(Jaʹcob) [taking hold of the heel; supplanter].
1. Son of Isaac and Rebekah, and younger twin brother of Esau. Jacob’s parents had been married for twenty years before the birth of these twins, their only children, in 1858 B.C.E. Isaac at the time was sixty years old. So, as in the case of Abraham, Isaac’s prayers for offspring were answered only after his patience and faith in God’s promises had been fully tested.—Gen. 25:20, 21, 26; Rom. 9:7-10.
In her pregnancy, Rebekah was distressed by the struggling of the twins within her womb, which, Jehovah explained, were the beginnings of two opposing nations. Furthermore, Jehovah declared that, contrary to custom, the older would serve the younger. Accordingly, the second-born Jacob was holding the heel of Esau at their birth; hence the name Jacob, meaning “taking hold of the heel.” (Gen. 25:22-26) Jehovah thus demonstrated his ability to detect the genetic bent of the unborn, and to exercise his foreknowledge and right to select beforehand whom he chooses for his purposes, and yet in no way to predetermine the final destiny of individuals.—Rom. 9:10-12; Hos. 12:3.
In contrast to his father’s favorite son Esau, who was a wild, restless, wandering type of huntsman, Jacob is described as “a blameless [Heb., tam] man, dwelling in tents,” one who led a quiet pastoral life and was dependable to look after domestic affairs, one who was especially loved by his mother. (Gen. 25:27, 28) This Hebrew word tam is used elsewhere to describe those approved of God. For example, “bloodthirsty men hate anyone blameless [Heb., tam],” yet Jehovah gives assurance that “the future of [the blameless] man will be peaceful.” (Prov. 29:10; Ps. 37:37) Integrity-keeper Job “proved to be blameless [Heb., tam] and upright.”—Job 1:1, 8; 2:3.
RECEIVED BIRTHRIGHT AND BLESSING
Abraham did not die until his grandson Jacob was fifteen years old, in 1843 B.C.E., and so the boy had ample opportunity to hear of God’s oath-bound covenant directly from the lips of his grandfather as well as his father. (Gen. 22:15-18) Jacob realized what a privilege it would be to participate in the fulfillment of such divine promises. Finally the opportunity presented itself legally to purchase from his brother the firstborn birthright and all that went with it. (Deut. 21:15-17) This opportunity arrived one day when Esau came in exhausted from the field and smelled the tasty stew his brother had cooked. “Quick, please,” Esau exclaimed, “give me a swallow of the red—the red there, for I am tired!” Jacob’s reply: “Sell me, first of all, your right as first-born!” “Esau despised the birthright,” and so the sale was quickly made and sealed with a solemn oath. (Gen. 25:29-34; Heb. 12:16) Reasons enough why Jehovah said, “I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated.”—Rom. 9:13; Mal. 1:2, 3.
Jehovah’s love for Jacob was particularly manifest in the maneuvering of events in such a way that Isaac’s patriarchal blessing intended for Esau fell on Jacob. Isaac had requested Esau to go hunting for venison. In his absence, Jacob, at his mother’s urging, dressed in Esau’s garments that were scented with the smell of the field, his hands and neck disguised with goatskins to resemble his hairy brother, brought his father a savory dish of goat meat, which was mistaken for the desired game. Satisfied that the firstborn stood before him, Isaac bestowed upon Jacob the highly valued blessing.—Gen. 27:1-37.
This was not a case of malicious misrepresentation. Legally he had bought the birthright and was therefore representing or taking the place of his brother whom his father, suffering from failing eyesight, evidently thought still held the birthright.
Esau, for his part, refused to honor the bona fide sale to his brother, and, worst of all, refused to recognize the divine hand in the whole matter. He reasoned that soon his father would die; after that he planned to kill his brother Jacob. Rebekah, however, was instrumental in protecting both the life of Jacob and the interests of the Promised Seed, for as soon as she learned of Esau’s plot to do away with Jacob she persuaded Isaac to send Jacob off to Paddan-aram, there to seek for himself a wife from among the relatives. He was thus protected from Canaanite influence such as Esau had taken into his house.—Gen. 27:41–28:5.
