How Jacob got rich

Now that Jacob had twelve children from his two wives and their two maid servants, he wanted to leave Laban in Genesis, chapter 30:25-43.  Laban said that he would give Jacob his due wages. Jacob responded that he had made Laban rich, because Yahweh had blessed them with abundance.  Jacob wanted to take every speckled sheep, black lamb, and goats that were an abnormal color.  Laban agreed and said fine.  However, Laban took all these abnormal colored animals from his flock and gave them to his other sons.  They then moved that flock three days away.  There always seemed to be a problem with uncle Laban and his nephew Jacob, since they did not trust each other.  Jacob then had a plan.  He put some peeled fresh white branches or rods of poplar, almond, and chestnut trees by the watering hole where the flocks came to drink.  These animals used to bred in front of these branches.  Thus, they produced young animals that were striped, speckled, and spotted.  In other words, Jacob produced his own abnormal colored animals.  The ancient belief was that animals would produce the color of what they were looking at when they were breeding.  He then separated them out from Laban’s flock and made sure that the strong animals had the spotted branches in front of them.  Jacob had his own way of breeding these strange colored animals.  This is how Jacob got rich with large flocks.  He made sure that the strong animals saw the speckled and spotted branches, while the weak ones did not.  Thus, Jacob got wealthy, while Laban and his flocks got weaker and poorer.  He and Laban were always at odds with each other, since Jacob had so many wives and children to take care of.  Have you ever been involved with breeding animals?

The children of Jacob

This Jahwist story of Jacob continued in Genesis, chapter 29:31-30:24.  Although Jacob loved Rachel, she was barren, like Sarah and Rebekah for a while.  On the other hand, Leah bore four sons to Jacob.  The first son was called Reuben, which literally means “he saw my distress” or “behold a son”.  Yahweh had blessed Leah with a son, whose name Reuben appeared in the Hebrew Bible 72 times.  Then Leah conceived again and bore a son names Simeon, that means “he has heard”, a name that only appears 44 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Leah then had a third son with Jacob called Levi, meaning “he will cling”, a name that appears 58 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Then, Leah had a fourth son called Judah, that means “I will praise”, that appears 818 times, clearly the most influential son of Jacob.  Each time she bore a son, Leah praised Yahweh and hoped that her husband Jacob would love her.  You would think that these four sons would be important, but only Levi, from whom the Levitical priests come, and Judah, the land where Jerusalem will be, play a significant or important role in Israelite history.  Leah did not have any more children, so that she was responsible for a third of the twelve families of Israel.  Rachel envied her sister Leah for all the children that she had.  She went to Jacob and said to give her children, or she was going to die.  Jacob got angry and said it was Elohim’s will for her not to have children.  Rachel then gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob to have children, and Jacob had sex with her.  Bilhah had two sons with Jacob, Dan, whose name means “judge”, and appears 71 times in the Hebrew Bible, and Naphtali that means “my struggle”, whose name appears 51 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Jacob had sex with three women producing six sons.  Then Leah asked her maid Zilpah to sleep with Jacob.  Thus, Zilpah and Jacob had two more sons with him, Gad, that means “good fortune”, whose name appears 73 times in the Hebrew Bible, and Asher, that means “my happiness”, whose name appears 43 times.  This makes the fourth woman for Jacob with eight sons.  One day Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob and Leah, brought mandrakes, some sort of aphrodisiac, to his mother Leah, but Rachel wanted some.  Thus, Leah gave Rachel the mandrakes in exchange for sleeping with Jacob that night.  Thus, Leah bore a fifth and sixth son, Issachar, whose name means “he has hired”, that appears 43 times in the Hebrew Bible, and Zebulun that means “he will honor me”, that appears 45 times in the Hebrew Bible.  However, there is also a mention of a daughter, Dinah, whose name means “justice” and appears 8 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Leah then had six sons, one daughter, and two sons by her maid, 75% of the children of Jacob.  Then Elohim remembered Rachel and “opened her womb”. Finally, Rachel conceived a son called Joseph that means “may he add”, that appears 213 times.  This time, the blessing is from Yahweh, not Elohim.  Of course, he will become the most famous of the sons of Jacob, beside Judah.  Now Jacob had eleven sons, all born outside Canaan, while he was with his uncle in Haran.  Only one more to come to make up the twelve tribes of Jacob.  Have you ever heard of the twelve tribes of Israel? 

