Last time I briefly touched on the next big historical step for God’s people, accomplished through Jacob. Now, I want to dig a little deeper into his significance.
I once heard a bible teacher say that the name Jacob meant “dirty, sneaky thief” and how God transformed him from that persona into the father of the nation of Israel. Well, that’s not exactly true. So what does the name “Jacob” really mean? Well, the Hebrew name “Ya’aqov” transliterated as “Jacob” simply means, “holder of the heel.” Some have even claimed that it means “supplanter.” It is possible that the latter meaning was developed, either by his mother who had received a prophecy regarding her sons, or simply inserted by bible scholars after the fact. No one knows for sure.
We begin the story of Jacob’s history in Genesis 25:21 “Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord granted him his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” At this point Isaac’s mother has already died and his father Abraham had remarried and continued to have more sons. It’s possible that Isaac was feeling the pressure to produce an heir because of the covenant God made with Abraham, but regardless, he was desperate and cried out to the Father, petitioning Him to open Rebekah’s womb. As most are already aware, the Father answered Jacob’s cry.
The aforementioned prophecy received by Rebekah is brought out in verses 22 and 23: But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.”
I want to pause briefly and explain an important fact. Before Abraham, there was not a “set apart” people. There were certain individuals, such as Noah, who were “selected” by God for a “set apart” life, but an entire group of “set apart” people was unprecedented. Abraham was the first Hebrew and he was chosen by God to be the first of a new group of people. Through Abraham, God created a new nation that was divided out from the rest of humanity to be His. “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendents after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendents after you.” Genesis 17:8
Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and then Isaac were the first people to be born Hebrews. I know many would disagree with me on this, but the fact is that Abraham, the physical father of Ishmael, was a Hebrew, thus making Ishmael a Hebrew also. The Scriptures show that God did not “select” Ishmael to carry on the bloodline and was sent away to be the father of another nation. God did not completely abandon him, but it was not through him that the covenants were to be passed.
The covenants are not only about promises established through Abraham’s physical descendants. There are spiritual promises as well. God is sovereign and He chooses whomever He desires to carry on the legacy of the covenants. While the firstborn son traditionally gets a double portion of the inheritance and is always expected to carry on the bloodline, God does not always follow this pattern. Here are just a few examples for you to check out: Ishmael and Isaac-Genesis 17:19; Esau and Jacob-Genesis 25:23; Reuben and Joseph-Genesis 37:5; Manasseh and Ephraim-Genesis 48:14. Let me reiterate that God is not just selecting a bloodline, but choosing through whom the spiritual covenant blessings will pass to as well. While the others (like Ishmael and Manasseh) are still Hebrew, by birth, they are not God’s chosen line in which these blessings will continue.
Let’s pick up back up at the beginning of Jabob’s story. Genesis 25:24-26a So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over, so they called his name Esau(hairy or rough). Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob (holder of the heel).
Jump, now, down to verse 27: So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. Much of what I have read about Esau is that, basically, he was loud, obnoxious, rude, and crude. He was said to be self-centered and a braggart. It is also noted that he did not hunt purely for sustenance, but that he hunted for sport and it was the kill that he loved most of all. He exuded power and he had quite the following of both men and women who, no doubt, liked to hang around the biggest bully in the yard, which he is rumored to be.
Jacob, on the other hand is described as being very mild mannered and was often the brunt of Esau’s bullying. Jacob was quite the homebody, both gentle and smart. What he did occupationally, the scriptures do not say. However, some have postulated that he tended the flocks, while others say that he “tilled the ground”. Others believe that he simply managed all the household business.
And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob (verse 28). On a personal note, I often wonder if Isaac loved Esau best because of the wild game he brought him or if he ate the game because he loved him best. Either way, I think Isaac overlooked a lot of bad behavior when it came to Esau. It would appear though, that Rebekah did not have such unwavering appreciation for her elder son as to overlook his behavior. However, both his father and mother were in agreement regarding their mutual dislike of Esau’s wife. The parents strongly disapproved of the fact that he chose to marry Hittite women who were notorious idol worshipers ( 26:34-35).
To express these relationships through a more modern paradigm, Esau was good at sports and anything related to physical activity. To use a cliche, He was the captain of every sports team, he hunted, fished, camped, climbed rocks, basically he was good at every “man” activity; you might say he was a real manly man. Now what dad isn’t going to love that, right? Jacob, on the other hand, was the nerdy type; studious, always thinking his way through life’s situations, but sports, anything outdoorsy, in fact, were definitely not his forte. Dad just didn’t know how to relate to this boy, so he basically…well, he ignored him. Mom, seeing this, compensated by being totally involved with anything he enjoyed to show him that he too, was loved. Mom didn’t like the rude, swaggering behavior of her oldest and often tried to correct him, but dad always interfered with something like, “boys will be boys, dear.”
The family dynamic is as complicated and diverse as the individuals involved. Some humorously wish to believe that all the families portrayed in the Bible were “perfect,” but that is simply not true. Some may believe that the issues within this particular family were not as negative as I have described. While it’s true that these specific people did not appear to leave behind any documentation of how things really were, we can extrapolate some subtleties that can lead us to this particular possibility.
While I do, occasionally give my thoughts and opinions, my main goal is to get you to think things through for yourself. We have spent our whole lives having people tell us what to think and what to believe; our parents, teachers, college professors, politicians, and preachers standing behind a podium. I want you to take the information I give you, perhaps add some of your own research, and stir it all together and decide from your own brain what is possible and what is not. Consultation of the Father and determine what you think is a reasonable probability. Base your decisions on “what is written,” not what someone has told you in the past.
Next time we will be continuing on with Jacob’s life history. Until then, may the Father rain down peace upon you and your loved ones.
I hope you are keeping up with your Truth journals; feel free to share any “truths” you have been shown.