be acting as a mediator and priest between God and his sons. The blessing is given in the form of prophecy, a revelation of the future.

The content of the blessing indicates that it is covenantal in nature and akin to promises made to Abraham (cf. Gen 12:2-3; 13:14-17; 17:1-8). The blessing contains three promises. First, the "dew of heaven" (light rain) was essential for agricultural fruitfulness. It is also figurative for divine instruction (Deut 32:2), eternal life (Ps 133:3) and the faithful remnant (Mic 5:7). Giving the "dew of heaven" is tantamount to promising the availability of all the resources of heaven. Second, different people groups will bow down to the blessed son, a promise that echoes the promise given to Shem (Gen 9:26-27).

More important than the material inheritance of Isaac's personal property was the covenantal legacy given to Abraham. The covenantal inheritance included a specific territory bequeathed to Abraham's descendants, first mentioned in Genesis 12:5-7 as the land of Canaan. God later reiterated this promise telling Abraham that all the land that he could see in all four directions and that he could walk through would belong to him and his seed forever, i.e., the land of Canaan (Gen 13:14-17).

God defined the outer limits of the promised territory as from the river (brook) of Egypt as far as the great river Euphrates (Gen 15:18), a territory then occupied by ten people groups. The promised land is typically identified as the land of Canaan, which would belong to Abraham's descendants as an everlasting possession (Gen 17:8; cf. Ex 6:4; Lev 14:34; Deut 32:49). God duly passed the covenantal promises to Isaac (Gen 26:2-4). Isaac's blessing makes reference to this "land," but Bible versions translate the Hebrew erets as "earth" (Gen 27:28). While erets can mean earth in the sense of the planet or soil, it frequently refers to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants (Gen 12:7; 15:18-21; 26:3; 28:13; Ex 33:1; Num 34:1-12).

God had also promised that a Seed would come forth to crush the serpent's head. The Seed of salvation would come through a specific genetic family line, now referred to as the Messianic line. That promise was reinforced to Abraham and Isaac. His child of promise would be the ancestor of the Redeemer of Israel (Matt 1:2; Luke 4:34). The content of the blessings pronounced for Jacob (Gen 27:27-29) and later to Esau (Gen 27:39-40) demonstrate that Isaac knew God's will that Esau and the rest of the clan were to serve Jacob and yet Isaac deliberately planned to give the covenantal blessing to Esau. Isaac was willing to mortgage the future to satisfy his appetite. Why isn't Isaac ever criticized? His culpability is far worse than Rebekah or Jacob.

Rebekah's Ethical Dilemma

Some scholars impugn Rebekah as not merely lacking faith but facilitating wickedness. Matthew Henry, famed English expositor offered this opinion.

"Rebekah knew that the blessing was intended for Jacob, and expected he would have it. But she wronged Isaac by putting a cheat on him; she wronged Jacob by tempting him to wickedness. She put a stumbling-block in Esau's way, and gave him a pretext for hatred to Jacob and to religion. All were to be blamed. It was one of those crooked measures often adopted to further the Divine promises; as if the end would justify, or excuse wrong means." (comment on Genesis 27:6).

Critics insist that Rebekah should have just waited for God to intervene. Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac believing that he would be resurrected (Heb 11:19), but God intervened in time to save Isaac's life. Surely Rebekah could have trusted God to rescue Isaac from his stupidity and selfishness. Perhaps Rebekah could have openly confronted her husband in love as Sarah had done to Abraham with the Lord's support (Gen 21:10-12). But, she also knew that Isaac was her lord (cf. Gen 18:12; 1Pet 3:6) and confrontation would be risky given his desire for venison. What we don't know is whether it would have done any good.