The two marriages of Jacob

Instead of just a month, Jacob would stay longer.  This story continued in Genesis, chapter 29:15-30.  Laban decided to pay Jacob because he was a relative.  He would not be a servant or slave of Laban.  They had to decide on the wages for Jacob.  Apparently, Laban had two daughters, Leah, the oldest, and Rachel, the youngest.  Leah’s name will appear 34 times in the biblical literature, while Rachel’s name will appear more often at 47 times.  Jacob loved Rachel and he said that he would serve Laban for seven years in order to marry her.  This appeared to be a real love story when years seemed like days to Jacob.  Laban seemed happy to have this marriage of his daughter within the family.  Jacob would marry his first cousin, Rachel, after seven years of work for her father Laban.  After seven years or work, Jacob wanted his wages, Laban’s daughter Rachel as his wife.  On the wedding night, Laban brought the veiled Leah, not Rachel, to Jacob.  “He went in to her”, a euphemism for intercourse.  Laban also gave Leah a maid called Zilpah, whose name appears 7 times in the Hebrew Bible.  This time, it was only in the morning that Jacob realized that he had been deceived.  Laban explained to Jacob that in their country the older daughter had to be married before the younger daughter.  Nevertheless, they completed the week of marriage festivities.  However, Laban told Jacob that if he worked another seven years, he would give him his other daughter Rachel, the younger one, with a maid named Bilhah, whose name appears 11 times in the Hebrew Bible.  It turns out to be a two for one deal, as Jacob married two sisters at the same time, but it took him fourteen years of work for his uncle Laban.  Clearly, the father made all the decisions about marriage for his daughters.  Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.  This might not go too well.  Do you know anyone who married two sisters?

Jacob arrives at Haran

This Jahwist tradition continued in Genesis, chapter 29:1-14. Jacob traveled further until he came upon “the sons of the east”, that refers to Arameans, somewhere in Syria.  He stopped at a water well that had a large stone on top of it with three flocks of sheep around it.  Water wells played an important role in an arid land, both physically and socially.  The shepherds would roll the stone off the top of the well to water the sheep and then put it back when they were done.  Jacob asked these shepherds where they were from.  They responded that they were from Haran.  Then Jacob asked if they knew Laban, the son of Nahor, and was he well?  They answered that they knew him and he was well.  In fact, his daughter Rachel was coming with their sheep, because Rachel was in charge of her father’s sheep.  However, the stone could not be rolled off until all the sheep were gathered there.  Jacob then rolled the stone off the well, kissed Rachel, and wept.  This was a bold move.  He explained to Rachel that he was related to her father since he was Rebekah’s son, the sister of her father.  They were first cousins.  Her father was his uncle and his mother was her aunt.  They ran to tell Laban, but he came running out to greet them, embraced them, and brought them to his house.  Jacob told Laban all about his family.  Laban was happy to see his sister’s son, and said, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.”  Jacob stayed a month with Laban and his family.  The reunion was successful.  Have you ever met a long-lost uncle for the first time?

