Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah. Many years went by, and still they didnt have any children. And so Isaac prayed to God, Oh Lord, please look with favor on my wife Rebekah, and bless us with children. God heard Isaac's prayer (of course, God hears every prayer!), and he answered it. When Isaac was 60 years old, Rebekah became pregnant - and not with just one child, but with twins! But before they were even born, Rebekah could feel them kicking and fighting inside her.Why is this happening? she called out. And God answered her,
two children inside you will become the fathers of two nations.
Just like the two are fighting with each other now, the two nations will struggle with each other.
One will be stronger than the other. and the older will serve the younger.
Soon it came time for the children to be born. The first baby born was a boy. He was all red and covered with hair, and so Isaac and Rebekah named him Esau, which sounded like their word for red. The second baby was also a boy, and he came grabbing onto Esaus heel. So they named him Jacob, which sounded like their word for heel. The boys grew up. Esau became a strong and skillful hunter who loved the outdoors. Jacob was a quiet man, who preferred to stay home. Isaac like Esau because he liked to eat the wild game Esau brought home from hunting. But Rebekah liked Jacob because he learned to cook and to do other things to help her around the home.
One day Esau went out for another one of his hunting trips. He must have been gone for a few days, and the hunting must not have been very good, because when he came back, he was starving for something good to eat. It just so happened that when Esau came home, Jacob had just made a great big pot of hot, steaming, stew. The mouth-watering smell filled the air. Give me some of that red stuff - I am starving! Esau demanded. Jacob was a schemer, and so he said, Sure! Ill give you some stew - IF you will give me your Birthright. The Birthright was a very important thing. It went to Esau because he was born first. When Isaac died, Esaus Birthright would make him the head of the household, and he would get twice as much of Isaacs wealth as Jacob would. Give me your Birthright, and I will give you some stew, Jacob said again, as he slurped on a steaming spoonful himself. All right! All right! Esau said, You can have my Birthright. What good will it be to me if I starve to death! Not that he would have starved to death. He was just hungry. And so Esau gave away his Birthright for a bowl of soup and few pieces of bread.
Isaac was bent over. The hair he had left on his head had turned white. And he could no longer see. He knew he would die soon. And so he called his son Esau. Here I am, Esau answered. My son, before I die, I want you to take your bow and your arrows and go out hunting. When you come back, cook the meat you have caught. Make one of your delicious meals, the kind I like so much, and bring it to me. And then I will bless you. Now, Rebekah just happened to hear all of this from the other room (the walls of tents arent very thick!).As soon as Esau left, Rebekah took Jacob by the arm and said to him, Your father has sent Esau away to hunt. When Esau gets back, he is going to fix your fathers favorite dinner, and your father is going to give him his blessing. Quick! Do what I say! Go out into the fields and bring me two young goats, and I will make your fathers favorite dinner from them. Bring it to him, and your father will think you are Esau, and he will bless you instead.
But Jacob said, Esau is all hairy, and I am not! If my father feels me, he will know I am trying to trick him, and he will curse me instead of blessing me! Let the curse be on me, Jacobs mother said, Just do what I say. And so Jacob did. When Jacob had brought the two goats, Rebekah prepared a delicious meal. Then she took some of Esaus clothes and had Jacob put them on. She took the skins from the goats and put them on Jacobs arms and the back of his neck so that he would be hairy like his brother. Wearing the disguise his mother had made, Jacob took the steaming hot meal in to his father. Who is there? his father asked. It is your first born son Esau, Jacob said. I have brought your favorite dinner, just like you asked. How did you do it so quickly? his father asked. Your God was with me, and he gave me success, Jacob answered. Eat, and then you can give me your blessing. You dont sound like Esau, Isaac said. You sound like your brother Jacob. Come here. Let me touch you. Isaac felt the fur on Jacobs neck and arms. And then he said, The voice is Jacobs, but the arms are Esaus. He was about to give his blessing when he asked again, Are you really my son Esau? Yes, I am, Jacob lied. And so Isaac ate the meal he thought Esau had brought him. When he was finished he said, Come here, my son, and kiss me, and then I will give you my blessing. So Jacob came near his father and kissed him. Isaac could smell the smell of Esaus clothes, and so he said, The smell of my son is like the smell of open country the Lord has blessed.
