Fausset's Bible Dictionary


("supplanter", or "holding the heel".) Esau's twin brother, but second in point of priority. Son of Isaac, then 60 years old, and Rebekah. As Jacob "took his brother by the heel (the action of a wrestler) in the womb" (Hos 12:3), so the spiritual Israel, every believer, having no right in himself to the inheritance, by faith when being born again of the Spirit takes hold of the bruised heel, the humanity, of Christ crucified, "the Firstborn of many brethren." He by becoming a curse for us became a blessing to the true Israel; contrast Heb 12:16-17. Jacob was a "plain," i.e. an upright man, steady and domestic, affectionate, so his mother's favorite: Gen 25:24, etc., "dwelling in tents," i.e. staying at home, minding the flocks and household duties; not, like Esau, wandering abroad in keen quest of game, "a man of the field," wild, restless, self indulgent, and seldom at home in the tent.

Having bought the birthright from Esau, he afterward, at Rebekah's instigation, stole the blessing which his father intended for Esau, but which God had appointed to him even when the two sons were yet unborn; "the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen 25:23; Gen 27:29; Mal 1:3; Rom 9:12). His seeking a right end by wrong means (Genesis 27) entailed a life-long retribution in kind. Instead of occupying the first place of honour in the family he had to flee for his life; instead of a double portion, he fled with only the staff in his hand. It was now, when his schemes utterly failed, God's grace began to work in him and for him, amidst his heavy outward crosses. If he had waited in faith God's time, and God's way, of giving the blessing promised by God, and not unlawfully with carnal policy foiled Isaac's intention, God would have defeated his father's foolish purpose and Jacob would have escaped his well deserved chastisement.

The fear of man, precautions cunning, habitual timidity as to danger, characterize him, as we might have expected in one quiet and shrewd to begin with, then schooled in a life exposed to danger from Esau, to grasping selfishness from Laban, and to undutifulness from most of his sons (Gen 31:15; Gen 31:42; Gen 34:5; Gen 34:30; Gen 43:6; Gen 43:11-12). Jacob's grand superiority lay in his abiding trust in the living God. Faith made him "covet earnestly the best gift," though his mode of getting it (first by purchase from the reckless, profane Esau, at the cost of red pottage, taking ungenerous advantage of his brother's hunger; next by deceit) was most unworthy.

When sent forth by his parents to escape Esau, and to get a wife in Padan Aram, he for the first time is presented before us as enjoying God's manifestations at Bethel in his vision of the ladder set up on earth, and the top reaching heaven, with "Jehovah standing above, and the angels of God ascending and descending (not descending and ascending, for the earth is presupposed as already the scene of their activity) on it," typifying God's providence and grace arranging all things for His people's good through the ministry of "angels" (Genesis 28; Heb 1:14). When his conscience made him feel his flight was the just penalty of his deceit God comforts him by promises of His grace.

Still more typifying Messiah, through whom heaven is opened and also joined to earth, and angels minister with ceaseless activity to Him first, then to His people (Joh 14:6; Rev 4:1; Act 7:56; Heb 9:8; Heb 10:19-20). Jacob the man of guile saw Him at the top of the ladder; Nathanael, an Israelite without guile, saw Him at the bottom in His humiliation, which was the necessary first step upward to glory. Joh 1:51; "hereafter," Greek "from now," the process was then beginning which shall eventuate in the restoration of the union between heaven and earth, with greater glory than before (Rev 5:8; Revelation 21:1 - 22:21). Then followed God's promise of (1) the land and (2) of universal blessing to all families of the earth "in his seed," i.e. Christ; meanwhile he should have

(1) God's presence,
(2) protection in all places,
(3) restoration to home,
(4) unfailing faithfulness (Gen 28:15; compare Gen 28:20-21).

Recognizing God's manifestation as sanctifying the spot, he made his stony pillow into a pillar, consecrated with oil, and taking up God's word he vowed that as surely as God would fulfill His promises (he asked no more than "bread and raiment") Jehovah should be his God, and of all that God gave he would surely give a tenth to Him; not waiting until he should be rich to do so, but while still poor; a pattern to us (compare Gen 32:10). Next follows his seven years' service under greedy Laban, in lieu of presents to the parents (the usual mode of obtaining a wife in the East, Gen 24:53, which Jacob was unable to give), and the imposition of Leah upon him instead of Rachel; the first installment of his retributive chastisement in kind for his own deceit. Kennicott suggested that Jacob served 14 years for his wives, then during 20 years he took care of Laban's cattle as a friend, then during six years he served for wages (Gen 31:38; Gen 31:41).