Isaac might have ordered her to mind her own business. And, Isaac had already sent Esau out to hunt. Of course, one can't help wonder whether male bias might be behind the criticism: "It's not nice for a wife to deceive her husband." Rebekah's intention and goal were right, even if it did involve a choreographed deception. In the end Rebekah's action actually accomplished God's will, so how was it wrong? Rebekah's method for achieving God's will really bothers Bible interpreters, but Jacob has borne the brunt of people's calumny. Even though admitting that Isaac had determined to bestow the blessing upon Esau contrary to God's will, Purkiser nevertheless strongly condemns Jacob:

"By birth Jacob was entitled to neither birthright nor inheritance [sic]. His aspirations were good, but his methods were wrong. It was due to God's goodness and overruling purpose that Jacob received the blessings which he schemed to secure. It was not necessary for him to practice deception upon his blind father, hypocrisy in dressing like Esau, falsehood in denying his name, nor what is still worse blasphemy by associating the name of God with his intrigue." (103)

Actually Jacob was entitled to birthright and inheritance by virtue of God's decree (Gen 25:23). Jacob did not blaspheme God, because he did not curse the name of God (Lev 24:11, 16). Rather he acknowledged God's provision of the food his mother prepared. How should we weigh Jacob's "sin" compared to that of Isaac (at that moment spiritually blind), who would have deliberately disobeyed God, transferred the divine covenantal rights to the godless and wicked Esau and nullified God's plan to bring the promised Seed of redemption. According to Torah standards such flagrant rejection of God's instruction merits being cut off from the chosen people (cf. Lev 24:24-16; 1Sam 15:23).

I would place Rebekah's plan and Jacob's action to deceive Isaac in the same category as the Hebrew midwives lying to Pharaoh to protect the innocent (Ex 1:15-20) and Rahab lying to the king of Jericho to protect the Israelite spies (Josh 2:3-6; 6:25). Joshua also used deception in order to take the Canaanite city of Ai (Josh 8:3-8). Even Yeshua deceived his family in order to protect the secrecy of a trip to Jerusalem (John 7:1-10). In war there is no obligation to help the enemy. Little considered is that during World War II the family of Corrie Ten Boom and others deceived the Nazis in order to save Jews from the Holocaust.

In the case of Jacob his deception was an important tactic in the continuing war between Satan and God that began in the Garden. Rebekah did what many other wives have done when faced with a stubborn husband about to make a stupid and ungodly decision. Only consider Abigail who did not tell her husband Nabal of her plans to save his skin (1Sam 25:18). Rebekah had no way to predict what might happen if Isaac went against God's sovereign plan, so she acted decisively and appropriately under the circumstances. Afterward, Isaac offered no rebuke of his wife and no one else but God has the right to criticize.

Blessing of Esau

39 "Behold, your dwelling shall be the fatness of the land, and of the dew of heaven above. 40 And you shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother. And it shall come to pass when you become restless, you shall break his yoke from your neck." (Gen 27:39-40 BR)

When Esau realized that Jacob had obtained the blessing he coveted, he first wept and asked for his own blessing. Isaac's prophecy foretold an undesirable future. We might wonder how this prophecy could be called a "blessing." The prophecy implied the future location for Edom, which would lie south of the Dead Sea. After the "blessing" was pronounced, Esau blamed the adverse blessing on Jacob and hated him enough to kill him. Because of this hostility Rebekah advised Jacob to flee to his uncle Laban in Haran and stay there until Esau's anger abated, which she anticipated would be a short stay (verses 43-44). But as events played and Jacob departed for Haran, he would never see his mother alive again.

The Outcome

Many Bible readers are uncomfortable with the deception employed by Jacob. However, the biblical record of godly people facing tough ethical dilemmas does provide an example for us. We may, like the apostles, have to tell civil authority sometime "It is necessary to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Generally, deceptions have a base motive, and produce a bad outcome. In the context of Jacob's situation, deception became necessary to accomplish the will of God. The truth is Jacob couldn't steal what already belonged to him, but in fact his deception prevented Isaac from committing a monstrous fraud and rebellion against God.

Indeed, the historical record proves that Jacob never stole from anyone. Jacob did not ask for any specific property from Isaac, only to be blessed (Gen 27:19). Isaac's blessing on Jacob did not bequeath his personal fortune, but pronounced God's blessing on whatever Jacob may do with the land and the clan leadership rights. Jacob took no property belonging Esau when he fled and he never possessed any property that Esau claimed to be his. We should also consider that in spite of not receiving the covenantal blessing Esau eventually gained everything he could hope for in terms of temporal wealth and power. Jacob, on the other hand, gained the irrevocable gifts and calling from ADONAI (Rom 11:29).

