Christian Churches of God
Jacob: The Son of Isaac
(Edition 2.0 20021221-20070126)
Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons named Esau and Jacob. As the boys grew into men, Esau became a hunter while Jacob remained a herdsman. In this paper, we will see how a lack of faith by not trusting God can lead to family troubles and the breaking of God’s Commandments.
Jacob: The Son of Isaac
Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, who was Abraham’s grand-niece (Gen. 25:20). Many years passed and the couple had no children, so Isaac asked God to send them a child (Gen. 25:21). God answered his prayer and the couple soon realised they would become parents.
During her pregnancy Rebekah noticed some unusual things happening “as the babies jostled each other within her”. So she prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to her – probably in a dream or vision – that she would give birth to twins or two nations. One nation (twin) would be stronger than the other and the older one would serve the younger one (Gen. 25:22-23). So even in the womb the struggle between the boys had already begun. There would be future problems between the descendants of Jacob and Esau. In Numbers 20:20 we see the Edomites (from Esau) would not allow the Israelites (from Jacob) to pass through their territory and threatened to fight them if they did not go another way.
In ancient times, under normal circumstances, the younger son would serve the older one, but God chose to rearrange the order. God’s ways are not our ways and He can choose to do whatever He desires (Ps. 115:3).
As it happened, Rebekah gave birth to twin boys. The first-born came out red and hairy so they called him Esau. His brother came out gripping Esau’s heel so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when his sons were born (Gen. 25:24-26). As the boys grew it was obvious that they were very different characters. Esau loved to hunt while Jacob wanted to raise flocks and crops like his father. Isaac loved to eat the meat that Esau brought home, so he was Isaac’s favourite son. Rebekah’s favourite was Jacob, probably because he worked closer to home and she saw him more often (Gen. 25:27-28).
One day when Esau returned from the field, tired and weak from hunting, he saw that his brother had prepared some lovely soup. It smelled so good that Esau would have given anything to have some. Jacob knew the value of the birthright and he wanted this more than anything. He was jealous of Esau’s position in the family and here he saw a way to take advantage of his brother’s weakness. So, Jacob told Esau he would trade him some stew, in return for Esau’s birthright. Out of hunger and weakness, Esau agreed to the deal and then ate of the stew (Gen. 25:29-34).
Years later, Jacob again took advantage of Esau. This time, Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing. This was another deceitful thing Jacob did. Out of anger towards Jacob for these things, Esau then planned to kill his brother. What Jacob did was wrong, as he stole his brother’s birthright. Esau also sinned in thinking he would kill Jacob and thereby broke the Sixth Commandment.
Because Esau was the oldest son of Isaac, he was first in line to receive a larger share of the family possessions and blessings (or birthright) from his ageing father. When this time came, Isaac called his son Esau saying,
“Behold now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death. Now therefore, please take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out into the field and hunt game for me. And make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” (Gen. 27:2-4)
Esau was maybe too ashamed to tell his father at this time that the birthright now belonged to his brother Jacob. When Rebekah heard what Isaac had said to her son Esau, she quickly told Jacob what she heard. Rebekah then told Jacob to go into the field and bring her two of the best goats he could find. With these goats, Rebekah made a savoury dish that Jacob could give to his father Isaac. Rebekah was hoping that Isaac would unknowingly give Esau’s birthright and blessings to Jacob, her favourite son (Gen. 27:5-10).
In those days words spoken orally were accepted just like someone would write a will or make a contract today. Isaac could pass on his possessions just by speaking and it would be legally binding. Here, Rebekah and Jacob were both deceitful in that they took advantage of Isaac’s love for Esau and the food he brought home from his hunting trips. In addition to this, Isaac was blind.
Rebekah did everything she could so her favourite son Jacob would inherit the blessing from his father. Was it right for Rebekah to have favourites? Would any child like it if his mother or father had favourites?
By placing Jacob as her priority, in essence, she placed him above God in importance. By doing this, Rebekah broke both the First and Second Commandments (Deut. 20:1-4). God would have achieved the desired outcome because He had already told Rebekah what would happen between the boys. But she took the matter into her own hands and this caused a lot of problems for the family.
Also, though there must be an understanding of order and ranking within a family, it was not right for Rebekah to have a favourite. If we look at one example set forth by God we see that, although He has ordered ranking within His spiritual family, He is not a “respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
Continuing the story:
Jacob knew that there was a big physical difference between him and his brother. Esau was a hairy man and it would be hard to trick his father. Once again Jacob goes to his mother asking,
“Look, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth skinned man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I will seem a deceiver to him; and I shall bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” (Gen. 27:11-12)
Rebekah then told Jacob not to worry about the possibility of having a curse come upon him because of his deception. Instead, she would take the curse upon herself.