JACOB’S MOVE TO PADDAN-ARAM
Jacob was seventy-seven years old when he left Beer-sheba for the land of his foreparents, a land where he spent the next twenty years of his life. (Gen. 28:10; 31:38) After traveling NE about sixty miles (97 kilometers) he stopped at Luz in the Judean hills for the night, using a stone for his pillow. There in his dreams he saw a ladder, or flight of stairs, reaching into the heavens, upon which angels were ascending and descending. At the top Jehovah was envisioned, and he now confirmed with Jacob the divine covenant made with Abraham and Isaac.—Gen. 28:11-13; 1 Chron. 16:16, 17.
In this covenant Jehovah promised Jacob that he would watch over and keep him and would not forsake him until the land upon which he was lying had become his, and his seed had become like the dust particles of the earth for numbers. Moreover, “by means of you and by means of your seed all the families of the ground will certainly bless themselves.” (Gen. 28:13-15) When Jacob fully realized the import of the night’s experience he exclaimed: “How fear-inspiring this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God.” He therefore changed the name of Luz to Bethel, meaning “house of God,” and proceeded to set up a pillar and anoint it as a witness of these momentous events. In grateful response to God’s promise of support, Jacob also vowed that without fail he would give to Jehovah a tenth of all he received.—Gen. 28:16-22.
Traveling on, Jacob eventually met his cousin Rachel in the vicinity of Haran and was invited by her father Laban, the brother of Jacob’s mother, to stay with them. Jacob fell in love with Rachel and bargained to work seven years for her father if he would give her to be his wife. The passing years seemed “to be like some few days,” so deep was Jacob’s love for Rachel. However, at the wedding Rachel’s older sister Leah was deceitfully substituted, Laban explaining, “It is not customary . . . to give the younger woman before the first-born.” After celebrating this marriage for a week, Laban then gave Rachel also to Jacob as his wife upon the agreement that Jacob would work another seven years in payment for her. Laban also gave Leah and Rachel two maidservants, Zilpah and Bilhah respectively.—Gen. 29:1-29; Hos. 12:12.
Jehovah began building a great nation out of this marriage arrangement. Leah bore Jacob four sons in succession: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah. Rachel, seeing she continued barren, then gave her slave girl Bilhah to Jacob and, through her, got two sons, Dan and Naphtali. At this time Leah remained barren. So she too gave her slave girl Zilpah to Jacob and got two sons from this union, namely, Gad and Asher. Leah then began bearing children once again, giving birth first to Issachar, then to Zebulun, and then to a daughter named Dinah. Rachel at last became pregnant and gave birth to Joseph. As a consequence, in the comparatively short period of seven years, Jacob was blessed with many children.—Gen. 29:30–30:24.
JACOB MADE RICH BEFORE LEAVING HARAN
Having completed his fourteen-year work contract for the acquisition of his wives, Jacob was now anxious to return to his homeland. But Laban, seeing how Jehovah had blessed him due to Jacob, insisted that he continue overseeing his flocks; Jacob was even told to stipulate his own wages. In that part of the world the sheep and goats are generally of a solid color, the sheep being white, the goats black. Jacob therefore asked that only the sheep and goats with abnormal colors or markings be given to him—all the sheep dark brown in color and all the goats with any white marks. “Why, that is fine!” was Laban’s reply. And to keep the wages as low as possible, Laban, at Jacob’s suggestion, separated out of the flocks all the striped, speckled and color-patched goats and the dark-brown young male sheep, which he gave to his own sons to look after, even putting a three-day distance between them, to prevent any interbreeding of the two flocks. Only abnormally colored ones born in the future would be Jacob’s.—Gen. 30:25-36.
So here Jacob started off tending only sheep of normal color and goats with no markings. However, he worked hard and did what he thought would increase the number of off-colored animals. He took green sapling staffs of the storax, almond and plane trees, and peeled the barks of these in such a way as to give them a striped, spotty appearance. These he placed in the gutters of the animals’ drinking troughs, apparently with the idea that if the animals looked at the stripes when in heat there would be a prenatal influence that would make the offspring mottled or abnormal in color. Jacob also took care to place the sticks in the troughs only when the stronger robust animals were in heat.—Gen. 30:37-42.