God give you the dew of heaven,
and the richness of the earth,
corn and new wine in plenty!
Let nations and peoples serve you.
May you rule over your brothers,
and may they bow down to you.
Let anyone who curses you be cursed,
but blessed be anyone who blesses you!
Jacob had barely left when his brother Esau came in from his hunting. He fixed his fathers favorite meal, just as his father had asked him to. He brought it in to him, so that he could get his blessing. Who are you? his father asked. Why, I am your firstborn son Esau, of course! Esau said. All of a sudden Isaac began to shake terribly. He knew he had been tricked. Then who was just here? Who brought me my favorite meal, the one that I just ate? I gave him the blessing. and I cant take it back! Esau knew right away who it was. He cried out a terrible cry.Bless me also! he pleaded. I cant, Isaac said, Your brother has tricked me, and he has stolen your blessing.Esau cried out again. You named him right when you named him Jacob, Esau cried (Jacob sounds like their word for cheat). He has cheated me twice. First he took my birthright, and now he has stolen my blessing! Now he knew how valuable his fathers blessings were - but it was too late. You must have a blessing for me, he said to his father. Isaac said, I have already made you your brothers servant. I have given him the corn and new wine of our fields. What do I have left to give to you?Esau fell to his knees. Is there nothing left for me? he cried out. Then his father said to him,
will not have the richness of the earth,
The dew from heaven wont be given to you.
You will have to live by taking,
and you will serve your brother.
But one day you will break free.
From that day on Esau hated his brother Jacob. One day, my father will die, he said, And then I will kill my brother Jacob! Esaus words got back to Rebekah, and so she sent her son Jacob to run for his life. I cant lose both my sons in one day, she said. What a mess we make when we lie and cheat.
Esau was not very happy with his brother Jacob, to say the least. First, Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright for a lousy bowl of soup. Now Jacob had stolen his Fathers last blessing. Esau vowed that he would kill his brother Jacob as soon as their father died. You must go! Rebekah told Jacob. Go away, back to your grandfathers homeland, and stay with your Uncle Laban until your brother cools off! Now, it happened that Esau had married two of the young girls from the land where he and his family were now living. They were Canaanites, and they didnt follow the God of Abraham and Isaac. They were making life miserable for Rebekah. So Rebekah came to Isaac and said, If Jacob marries one of these Canaanite women, I might as well be dead, I will be so miserable! Please send him to my brothers family to find a wife there. It was a good excuse to have Isaac send Jacob away. But before he sent Jacob to his uncle Laban's, Isaac blessed Jacob and said,
El Shaddai, God Almighty, bless you!
May he bless your marriage and give you many children.
May he bless you as he blessed your grandfather Abraham.
May you possess the land he gave to Abraham,
and may you become the father of many nations.
May all nations be blessed because of you!
Early the next morning Jacob loaded his camels and set out for the Land of Haran, the home of his uncle. As the sun was setting on the first day of his journey, Jacob stopped to set up camp for the night. He laid out his blanket on the ground, and found a stone to put under his head for a pillow. Somehow, with a rock for a pillow, he fell fast asleep. And then he had the most amazing dream. Now, it seems that anyone who used a rock for a pillow would have a strange dream! But it wasnt that. God let Jacob see a part of the world we never see, but a part that is there all around us. In his dream, Jacob saw a stairway. The stairway reached up all the way to heaven, and the angels of God were coming and going, up and down, back and forth from heaven to earth, and back to heaven again. At the bottom of the stairway there was a glorious light. There stood the Lord God himself! I am the One Who Is, the God of your grandfather Abraham and of your father Isaac! I am here to make this promise to you. I will give you and your family the land where you are now resting. You will have many children. Your children will have children, until one day, they will be as many as the dust of the earth. You will possess this land, and because of you, all nations will be blessed. I will watch over you and protect you as you go, and I will bring you safely home. And God finished, saying, All this I will do. Be sure of this, I am with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. And then the vision was gone.