Second Blessing

3 And may El Shaddai bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you so that you may be a congregation of peoples. 4 And may he give to you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you that you may take possession of the land of your sojourn, which Elohim gave to Abraham. (Gen 28:3-4)

The narrative indicates that Isaac realized his error and gave a second blessing to Jacob that left no doubt as to his rights. This came about because Rebekah confronted her husband, "I have loathed my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these daughters from the land, what good will my life be to me?" (Gen 27:46). Isaac apparently realized that Rebekah had saved him from embarrassment before God. He offered no rebuke of Rebekah or Jacob. So, before Jacob fled Isaac charged him with the desire of his mother that he would take a wife from his mother's family and then pronounced a second blessing on Jacob.

The second blessing of Isaac expressed a wish prayer that emphasizes the promises God first made to Abraham: to wit, that El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One, would make Jacob fruitful in descendants and a company of nations, and that he would possess the Land El Shaddai gave to Abraham, promises that would be later reiterated (Gen 35:11). God affirmed this blessing afterwards (Gen 28:13-15). If Isaac and God were not angry over the outcome why perpetuate the unfair defamation of Jacob?

Third Blessing

13 And behold, ADONAI stood above it and said, "I am ADONAI, God of your father Abraham and God of Isaac. The land on which you lie upon, I give it to you and to your seed. 14 And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall increase to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and in your seed. 15 And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you." (Gen 28:13-15)

Jacob left his home in Beersheba, in the far south of the Land, and headed some 450 miles for Haran near the headwaters of the Euphrates River and where the family of Abraham had once settled. En route Jacob arrived at the same place where Abraham had built an altar when he first arrived in Canaan. The site is located about 10 to 12 miles north of Jerusalem. While sleeping Jacob had a vivid dream of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. Yeshua alluded to this event, but substituted himself for the ladder (John 1:51). It may well be that the ascending represents going up to worship and descending refers to going out to serve.

In the vision ADONAI informed Jacob that Isaac's wish set forth in the second blessing would be accomplished in an extravagant manner. Absent in the divine revelation is any hint of censure over how Jacob obtained the first blessing. Instead, ADONAI made important covenantal promises. An important point in the narrative is that Jacob saw ADONAI. Since the time of the global flood Jacob is only the fourth person after Abraham, Isaac and Hagar to actually see ADONAI.

ADONAI reiterated the covenantal blessing with more detail. Jacob was the heir to the covenant ADONAI made with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-22) and his father Isaac (Gen 26:2-5, 23-24) with all its promises. ADONAI assured Jacob that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan, that his descendants would multiply as the dust of the earth and spread out in all directions, that through him all the peoples of the earth would be blessed and that God would never leave him.

When Jacob awoke from his dream he declared, "Surely ADONAI is in this place." Jacob knew the story of his father's encounter with ADONAI, and so now he rejoices in having his own experience. In verse 17 Jacob concludes that the site of his slumber was a special place to ADONAI, thus deserving his awe and respect. Jacob named the place the Sha'ar Hashamayim "Gate of Heaven" (verse 17) and Beit-Ęl, "House of God" (verse 19). By "gate" Jacob meant a place where one may enter into the presence of God. The term "gate" also has a special meaning in relation to justice since in ancient times kings administered justice at the city gates.

By "house" Jacob does not mean a physical structure, but simply a dwelling-place of God. These descriptions reminded Jacob that the covenant of ADONAI expressed in verses 13-15 would assure justice for him. In verse 18 Jacob set up his stone pillow as a memorial marker and anointed it with oil, making the place holy to ADONAI. Beit-Ęl or Bethel would become the permanent name for the location.

In response to the revelation from ADONAI Jacob made a solemn vow. We might be tempted to think that since the vow begins with "if" Jacob is trying to negotiate with God. However, two facts argue against that perception. First, the root meaning of the Hebrew particle "if" is "surely" or "truly." Second, Jacob had just received irrevocable covenantal promises from ADONAI. So, Jacob does not offer a proposition but a promise to ADONAI. "Surely if you're going to be with me and keep me and provide for me and bring me back to Beersheba, then the least I can do is to make ADONAI my God and dedicate this place for worship and present tithes here of all that you give me."

By making ADONAI his God Jacob meant that he would seek that excellence of character ADONAI demanded of Abraham in Genesis 17 and live according to the commandments of ADONAI as Abraham did. With regard to the fulfillment of this vow, we learn from Genesis 35:7 that Jacob did indeed build an altar at Beit-El after returning with his large family and herds. We can also assume that he gave the tenth of his goods to God, by which he preserved the altar, presented burnt offerings and thank offerings and provided for communal meals.