Was Rebekah setting a good example to Jacob by telling her son this? Why was it a bad thing? By telling her son to let the curse fall upon herself, Rebekah put herself in a very dangerous position. If Rebekah had had faith that God would take care of Jacob, instead of taking matters into her own hands, she need not have worried about a curse coming upon herself. If we study Matthew 27, we will see an example of how placing a curse upon ourselves by our actions does not only affect us. In this example the Jews took the curse of Christ’s death upon themselves, which affected all their future generations through until today. But, that can be studied at a later time.
As for Rebekah, she took the goats from Jacob and made a savoury meal for her husband Isaac. She then took Esau’s best clothes and put them on Jacob. To finish Jacob’s deceitful disguise, Rebekah placed pieces of hairy goat hide on the back of Jacob’s neck and on his hands (Gen. 27:13-17). Then, with the meat dish and bread that Rebekah made, Jacob went to his father Isaac. He then lied to his father saying,
“I am Esau your firstborn son; I have done just as you told me to do; please arise, sit and eat of my game, so that your soul may bless me.” (Gen. 27:19)
Was it right for Jacob to lie to his father just to get what he wanted? What does the Bible say concerning lying? The answer can be found in Exodus 20:16, where God states in His Ninth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness”. This means we are not to tell lies or gossip, etc.
Isaac told his son to come to him and he felt Jacob’s neck to find out if he was really Esau. Then he felt Jacob’s hands, which also felt hairy because they were covered in goat hair. Isaac became confused and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen. 27:20-21). Isaac was obviously confused so he asked his son, “Are you truly my son Esau?” “I am,” Jacob replied; and again he lied.
By deceiving Isaac, Jacob dishonoured his father and, in turn, also broke God’s Fifth Commandment, which says: “Honour your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12), as well as the Commandment about not lying, which we talked about earlier. Rebekah was just as deceitful as Jacob in this.
Isaac then told Jacob to bring him the meat that he enjoyed. “Bring it near me, and I will eat of my son’s game, so that my soul may bless you.” After he ate the meat and drank the wine Jacob brought for him, Isaac kissed Jacob and noticed that he smelt like his son Esau.
“Surely, the smell of my son is like the field which the Lord has blessed. Therefore may God give you of the dew of the heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you and blessed be those who bless you” (Gen. 27:28-29).
This blessing was a promise that was given by God through Isaac to Jacob that would be shared by all of their future generations. The blessing itself was both a spiritual and physical blessing that will be seen later in the Bible, with Christ’s birth into the same family line as Jacob. Christ was born into the physical family line of Jacob. Also, as a spiritual leader, Christ will be a ruler over all, under the Father, in the future.
So Isaac had now passed on to Jacob the covenant blessing he had received as Abraham’s heir. After Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, Esau returned from hunting. Not knowing what his brother had done, Esau made some of the savoury meat dish that his father loved so much and gave it to Isaac saying, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that your soul may bless me” (Gen. 27:31).
Isaac now realized what had happened and began to tremble and asked, “Who? Where is the one who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate all of it before you came, and I have blessed him, and indeed he shall be blessed” (Gen. 27:33). When Esau heard this from his father, he was upset and yelled: “Bless me, bless me also, O my father!” (Gen. 27:34). Isaac then told Esau of the blessing he had given Jacob instead of him.
Greatly upset by the loss of his blessing, Esau wept and said to his father, “Have you only one blessing my father? Bless me—bless me also, O my father!” (Gen. 27:38) Isaac could not give the same blessing twice, but he felt sorry for his favourite son Esau. So, Isaac answered Esau saying:
“Behold, your dwellings shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heavens. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from his neck.” (Gen. 27:39-40)
After hearing this from his father Isaac, Esau hated Jacob because he had received the greater blessing. In Esau’s heart, he planned to kill Jacob after Isaac died (Gen. 27:41).
If we have ever felt angry or even hateful towards someone for taking something from us, we should consider what happened as a result of those feelings. Besides breaking the Fifth Commandment by dishonouring his father, Esau also broke the Sixth Commandment by planning to murder his brother Jacob.
Fortunately, as we find when we read further into the story of Jacob and Esau, Esau does not end up murdering his brother (as was the case of Cain and Abel). However, just because we don’t act on our thoughts doesn’t mean we aren’t held accountable for them.
