- Jacob & Esau’s Rivalry
- The Birthright
- The Blessing
- Esau & His Legacy
- Jacob & His Legacy
- Jacob's Ladder
- Jacob's Marriages
- Rachel and Leah
- Bilhah and Zilpah
- Jacob's Descendants
- Leah's Sons
- Rachel's Sons
- Bilhah's Sons
- Zilpah's Sons
- Jacob Returns to Canaan
- Laban Follows Jacob
- Preparing to Meet Esau
- Wrestling with an Angel
- Jacob and Esau Meet Again
- The Tragedy of Dinah
- Jacob Moves
- The Death of Rachel
- The Death of Isaac
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
Jacob and Esau are the first set of twins explicitly mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 25, their mother (Rebekah) is told that she has two nations in her womb. She is also told that the elder son will serve the younger—something that would have been unheard of at the time. Esau was born first, and Jacob, born second, grabs his heel when he come out.
Jacob & Esau’s Rivalry
As prophesied to Rebekah while the twins are in her womb, Jacob was cunning and able to manipulate Esau which gives him rights to the eldest son’s birthright. Jacob continues the tradition of establishing the younger over the elder when he blesses his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, later in Genesis.
In Genesis 25, we learn that Jacob has convinced Esau to sell his birthright. When Esau, who has been working all day and overcome with fatigue and hunger, sees that Jacob has made red pottage (or stew), he desires to have some. Jacob will only give the stew to Esau if he swears Jacob can have his birthright, to which Esau obliges.
The birthright was a big deal in the Bible. The first born son was the inheritor of the father's estate. Not only did the first born son receive a larger share of the father's wealth but he also received his title and his authority. Receiving the birthright meant that you were the clan leader or the patriarch of the family when your father died.
Esau sold his rights to this for a measly pot of stew; I believe the details Jacob and Esau's exchange are meant for us to learn from. We should not be so easy to give up future rights, wealth, power, etc. for temporary satisfaction. Giving up you inheritance seems like an obvious bad choice, but the choices we face today are not always so obvious. Today, we may ignore gifts and commands from God to fit in with society which can cause us to lose our reward in Heaven. Depending on how far away from God we stray we may even give up our rights to Heaven all together. This passage is definitely a reminder for all of mankind to think rather than act in haste.
When Isaac grows sick and blind, fearing death, he decides to confer his blessings upon his eldest son. This was a common tradition, much like the reading of the will in today's society, at the time. Isaac sends Esau to make savory meat, after which he plans to bestow upon Esau his blessing. Rebekah overhears Esau and Isaac, and schemes to ensure Jacob gets the blessing instead. The Bible doesn't tell us whether or not Rebekah knows that Esau has sold his birthright to Jacob, so it is impossible to judge whether she comes up with this idea to ensure Jacob gets what was sworn to him by Esau, because Jacob is her favorite son, or because of the prophecy given to her by God while pregnant with the twins.
Rebekah has Jacob use goat skin to make gloves for his hands; this gives the illusion that his hands are hairy like his brother Esau. While Jacob makes the gloves she uses the goat meat to make the savory meat Isaac has requested. Jacob takes the meat with his gloved hands and blatantly lies to his father to get him to believe he is Esau. Isaac recognizes Jacob's voice but is fooled by the hairy hands and chooses to trust his hands over his ears. Believing Jacob is Esau, Isaac bestows his blessing upon him.
Shortly after Jacob steals Esau's blessing, Esau returns to his father's bedside with the meat he was asked to make. This is when both Esau and Isaac learn that they have been tricked. Esau cries out and asks Isaac to give him a blessing as well. Esau is distraught that Jacob has taken both his birthright and his blessing and thus, continues to ask his father for just one blessing. (Arguably the blessing was part of the birthright…) Isaac caves and tells Esau that he will break free from Jacob.
And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.
This does not stop Esau's anger, however. Esau despises Jacob because he has now come out with the short stick twice because of his brother (from his point of view—I’ll go deeper into this at a later date). For this reason, he desires to kill Jacob and enact vengeance. His thoughts toward his brother are reminiscent of Cain and Abel, except Jacob is not portrayed as innocent as Abel was. Rebekah, knowing Esau's plan, seeks to save Jacob by sending him to her brother Laban. She tells Isaac he must go to find a wife because it is not right for him to find a wife among the Canaanites as Esau did. Isaac agrees and Jacob is sent to stay with Laban.