Sojourn in Haran

20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel, but they were in his eyes a few days because of his love for her. … 30 And he [Jacob] went into Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with him [Laban] yet another seven years. (Gen 29:20, 30)

Jacob's sojourn in Haran is narrated in Chapters 29−31. While there he gained a total of four wives, eleven sons and a daughter. Moses recounts the strange manner in which Jacob gained Leah and Rachel as brides by the trickery of his uncle Laban. Jacob agreed to 14 years of service as a bride price for the two women, but ended up staying 20 years (Gen 31:38). It reads almost like a soap opera and Laban is clearly painted as the villain of the drama. Indeed, Laban turned out to be manipulative crook who sought to cheat Jacob at every opportunity for his own material advantage (Gen 31:36-42). But after all Jacob's years of service to Laban the God of Abraham and of Isaac turned Laban's schemes against him and blessed Jacob with a large family and wealth in the form of extensive herds.

Most Christian interpreters regard the polygamy of Jacob as offensive at least or immoral at worst. The main problem for this viewpoint is that nowhere in Scripture is the practice of polygamy classified as sinful, prohibited or even criticized (cf. Rom 4:15; 5:13). The divine legislation given to Israel contains very explicit descriptions of prohibited sexual activity. Polygamy is not one of them. If God had wanted only monogamy just one "thou shalt not" would have taken care of the matter. The spiritual and salvation implications for Jacob and his blood descendants would be very grave if polygamy were to be defined as immoral and wicked (cf. Deut 23:2; John 8:41). For further discussion of this subject see my article Polygamy.

According to God's design marriage is exclusively heterosexual and monogamy was established by the pattern of the first couple (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4). However, God clearly permitted polygamy and it was valued by ancient Israelites (Ruth 4:11; Ps 45:10-16; SS 6:8-9). The four wives of Jacob were given to him by God (cf. 2Sam 12:8). Whether polygamy is advisable or practical is a separate issue. Moreover, the story of the twelve sons and the tribes descending from the four wives is so integrated into the story of the Messiah that it is difficult not to regard them as part of God's sovereign plan. In particular God did justice for Leah, the less-loved first wife (Gen 29:30), because her son Judah became the ancestor of Yeshua the Messiah (Gen 29:35; Matt 1:2).

Meanwhile back in Canaan… Esau decided if he couldn't kill Jacob he would violate his parents' wishes and take more wives, a total of five (Gen 26:34; 28:9; 36:2-3). Moses notes that Isaac regarded Esau's courting of daughters of Canaan as evil (Gen 28:8), which means that Isaac finally recognized the character of his firstborn. He likely regretted his plan to pass the covenantal blessing to Esau and thanked God that his wife had the chutzpah to intervene. During Jacob's absence Esau not only gained wives but considerable wealth and power in the region (cf. Gen 32:4, 6; 33:9).

Return to Canaan

11 And the angel of God said to me in the dream, "Jacob," and I said, "Here I am." 12 And he said, "Lift up now your eyes and see that all the goats that leap upon the flock are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban does to you. 13 I am the God of Beit-El, where you anointed there a pillar, where you vowed to Me there a vow; now arise, got out from this land, and return to the land of your birth." (Gen 31:11-13)

Jacob's return to Canaan is narrated in Chapter 31. The relationship between Jacob and the sons of Laban had become increasingly hostile. After twenty years the time had come to leave. To make the decision easier, God spoke to Jacob and gave him a clear revelation of what to do. God reminded Jacob of the vow he had made at Beit-El since Jacob had contemplated that he would return to Canaan in the future. He just never imagined it would take so long. Rachel and Leah were ready to leave, because they resented the way their father had sold them to Jacob and taken what rightfully belonged to them (Gen 31:14-16).

Unfortunately, Rachel complicated matters by taking some idol figures (Heb. teraphim) from Laban's tent without Jacob's knowledge. Laban pursued Jacob in anger to recover his idols and finally caught up with him in the mountains of Gilead on the east side of the Jordan. After a tense confrontation between the two men in which Jacob declared the injustices he had suffered at the hand of Laban, they entered into a covenant to respect each other's territory and property.