“You have heard it said that it was said to those of old, ‘you shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgement.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of judgement. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘you fool’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Mat. 5:21-22)
After Rebekah heard what Esau was planning to do to Jacob, she feared losing both her sons, so she called Jacob to her and said to him,
“Surely your brother Esau comforts himself concerning you by intending to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran and stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Why shall I be bereaved of you both in one day?” (Gen. 27:42–45)
Rebekah became worried about Jacob’s safety, so she made up a plan to get him away from his brother. She told Isaac that she feared Jacob would marry a Hittite woman and therefore they should send him away to choose a wife from their own people (Gen. 27:42-46). But we know this was not the whole truth. So Isaac called Jacob and told him that, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan” (Gen. 28:1-2). These people worshipped idols and were not of the same faith.
Instead, Isaac told Jacob that he should go and take a wife from the land of Padan Aram, the land of Rebekah’s brother, Laban. Esau marrying multiple wives, as well as his wives being Canaanite, also made Isaac unhappy because God forbade their family lines to marry Canaanites (Deut. 7:1-4).
In turn, Isaac then blessed Jacob by sending him away to marry a daughter of Laban saying:
“May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, That you may be an assembly of peoples; and give you the blessings of Abraham, to you and your decendents with you. That you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham.”
With this final blessing, Jacob left for the land of Padam Aram and went to the house of Laban, who was also Rebekah’s brother (Gen. 28:5).
Esau soon learned that his brother Jacob had gone away and he did not try to follow him. He realised how he must have displeased his parents by marrying Canaanite women, so he went to his uncle Ishmael and married his cousin Mahalath. This was his third wife (Gen. 28:6-9).
On his journey to Haran, Jacob stopped at a certain place to rest for the night. He slept with his head resting on one the stones there. This was not unusual, as people in those days often slept on the ground and they were used to resting their heads on hard objects. Today, we are much weaker people and mostly we like pillows and comfortable beds in which to sleep.
Jacob began to dream and he saw a huge stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching Heaven. The angels of God were moving up and down the stairway and at the top stood the Lord. “I am the Lord the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac”, came the voice at the top. “I will give you and your family the land on which you are lying. Your people will be many and will spread out all over the earth, and all nations will receive a blessing because of them. I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen. 28:10-15). Here we see the Lord, or Angel of Yahovah, offers to be Jacob’s God just as he was God of Abraham and Isaac. This Angel, or God of the Old Testament, is the same being who became the human born Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It was not the One True God (Eloah) that appeared to men.
When Jacob woke from his sleep he was a little frightened. He knew his dream must be important, so he marked the spot where he had the dream with the stone on which he rested his head. He poured oil on it and called the place Bethel. Then he made a vow that if the Lord did all the things he promised he would give a tenth (or tithe) of all that came to him (Gen. 28:18-22). Jacob knew the Law said that the first tenth of a man’s earnings belonged to God.
So Jacob continued on his journey and finally he saw a city. Outside the city he stopped to talk to some shepherds with their flocks. They told Jacob they were from Haran and better still they knew his uncle Laban. Just then a young girl came along with her flock and the shepherds told Jacob she was Laban’s daughter Rachel (Gen. 29:1-6).
Being anxious to speak to his relative, Jacob helped water all the sheep and then he spoke privately to Rachel. He explained to her that he was the son of Rebekah, who was Laban’s sister. This meant that Rachel and Jacob were first cousins. When Laban heard about Jacob he hurried out to meet him and to welcome him home (Gen. 29:7-14).
While he stayed on with his relatives, Jacob did his share of the work around the house and in the fields. The more he saw of Rachel the more he came to love her. When Jacob asked to marry Rachel, Laban was glad. But he asked him to work in his fields for seven years for Rachel. When the time came for the marriage Laban deceived Jacob and gave his older daughter Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel. This was a mean trick, but Laban told Jacob that it was the custom in that land that the oldest daughter must marry first. Jacob was a patient man and he agreed to work another seven years for Rachel (Gen. 29:15-30).
Thus he had two wives, which was a common thing in those days, but he loved Rachel best. When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved he blessed her with four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Then she stopped having children (Gen. 29:31-35).
Meanwhile Laban became quite wealthy as a result of the hard work of Jacob. However, Jacob had little else to his name except a large family and the tents they lived in. By now Jacob had eleven sons, but only one (Joseph) was born to Rachel. So, Jacob decided he would like to take his family back to Canaan to visit his elderly father. Of course Laban did not like this, as he would lose a very good worker (Gen. 30:1-26).