Jacob’s dream

In Genesis, chapter 28:10-22, this Jahwist story is often referred to as Jacob’s ladder.  Jacob was apparently alone on his way to Haran from Beer-sheba to visit his uncle.  He spent one night sleeping on a stone, where he had a dream about a ladder that reached to heaven.  There were angels of Elohim, not the angels of Yahweh, going up and down on this ladder, but Yahweh appeared at the top of this ladder.  He said to Jacob that he was Yahweh, the Elohim of Abraham and the Elohim of Isaac, his father אֱלֹהֵי֙ (Elohe) אַבְרָהָ֣ם (Abraham) אָבִ֔יךָ (abika) וֵאלֹהֵ֖י (Elohe) יִצְחָ֑ק (Yishaq).  He was going to give him all this land with many descendants, like dust spread in all directions.  He was going to bring Jacob back to this land and not leave him alone.  Then Jacob woke up from this dream.  He was afraid because he felt that Yahweh was in that place, but Jacob did not know it.  This awesome place must be the house of Elohim, the gate to heaven.  Thus, early in the morning, he took the stone he had slept on and built a pillar, pouring oil on it.  He called this a holy place, Elohim’s house, Bethel, a stairway or ramp.  Bethel is a name that appears 72 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Abraham also had been in Bethel in chapter 12, one of the first places he stopped at in Canaan.  In fact, Abraham built an altar there also.  Luz was a name for this place that appeared 8 times, since Bethel may have been the same place or at least near Luz.  This idea of a sacred place with stones and oil was common among the Canaanites and other Middle Eastern inhabitants.  Jacob also built an altar here like his grandfather Abraham, but there was no mention of Abraham’s altar here in this story.  Like a conversion experience or deeper awareness, Jacob felts that Yahweh or Elohim would be with him wherever he went to protect him.  He would bring him back to his father. Yahweh would be his Elohim יְהוָ֛ה (Yahweh) לִ֖י (li) לֵאלֹהִֽים׃ (lElohim).  This was truly the house of Elohim.  Of all that Jacob would get, he would give one tenth to Elohim.  This is the first instance of tithing.  Obviously, this idea of tithing, like the story itself, represents the biblical author’s beliefs.  Dreams were a common way that God communicated with humans.  Have you ever had a spiritual awareness experience?

Isaac sends Jacob to his brother-in-law, Laban

At the end of chapter 27 and the beginning of chapter 28 in Genesis, Rebekah did not like the Hittite women that Esau had married.  She was tired of them and did not want Jacob to marry any of them.  She then convinced Isaac to send Jacob away, by telling him that she despaired of him marrying a local girl from the idol-worshipping families of Canaan, as Esau had done.  Isaac also did not want Jacob to marry any Canaanite women.  Isaac and Rebekah both decided to send Jacob to Rebekah’s brother in order to marry one of his daughters, one of Jacob’s first cousins.  Once again Isaac gave him the blessing of Abraham, as Jacob went to Haran to visit Laban.  Earlier, Rebekah sent Jacob away without the advice of Isaac, but here it is a joint action, and in fact it is mostly Isaac who favors him leaving.  Notice that Isaac thinks that it is better to marry a first cousin than any of the local women.  He then asked that God Almighty, וְאֵ֤ל (wael) שַׁדַּי֙ (Sadday), El Shaddai, the Almighty one, bless him, rather than Yahweh.  May Jacob be fruitful and numerous and become a company of people.  May Jacob be given the blessings of Abraham.  May he have descendants and take possession of the land where he now lives, the land that Elohim gave to Abraham.  Isaac sent Jacob into Mesopotamia to take a wife from his mother’s brother’s house.  Thus, Isaac sent Jacob to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah.  After Isaac had sent Jacob away to find a wife, Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to find a wife that was not a Canaanite.  Esau realized that his own Canaanite wives were evil, bad, or displeasing in his father’s eyes.  He then took Mahalath as his wife, in addition to his other two wives.  Her name only appears here and in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles.  She was Abraham’s half-brother Ishmael’s daughter, his first cousin, and the sister of Nebaioth of Edom.  Thus, Esau was trying to keep his marriage within the family, only it was with Ishmael’s family.  Do you think that people should only marry within their own family?