Prayer for Deliverance

9 And Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, ADONAI, who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do good with you,' 10 I am not worthy of all the covenant loyalty and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff I passed over the Jordan here, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he will come and strike me, the mothers with the sons. 12 And You said, 'I will surely do good to you and make your seed as the sand of the sea, which can not be counted for a multitude.'" (Gen 32:9-12)

Now that Jacob was back in Canaan he knew that sooner or later he would have to confront his brother. In Chapter 32 Jacob was clearly fearful at the prospect of meeting his brother. However, as he traveled he was greeted by "angels of God" and called the place Machaneh-Elohim, the "Encampment of God" (32:1-2). No information is provided on what transpired between Jacob and the angels, but they may have instructed him on the message to be sent to Esau (32:3-5). However, when his messengers returned Jacob was distressed to learn that Esau was coming with 400 men. That day Jacob made plans concerning the manner in which he would meet Esau and hopefully appease his brother. Then, he took the most important action. He prayed.

This is the only prayer recorded of Jacob. Since God had spoken to him in the past (Gen 28:13-15; 31:11-13), we should not assume that this was the only time Jacob prayed. Some important elements may be noted about Jacob's prayer. He directs his petition to both Elohim and ADONAI (YHVH). He reminds God of what He had said to Jacob previously and he praises God for His faithfulness and loyalty to His covenant promises. But, even in recognizing the greatness of God he admits his own weakness, his fear of his brother. He does not pray boastfully, but humbly. Jacob closes his prayer by reminding God of His promise to multiply his descendants as the sand of the sea, a metaphor spoken only previously to Abraham (Gen 22:17). On that occasion God made a correlation between the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore, implying an equivalency. After all, Jacob can't have a legacy of descendants if his sons are killed.

A New Name

24 And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; so the hollow of the thigh of Jacob was dislocated as he wrestled with him. 26 And he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." And he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." 27 So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 28 And he said, "Your name shall not again be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have persevered with God and with men and have prevailed." (Gen 32:24-28)

After praying Jacob spent the rest of the day working with his servants to separate out quantities of goats, ewes, rams, camels, cows, bulls and donkeys (a total of 580 animals) for his servants to drive ahead as a present for Esau. This gift represented a generous portion of Jacob's wealth. That evening Jacob moved his family and flocks across the Jabbok (Heb. Yabboq), which Morris says means "wrestler," a name perhaps given to the location later as a memorial of Jacob's travail there (499). Jacob may well have gone back to beseeching God for help and fell asleep, only to be awakened by a man that had taken hold of him. Thus Moses records that Jacob wrestled with a "man." Morris suggests that the angel was a pre-incarnate visitation of Messiah, because in verse 30 Jacob said, "I have seen Elohim face to face."

However, Jacob did not say "I have seen ADONAI," which would have been more appropriate for such a visitation. The "man" might have been one of the angels Jacob encountered in verse 1. Angels always appear as men in Scripture (Gen 18:2; 19:1; Josh 5:13; Jdg 13:6; Dan 9:21; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4), but his identity is confirmed in Hosea: "4 In the womb he grasped his brother's heel, and in his vigor he strove with God. 5 Yes, he wrestled with the angel and won; he wept and sought his favor" (Hos 12:4-5 TLV).

In the course of the struggle the angel dislocated Jacob's hip and thereafter he walked with a limp. Yet, Jacob would not let him go, but insisted that the angel bless him. He could make such a request because he assumed he was wrestling with a messenger of God. Again, the blessing is given in the form of a prophecy. The angel did not say, "Starting today you will call yourself Israel." Rather the angel simply informed Jacob that a name change would occur at some point. The name "Israel" was intended to honor Jacob for his perseverance. Obviously no man can overcome God, but Jacob's determination not to give up until he received a blessing impressed God. Persistence is an important element in answered prayer (Luke 18:1).

Stern says the name Israel (Heb. Israēl) indicates someone who has successfully struggled with God. The new name is consistent with inheritance of covenant promises. His new name may also mean 'one who is a prince with God" (CJSB 46). Morris concurs saying Israel may mean "One Who Fights Victoriously with God" or "A Prince with God" (501). After this divine encounter Jacob was now prepared to meet his brother.