Esau & His Legacy
Esau marries at the age of 40 (before Isaac is tricked into bestowing Esau's blessing on Jacob). He takes 2 Hittite wives, Judith and Bashemath. Rebekah and Isaac are not pleased with this. After Jacob is blessed to go to Padanaram to find a wife, Esau realizes Isaac and Rebekah's disapproval of his own wives. In an attempt to please his parents and gain favor, he takes a third wife in the daughter of Ishmael, Mahalath.
However, Genesis 36 brings about confusion concerning who Esau actually married. In Genesis 26:34, we are told that Esau marries "Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite." In Genesis 28:9, Esaus takes a third wife in Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael. Genesis 36:2-3 tells us that Esau married "Adah, the daughter of Elon, Aholibamah the daughter of Anah" and "Bashemath Ismael's daughter." So who did Esau marry?
An important note is that neither list claims to be the total number and names of wives Esau had. The listing in Genesis 36 clearly refers to the wives who bore him children. Genesis 26 refers to the wives he has at the time. There are many theories on how many wives Esau has and who they are. A discussion of these theories can be found here. In short, some believe Esau had 6 wives (including two sets of sisters), some believe he married 4 women, and others believe that these are the same 3 women. According to a commenter on the site previously mentioned, the issue is cleared up in the book of Jasher. The book of Jasher is mentioned in 2 Samuel 1:18 and 2 Samuel 1:18. There are two books of Jasher currently in the world, both of which are considered forgeries and unlikely related to the book of Jasher mentioned in the Bible.
In my opinion the theory of Esau marrying 6 women makes the most sense. Esau and Jacob had a great rivalry. We see that upon hearing his parents bless the efforts of Jacob to marry one of their kin instead of a Canaanite, Esau immediately goes out and takes another wife from their kin. Just as Abraham was told of Nahor's descendants in Genesis 22, it is likely that Esau would have heard that Jacob had 4 wives 12 sons, and if he hadn't heard, he found out when they meet again in Genesis 33. A common theme in Genesis is the command to be fruitful and multiply along with the idea that increasing one's seed (or having many children) was a sign of success. Esau would have seen Jacob's 12 sons as sign of Jacob out doing him yet again. Given the competitive nature of their relationship and the ideals of the time, it makes sense that Esau would have kept taking wives to gain children. Similar to Rachel and Leah giving their maids to Jacob as wives, Esau's wives may have encouraged him to take more wives as well.
Esau ends up with 5 sons. Adah gives birth to Eliphaz. Bashemath (Ishmael's daughter) gives birth to Reuel. Aholibamah gives birth to Jeush, Jaalam, and Korah. Esau also has daughters, though we are not told how many. Esau's family is too wealthy to dwell near Jacobs (their herds would compete for resources) so they settle in Seir. This land becomes known as Edom, after Esau. Esau's descendants become the kings and dukes of Edom.
Jacob & His Legacy
After tricking Esau twice, Jacob is forced to flee to Padanaram where he lives with Laban (Rebekah's brother) for 20 years before he can return to Canaan.
We used to sing the song Jacob's Ladder in church all the time, so I knew the lyrics long before I knew the story. The ladder in the song is a reference to a dream Jacob has on his way to Padanaram. In his dream, there is a ladder that connects Heaven and Earth with angels ascending and descending the ladder. During this dream, God gives Jacob the same promise he gave Isaac and Abraham, to make a great nation of them.
When Jacob awakes, he anoints a stone in honor of God and names the location Bethel, which means "house of God." Jacob vows that if God delivers him from the misfortune he's brought on himself, he will call the Lord his God and give one tenth of everything God gives him back to God (the second instance of tithing we witness). Jacob's quote sounds a bit arrogant, as though he is challenging God, however it could also reflect his doubt that he will ever be able to return to Canaan. He's been "thrown out" so to speak, and has no idea if his uncle will even let him stay with him. The Bible doesn't tell us what kind of provisions Jacob left home with, but presumably Isaac didn't send him with much (evidenced by the fact that he had to work 7 years to earn his wife's hand in marriage). Jacob most likely had a lot of doubts when God approached him in this dream. Alas, only God and Jacob know his state of mind as he uttered the words of Genesis 28:20-22.