The upset Esau

Jacob had scarcely left the room when Esau returned from hunting to receive his blessing.  Esau prepared the food and brought it to his father and said sit up, eat it, and bless him.  Again, Isaac said, “Who are you?  He answered I am your firstborn son, Esau.”  Isaac trembled violently and asked then who brought me the food that I just ate.  I just blessed him, thinking it was you.  The realization that he had been deceived shocked Isaac, yet he acknowledged that Jacob received the blessings as sworn, “Indeed, he will be remain blessed!”  Esau cried out violently, then “Bless me, me also, father!”  My brother deceived me and got your blessing.  Esau wept and said that he had been tricked twice, first his birthright and now the last blessing.  “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”  Isaac, however, said that he had already given the blessing that put Jacob in charge of everything. Esau felt betrayed and angry.  Why can’t he get some kind of blessing?  Then Isaac, his father, gave him an opposite blessing.  “Away from the fatness of the earth shall your home be!  Away from the dew of heaven on high shall you be!  By your sword you shall live!  You shall serve your brother!  But when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.”  He had to live by the sword and serve his brother.  Esau was heartbroken by the deception, and begged for his own blessing.  Instead of being angry, Isaac held his ground.  He had given the blessing to Jacob and that was that.  Obviously, Esau was mad and hated his brother Jacob.  He began planning to kill Jacob once his father Isaac died.  Jacob had taken away both his birthright and his blessing.  Once again, Rebekah found out about Esau’s murderous intentions.  She told Jacob how Esau was preparing to kill him.  She wanted him to go to her brother Laban in Haran until Esau’s fury and anger went away or subsided.  Perhaps he might forget what happened.  She was going to call Jacob back when it is safe.  She did not want to lose both her sons on the same day.  Of all the strange stories of Genesis, this Yahweh tale has more direct deceit than any other story.  No one was killed like in the story of what Cain did to Abel.  However, Rebekah and Jacob clearly and deliberately deceived Isaac so that the whole course of history was changed in Jacob’s favor.  Have you ever had a big fight with your brother or sister?

The blessing of Jacob

Genesis, chapter 27:1-26 starts out as a simple Jahwist story.  Isaac, who was already old and blind, liked Esau.  He decided to bestow on him the blessing of the firstborn.  The conversation begins with the famous response of Esau, “Here I am, הִנֵּֽנִי׃ (hinneni)”.  Isaac sent Esau out to hunt game and provide some tasty food, since he wanted to bless him before he died.  Now the plot thickens.  Rebekah, who liked Jacob better, was listening to Isaac and Esau.  She told Jacob to listen to her.  Jacob was to get two choice young goats from their flock, so that she could prepare this tasty meal for Isaac, because she would cook them the way that Isaac liked them.  Jacob resisted his mother, saying that his brother Esau was hairy, while he had smooth skin.  Jacob was worried that his father would find out that he was not Esau.  His father might curse him instead of blessing him, because he was mocking Isaac his father.  Rebekah, his mother, said that she would assume any curse.  Then she cooked the meal and got Esau’s clothes and put goat skins on Jacob’s hands and neck.  She gave Jacob the food that she had cooked.  Then Jacob went to Isaac who asked him who he was.  Jacob lied to his father.  He said “Here I am, הִנֵּֽנִי׃ (hinneni).”  He claimed that he was Esau his firstborn son.  Jacob told Isaac that he had prepared this meal and now he was asking for a blessing.  Isaac was a little concerned because Esau had done it so quickly, but Jacob responded that Yahweh had granted him success.  Isaac still wanted to feel him, because his voice sounded like Jacob, but his hands felt like Esau.  After eating and drinking the food, he asked Esau to kiss him.  Jacob had the smell of Esau’s garments, so that all went well for him.  Isaac then asked Jacob again, “Are you really my son Esau?”  Jacob responded “I am”.  The big lie was a success.  Isaac then blessed Jacob with the famous blessing that was clearly meant for Esau, “The smell of my son is like the smell of a field that Yahweh has blessed.  May Elohim give you the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, with plenty of grain and wine.  Let people serve you.  Let nations bow down to you.  Be the lord over your brothers!  May your mother’s sons bow down to you.  Cursed be everyone who curses you!  Blessed be everyone who blesses you!”  Jacob had deceived his old blind father by misrepresenting himself as Esau.  Thus, he obtained his father’s blessing and became his primary heir.  Meanwhile, Esau was left in an inferior position.  Have you ever lied to your father?