An agreement was made between them whereby Jacob would be paid for his work with any of the cattle or sheep or goats that had spots or ring marks on their hides. Again, Laban tried to trick Jacob by removing these spotted animals from the herds before Jacob could notice them. But God had promised to look after him, and it soon became obvious that miraculous things were happening with the cattle, sheep and goats. Jacob soon became very wealthy himself (Gen. 30:27-43).
Laban was very greedy in that he was not willing to give Jacob fair wages for his work. But as Laban saw Jacob gaining more herds he was not so friendly with Jacob any more. So God was removing the blessing from Laban and giving it to Jacob.
Then one day the Angel of Yahovah again spoke to Jacob in a dream and told him to return to Canaan. Rachel and Leah agreed with Jacob when he told them what the Angel had said to him. They also knew that their father had cheated them all, so they were satisfied that whatever Jacob had now acquired rightly belonged to them (Gen. 31:1-16).
So Jacob packed up his tents and family and gathered all his livestock and left Laban’s property. He was careful to take only what belonged to him. However, Rachel decided to take her father’s idols. Laban did not know they had left until three days had passed. He was not happy about Jacob sneaking off like that, so he went after Jacob. It took him seven days to overtake Jacob and his family. He also knew that his idols had been taken (Gen. 31:17-21).
But before Laban made himself known to Jacob, God appeared to him in a dream and told him not to harm Jacob (Gen. 31:18-25). So Laban said to Jacob:
“What have you done that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword…..And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters….And now you have surely gone because you long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” (Gen. 31:26,28,30)
Jacob told Laban he left secretly because he was afraid that Laban might take his daughters from him by force. Also he told him to search for his gods and said, “With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live.” Of course Jacob did not know that his beloved Rachel had stolen the idols (Gen. 31:31-35).
Laban went in and out of all the tents, finding nothing. Then finally he came to Rachel’s tent. Rachel had hidden the idols in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. So Laban searched and found nothing. Rachel lied to her father and made excuses why she was sitting on the saddle, so he did not search there. Finally he had to admit to Jacob that he found nothing. Of course Jacob was not happy that Laban was now treating him like an enemy after all the hard work he had done for Laban. Jacob knew that if God had not been with him in all the years he worked for Laban he would have left there with nothing (Gen. 31:36-43).
Laban offered to make an agreement with Jacob that they would have no more bad feelings towards each other. So they gathered stones and made a monument, which was to stand as a witness to their agreement. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain and they all ate a meal together, which was a further sign of their new friendship. Early next morning Laban said his goodbyes and returned to Haran (Gen. 31:44-55) and Jacob moved on towards Canaan.
So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp.” And he called the name of the place Mahanaim. (Gen. 32:1-2).
But Jacob was worried about meeting his brother Esau again after twenty years. He thought that Esau might still be angry and want to kill him. So, he sent a messenger on ahead to tell Esau that he was coming and he now had great wealth and that he hoped they could meet in friendship and love – as brothers should (Gen. 32:3-5).
Soon the messengers returned and told Jacob that they found Esau and he was indeed on his way to meet Jacob, along with 400 men. This made Jacob very frightened as he had a lot to protect. So he divided the people and flocks into two groups thinking that if one group was attacked the other group might escape. But Jacob also remembered to pray to God for protection, as the Angel of Yahovah told him in a vision. This was his best weapon, as he would have divine protection (Gen. 32:6-12).
Jacob chose from the best from his flock: goats, sheep, camels, cows, bulls, and donkeys. He sent each herd out with his servants at a different time. He hoped Esau would accept the gifts he sent and then be happy to see him when they finally met. Then Jacob sent off two more sections of his caravan to go ahead of him. Then he sent his wives, children and servants over the brook and he stayed alone to pray (Gen. 32:13-21).
While Jacob was alone, a strange man appeared and wrestled with him until morning. Jacob would not give up and when the man asked him to let him go as it was becoming light Jacob said: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Of course by now Jacob realised that the man was a messenger (angel) from the One True God (Gen. 32:22-26).
So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Gen. 32:27-28)
We can see from Hosea 12:3-6 that the angel or messenger whom Jacob wrestled with was the one who later became the man Jesus Christ.
When Jacob looked up he could see that Esau and his men were coming near. Expecting trouble, Jacob divided his family up and put Rachel and Joseph the greatest distance behind him. As mentioned before Rachel was his favourite wife, and Joseph his favourite son, so he put them at the safest distance (Gen. 33:1-3).