"One (zeh) 20 years I was with thee (tending thy flocks, but not in thy house); another (zeh) 20 years I was for myself in thy house, serving thee 14 years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle." The ordinary view that he was only 20 years old in Padan Aram would make him 77 years old in going there; and as Joseph, the second youngest, was born at the end of the first 14 years, the 11 children born before Benjamin would be all born within six or seven years, Leah's six, Rachel's one, Bilhah's two, and Zilpah's two. It is not certain that Dinah was born at this time. Zebulun may have been borne by Leah later than Joseph, it not being certain that the births all followed in the order of their enumeration, which is that of the mothers, not that of the births. Rachel gave her maid to Jacob not necessarily after the birth of Leah's fourth son; so Bilhah may have borne Dan and Naphtali before Judah's birth.

Leah then, not being likely to have another son, probably gave Zilpah to Jacob, and Asher and Naphtali were born; in the beginning of the last of the seven years probably Leah bore Issachar, and at its end Zebulun. But in the view of Kennicott and Speaker's Commentary Jacob went to Laban at 57; in the first 14 years had sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah by Leah; Dan and Naphtali by Bilhah; in the 20 years (Gen 35:38) next had Gad and Asher by Zilpah, Issachar and Zebulun by Leah, lastly Dinah by Leah and Joseph by Rachel; then six years' service for cattle, then flees from Padan Aram where he had been 40 years, at 97. In Jacob's 98th year Benjamin is born and Rachel dies. Joseph at 17 goes to Egypt, at 30 is governor. At 130 Jacob goes to Egypt (Gen 46:1); dies at 147 (Gen 47:28).

The assigning of 40, instead of 20, years to his sojourn with Laban allows time for Er and Onan to be grown up when married; their strong passions leading them to marry, even so, at an early age for that time. The common chronology needs some correction, since it makes Judah marry at 20, Er and Onan at 15. On Jacob desiring to leave, Laban attested God's presence with Jacob. "I have found by experience (Hebrew "by omens from serpents," the term showing Laban's paganness: Gen 30:19; Gen 30:32) that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake." Jacob then required as wages all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, which usually are few, sheep in the East being generally white, the goats black or brown, not speckled.

With characteristic sharpness Jacob adopted a double plan of increasing the wages agreed on. Peeling rods of (Gesenius) storax ("poplar"), almond ("hazel"), and plane tree ("chesnut") in strips, so that the dazzling white wood of these trees should appear under the dark outside, he put them in the drinking troughs; the cattle consequently brought forth spotted, speckled young, which by the agreement became Jacob's. Thus by trickery he foiled Laban's trickery in putting three days' journey between his flock tended by Jacob and Jacob's stipulated flock of spotted and speckled goats and brown put under the care of his sons. Secondly, Jacob separated the speckled young, which were his, so as to be constantly in view of Laban's one-colored flock. Moreover he adopted the trick with the rods only at the copulation of the strong sheep, namely, at the summer copulation not the autumn; for lambs conceived in spring were thought stronger.

Laban changed the terms frequently ("ten times") when he saw Jacob's success, but in vain. Jacob accounted to his wives for his success by narrating his dream, which he had at the time the cattle conceived (Gen 31:10). This dream was at the beginning of the six years. "God hath taken away your father's cattle and given them to me." God's command to Jacob to return was in a dream at the close of the six years (Gen 31:11-13; in 12 translated leaped for "leap," and were for "are".) In the latter God states the true cause of his success; not his trickery, but "I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee": the repetition of "in a dream" twice implies two dreams. Jacob's polygamy was contrary to the original law of paradise (Gen 2:23-24; Mat 19:5). Leah was imposed on him when he had designed to marry Rachel only, and the maids were given him by his wives to obtain offspring.