Jacob woke up, rubbing his eyes. He could hardly believe what he had just seen. And he was more than a little bit afraid. Its not every day you see the glory of the Lord God Almighty! I have seen God - and lived to tell about it! This is a fearsome place! he said. This must be the house of God, and the very gate to heaven itself! The next morning, Jacob took the stone he was sleeping on and set it up as a marker for what had happened there. He poured oil on it and blessed it to God. He named the place Bethel, which means the House of God. Then he made this promise to God. If you really do watch over me as I go, and bring me safely back to my home, then you shall be my God. I will worship you here in this place, and I will return to you one tenth of everything you give me. Then Jacob packed up his things and went on his way.
Jacob was running from his brother Esau. So Jacob was traveling east, to the land where his grandfather Abraham was born. He was also hoping to choose a wife from his grandfather's family. Early on a warm afternoon, he came to a well in the fields outside the town of Haran. The well was just like the one that his grandfathers servant had come to many years before, when he was looking for a wife for Isaac. It may have been the very same one. Three flocks of sheep were lying in the fields beside the well, waiting for their shepherds to water them. There was a large stone covering the well, and the shepherds had to wait until all the shepherds were there before they could move it. So Jacob came up to the shepherds and said, My friends, where are you from? From Haran, they answered. Then you must know my uncle Laban! He is from Haran, Jacob said. Yes, we do, the shepherds answered. Is he well? Jacob asked. He is well, indeed, the shepherds said, And look, here comes his daughter Rachel now, with his flock of sheep! Jacob said, Lets roll back the stone so that we can water the sheep. We cant, the stone is too heavy," the shepherds answered. "We have to wait until all the shepherds are here. At that moment Rachel arrived with her fathers sheep. When Jacobs eyes met Rachels, it was as if the world came to a stop. The crying of the sheep, the laughing and talking of the shepherds, all seemed to disappear. It was as if there was no one else in all the world but the two of them. Jacob fell so deeply, crazy in love with Rachel, that he walked over to that huge stone and rolled it away himself. "Here, now you may water your sheep!" he said to Rachel. And then he kissed her. I am your relative. Your aunt Rebekah is my mother, he told her at last.
Rachel ran home to tell her father all that had happened. When her father heard the news, he ran to meet Jacob. He hugged and kissed this nephew he hadn't known until now, and brought him to his home. When Jacob had told his story, Laban said, You are indeed my own flesh and blood! And so Jacob stayed with his uncles family for a whole month. Then Laban said to Jacob, You shouldnt have to work for me for nothing just because you are my relative! How can I pay you? Now, Laban had two daughters. Rachel was the younger, and Leah was the older. Leah had beautiful eyes, but Jacob was in love with Rachel. And so Jacob said, I will work for you for seven years if you will let me marry your daughter Rachel. Laban said, I would rather give her to you than to anyone else. And so Jacob worked for his uncle for seven years. But to Jacob, the years seemed like nothing at all. Just to be near the one he loved was enough to fill his heart. Finally, the day came that Jacob had worked for all those years. At last, Laban gave his daughter Rachel to be married. There was a great wedding feast. And that night, under a sky of shining stars, Rachel came to Jacobs tent. She was wrapped from head to foot in layers of veils and flowing robes. Jacob took her by the hand and led her inside. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. They were alone together at last. And that night, in the eyes of God, Rachel became Jacobs wife, and he became her husband. Before that night they were two separate people. Now God had joined the two together, and they became one family. But, when the light of morning came, Jacob awoke to a big surprise. It wasnt Rachel he had married at all! It was her sister Leah he was lying beside! Jacob jumped from his bed and ran straight to the tent of his Uncle Laban.
You tricked me! You promised me Rachel, but you gave me Leah instead! Well - look who's talking! The cheater got cheated. He didnt like it very much. Laban said to him, It isnt our custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older. Work for me another seven years, and I will give you Rachel as well. And so Jacob agreed, and Jacob and Rachel were married at last. Jacob worked for his uncle another seven years. He would have gladly worked a hundred, he loved her so deeply.