11 "I pray accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything." (Gen 33:11)

Jacob's reunion and future relations with Esau are narrated in Chapters 33. The lavish gift of livestock that Jacob bestowed on Esau upon his return was not restitution, but simply an effort to appease a non-existent anger and show respect (Gen 33:8-10). Once back in the land Jacob never stood on his legal rights to demand anything from Esau even though that authority had been conveyed to him by Isaac. For his part Jacob exhibited humility and respect to Esau. Jacob divided his family into groups according to his wives and went ahead of them, and bowed low seven times in front of Esau. Morris notes that the Tell el Amarna tablets record the one approaching a king always bowed seven times (503). Such obeisance did not reflect repentance, but respect.

Esau for his part embraced Jacob with tears (verse 4). The narrative of the reunion between the brothers seems quite genuine, although Jacob's later actions sort of reflect the "trust but verify" proverb. There is no evidence that Esau maintained a lingering resentment. Indeed his anger probably was the quick explosive type as described by Rebekah (Gen 27:43-45). Her prophecy that Esau would not hold a grudge turned out to be correct. Jacob may not have had her confidence, however, since after returning he kept his distance from Esau, settling first near Shechem (33:18) and then later at Bethel (35:1).

Name Change Confirmed

10 And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; not anymore shall your name be called Jacob, for Israel shall be your name." And He called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, "I am El Shaddai; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and an assembly of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your loins. 12 And the land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give to you, and I will give the land to your seed after you." (Gen 35:9-12)

After Jacob moved to Bethel God appeared to him and again affirmed his continuing inheritance of the Abrahamic covenant, specifically mentioning the land promised to Abraham and Isaac. On this occasion ADONAI made two important pronouncements. First, the prophecy of the angel that Jacob's name would be changed (Gen 32:28) is now to be fulfilled. Hereafter in Scripture the names of "Jacob" and "Israel" are used interchangeably for both the man and the people descended from him. The context must be considered to know which is intended. God introduced Himself as El Shaddai, the same name spoken to Abraham (Gen 17:1) and Isaac (Gen 28:3). El Shaddai is generally translated as "God Almighty," but "God All Sufficient" would be closer to its meaning. Shaddai is derived from shad ("breast") and thus conveys the idea of God as the One who nourishes and provides every need.

God then commanded Jacob to be fruitful and multiply, the same command given to Adam (Gen 1:28) and Noah (Gen 9:1). The command included the idea of devotion to procreation with no attempt at limiting population growth and responsible dominion over the land to ensure its productivity. God then announced that Jacob would become a nation, meaning the nation of the twelve tribes that would eventually enter into a covenant with God at Sinai. He would also become an "assembly [Heb. qahal; LXX sunagōgē] of nations." Rashi interprets the prophecy as having near and distant fulfillments. The near fulfillment would be the birth of Benjamin for "a nation" [from Gen. Rabbah 82:4] and "assembly of nations" predicting the births of Manasseh and Ephraim, who would be born of Joseph [from Gen. Rabbah loc. cit.].

For the distant fulfillment "Israel" is the nation, but the "assembly of nations" means that Jacob's descendants will be like the foreign nations which are seventy in number (Gen 10). This interpretation is drawn from the fact that there were seventy persons in Jacob's family that moved to Egypt (Gen 46:27). However, Rashi, not being Messianic, did not consider that the LXX translation of the prophecy hints at the future establishment of the synagogue. The origin of the synagogue is not known for certain, but scholars generally date its beginning during the Babylonian exile. By the first century, synagogues, especially in the Diaspora, emerged as the central institution of Jewish life. Wherever there was a Jewish synagogue there was also a devoted body of Gentiles attached to it (Schurer 2:308, 312).

By divine appointment the synagogue with Jews and Gentiles in attendance became the starting point for Yeshua and later the apostles to proclaim the good news of Messiah's Kingdom. Thus Jacob, God's chosen people Israel, with the grafted-in Gentiles (Rom 11:24-25), became the "assembly of nations" as prophesied, which Paul dubbed the "Commonwealth of Israel" (Eph 2:12). An interesting synchronicity occurs in the Besekh. Jacob, the half-brother of Yeshua referred to the congregation of disciples in Jerusalem as a synagogue (Jas 2:2).

Postscript: Not long after this revelation Rachel died in giving birth to their twelfth son, Benjamin (Gen 35:16-20). Then sometime later Isaac died and Jacob and Esau together buried him (35:28-29). There is no further contact recorded between Jacob and Esau after the death of their father.

