In the Old Testament, when God addresses his people, he very often presents himself as the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. This name of God comes from the Covenant sealed with these three men, which extended to the whole Jewish people. Read on to learn about the story of Jacob, son of Isaac!
Jacob was born of the union between Isaac and his wife Rebekah. He was the smaller twin brother of Esau, whose heel Jacob held during childbirth. This is what earned him the name Jacob, which in Hebrew means, “the one who takes by the heel.” Even before their birth, the Lord said to Rebekah: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
Jacob married the two daughters of Laban, his mother's brother: Leah and Rachel. He was In love with the younger of the two, Rachel, and he worked 14 years in total to be able to marry her. However, Laban deceived him by giving Leah as his wife, after 7 years of labor, forcing him to work another 7 years for the woman he loved.
Jacob’s story is full of betrayals and low blows. First, he took his brother’s birthright by convincing him to exchange it for a plate of lentils. Then, he stole his blessing, pretending to be his brother before Isaac, their father. After that, he is the one who is deceived by his father-in-law Laban, who exploits him and makes him work as a shepherd for 20 years. However, when he left, Jacob set up a technique that allowed him to trick his father-in-law and leave with the best beasts of his flock.
The name of Israel was given to Jacob after he had fought with an angel of God during the night. As the Angel tried to leave, Jacob asked him to bless him, and the Angel gave him the name of Israel which means “God prevails” or “fighter with God”.
From his two wives and two concubines, Jacob had twelve sons and one daughter. The twelve tribes of Israel were born of his twelve sons: Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Aser, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin.
Joseph was Jacob's favorite son because he was the son of his old age. However, due to jealousy, his brothers sold him and made their father believe that he had been killed by a wild beast. At the end of his life, Jacob found his living son, raised to the rank of governor in Egypt. He would take care of his father until his death some time later.
“The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents.” (Genesis 25:25-27)
“Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’(That is why he was also called Edom). Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ ‘Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’ But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.” (Genesis 25:29-33)
"He went to his father and said, ‘My father.’ ‘Yes, my son,’ he answered. ‘Who is it?’ Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” (Genesis 27:18-19)
"When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” [...] “Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.” (Genesis 28:11-19)
"But Laban said to him, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.’ He added, ‘Name your wages, and I will pay them.’ Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?’ (Genesis 30:27-30)
“The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.” (Genesis 32:27-29)
“Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Genesis 33:1-4)
Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, ‘We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.’ He recognized it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’ Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. (Genesis 37:31-34)