He also saw how it hurt Leah to be loved less. What troubles I have, Leah cried herself to sleep one night. If only I could have a baby, then Jacob would be happy, and he would love me more.Well, maybe Jacob loved Leah less, but God didnt. And so God blessed Leah, and soon she was going to have a baby. The necessary months passed, and soon Jacob was the father of a newborn baby. It was his first child. It was a boy, and Leah named him Reuben, a name that sounded like God has seen my trouble in her language. Now Jacob will love me more, Leah thought. But he didnt. Dear God, if I had another baby, maybe Jacob would love me then, Leah prayed one night. Please hear my prayer, and answer me. And sure enough, God did hear her prayer, and she had another baby. She named him Simeon, which means, God hears. But still, Jacob didnt love her any more. And so she had another baby. She named her third child Levi. That means Tied together. Jacob will surely be tied to me, now that I have given him three sons, she thought. And then she had ANOTHER baby. She praised God for his goodness to her, and named him Judah, which means Praise God! (One day, in the long distant future, another baby would be born. His parents would name him Jesus. He would come from the family of Judah. But he would be the Son of God, born on earth. His perfect life would be the highest praise to God.)
All this time, Rachel wasnt able to give Jacob any children. She had to watch her sister cuddle and play with each new baby. And she had to stand by and watch while Jacob spent more and more time with Leah and his children. Every time her sister had a baby, it bothered her more and more. She was afraid Jacob would stop loving her. Lets have a baby together, before I waste away and die, she finally said to Jacob late one warm summer evening. But Jacob said, Who do you think I am? Its not up to me whether you are able to have a baby or not. Only God can do that! But Rachel was desperate, so she said, Then marry my servant, and have a baby for me by her. And so Jacob married Rachels servant, and soon they had a son. Now Rachel had a baby too, well, sort of anyway. She named her servants baby Dan, which meant, God has judged in my favor. Rachels servant had another baby. Rachel said, Now I am starting to win this fight with my sister! She named her new son Naphtali, which means The Fight. It seemed like Rachel and Leah were having Baby Wars. They were trying to see who could have the most babies, to see who Jacob would love best. Now Leah was the one, watching Rachel bouncing a new baby on her knee. And Jacob was spending more time with Rachel again. Leah saw how happy Jacob was. This didnt sit too well with her. So she said to Jacob, Here, you can marry MY servant and have even more babies with her! Okay, Jacob said, I guess that would be good. And soon Jacob had another son. Leah named her new son Gad, which means, God has given me good fortune. Soon, Leahs servant had another baby. Leah said, How happy I am! Now other women will call me happy too! And so she named her new son Asher, which means "Happy." Now Jacob was the proud father of 8 growing boys! Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
It was harvest time, and Leahs son Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrakes. Mandrakes were a kind of plant that people thought helped to make it easier to have babies. And so Rachel said to Reuben, May I have some of your mandrakes? Well, Leah heard this, and she said to Rachel, Isnt it enough that you are trying to steal my husband, now you want my sons mandrakes too? Rachel said to Leah, If you let me have some mandrakes, you may spend the night with Jacob, and maybe you will be able to have another baby. And so that night Leah and Jacob were together, and God blessed them. They did have another baby. God has rewarded me with another child! Leah said, and so she named the baby Issachar, which means Reward. Leah had another baby after that! It was her sixth son. What a wonderful gift God has given me! she said, so she named the baby Zebulun, which means A Gift. And then, surprise of surprises, Leah had ANOTHER baby - only this time - it was a girl! She named her Dinah.
But, in all of this, God hadnt forgotten about Rachel. And so he blessed her, and at long last she had a baby of her own. Rachel prayed, God has taken away my sorrow! May he bless me with even another son! So she named her new baby Joseph, which means, God has taken away one thing, now may he give another. Jacob was now the father of twelve; Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah, and Joseph. This last one, Joseph, was going to change their lives forever.