The Hittite wives of Esau

In Genesis, chapter 26:34-35, there was a short remark about Esau and his two Hittite wives.  When Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, was 40 years old, the same age as Isaac, his father, when he married Rebekah, he married Judith, the daughter of Beeri, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon, both were Hittites.  Judith was also the name of the Book of Judith, found in the Septuagint only. There is no further mention of this Judith when the list of wives of Esau appeared later.  Beeri was also the name of the father of Hosea the prophet.  Basemath is mentioned more often than Judith, 7 times.  Elon was a common name and the name of a place that appeared 6 times in the Hebrew Bible.  These two wives made life “bitter”, מֹ֣רַת (morat) ר֑וּחַ (ruah), for Isaac and Rebekah, their in-laws.  There was no mention of why.  Apparently, these two women were idol-worshippers.  Perhaps, one reason why Isaac became blind in his old age was due to the smoke of the incense that these women offered to their idols.  The Hittites apparently were not too friendly.  Have you had in-law problems?

Isaac and King Abimelech

This Jahwist story continued in Genesis, chapter 26:1-33.  A famine came upon the land at Beer-la-hai-ro in the Negeb, where Isaac lived.  Thus, Isaac went to Gerar where King Abimelech of the Philistines had concluded an alliance with Abraham in chapter 21, the friendly territory, south of Gaza.  Yahweh had told Isaac not to go to Egypt, but to go to the Philistines.  There he could be an alien resident with lots of great land and people just as it was promised to Abraham, his father.  Like Abraham before him, who called Sarah his sister rather than his wife, so that King Abimelech would not kill him and take his wife, Isaac told the people of Gerar that Rebecca was his sister, not his wife.  Abimelech was the generic name given to all the Philistine kings in the Hebrew Bible from the time of Abraham through King David, so that this name appears in the Hebrew Bible 67 times.  In the Pentateuch, Abimelech was used as a title name for all the kings in the land of Canaan.  Abimelech was a polytheistic king of Gerar, who was mentioned in both the wife–sister narratives in Genesis with Abraham and Isaac.  One day, this King Abimelech was looking through his window and saw Isaac caressing Rebekah.  Abimelech then called Isaac on his lie.  Then he warned others in his kingdom not to touch Rebekah.  Yahweh blessed Isaac and he became rich like his father Abraham.  He prospered more and more, until he became very wealthy, so that the Philistines envied him.  King Abimelech said that Isaac was becoming too powerful, so that he had to leave.  Isaac departed and settled in the valley of Gerar.  There he and his servants again dug all the wells that had been built by Abraham, because the Philistines had stopped these wells and filled them with earth.  He gave them the same name as his father had done.  The animal herders of Gerar said that the water from the wells was theirs.  Finally, Isaac’s servants dug three new wells, called contention, quarrels, and no argument, the only time these three wells were mentioned in the biblical literature.  Isaac had the same problem with wells that his father Abraham had in chapter 20.  Then Isaac went to Beer-sheba, where Yahweh, יְהוָה֙ (Yahweh) told Isaac that he was the Elohim of Abraham his father, אָנֹכִ֕י (anoki) אֱלֹהֵ֖י (Elohe) אַבְרָהָ֣ם (Abraham) אָבִ֑יךָ (abika).  He was not to be afraid because his offspring would be as great as that promised to his father Abraham.  Isaac built an altar to Yahweh there and dug another well.  Wells were important in this arid area.  Beer-sheba was the place where Abraham had lived and King Abimelech made a treaty with him.  It also was the place that Hagar and Ishmael went when they were cast out of Abraham’s house.  Then King Abimelech came to Isaac.  Abimelech said that Yahweh was with Isaac.  He then concluded an alliance with Isaac, like the one between his father Abraham and himself in chapter 21.  Thus, they ate and drank together.  The next day Isaac’s servants came to tell him that they had found water at a well called Shibah.  Thus, the name of that place became Beer-sheba, as if that was not the name of the place already.  This is the only place in biblical literature it is called Shibah.  The more common name of Beer-sheba appears over 33 times.  Do you think that Isaac was just like his father, Abraham?