JACOB AND THE PROMISES (Genesis 25:19-34; 27-31)
Jacob was running from his brother Esau for having cheated him out of his birthright and stealing his blessing. He came to a place called Luz where he bedded down for the night with a rock for a pillow. In his dream, he saw a stairway between heaven and earth with angels going up and down. On top stood Jehovah and 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. I am with you and will watch over 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.”
The dream and the place frightened Jacob and he said to himself, “God is in this place and I did not know it. This place is awesome. It is the home of God. It is the gate of heaven.” In the morning, he took the stone his head rested on, poured oil on and set it up as a marker and called it Bethel. Then Jacob vowed, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (Genesis 28). Hereinafter, everything that Jacob or his children did was seen as the will of God. Even intentions that were evil were turned into blessing for Jacob’s descendants.
Jacob’s vow to God was similar to the way he had dealt with his brother Esau and his father Isaac; yet, Elohim looked beyond this man’s blundering and saw in him some one the world had need of. Through his descendants, humanity would be blessed and the world would learn through the Law, the Prophets and the Christ about Elohim’s redemptive Promises for mankind. There is more at stake. The Apostle Peter captured God’s reason more than anyone. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). Jesus, Himself, has offered paradise to a man that did not repent until his last breath (Luke 23:40-43). God’s patience would last centuries before the seed of Jacob would ripen into a people of God and even after the people sinned, the Lord kept the door of repentance open. Jacob, himself, would learn the hard way how to become the father of Israel. He will not succeed with bribes and trickery but with the help of the Lord change into a new man.
Jacob came into the world by hanging on to the heel of his brother Esau. Then, with the help of his mother Rebekah, he secured the birthright and the blessings by stepping over his brother and father. Physically, he could not compete with his father or his brother, but mentally, Jacob could manipulate them and later on Laban and felt that God was actually on his side. It was what Jacob and not what God wanted. This attitude and belief that certain people want is what God wants has plagued mankind to this very day. Biblical as well as secular history has not been in favor of humans that used God to advance their convenience. At some point, man is being held accountable and required to make amends for his manipulating behavior. Jacob too had to face and make amends with his brother whom he had hurt and with his father-in-law whom he had swindled. It would take another twenty years before he would realize that his way was not the way he could continue and there was a new fear within him that he had never known before.
Life with Laban and his daughters was no picnic. Jacob began to flirt with Rachel and was made to sleep with Leah. It was a competitive and manipulating family and Jacob fitted right in. He must have remembered how his father and brother felt when he had outwitted them. Now, he was being played like a checkered board. Laban and his two daughters changed with the weather. It cost Jacob fourteen years to marry Rachel and another seven to acquire some collateral. Children were the life-blood of a family and the inheritance and the promises depended on offspring, particularly males. Unlovable Leah started off with giving Jacob four sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah) and lovable Rachel remained childless. Rachel became angry and made Jacob sleep with Bilhah her maid to bear children for her and she did place two sons in her lap (Dan and Naphtali). Leah too wanted more children and enticed Jacob with her servant Zilpah and she too had two sons (Gad and Asher). Reuben found some mandrake plants for his mother Leah and she traded them to Rachel for two more engagements with Jacob and she gave him two more sons (Issachar and Zebulun). Jacob rewarded Leah with one more night and she gave him a daughter (Dinah). After the three women had born ten boys and one girl, Rachel felt exonerated with her first born whom she named Joseph, meaning, “God has taken away my disgrace.” Her wish to have another son was granted after Jacob took his family back to Canaan (Benjamin).
The saying, “There is no honor among thieves” is also a problem among cheats. Jacob and Laban were skilled in dealing to their advantage. Jacob had distinguished himself as an outstanding herdsman. He was simply too good for not being blessed by his God that was stronger than Laban’s idols and Laban wanted to hang on to Jacob so he could enlarge his herds. Instead it was Jacob that enlarged his herds and diminished Laban’s. The two agreed that Jacob take the spotted animals. Jacob did and had his herdsmen move them away from his father-in-law’s animals. Then he induced more spotting via some diet and then fled with his family from Laban. He had plundered by agreement his in-laws and led them to believe that he had God’s support. Jacob justified his action by getting even with Laban for having cheated him ten times by changing his wages. This belief was based on the blessings and curses. Jacob, by securing the blessings became the God of Abraham’s and Isaac’s anointed. Henceforth, the most powerful God and Creator and the “family deity” were one the same. Jacob’s God became mainly a Hebrew deity that protected the interests of Israel. With the help of the God of his fathers the I AM, Moses did to the Egyptians what Jacob had done to Laban and later Mordecai did it to his enemies. The Hebrew fathers created a deity that drove an awesome fear into the hearts of their enemies.
All this cheating led to a complete breakdown of the relationships between Laban and Jacob. In fact, it became irreparable and Jacob fled with all his family, animals and belongings. Laban pursued Jacob, but was warned in a dream not to harm him. When Laban overtook Jacob, he only asked that his household gods be returned. Jacob, not knowing that Rachel had stolen them and was sitting on them, invited Laban to search his camp. Rachel escaped with her life by lying about having her days. The fruitless search ended in a friendly covenant and a farewell party. Then the two men parted with the Mitzvah agreement, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other” (Genesis 31). It all ended, believing it was God’s will. Was it? Loving Rachel was far from loving. She, more than any woman in the Bible, had Jacob wrapped around her little finger. She changed his destiny and timetable of success. The twenty years he had to spend with Laban, Rachel’s father, Jacob had learned something about serving rather than being served. Back home with mother Rebekah, Esau was the servant and Jacob was the spoiled prince. With Laban, he had to earn his keep and earn the love for Rachel. He had to comply with Laban’s demands. Of course he was clever enough to play Laban’s game, and being who he was –- a cheat found ways to beat Laban at his own game. He ended up richer materially than Laban was. His experience in Laban’s service did lead to a self-evaluation and a change before he faced his brother Esau. Regarding Rachel, nothing about her has been recorded except that she became the mother of Joseph after all the other women had born their children and after Joseph was sold into slavery by his brother she gave birth to Benjamin. Jacob’s special love for Rachel was the reason Joseph was favored and became the main cause why his brothers disposed of him. Rachel died while they herded their flock near Bethlehem where she died and was buried by the roadside to Ephrath (Genesis 48:7).