The times of ignorance, when the gospel had not yet restored the original standard, tolerated evils which would be inexcusable now. Jealousies were the result of polygamy in Jacob's case, as was sure to happen. The most characteristic scene of Jacob's higher life was his wrestling until break of day (compare Luk 6:12) with the Angel of Jehovah, in human form, for a blessing. "By his strength he had power with God, yea he had power over the Angel and prevailed, he wept and made supplication unto Him" (Hos 12:3-4). So He received the name Israel, "contender with God," a pattern to us (Mat 11:12; Mat 15:22; Rev 3:21; Luk 13:24). His "strength" was conscious weakness constraining him, when his thigh was put out of joint and he could put forth no effort of his own, to hang upon Him; teaching us the irresistible might of conscious weakness hanging on Almighty strength (Job 23:6; Isa 27:5; Isa 40:29-31; 2Co 12:9-10).

"I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me" is a model prayer (Gen 32:26). Tears (recorded by Hosea under an independent Spirit of revelation) and supplications were his weapons; type of Messiah (Heb 5:7). The vision of the two encampments of angels on either side of him prepared him for the vision of the Lord of angels. Thus he saw, "they that be with us (believers) are more than they that be with" our enemies (2Ki 6:16-17). Wrestling first with God, we can victoriously wrestle with Satan (Eph 6:12). Jacob like David felt "what time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee" (Psa 56:3-4; Psa 56:11; 1Sa 30:6).

His is one of the earliest prayers on record (Gen 32:7; Gen 32:9-12). He pleads as arguments (compare Isa 43:26), first God's covenant keeping character to the children of His people, "O God of my father Abraham and Isaac"; next, His word and promises (Isa 31:3; Isa 31:13), "the Lord which saidst unto me, Return ... and I will deal well with thee"; next, his own unworthiness, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies," etc. (compare Isa 28:20-22); next the petition itself, "deliver me ... from Esau," appealing to God's, known pity for the helpless, "I fear him lest he ... smite ... the mother with the children"; again falling back on God's own word, "Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea;" etc. The present, artfully made seem larger by putting a space between drove and drove, and each driver in turn saying, "they be thy servant Jacob's, ... a present unto my lord Esau," was calculated by successive appeals to impress the impulsive elder brother (Mat 5:25).

Having left Canaan in guilt, now on his return Jacob must re-enter it with deep searchings of heart and wrestlings with God for the recovery of that sinless faith which he had forfeited by deceit and which lays hold of the covenant. Jacob is made to know he has more to fear from God's displeasure than from Esau's enmity Once that he stands right with God he need not fear Esau. There followed therefore the wrestling "alone" with Jehovah (compare Mat 14:23; Mar 1:35); his being named "Israel"; and his asking God's name, to which the only reply was, God "blessed him there." Blessing is God's name, i.e. the character wherein He reveals Himself to His people (Exo 34:5-7). Jacob called the place Peniel, "the face of God." Next Jacob came to Succoth, then crossed Jordan, and near Shechem bought his only possession in Canaan, the field whereon he tented, from the children of Hamer, Shechem's father, for 100 kesita, i.e. ingots of silver of a certain weight.

The old versions translated "lambs," an ancient standard of wealth before coinage was practiced. For "Shalem, a city of Shechem," translated with Samaritan Pentateuch, "Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem," though there is still a Salim E. of Nablus (Shechem). His settlement here in the N. instead of with his father in the S. at Beersheba may have been to avoid collision with Esau and to make an independent settlement in the promised land. It seems to have been in a time of his temporary religious declension after his escape from Esau through God's interposition. Undue intercourse with the Canaanites around ended in Dinah's fall and the cruel retribution by Simeon and Levi, which so imperiled his position among the surrounding Canaanites, and which so deeply affected him (Gen 33:17; Gen 33:19; Genesis 34; Gen 49:5-6).

It is true he erected an altar, El Elohe Israel, claiming God as his own "the God of Israel." Still God saw need for calling him to a personal and domestic revival. Jacob understood it so, and called his household to put away their strange gods (namely, Rachel's stolen teraphim and the idols of Shechem, which was spoiled just before), their earrings (used as idolatrous phylacteries), and uncleanness; and then proceeded to perform what he had vowed so long ago, namely, to make the stone pillar God's house (Gen 28:22). When thus once more he sought peace with God "the terror of God was upon the cities around" (compare Jos 2:9). They made no attempt such as Jacob feared to avenge the slaughter of the Shechemites. Reaching Bethel once more after 40 years, where he had seen the heavenly ladder, he has a vision of God confirming his name "Israel" and the promise of nations springing from him, and of his seed inheriting the land; He therefore rears again the stone pillar to El Shaddai, "God Almighty," the name whereby God had appeared to Abram also when He changed his name to Abraham.