Results? The offspring abnormally marked or colored, and therefore Jacob’s “wages,” proved to be more numerous than those of normal solid color, which were to be Laban’s. Since the desired results were obtained, Jacob probably thought his stratagem with the striped sticks was responsible. In this he no doubt shared the same misconception commonly held by many people, namely, that such things can have an effect on the offspring. However, in a dream his Creator instructed him otherwise.
In his dream Jacob learned that certain principles of genetics, and not the sticks, were responsible for his success. Whereas Jacob was tending only solid-colored animals, yet the vision revealed that the male goats were striped, speckled and spotty. How could this be? Apparently they were hybrids even though of uniform color, the result of crossbreeding in Laban’s flock before Jacob began being paid. So certain of these animals carried in their reproductive cells the hereditary factors for spotting and speckling future generations, according to the laws of heredity discovered by Gregor Mendel in the last century.—Gen. 31:10-12.
During the six years that Jacob worked under this arrangement Jehovah greatly blessed and prospered him by increasing, not only his flocks, but also the number of his servants, camels and asses, and this in spite of the fact that Laban kept changing the agreed-upon wages. Finally, the “true God of Bethel” instructed Jacob to return to the Promised Land.—Gen. 30:43; 31:1-13, 41.
RETURN TO THE PROMISED LAND
Fearing that Laban would attempt again to prevent Jacob from leaving his service, Jacob secretly took his wives and children, and all that he owned, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for Canaan. In contemplating this move Jacob was probably grazing his flocks close to the Euphrates, as indicated by Genesis 31:4, 21. At the time Laban was out shearing his flocks and was not informed of Jacob’s departure until three days after he had left. More time may have elapsed in which the shearing was completed and preparations were made to chase after Jacob with his forces. All together, this would have given Jacob sufficient time to drive his slow-moving flocks all the way down to the mountainous region of Gilead before Laban caught up with him, a distance from Haran of not less than 350 air miles (563 kilometers), a distance, however, that could easily have been covered in seven days by Laban and his kinsmen riding camels in hot pursuit.—Gen. 31:14-23.
When Laban found the object of his pursuit camped a few miles N of the Jabbok River he demanded that Jacob explain: Why had he left without allowing Laban to kiss his children and grandchildren goodbye, and why had he stolen Laban’s gods? (Gen. 31:24-30) The answer to the first question was rather obvious—fear that Laban would have prevented him from leaving. As to the second question, Jacob was innocent of the fact, and a search failed to disclose that Rachel had indeed stolen the family teraphim and hidden them in her camel’s saddle basket.—Gen. 31:31-35.
One explanation for Rachel’s actions, and Laban’s concern, is this: “Possession of the household gods marked a person as the legitimate heir, which explains Laban’s anxiety in Gen. 31:26 ff. to recover his household gods from Jacob.”—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. B. Pritchard, 2d ed., p. 220, ftn. 51.
Their quarrel peacefully settled, Jacob set up a stone pillar and then heaped up stones, which stood there for many years as a witness to the covenant of peace that these two had concluded with a ceremonial meal. The names given to this heap of stones were Galeed (“witness heap”) and The Watchtower.—Gen. 31:36-55.
Jacob was now anxious to make peace also with his brother Esau, whom he had not seen for more than twenty years. To soften any lingering hatred his brother might still harbor, Jacob sent ahead of him costly gifts for Esau—hundreds of goats and sheep, and many camels, cattle and asses. (Gen. 32:3-21) Jacob had fled Canaan with practically nothing; now because of Jehovah’s blessing he was returning a wealthy man.
During the night that Jacob’s household crossed the Jabbok on the way S to meet Esau, Jacob had the most unusual experience of wrestling with an angel, and because of his perseverance his name was changed to Israel, meaning “God contends,” or, “Contender (Perseverer) with God.” (Gen. 32:22-28) Thereafter both names often appear in Hebrew poetic parallelisms. (Ps. 14:7; 22:23; 78:5, 21, 71; 105:10, 23) In this struggle the angel touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh joint and he limped for the rest of his life—perhaps to teach him humility; a constant reminder not to be overly exalted because of his God-given prosperity or for having grappled with an angel. In commemoration of these momentous events Jacob called the place Peniel or Penuel.—Gen. 32:25, 30-32.
