Jacob Appreciated Spiritual Values
JACOB’S life is marked by strife and calamity. His twin brother’s murderous anger forces Jacob to flee for his life. Instead of getting the girl he loves, he is tricked into marrying someone else first and ends up with four wives and many resulting problems. (Genesis 30:1-13) For 20 years he works for a man who exploits him. He wrestles with an angel and suffers permanent damage. His daughter is raped, his sons provoke a massacre, and he weeps over the tragic loss of his favorite son and wife. Forced to emigrate in old age to escape famine, he admits that his days have been “few and distressing.” (Genesis 47:9) Despite everything, Jacob is a spiritual man who trusts in God. Is his faith misplaced? What lessons can be learned from considering just some of Jacob’s experiences?
So Different From His Brother
The reason for the discord with his brother was that Jacob valued spiritual riches, while Esau despised them. Jacob was interested in the covenant promise made to Abraham and devoted himself to caring for the family that God designated as heirs. Jehovah thus “loved” him. Jacob was “blameless,” a term implying moral excellence. By contrast, Esau cared so little for his spiritual heritage that he sold it to Jacob for a pittance. When, with divine approval, Jacob claimed what was his and obtained the blessing meant for his brother, Esau flew into a vengeful rage. Jacob then left behind all he loved, but what followed surely revived any sagging spirits.—Malachi 1:2, 3; Genesis 25:27-34; 27:1-45.
In a dream, God showed Jacob angels ascending and descending a ladder, or a “rising flight of stones,” between heaven and earth and stated that he would protect Jacob and his seed. “By means of you and by means of your seed all the families of the ground will certainly bless themselves. And here I am with you and I will keep you in all the way you are going and I will return you to this ground, because I am not going to leave you until I have actually done what I have spoken to you.”—Genesis 28:10-15; footnote.
How reassuring! Jehovah confirmed that promises given to Abraham and Isaac would spiritually enrich Jacob’s family. Jacob was made aware that angels can minister to those having God’s approval, and he was assured of divine protection. In grateful recognition, Jacob vowed to be faithful to Jehovah.—Genesis 28:16-22.
In no way did Jacob usurp Esau’s inheritance. Before the boys were born, Jehovah said that ‘the older would serve the younger.’ (Genesis 25:23) ‘Would it not have been easier if God had caused Jacob to be born first?’ someone might ask. What followed taught important truths. God does not reserve blessings for those who feel that they have a claim on them, but he does show undeserved kindness to those whom he chooses. The birthright thus went to Jacob, not to his older brother, who did not appreciate it. Similarly, because the natural Jews as a nation showed the same attitude as Esau, they were replaced by spiritual Israel. (Romans 9:6-16, 24) Good relations with Jehovah today never come by effortless inheritance, even if one is born into a God-fearing family or environment. All who would have divine blessings must strive to be godly, truly appreciating spiritual things.
Welcomed by Laban
On arriving in Paddan-aram to seek a wife among his relatives, Jacob met his cousin Rachel, Laban’s daughter, at a well and moved its heavy stone cover to water the animals she was shepherding.* Rachel dashed home to announce Jacob’s arrival, and Laban hastened to meet him. If Laban was recalling the riches his family received from Abraham’s servant, he was disappointed, for Jacob was empty-handed. But Laban evidently did see something he could exploit—an industrious laborer.—Genesis 28:1-5; 29:1-14.
Jacob related his story. It is not clear whether he mentioned the ruse used to obtain the birthright, but after hearing “all these things,” Laban said: “You are indeed my bone and my flesh.” One scholar said that this phrase could be taken as a warm invitation for Jacob to stay or an admission that kinship obliged Laban to protect him. Whatever the case, Laban soon contemplated how he could exploit his nephew.
Laban introduced what would become a bone of contention over the next 20 years. “Are you my brother, and must you serve me for nothing?” he asked. “Tell me, What are your wages to be?” Though Laban played the part of the benevolent uncle, he reduced his blood relationship with Jacob to a service contract. Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he replied: “I am willing to serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.”—Genesis 29:15-20.
Betrothal was effected by the payment of a bride-price to the bride’s family. The Mosaic Law later set at 50 silver shekels the price for virgins who had been seduced. Scholar Gordon Wenham believes that this was “the maximum marriage gift” but that most were “much lower.” (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29) Jacob could not arrange for a payment. He offered Laban seven years’ service. “Since casual laborers received between one-half and one shekel a month in old Babylonian times” (from 42 to 84 shekels in seven full years), continues Wenham, “Jacob was offering Laban a very handsome marriage gift in exchange for Rachel’s hand.” Laban readily accepted.—Genesis 29:19.
Seven years seemed like “some few days” to Jacob, so great was his love for Rachel. Thereafter, he claimed his veiled bride, little suspecting Laban’s treachery. Imagine his shock the next morning to find that he had slept, not with Rachel, but with her sister Leah! Jacob demanded: “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? So why have you tricked me?” Laban replied: “It is not customary to do this way in our place, to give the younger woman before the firstborn. Celebrate to the full the week of this woman. After that there shall be given to you also this other woman for the service that you can serve with me for seven years more.” (Genesis 29:20-27) Defenseless and trapped, Jacob could do little but accept those terms if he wanted Rachel.