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
Notice Jacob says he will give God a tenth of what he has. No where in the passage does God specify this amount. However, this is the same amount Abraham gives to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20. This will be a standard practice after the law of Moses is given.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
Rachel and Leah
With obvious parallels to the servant's encounter with Rebekah in Genesis 24, Jacob meets Rachel at a well. When Jacob meets Rachel she is tending a flock of sheep (side-note: Rachel is the first woman in the Bible to be mentioned as a herdsman, or having a “job”). Jacob falls in love with Rachel at this time and asks Laban (her father) for her hand in marriage. Laban agrees that Jacob is a suitable man for becoming his daughter's husband but requires Jacob to work 7 years for him to earn Rachel's hand.
After the 7 years, Laban tricks Jacob into marrying his eldest daughter (Leah) instead. Laban may have done this because at that time, it was unacceptable for the younger daughter to marry before the elder. Jacob is not happy with the situation as he loves Rachel and wants her for his wife. Laban makes him agree to another 7 years of servitude for Rachel, though he is given Rachel as a wife before completing the 7 years. In total, he works 14 years to gain his brides.
In the Woman of God series I’m doing in 2022 I’ve already covered
Bilhah and Zilpah
Rachel is unable to conceive for most of their marriage, and when she sees Leah providing Jacob with sons, she becomes jealous. Like Sarah before her (who also had difficulty conceiving), Rachel gives her handmaid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a wife so that she can provide him with children through her maid. When Bilhah begins baring children and Leah is no longer having children, Leah resorts to the same method and offers Jacob her handmaid, Zilpah, to gain children.
God blesses Leah with sons when He sees that she is not loved by Jacob. She gives birth to 4 sons, then for awhile is unable to have more children. She bargains with Rachel, gaining the night with Jacob in exchange for some mandrakes. After this, Leah begins conceiving again. She as 2 more sons and a daughter. The children of Leah are as follows (the number in parenthesis indicates the son's birth order for Jacob):
- Reuben (1)
- Simeon (2)
- Levi (3)
- Judah (4)
- Issachar (9)
- Zebulun (10)
Rachel conceives late in the marriage, like Rebekah and Sarah before her. She gives birth to 2 sons and dies from complications in childbirth shortly after the birth of her second son.
- Joseph (11)
- Benjamin (12)
- Dan (5)
- Naphtali (6)
- Gad (7)
- Asher (8)
Jacob Returns to Canaan
Shortly after Rachel has Joseph, Jacob asks to leave the house of Laban (with his wives and children). Jacob and Laban both agree that God has blessed Laban because of Jacob and Laban does not want to lose this blessing. Laban offers Jacob whatever he wants to stay. Jacob requests to continue keeping Laban's flock, but he wants the sheep and goats with speckles or spots. Laban agrees to this, but separates the sheep and goats Jacob has requested and gives them to his own sons. Jacob however continues with the plan. He makes rods out of trees and lays them before the herd and even though these animals are not spotted, they give birth to spotted animals. Jacob uses the rods to get the stronger animals to give birth to spotted offspring, but he refrains from using the rod on the feeble animals so that they produce solid offspring. Per their agreement, this ensures that Laban will get the weaker herd.
Once Jacob has a flock, tension increases between he and Laban. God instructs Jacob to leave Padanaram and return to Canaan. Jacob explains the situation to Rachel and Leah, citing Laban's hostility, deceitfulness, and God's command as reason for his desire. The sisters agree with Jacob and complain that they are treated like strangers in their own home by Laban. Since they are all in agreement, they pack and leave without telling Laban. As they leave, Rachel steals images of Laban's gods without anyone’s knowledge.
Laban Follows Jacob
Once Laban discovers Jacob and his family are gone, he follows them, eventually catching up to them. When he catches the family, he complains to Jacob that he did not get to kiss his daughters and grandsons goodbye. Jacob explains his actions by admitting that he feared Laban would steal his wives and flock if he told Laban his plan to leave. As they argue, Laban begins searching Jacob's things for the missing idols. This only infuriates Jacob further since he does not know that Rachel has stolen them from Laban. Rachel hides the stolen goods inside a bench she is sitting upon. When her father comes to search the room she says that "the custom of women is upon [her]." Per the law given by Moses in Leviticus, anything a woman sat on during her period was considered unclean, thus it kept Laban from touching the bench. Satisfied that Jacob has not stolen from him, Laban is able to discuss the situation more rationally. He and Jacob then make a covenant to part amicably.