Its time for me to go back home, Jacob said to Uncle Laban one day. You had a few sheep and goats before I got here, and now you have many, many more because God has been with me. He has prospered the work of my hands. So now, let me take my wives, and my children and go back home. You have served me well, Uncle Laban said. Name your price, and I will pay it. But I think he had his fingers crossed behind his back when he said that! Jacob said, I dont want any of your money. Ill tell you what. Let me care for your flocks a little bit longer. Ill take every black lamb and every spotted, speckled or striped goat and separate them from the rest. Let them be my wages. Its a deal, said Uncle Laban. But then that very same day, Uncle Laban had his sons go through his flocks and take out all the black lambs and all the spotted and speckled goats! And then he had his sons take them far away. He was trying to cheat Jacob. Only he must have forgotten that when it came to cheating, Jacob was a master! So Jacob stayed with Labans flocks, even though all the black sheep, and all the spotted, speckled and striped goats were gone. God was watching over Jacob - Laban didnt didnt stand a chance of cheating him! Where Jacob got this next idea, I dont know, but when he took Labans flocks down to the watering place, he set tree branches in front of them that he had cut with a knife so that they were speckled and striped. He faced the flock towards the branches. When the mother sheep and goats started having babies, all their babies were striped or spotted. How that worked, I havent a clue - except that God must have had a hand in it! So Jacob took the spotted and speckled and striped sheep and set them apart from the rest. Whenever the strong, healthy sheep were having babies, Jacob set the striped branches in front of them. Whenever the weak ones were having babies he took the branches away. That way, all the strong healthy sheep had spotted and speckled babies - and they belonged to Jacob. And all the solid babies were puny and weak. Those belonged to Laban. So Jacobs flock grew and grew.
All the while Uncle Laban kept changing his mind. First, he said Jacob could have the spotted lambs, and then, when God made all the lambs come out spotted, Laban said, No, I meant all the striped lambs! And when all the new lambs were striped, he said, No, I meant all the black lambs! And then, all the lambs came out black. The old guy was really getting grumpy! He changed his mind over and over again, all the while trying to cheat Jacob out of his flock. Finally, Jacob said to his wives Rachel and Leah, I don't think your father likes me much these days - he is so grumpy! And I think he is trying to cheat me. Quick, get your things together, we are going back to the land of my fathers. And so they packed all their belongings and ran away from Laban. It wasnt until three days later that Laban found out his daughters were gone. He got his men together and went after Jacob. But in dream God told him not to hurt him. Laban finally caught up with his runaway daughters and nephew. He said to Jacob, Why did you steal my daughters away from me! You didnt even say good-bye, or let me kiss my grandchildren good-bye. Thats not fair! Look who was talking about being fair! Jacob said, I have served you well for the last twenty years. You have become rich because God was with me. He has blessed me in everything I did. But you would have sent me away without anything! God saw what you were up to! And he wasnt going to let you get away with it! See what happens when you are on Gods side - and he is on yours! So Uncle Laban said, These are my daughters, and all these sheep are mine. But, I cant keep you from taking them. Lets not fight about it anymore. Lets make a deal. You can go your way, and I will go mine. We will make a pile of stones here to remind us that we agree not to try to cheat each other any longer. And so they made a pile of stones as a reminder of their agreement.
So Jacob was moving again. He pulled up the stakes of his tents, and he and Rachel and Leah and their 12 children packed up all their belongings and loaded them onto a caravan of camels. And with all their servants, and their great flocks of sheep and goats and camels, they were traveling back to the land of Jacobs father. They were a few days into their journey when they made camp for the night. That night they had visitors, they were messengers from God. Youre brother Esau is coming to meet you, they told Jacob. Oh, oh. Esau is coming to kill me! Jacob said. When they were kids, they probably got into lots of fights - and Jacob probably always got pounded, because his older brother (by about five minutes! Remember, they were twins - but not identical twins at all) was bigger and stronger than he was - but for some reason that never seems to stop little brothers from getting into fights with their bigger brothers and sisters! Thats where Jacob must have learned it was better to be clever. Of course, its not like they were going to end up wrestling on the ground or anything - they were both over a hundred years old by now! (Jacob didnt know it, but he was going to end up wrestling to the ground with God instead!)