Jacob and Esau in the Tanakh

2 "I have loved you," says ADONAI. But you say, "How have You loved us?" "Was not Esau the brother of Jacob?" declares ADONAI. Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness." (Mal 1:2-3)

The name of Jacob appears 349 times in the Tanakh, whereas the name of Esau appears 97 times. The only God in existence is identified as the "God of Israel," an expression that occurs 199 times in the Tanakh. Parallel to this formula is "God of Jacob,” which appears 17 times in the Tanakh, 10 of which include the longer formula, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." God was never embarrassed being associated with Jacob. Jacob's new name "Israel" appears in the Tanakh 2,506 times, often identifying the man (Gen 32:32; 35:21), but other times as the name of the land (Gen 34:7) and other times in a corporate sense of the nation (Josh 3:17).

After the death of his father Esau moved his family and all his livestock and goods to the hill country of Seir, southeast of the Dead Sea (Gen 36:1-7). The rest of Chapter 36 details the numbers and names of his descendants. Jacob remained where he was in Canaan. The final days and death of Esau are not recorded. The narrative of Moses then follows with the story of Joseph being sold into Egyptian slavery, famine, the removal of the family of seventy into Egypt and the reunion between Jacob and his sons (Gen 37—47). There in the land of Goshen Jacob lived out 17 years, then gave final blessings to his sons (Gen 49) and died at the age of 147 (Gen 47:28). Jacob's body was embalmed and carried with great ceremony into the land of Canaan, and buried beside his wife Leah in the cave of Machpelah, according to his dying charge.

Jacob is viewed with great favor by God and his descendants. His name illustrated the strength and power he had with God. On the other hand there is strong censure of Esau in Scripture (Jer 49:8, 10; Obad 1:6, 8-9, 18-19, 21; Mal 1:2-3). Esau's unspiritual character was passed on to his descendants. Divine judgments were later pronounced on Edom for their wickedness (Isa 11:14; 34:5-6; 63:1-6; Jer 49:7-11; Ezek 25:12-14; 32:29; 35:15; 36:5; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:6-11; Obad 1:1-14; Mal 1:4). Just as the line of the Messiah came from Jacob we could also say the line of Esau had the character of anti-Messiah. The descendants of his son Amalek opposed Israel during the exodus. Moreover Haman, the descendant of Agag king of the Amalekites tried to destroy the Jewish people in the time of Esther.

The final statement concerning Esau is in the last book of the Tanakh, a fitting epitaph of the two sons of Isaac. Considering God's attitude toward the two sons Christians should reevaluate their attitude toward Jacob.

Jacob and Esau in the Besekh

"Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom 9:13).

The name of Jacob, the patriarch appears 27 times in the Besekh, whereas the name of Esau appears 3 times. The name of Jacob was greatly esteemed in Israel, so it is not surprising that six men are identified in the Besekh bearing his name, including the father of Joseph, step-father of Yeshua (Matt 1:12), Jacob the brother of John and son of Zebedee (Mark 1:19), Jacob the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18), Jacob the Less (Mark 15:40), Jacob the father of Judas (aka 'Thaddaeus,' Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13) and Jacob the half-brother of Yeshua (Matt 13:55). Jacob's new name "Israel" appears 68 times in the Besekh, most often identifying the nation in a corporate sense (Matt 2:6), but also the land of Israel (Matt 2:21) and the person (Rom 9:6). Some particular statements concerning Jacob and Esau are worth noting:

Narratives of Matthew, Mark & Luke

• Jacob's name appears in the genealogies of the Messiah (Matt 1:2; Luke 3:34).

• The only God in existence is identified as the "God of Israel," an expression that occurs two times in the Besekh (Matt 15:31; Luke 1:68). Parallel to this formula is "God of Jacob,” which appears 4 times (Acts 7:46), 3 of which include the longer formula, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." (Matt 22:32; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37)

• Jacob is one of the patriarchs with whom followers of Yeshua will dine in the future kingdom (Matt 8:11). Perhaps all his critics will have to apologize first for their slander before breaking bread with him.

• The angel Gabriel announced that the house of Jacob will endure forever (Luke 1:33).

• Herod the Great who ordered the slaughter of babies to kill Yeshua (Matt 2:16) was an Edomite (Josephus, Ant. XIV, 1:3 and 7:3).