It is important to note that the popular benediction (at least it was popular at my church growing up) stems from the words spoken by Laban to Jacob in Genesis 31:49. While many quote this verse absentmindedly assuming it is meant to confer blessing upon people, it is actually more of a warning between to rivals parting. Laban wanted to insure Jacob continued to do right by his daughters and was telling Jacob that even though he would not be there to watch over Jacob, God would. This is one of the many examples why verses should not be read individually and must always be placed in the proper context to avoid misinterpretation. I still remember a lady from my church bringing this to the attention of the congregation one day—though I can't recall if they stopped using that as a benediction.
Preparing to Meet Esau
With Laban out of the way, Jacob is free to continue his journey but he fears that Esau still wants to kill him. When angels of God come to speak to Joseph, he asks them to go before him to Esau. Esau, who is now living in Seir which becomes known as the land of Edom (named for Esau), decides to meet Jacob. The angels return and tell Jacob that his brother will come to him and is traveling with 400 people. This only worries Jacob more. Jacob prays for mercy from Esau. In his prayer, he admits he is unworthy of mercy for his actions.
Jacob splits his group in half, hoping that if Esau decides to kill him, he will not kill the other half of the band. Once he has done this, he sets aside 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 camels with their colts, 40 kine (cows), 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 foals to give to Esau. He divides them into droves and sends them via his servants to Esau. Each servant is instructed to tell Esau the animals are a gift or peace offering from Jacob.
Wrestling with an Angel
With the servants delivering gifts to Esau, Jacob is left alone. An angel appears and wrestle with him throughout the night. The match continues until the angel dislocates Jacob's hip, but Jacob refuses to let go. Jacob tells the angel that he will not concede until the angel blesses him. The angel inquires of Jacob's name and when Jacob gives it, the angel changes his name to Israel. Jacob then inquires of the angel's name, but he does not receive a response. Jacob concludes that he has seen the face of God and was blessed to live. Jacob's injury from this encounter is given as the reason Israelites don't eat sinew.
This battle can be seen repeated throughout Israelite history, from captivity in Egypt to Nazi Germany to present day, the Israelites have struggled and though they did not win these battles, they did not lose either.
Israel, the name Jacob is given after surviving the battle, means "he struggled.” Israel is the namesake of the Israelite people and nation both in the past and in the present.
Jacob and Esau Meet Again
When Esau and Jacob are finally face to face, Jacob lines up his family with the handmaids and their children first, then Leah and her children, followed by Rachel and Joseph. Jacob then bows before Esau seven times as he approaches his brother. Esau runs to meet Jacob and the two brothers embrace and weep. Esau initially refuses Jacobs gifts, stating that he already has enough—from this we can assume Esau has "broken Jacob's yoke from his neck" as Esau is not only happy to see his brother but doesn't require payment for that which Jacob has taken from him. With some cajoling, Jacob convinces Esau to take the gifts and Esau offers to accompany Jacob on his journey. Esau's 400 companions would have provided ample security for Jacob and his family. However, Jacob politely declines and the two brothers part ways. Esau returns to Seir, and Jacob goes to Succoth in Canaan.
The Tragedy of Dinah
When Jacob reaches Succoth, he buy land from Shechem, the son of Hamor. Jacob's purchase signifies Jacob's intent to shift from the semi-nomadic lifestyle of his fathers to a settle permanently in Canaan. It is while they are settling here that a tragedy befalls his daughter. Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, is born after Zebulun but before Joseph making her the eleventh-born child in the family. Dinah goes out to meet other women in the land, but ends up catching the eye Shechem, the prince of the land. There is debate on whether Shechem raped Dinah, or whether his actions were despised because he did not follow the correct procedure (ask the family for her hand in marriage and marry her first).
And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.
