One who follows on another's heels; supplanter, (Genesis
Hosea 12:2-4), the
second born of the twin sons of Isaac by Rebekah. He was born probably at Lahai-roi,
when his father was fifty-nine and Abraham one hundred and fifty-nine years old.
Like his father, he was of a quiet and gentle disposition, and when he grew up
followed the life of a shepherd, while his brother Esau became an enterprising
hunter. His dealing with Esau, however, showed much mean selfishness and cunning
When Isaac was about 160 years of age, Jacob and his mother conspired to
deceive the aged patriarch (Genesis
27), with the view of procuring the transfer of the birthright to himself.
The birthright secured to him who possessed it (1) superior rank in his family
(Genesis 49:3); (2)
a double portion of the paternal inheritance (Deuteronomy
21:17); (3) the priestly office in the family (Numbers
8:17-19); and (4) the promise of the Seed in which all nations of the earth
were to be blessed (Genesis
Soon after his acquisition of his father's blessing (Genesis
27), Jacob became conscious of his guilt; and afraid of the anger of Esau,
at the suggestion of Rebekah Isaac sent him away to Haran, 400 miles or more,
to find a wife among his cousins, the family of Laban, the Syrian (28). There
he met with Rachel (29). Laban would not consent to give him his daughter in marriage
till he had served seven years; but to Jacob these years "seemed but a few days,
for the love he had to her." But when the seven years were expired, Laban craftily
deceived Jacob, and gave him his daughter Leah. Other seven years of service had
to be completed probably before he obtained the beloved Rachel. But "life-long
sorrow, disgrace, and trials, in the retributive providence of God, followed as
a consequence of this double union."
At the close of the fourteen years of service, Jacob desired to return
to his parents, but at the entreaty of Laban he tarried yet six years with him,
tending his flocks (31:41).
He then set out with his family and property "to go to Isaac his father in the
land of Canaan" (Genesis
31). Laban was angry when he heard that Jacob had set out on his journey,
and pursued after him, overtaking him in seven days. The meeting was of a painful
kind. After much recrimination and reproach directed against Jacob, Laban is at
length pacified, and taking an affectionate farewell of his daughters, returns
to his home in Padanaram. And now all connection of the Israelites with Mesopotamia
is at an end.
Soon after parting with Laban he is met by a company of angels, as if to
greet him on his return and welcome him back to the Land of Promise (32:1,
2). He called the name of the place Mahanaim, i.e., "the double camp," probably
his own camp and that of the angels. The vision of angels was the counterpart
of that he had formerly seen at Bethel, when, twenty years before, the weary,
solitary traveller, on his way to Padan-aram, saw the angels of God ascending
and descending on the ladder whose top reached to heaven (28:12).
He now hears with dismay of the approach of his brother Esau with a band
of 400 men to meet him. In great agony of mind he prepares for the worst. He feels
that he must now depend only on God, and he betakes himself to him in earnest
prayer, and sends on before him a munificent present to Esau, "a present to my
lord Esau from thy servant Jacob." Jacob's family were then transported across
the Jabbok; but he himself remained behind, spending the night in communion with
God. While thus engaged, there appeared one in the form of a man who wrestled
with him. In this mysterious contest Jacob prevailed, and as a memorial of it
his name was changed to Israel (wrestler with God); and the place where this occured
he called Peniel, "for", said he, "I have seen God face to face, and my life is
After this anxious night, Jacob went on his way, halting, mysteriously
weakened by the conflict, but strong in the assurance of the divine favour. Esau
came forth and met him; but his spirit of revenge was appeased, and the brothers
met as friends, and during the remainder of their lives they maintained friendly
relations. After a brief sojourn at Succoth, Jacob moved forward and pitched his
tent near Shechem (q.v.), 33:18; but at length, under divine directions, he moved
to Bethel, where he made an altar unto God (35:6,
7), and where God appeared to him and renewed the Abrahamic covenant. While journeying
from Bethel to Ephrath (the Canaanitish name of Bethlehem), Rachel died in giving
birth to her second son Benjamin (35:16-20),
fifteen or sixteen years after the birth of Joseph. He then reached the old family
residence at Mamre, to wait on the dying bed of his father Isaac. The complete
reconciliation between Esau and Jacob was shown by their uniting in the burial
of the patriarch (35:27-29).
Jacob was soon after this deeply grieved by the loss of his beloved son
Joseph through the jealousy of his brothers (37:33).
Then follows the story of the famine, and the successive goings down into Egypt
to buy corn (42), which led to the discovery of the long-lost Joseph, and the
patriarch's going down with all his household, numbering about seventy souls (Exodus
10:22; Acts 7:14),
to sojourn in the land of Goshen. Here Jacob, "after being strangely tossed about
on a very rough ocean, found at last a tranquil harbour, where all the best affections
of his nature were gently exercised and largely unfolded" (Genesis
48). At length the end of his checkered course draws nigh, and he summons
his sons to his bedside that he may bless them. Among his last words he repeats
the story of Rachel's death, although forty years had passed away since that event
took place, as tenderly as if it had happened only yesterday; and when "he had
made an end of charging his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded
up the ghost" (49:33).
His body was embalmed and carried with great pomp into the land of Canaan, and
buried beside his wife Leah in the cave of Machpelah, according to his dying charge.
There, probably, his embalmed body remains to this day (50:1-13).
The history of Jacob is referred to by the prophets Hosea (12:3,
4, 12) and Malachi (1:2).
In Micah 1:5 the name
is a poetic synonym for Israel, the kingdom of the ten tribes. There are, besides
the mention of his name along with those of the other patriarchs, distinct references
to events of his life in Paul's epistles (Romans
See references to his vision at Bethel and his possession of land at Shechem in
4:5, 12; also to the famine which was the occasion of his going down into
Egypt in Acts 7:12 (see