• Stephen recounted Jacob's sojourn in Egypt where he eventually died (Acts 7:14-15)

Writings of John

• John mentions land that Jacob gave the heirs of Joseph near the historic city of Shechem (John 4:5).

• A well in Samaria dating from the time of Jacob was still being used in the time of Yeshua (John 4:6, 12).

• Jacob is the father of the Jewish people (John 4:12; Acts 3:13).

• Jacob gained an everlasting reward. The twelve tribes formed from his twelve sons are listed in Revelation 7:4-8.

• The names of the twelve sons of Jacob are engraved on the gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12).

Letters of Paul

In arguing that God did not reject Israel (as Christianity has historically claimed) Paul affirms without question God's preference of Jacob over Esau (Rom 9:10-13) and points out that God's preference of Jacob over Esau was made before the boys were born and before they had done anything good or bad. God's choice was entirely independent of human factors, including their future character. Paul argues that such a unilateral choice does not represent any kind of injustice, because God has the right to exercise His will to suit His purposes. The name of Jacob then appears in Romans 11:26 as a synonym for the nation of Israel, the object of God's salvation. Paul mentions Jacob three times in his Hebrews letter. Jacob is a fellow heir of the promise of inheritance made to Abraham who lived with Isaac and Jacob (Heb. 11:9).

Then Paul makes an important point regarding the blessing. "And in faithfulness concerning things coming Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau" (Heb 11:20). Two facts should be considered. First, the blessing was a prophecy of the future. Second, the respective blessing for each of the two boys was done in faithfulness to the divine preference. Paul doesn't mention the fact that Isaac had to be deceived in order to be faithful. Finally, Paul mentions Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph on his death bed (Heb 11:21)

Paul refers to the story of Esau as a cautionary tale:

"See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God; and see to it that no bitter root springs up and causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. 16 Also see to it that there is no immoral or godless person—like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. 17 For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. He found no chance for repentance, though he begged for it with tears." (Heb 12:15-17 TLV)


As has been demonstrated in this article Jacob was a good and godly man who faithfully served ADONAI. Not once does God criticize him. Jacob was predestined to be an ancestor of Yeshua and entirely deserving of that honor. He does not deserve the slanderous treatment he has received. His critics should be ashamed and repent before God. While Christians consider themselves "sons of Abraham" (Gal 3:7), the fact remains that because of God's covenantal plan, Jacob was made the father of the Commonwealth of Israel (Gen 35:11; Eph 2:12), in which Gentiles have been included for salvation (Rom 11:17-18, 26). We are beneficiaries of grace because of his perseverance. May the name of Jacob be forever blessed.

Works Cited

BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online at BibleHub.com.

CJSB: David Stern, The Complete Jewish Study Bible. Hendrickson Publishers, 2016.

Clarke: Adam Clarke (1760-1832), Commentary on the Holy Bible (1826). Ed. Ralph Earle. Baker Book House, 1967. Also online.

DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 Vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

Ginzberg: Louis Ginzberg (1873-1953), The Legends of the Jews. Public Domain, 1909. Online.

Henry: Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on the Whole Bible (1710). Unabridged Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1991. Online.

Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan, 2008.

Keil: C.F. Keil (1807-1888), Pentateuch, Vol. 1, Commentary on the Old Testament (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 1866-1891), Hendrickson Publishers, 1996. Online.

Morris: Henry Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific & Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Baker Book House, 1976.

NASBEC: New American Standard Bible Exhaustive Concordance, Updated Edition. Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.

Purkiser: W.T. Purkiser, ed. Exploring the Old Testament. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1955.

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (1040-1105), Commentary on the Tanakh. Online.

Sailhamer: John H. Sailhamer, Genesis, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 2. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999.

Schaeffer: Edith Schaeffer, Christianity is Jewish. Tyndale House Publishers, 1975.

Schurer: Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 4 vols. trans. Peter Christie. T&T Clark, 1885.

SECB: James Strong (1822–1894), Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1890). Online.

SH: Reference to a Hebrew word in James Strong (1822-1894), Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1890). Print versions available from various publishers. Online.

TLV: Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version. Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015. Online.

TWOT: R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Moody Press, 1980.

Wesley: John Wesley (1703-1791), Genesis, Explanatory Notes on the Bible. Online.

Copyright © 2007-2022 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.