Before we discuss whether or not the act was consensual, let's discuss the aftermath. After Shechem takes Dinah, he falls in love with her and begins to speak kindly to her. He then approaches his father and states that he wants to marry her. When Jacob learns what has happened, his sons are still in the field so he waits for their return. When the sons hear what has happened, they are angry. They join Jacob in his meeting with Hamor, Shechem's father, when they return from the field. Hamor asks that Jacob give Dinah to Shechem in marriage and suggests that by intermarrying, they will become part of the local people which make it easier to buy, sell, and trade goods. Dinah's brothers tell them that she cannot marry into the house of uncircumcised men. Shechem agrees to this easily and decrees that all the men must circumcised. Three days later, while the men are still in pain, Simeon and Levi go on a killing spree. They steal back their sister, take the flocks, wealth, women, and children of the land, and presumably sell what they have stolen. When Jacob discovers their actions, he condemns his sons and shames them. This action is the reason they do not receive a blessing from Jacob before he dies in Genesis 48.
Now back to the question of whether Shechem raped Dinah, or whether he simply had sex with her out of wedlock. While some of the points made by those supporting the idea that it was consensual are plausible, the actions of Dinah's brothers become inexplicable if Shechem did not rape their sister. During this time period it was common for defiled women (women who had sex out of wedlock) to be shunned. The family could have easily disassociated with Dinah, especially since Shechem requests her hand in marriage after the fact. The fact that she was no longer a virgin would have made it hard for her to find a good husband at the time and would have carried much stigma. The most dignified way to handle consensual defilement would have been to let her marry Shechem and disown her. Instead, her brothers kill all the males, pillage the city, and—most importantly—take Dinah back. Why would they want their defiled sister with them if she had consented to the act?
The Red Tent is a a fictional novel attempting to expand the story; the novel follows the idea that it was consensual and that Dinah loved Shechem as well. Note also that the word took in Genesis 34:2 is the same word used when describing Abimelech taking Sarah from Abraham. We know that God did not punish Sarah for this, but punished Abimelech for taking a married woman, thus it is implied that Sarah did not go willingly. That same implication stands for Dinah. Also, the mention of love and speaking kindly do not come until after Shechem has slept with Dinah. For these reasons I believe Dinah was raped. Unfortunately, we do not get to hear her version of the events and no other mention of her is given in the Bible. Another question is this: Moses tells us the Lot's daughters willing tricked their father into sleeping with them, so why wouldn't he be able to tell us Dinah acted impurely?
In the aftermath of Simeon and Levi's terror, God tells Jacob to go to Bethel, and to make an altar there. Jacob urges his family to prepare for the trip by removing all idols (such as the ones Rachel stole from her father), getting clean, and changing their garments. The household responds by giving Jacob both their idols and the earrings from their ears, and Jacob hides them under an oak tree. When they leave, the fear of God protects them and their family as they journey and no none sets out to harm them. On arrival, Jacob constructs an altar as God has instructed. It is here that we hear God Himself change Jacob's name to Israel. God also tells Jacob to be fruitful and multiply, just as he commanded the patriarch before him.
It is during this move that Rachel goes into labor with her second child. Rachel experiences complications in childbirth and dies shortly after. Before she dies she names he Benoni, which means son of my sorrow. Jacob decides to call him Benjamin instead.
The Death of Rachel
Jacob buries Rachel on the way to Ephrath in Bethlehem. He sets a pillar on her grave and we are told by Moses that in his day people are still able to visit her grave. Present day, there is still a marker in this location, as well as synagogue known as Rachel's Tomb. Many people still visit the site and it is considered the third holiest site in Judaism.
The Death of Isaac
Before Isaac dies, Jacob goes back to his father's house. It is not listed whether he went just before he died or some time before Isaac's death. Either way, he is there when Isaac dies. Isaac lives 140 yeas before he dies. Esau and Jacob come together to bury him in Machpelah.
References and Footnotes
- Holman Publishers. The Holman KJV Study Bible. pg 54, 57, 64, 69. 2014
- "Why is the birthright so emphasized in the Bible?". GotQuestions.org. 2015
- Tauber, Yanki. Wrestling with Angels". Chabad.org. 2015
- Fletcher, Elizabeth. "Bible Women: Dinah". Women in the Bible. 2006
- Ford, Mike. "The Rape of Dinah". Church of the Great God. 2012
- "Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem". Sacred Destinations. 2015
- "What is the book of Jasher and should it be in the Bible?". GotQuestions.org. 2015
- Golding, Nechama. "Rachel’s Tomb (Kevar Rachel)”. Chabad.org; visited August 2022
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