After the conclusion of the amiable meeting between Jacob and Esau these twins, now about ninety-nine years old, each went his separate way, presumably not to meet again until they jointly buried their father Isaac some twenty-three years later. Esau went S to Seir with his gifts and Jacob turned N, recrossing the Jabbok.—Gen. 33:1-17; 35:29.
NEXT THIRTY-THREE YEARS AS ALIEN RESIDENT
After parting company with Esau, Jacob settled down in Succoth. This was the first place where Jacob stayed for any length of time after returning from Paddan-aram. How long he was here is not stated, but it may have been a number of years, for he built himself a permanent structure in which to live and also booths or covered stalls of some sort for his livestock.—Gen. 33:17.
Jacob’s next move was westward across the Jordan to the vicinity of Shechem, where he bought a tract of land from the sons of Hamor for “a hundred pieces of money [Heb., qesi·tahʹ].” (Gen. 33:18-20; Josh. 24:32) The value of that ancient money unit, the qesi·tahʹ, is not known today, but a hundred of them, all together, must have amounted to a considerable sum of weighed-out silver, there being no coins in those days.
It was at Shechem that Jacob’s daughter Dinah began associating with the Canaanite women, and this, in turn, opened the way for Shechem, the chieftain Hamor’s son, to violate her. In the wake of this episode matters soon developed beyond Jacob’s control—his sons killed every male inhabitant of Shechem, took the women and children captive, appropriated all the property and wealth of the community, and made their father Jacob a stench to the inhabitants of the land.—Gen. 34:1-31.
Jacob was then divinely directed to leave Shechem and move down to Bethel, which he did. However, before going he had his household clean themselves up, change their garments, remove all their false gods (probably including Laban’s teraphim), as well as the earrings possibly worn as amulets. These Jacob buried out of sight near Shechem.—Gen. 35:1-4.
Bethel, the “house of God,” was of special importance to Jacob, for here, perhaps some thirty years before, Jehovah had passed on to him the Abrahamic covenant. Now, after Jacob built an altar to this great God of his forefathers, Jehovah restated the covenant and also confirmed that Jacob’s name had been changed to Israel. Jacob then erected a pillar over which he poured a drink offering and oil in commemoration of these momentous events. It was also while sojourning here at Bethel that his mother’s nurse Deborah died and was buried.—Gen. 35:5-15.
Again we do not know how long Jacob lived at Bethel. Upon leaving there and moving southward, and while yet some distance from Bethelem (Ephrath), birth pains struck Rachel, and in the ordeal of giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, she died. Jacob buried his beloved Rachel there and erected a pillar to mark her grave.—Gen. 35:16-20.
This man Israel, now blessed with a full complement of twelve sons from whom the twelve tribes of Israel would spring, traveled on farther S. His next campsite being described as “a distance beyond the tower of Eder,” which places it somewhere between Bethlehem and Hebron. It was while residing there that his oldest son Reuben had sexual relations with his father’s concubine Bilhah, the mother of Dan and Naphtali. Reuben may have thought his father Jacob was too old to do anything about it, but Jehovah disapproved, and for his incestuous act Reuben lost the firstborn’s birthright.—Gen. 35:21-26; 49:3, 4; Deut. 27:20; 1 Chron. 5:1.
Perhaps it was prior to his son Joseph’s being sold into Egyptian slavery that Jacob moved his residence down to Hebron, where his aging father Isaac was still living, but the date of this move is not certain.—Gen. 35:27.
One day Jacob sent Joseph (now seventeen years old) out to see bow his brothers were getting along tending their father’s flocks. When he finally located them at Dothan some sixty-five miles (c. 105 kilometers) N of Hebron, they seized him and sold him to a caravan of traders headed for Egypt. This was in 1750 B.C.E. They then led their father to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. For many days Jacob sorrowed over the loss, refusing to be comforted, and saying: “I shall go down mourning to my son into Sheol!” (Gen. 37:2, 3, 12-36) The death of his father Isaac in 1738 B.C.E. only added to his grief.—Gen. 35:28, 29.
