Jacob – Father of the Twelve Tribes
by John C. Westervelt
Jacob’s mother Rebekah used deceit to cause her husband Isaac, who was old and blind, to bless Jacob rather than Esau, her first-born. Isaac blessed Jacob, saying, “May God always give you plenty of rain for your crops, and good harvest of grain, and new wine. May many nations be your slaves. Be the master of your brothers. May all your relatives bow low before you. Cursed are all who curse you, and blessed are all who bless you.”
The moment Esau learned that Jacob had stolen his blessing, he vowed to kill him. Rebekah was so frantic that she insisted that Jacob flee to northern Mesopotamia, to the home of Laban her brother.
Jacob left Beersheba, fifty miles south of Jerusalem, on his five hundred mile journey north to Haran, Mesopotamia. He stopped for the night at a town ten miles north of Jerusalem. Using a stone for a pillow, he slept and dreamed.
Jacob saw a ladder that reached into the heaven with angels going up and down. God was at the top and said, “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac. I entrust the land on which you lie to you and your descendants...I will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land.” Before departing this place, Jacob named the town Bethel, meaning “house of God.”
In the vicinity of Haran, Jacob came upon a well with sheep gathered all around. He asked one of the shepherds if he knew Laban. He answered, “Yes, I know him, and that is Rachel his daughter coming with her sheep, for she is a shepherdess.”
When Rachel was a stone’s throw away, Jacob could see that she had coal-black hair and an olive complexion. The loose white garment she was wearing clung to her lithe body when the wind blew. As she came closer, Jacob focused on her sparkling, dark eyes and her friendly smile. Jacob knew immediately that this cousin was the woman he wanted to marry.
As soon as Laban heard that Rebekah’s son Jacob had come to Haran, he ran to meet him and invited him into his house. In a few days, Jacob said to Laban, “I want to marry Rachel. Let me work for you for seven years to win her.”
The seven years seemed like a few days to Jacob because of his love for Rachel. When the time was up, Laban hosted a feast for family and friends. Leah, Rachel’s older sister, was among the guests. While Rachel was beautiful, Leah was plain and weak-eyed. The women of the town were fond of Leah and felt bad that she had not married.
Late at night after Jacob had his fill of food and wine, Laban directed him into the tent of marriage. Upon awaking the next morning, Jacob found that he was with Leah. He asked Laban, “Why have you cheated me?”
Laban answered, “It is not our practice to marry off the younger daughter before the first-born.”
Jacob agreed to work to make Rachel his second wife. First there was a week alone with Leah, followed by the wedding of Rachel and Jacob. Then Jacob began another seven years of work for Laban. While Leah was giving Jacob six sons and a daughter, Rachel remained barren. Leah and Rachel each gave their maid to Jacob as a wife, and each maid had two sons. In time, Rachel became pregnant and presented to Jacob his eleventh son, whom she named Joseph.
Jacob worked fourteen years to pay for his two wives and six more years to accumulate flocks of his own. Then Jacob journeyed to his home in Canaan. At an overnight campsite near home, Jacob wrestled all night with God, and God named him Israel, the name of the nation of Jacob’s people to this day. Jacob, through God’s wisdom, approached Esau in an exceedingly humble way with many gifts and much deference. Jacob’s fear of Esau became unfounded, for his brother, yielding to Jacob’s obvious change of heart, welcomed him home with open arms.
God told Jacob to make his home in Bethel. On a journey from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem), Rachel went into difficult labor with Benjamin. The baby lived, but the mother died.
Jacob always had a passion for Rachel, his first love. This special love carried over to their son Joseph, the one who would be singled out to wear the coat of many colors. God used all these circumstances to send Joseph into Egypt to prepare a way for the Jews to survive the famine that would come to Canaan.
While living in Egypt for 430 years, the families of the twelve sons of Jacob multiplied as God had promised. Finally the Hebrews were brought out of Egypt by Moses, wandered for forty years in the wilderness, and were led into the Promised Land by Joshua. Joshua secured the land promised by the Lord and then divided up the land, creating a territory for each of the twelve tribes. In keeping with Jacob’s significance to Israel’s history, the twelve territories were named after Jacob’s sons.
Copyright 2002 by John C. Westervelt
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