Then followed the birth of Benjamin, which completed the tribal twelve (Genesis 35). The loss of his favorite son Joseph was his heaviest trial, his deceit to Isaac now being repaid by his sons' cruel deceit to himself. Tender affection for wife and children was his characteristic (Gen 37:33-35; Gen 42:36; Gen 45:28). By special revelation at Beersheba (Genesis 46) allaying his fears of going to Egypt, which Isaac had been expressly forbidden to do (Gen 26:2), he went down. This marks the close of the first stage in the covenant and the beginning of the second stage. Leaving Canaan as a family, Israel returned as a nation.

In Egypt the transformation took place; the civilization, arts, and sciences of Egypt adapted it well for the divine purpose of training Israel in this second stage of their history; Jacob and his family, numbering 70, or as Stephen from Septuagint reads, 75 souls (Act 7:14), according as Joseph's children only or his grandchildren also are counted. Jacob's sons' wives are not reckoned in the 70 persons, only the unmarried daughter Dinah and a granddaughter. In the number are included, according to Hebrew usage, some who were still "in the loins of their fathers." Benjamin's (then only 24) ten sons were probably born in Egypt subsequently. So Pharez' two sons and Asher's two grandsons by Beriah. In the genealogy those named are the heads of tribes and of famiLies. At 130 Jacob blessed Pharaoh and termed his life a "pilgrimage" of days "few and evil" (47; Heb 11:9; Heb 11:13). The catalog of ills includes his sufferings:

(1) from Esau,
(2) Laban,
(3) maiming by the Angel,
(4) Dinah's violation and Simeon and Levi's cruelty,
(5) loss of Joseph,
(6) Simeon's imprisonment,
(7) Benjamin's departure,
(8) Rachel's death,
(9) Reuben's incest.

All these seemed "against" him, but all was for him, because God was for him (Rom 8:28; Rom 8:31; Rom 8:37; Gen 42:36). His true grandeur and sublimity burst forth at his latter end; his triumphant and grateful review of life," God, before whom my fathers did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lad!" His blessing Joseph's sons was an act of "faith" (Heb 11:21), "leaning upon the top of his staff," an additional fact brought out by Paul (adopting Septuagint), as he worshipped on his bed (Gen 47:31; Gen 48:2); the staff symbolized his "pilgrim" spirit seeking the heavenly city (Gen 32:10). Faith adapted him to receive prophetic insight into the characters and destiny of Ephraim and Manasseh respectively, as also of his other representatives.

He anticipates the future as present, saying "I have given to thee (Joseph's descendants) above thy brethren (Ephraim was the chief tribe of the N.) one portion of that land which I in the person of my descendants (Joshua and Israel) am destined to take with sword and bow from the Amorites" (Gen 48:22). In Gen 49:28 his prophecy as to his several sons and the tribes springing from them is called a "blessing" because, though a portion was denunciatory, yet as a whole all were within the covenant of blessing, but with modifications according to their characteristics. What already was gave intimation to the spirit of prophecy in Jacob of what would be. His prophecy of Shiloh's coming in connection with Judah's ceasing to have the sceptre and a lawgiver more accurately defined the Messianic promise than it had been before.

The general promise of "the seed" sprung from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob he now limits to Judah. His faith in "bowing on his bed" after Joseph promised to bury him in Canaan (Gen 47:29-30) consisted in his confidence of God's giving Canaan to his seed, and he therefore earnestly desired to be buried there. Epistle to Hebrew omits his last blessing on his 12 sons, because Paul "plucks only the flowers by his way and leaves the whole meadow to his hearers" (Delitzsch). His secret and true life is epitomized in "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord" (Gen 49:18). At 147 he died, and his body was embalmed and after a grand state funeral procession buried with his fathers in the cave of Machpelah before Mamre (Genesis 1). 

Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)