THE MOVE TO EGYPT
About ten years later an extensive famine forced Jacob to send ten of his sons down to Egypt for cereals. Benjamin remained behind. Pharaoh’s food administrator, Joseph, recognized his brothers and demanded that they bring their younger brother Benjamin back with them to Egypt. (Gen. 41:57; 42:1-20) However, when told of the demand, Jacob at first refused to let him go, fearing harm might befall this beloved son of his old age; Benjamin at the time was at least twenty-two years old. (Gen. 42:29-38) Only when the food obtained in Egypt had all been eaten did Jacob finally consent to let Benjamin go.—Gen. 43:1-14; Acts 7:12.
With the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers came the invitation for Jacob and his whole household, together with all their livestock and belongings, to move down to the fertile land of Goshen in Egypt’s delta country, for the great famine was destined to last another five years. Pharaoh even provided wagons and food provisions for their assistance. (Gen. 45:9-24) On the way down, Jehovah assured Jacob that this move had his blessing and approval. (Gen. 46:1-4) All the souls counted as belonging to Jacob’s household, including Manasseh, Ephraim and others that may have been born in Egypt before Jacob died, were seventy in number. (Gen. 46:5-27; Ex. 1:5; Deut. 10:22) This number did not include Leah, who had died in the Promised Land (Gen. 49:31), or his unnamed daughters, or the wives of his sons.—Gen. 46:26; compare Genesis 37:35.
Soon after arriving in Egypt in 1728 B.C.E. Jacob was brought to Pharaoh’s court and there he greeted the king with a blessing. Jacob described himself as an alien resident (the same as Abraham and Isaac, for like them he too had not inherited the God-promised land). Asked about his age, Jacob replied that he was 130 but that, compared with those of his forefathers, his days had been “few and distressing.”—Gen. 47:7-10.
Shortly before his death, Jacob blessed his grandsons, Joseph’s sons, and, by divine guidance, put the younger Ephraim ahead of the older Manasseh. Then to Joseph, who would receive the firstborn’s double portion of the inheritance, Jacob declared: “I do give you one shoulder of land more than to your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorites by my sword and by my bow.” (Gen. 48:1-22; 1 Chron. 5:1) Since Jacob had peaceably purchased the plot of ground near Shechem from the sons of Hamor (Gen. 33:19, 20), it seems that this promise to Joseph was an expression of Jacob’s faith, in which he prophetically spoke of the future conquest of Canaan by his descendants as if already accomplished by his own sword and bow. (See AMORITE.) Joseph’s double portion of that conquered land in effect was the two allotments given to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
Before he died, Jacob summoned up enough strength to bless his twelve sons individually. (Gen. 49:1-28) He showed faith in the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes. (Heb. 11:21) Because of his faith and because Jehovah specifically confirmed to him the Abrahamic covenant of blessing, the Scriptures often refer to Jehovah as the God, not only of Abraham and Isaac, but also of Jacob.—Ex. 3:6; 1 Chron. 29:18; Matt. 22:32.
Finally, in 1711 B.C.E., after seventeen years of residence in Egypt, Jacob died at the age of 147. (Gen. 47:27, 28) Thus that period of history from the birth of Jacob to his death ended, a history that occupies more than half the pages of the book of Genesis. (Chaps. 25 to 50) In accordance with Jacob’s wish to be buried in Canaanland, Joseph first had the Egyptian physicians embalm his father’s body in preparation for the trip. A great funeral train, in keeping with the prominence of his son Joseph, then set out from Egypt. When it came into the region of the Jordan, there were seven days of mourning rites, after which Jacob’s sons buried their father in the cave of Machpelah where Abraham and Isaac had been interred.—Gen. 49:29-33; 50:1-14.
The prophets often used “Jacob” in a figurative sense, with reference to the nation descended from the patriarch. (Isa. 9:8; 27:9; Jer. 10:25; Ezek. 39:25; Amos 6:8; Mic. 1:5; Rom. 11:26) Jesus, on one occasion, used the name Jacob figuratively when speaking of those who would be “in the kingdom of the heavens.”—Matt. 8:11.
2. The father of Joseph the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.—Matt. 1:15, 16.
[Map on page 861]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Sites Mentioned in connection with JACOB’S LIFE
Tower of Eder
Cave of Machpelah
T.V. of Jabbok