Unlike the first seven years, the next were bitter. How could Jacob overlook Laban’s mean trick? And what of Leah, who played along with it? Of course, Laban was not in the least interested in the turbulent future he prepared for Leah and Rachel. Self-interest was his concern. Jealousy was added to resentment when Leah bore four sons in quick succession, while Rachel remained barren. Then Rachel, desperate for children, resorted to offering her maid as a surrogate mother, and out of rivalry, Leah did the same. Jacob found himself with 4 wives, 12 children, and anything but a happy family. Yet, Jehovah was making Jacob into a great nation.—Genesis 29:28–30:24.
Enriched by Jehovah
Despite trials, Jacob saw that God was with him as promised. Laban saw it too, for the few animals he had on Jacob’s arrival grew to a multitude under his nephew’s care. Reluctant to let Jacob go, Laban bid him to name his wages for further service, at which Jacob asked for the unusually colored animals born to Laban’s flocks. It is said that in that region, sheep were generally white and goats were black or dark brown; only a minority was parti-colored. So thinking he was getting a bargain, Laban readily agreed and promptly moved all his animals with unusual markings a distance away in order to avoid contact with the flocks remaining in Jacob’s care. He obviously believed that Jacob would gain little out of the agreement, certainly not the 20 percent of newborn kids and lambs that ancient shepherds typically received as wages. But Laban was wrong, for Jehovah was with Jacob.—Genesis 30:25-36.
Under divine guidance, Jacob bred sturdy animals of the desired coloration. (Genesis 30:37-42) His ideas on stockbreeding were not valid. Nonetheless, “scientifically, the required results could be achieved by the successive interbreeding of . . . single-colored animals that carried recessive genes for spottedness,” explains scholar Nahum Sarna, and “such animals are detectable by . . . [their] hybrid vigor.”
Noting the results, Laban tried to alter the agreement about which animals belonged to his nephew—striped, spotty, color-patched, or speckled. He was seeking his own profit, but no matter how Laban modified the contract, Jehovah saw to it that Jacob always prospered. Laban could only gnash his teeth. Jacob soon amassed great wealth, flocks, servants, camels, and asses, not because of his own ingenuity, but because of Jehovah’s backing. He later explained to Rachel and Leah: “Your father has trifled with me and he has changed my wages ten times, but God has not allowed him to do me harm. . . . God kept taking the herd of your father away and giving it to me.” Jehovah also assured Jacob that He saw all that Laban was doing but that Jacob need not worry. “Return to your land and to your relatives,” God said, “and I will deal well with you.”—Genesis 31:1-13; 32:9.
After finally ridding himself of double-dealing Laban, Jacob headed home. Although 20 years had passed, he still feared Esau, and all the more so when word came that Esau was advancing with four hundred men. What could Jacob do? Always the spiritual person trusting in God, he acted in faith. He prayed, acknowledging that he was unworthy of Jehovah’s generosity and appealing to God on the basis of His promises that he and his family be delivered from Esau’s hand.—Genesis 32:2-12.
Then the unexpected occurred. A stranger, who turned out to be an angel, grappled with Jacob by night, and with one touch he put Jacob’s thigh out of joint. Jacob refused to let go unless the angel first blessed him. The prophet Hosea later said that Jacob “wept, that he might implore favor for himself.” (Hosea 12:2-4; Genesis 32:24-29) Jacob knew that previous angelic appearances concerned the outworking of the Abrahamic covenant through his seed. So he exerted himself in vigorous wrestling and obtained a blessing. At this time, God changed his name to Israel, meaning “Contender (Perseverer) With God,” or “God Contends.”
Are You Willing to Wrestle?
Wrestling with an angel and reunion with Esau were not the only crises that Jacob had to overcome. Yet, the events considered here illustrate the sort of man he was. Whereas Esau would not endure a little hunger for the sake of his birthright, Jacob struggled all his life to obtain blessings, even wrestling with an angel. As God promised, Jacob received divine guidance and protection, becoming the progenitor of a great nation and the forefather of the Messiah.—Matthew 1:2, 16.
Are you willing to exert yourself to gain Jehovah’s favor, wrestling for it, as it were? Life today is full of difficulties and challenges for those who want to do God’s will, and sometimes it is a struggle to make the right decisions. However, the fine example of Jacob offers strong incentive for us to hold on to the hope of the reward that Jehovah sets before us.
The encounter resembled the time Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, watered Eliezer’s camels. Then Rebekah ran home with news of the stranger’s arrival. On seeing the articles of gold his sister had received as a gift, Laban ran to welcome Eliezer.—Genesis 24:28-31, 53.
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All his life Jacob struggled to obtain blessings