But Esau was a powerful, wealthy prince. He had many strong and mighty men who served him - and he was coming to meet his brother...or kill him. At least, that was what Jacob was afraid he was planning to do. And so Jacob came up with a plan to make peace. He sent messengers on ahead of him. He told them to say to his brother, I am your obedient servant. God has blessed me, and I come to you with many sheep and goats and camels. The messengers went ahead, and when they came back, they told Jacob, Your brother is on his way, and he has 400 men with him! He is coming to kill me! Jacob cried. And so he divided his household into two groups, That way, if my brother attacks one group, the other may be able to get away. he said. And then, for the first time in his life, Jacob prayed to God.
God of my fathers, please hear my prayer! You told me to go back to the land of my fathers, and that you would make everything go well for me. I came across the Jordan River with nothing but a walking stick, and now, look how rich you have made me! I am not worthy of all the kindness you have shown me. But I am afraid. My brother is coming to kill us all! Remember your faithful servant. Remember that you promised that my children would be as many as the sands of the seashore. And then Jacob went through his herds and chose gifts for his brother Esau. He chose goats and sheep, donkeys and cows, and camels. A good camel was worth more than a good car back in those days. A REAL good camel was like a Mercedes Benz! In the desert, it was probably the most valuable thing you could own. Jacob divided his gifts into groups, one in front of the other, and sent them on ahead of him. He told the shepherd of each herd, When you meet my brother, say to him, These are a gift from your servant Jacob. He is coming right behind. That way, Jacob hoped that Esau would forgive him.
That night Jacob and his family came to a small stream. Jacob sent his family across the stream to make camp, but he stayed on the other side. He was afraid. He felt like running away. Under a starry sky, he sat next to a small fire, with his head down in his hands. What am I going to do? he said. And thats when a stranger stepped out from the darkness. What do you want? Jacob said to the stranger. You asked for my help, the stranger said. Go away! Leave me alone! Jacob said. Somehow, Jacob knew the stranger was the angel of God. It was God himself, in the form of a man. My uncle hates me, my wives cant get along, and my brother is coming to kill me. A lot of help you have been! Jacob said, and he tried to push the stranger away. But the stranger grabbed a hold of Jacobs robe. Go away! I dont need your help! Jacob said, and the two of them began to wrestle to the ground. The stranger wouldnt let Jacob go. But without me, you have nothing at all, the stranger said as they struggled back and forth. I dont care, just leave me alone! All right then, the stranger said, and he began to pull away (but he didnt let go of Jacobs robe). No! Wait! You cant leave me here all alone! And now Jacob was grabbing a hold of the stranger, and he wouldnt let him go. Why would you want to help me? I have been a liar and cheat all my life. I dont deserve your help. Jacob said as the two rolled in the sand. You wont help me anyway! You have caused me nothing but trouble!!! (which, of course, wasnt true at all!) But the stranger just held on all the tighter. You need me, the stranger said. I dont need you! I dont want your help! Jacob said. But deep down inside, deep in his heart, he knew that that was what he needed most. He tried to push the stranger away, but he couldnt let him go. And so they wrestled back and forth, on and on, all night long. Jacob wouldnt let the stranger go, and the stranger wouldnt let Jacob go. Finally, the early light of morning began to creep across the eastern sky. I wont let you go until you bless me! Jacob finally said, and he wrestled with the stranger all the more. In his heart he was crying out, Dont let go! Dont ever let go! And he wouldnt let God go. At last, God struck Jacob on the hip and put it out of joint. Jacob walked with a limp from that day on. It would always remind him of the night he wrestled with God. And then God said to Jacob, What is your name? A strange question to ask after all of this! You know who I am! Jacob said. God certainly did know. Remember, Jacob meant Cheater. I am Jacob! Jacob answered. But thats not who Jacob was anymore. He was not a cheater anymore. Now Jacob knew that everything he had came from God, and not from his own doing. And so God gave him a new name, a princely name. You shall be called Israel, which means I have wrestled with God. And then God blessed him, saying, I am with you always. In all that you do, and you shall be blessed. Your children shall be as many as the stars in the sky, and the land I promised to your fathers, you shall possess. Afterward Jacob met with Easu and and Easu forgave Jacob for what he had done. Jacob was able to safely return home.