Jacob went before Esau and bowed seven times to the ground before he came to his brother. This was the custom and showed respect for the other person. But Esau had no thought of killing his brother. He hugged him and kissed him and they both cried with happiness. When they saw it was safe, Jacob’s wives and children and servants came near and bowed to Esau. Jacob told his brother that the Lord had blessed him greatly (Gen. 33:4-7).
Esau asked about the flocks he had passed along the way. Jacob told him they were meant as a present, so Esau would think well of Jacob. But Esau said he also had plenty and at first he refused the gift from Jacob. But he did accept them in the end so as not to upset his brother. Esau also offered to travel back with his brother, but Jacob knew that his caravan would travel more slowly than Esau and his men on horseback, because of the children and the flocks. So the brothers decided to move on separately. Esau returned to Seir and Jacob went to Succoth and built himself a house (Gen. 33:8-16).
When Jacob returned to Canaan his wife Rachel gave birth to his twelfth son. Unfortunately Rachel died during his birth and this made Jacob very sad, as he loved Rachel above all others. This son was called Ben Oni or son of my mourning because through him she was to die, but his father later named him Benjamin, which means son of the promise (Gen. 35:16-19).
Meanwhile Jacob came home to his father Isaac. Later, when Isaac died, his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Gen. 35:27-29). Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan and he became the father of the Edomites. We can read about Esau’s descendants from Genesis chapter 36. In time, Esau’s family and possessions grew too great for the brothers to remain together. So Esau took his wives, sons and daughters and all that belonged to him and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Jacob stayed on in Canaan until the famine forced him to move his family and possessions to Egypt (Gen. 36:1-8).
As time went on a terrible famine spread over the world. But there was a plentiful supply of grain in Egypt and other nations went there to buy from them. Jacob too heard about this and sent his sons (except Benjamin) to buy grain so they would not starve to death. As the story goes the family is encouraged to move to Egypt because Joseph, the long lost son of Jacob was governor there and in charge of distributing the food.
At the instruction of Joseph, and with the approval of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Jacob and his sons and all their families set out for Egypt with all their possessions. When they came to Beersheba they offered sacrifices to the One True God. Jacob was probably worried that God would not approve of them moving to Egypt. But that night Jacob was spoken to in a vision or dream (Gen. 46:1-2). Now we know the Bible tells us that no human has heard the voice of the One True God, so this message must have come from the Angel of Yahovah.
He told Jacob (Israel) not to be afraid to go to Egypt because a great nation of Israel would come out of there. Further he said, “I will go down with you to Egypt and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hands on your eyes” (Gen. 46:3-4). What he was really saying is that Jacob would meet his son Joseph again and be with him for some time in Egypt. Joseph would be there when his father died and he would bring Jacob’s body back to Canaan.
Jacob was then convinced it was right to go to Egypt, so they continued on. As we know from the story of Joseph, the family was given land and food in Egypt and Joseph made sure that all was well with them. They lived well and grew in numbers and prospered.
Seventeen years passed and by now Jacob had become very ill. When Joseph heard this, he took his two sons and went to see his father. Jacob told Joseph that the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said that a great nation would come from him. He then said he wanted to adopt Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. He put the boys on his knee as a sign of adoption and went on to include them in the blessings that he would share with his other sons.
His father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he; and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations” (Gen. 48:19). Here Jacob was predicting that the nations that would come from Ephraim (the younger boy) would be greater than those that would come from Manasseh, the first-born (Gen. 48:20).
It is interesting to remember that Jacob also was the youngest son and he struggled with his brother Esau for the birthright and blessing in his family. But Jacob deceived his father Isaac and actually stole what was rightly Esau’s.
Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt and during that time his sons’ families increased greatly in number. These people became known as Israelites, as Jacob had been renamed Israel by the Angel of the Lord. When it came time for Jacob to die he asked Joseph to promise him that he would bury him in Canaan with his fathers (Gen. 47:27-31).
Through studying the story of Esau, Jacob, Isaac, and Rebekah, we have seen how a lack of faith or trust in God can lead to us breaking His Commandments. If we break one Commandment it may lead to breaking them all (Jas. 2:10). If we lack faith and end up breaking God’s Laws and don’t ask God for forgiveness (or repent), there are serious dangers for our spiritual future. Christ stated in Matthew 5:19, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”.
However, if we keep God’s Commandments and teach others to do the same we “shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”