The term prophet had a wide meaning among the Israelites, since it also included people like Abraham, Moses, and Miriam. That is why some so-called historical books are often called the early prophets. Jewish traditions hold that there were 48 male prophets, and seven female prophets, Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Others have recognized Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah as female prophets also. Thus, there is a wide range of written prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. The Hebrew prophetic dominant message was a return to Yahweh and his laws. They were to protect the poor, the orphans, and the widows. Justice and righteousness dominate in their messages. Yahweh would judge them. Although some Israelites were sinners, they would have a bright future if they turned from their evil ways to Yahweh.
To the land of Aram.
There Israel served
For a wife.
He guarded sheep
For a wife.”
This incident about Jacob or Israel can be found in Genesis, chapter 29. Jacob went east and found his cousin Rachel, whom he wanted to marry. He was tricked into marring her sister Leah. However, he stayed on to take care of the sheep of his uncle Laban, so that he would have Rachel as his wife also.
“Wisdom rescued from troubles
Those who served her.
When a righteous man fled
From his brother’s wrath,
She guided him on straight paths.
She showed him the kingdom of God.
She gave him knowledge of holy things.
She prospered him in his labors.
She increased the fruit of his toil.
When his oppressors were covetous,
She stood by him.
She made him rich.
She protected him from his enemies.
She kept him safe
From those who lay in wait for him.
In his arduous contest
She gave him the victory.
Thus he might learn
That godliness is more powerful
Than anything else.”
Wisdom also helped the righteous Jacob as we have a condensed version of the story of Jacob in Genesis, chapters 25-32. Of course, the unnamed Jacob is called a just man (δίκαιον) who served wisdom (σοφία). He fled from his brother’s anger after he had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Jacob had dreams that told him about the kingdom of God (βασιλείαν Θεοῦ) and the heavenly angels. Jacob went to live with Laban, the brother of his mother, or his uncle. He then married his 2 first cousins, Rachel and Leah, while he worked for his uncle. He then became rich before he got into a fight with his uncle Laban. For some reason, Jacob was considered righteous as opposed to Esau and Laban in their various disputes.
“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the region, saw her he seized her and lay with her by force. His soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob. He loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this girl to be my wife.’ Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came.”
Dinah, Leah’s daughter, went to visit some women in the region. Shechem, the son of Hamor, raped her, ‘saw her, seized her and lay with her by force.’ However, he loved her and spoke tenderly to her and asked his father to get her to be his wife. When Jacob heard that Dinah hand been ‘defiled,’ his sons were in the field, so he held his peace. This may be the first recorded rape of a named individual. There is trouble brewing here.
“Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.”
The story of Jacob continues. He looked up and saw Esau with 400 men coming. He divided up his family and put the maids with their children up front and Rachel and Leah with their children in the back. Jacob went out front, bowing to the ground seven times until he came to his brother.
“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. Finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favor with my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.’ Jacob said, ‘No, please. If I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand. For truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God, since you have received me with such favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.’ So he urged him, and he took it.”
Esau, however, ran to Jacob, embracing and kissing him. Esau asked ‘who are all these people with you?’ Jacob responded that these were his wives and children as they came forward to bow down before Esau. Esau said that he did not need all of Jacob’s presents, since he had enough by himself. However, Jacob insisted that he keep the presents and said that seeing his face was like seeing the face of God, because he had been so nice to him. Finally, Esau took the gifts. It looks like this brotherly reunion is going to work out fine.
“On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. So he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days until he caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad.’”
Three days after Jacob had left, Laban found out about his departure and spent seven days chasing him until he caught up with him at Gilead, the hill country east of the Jordan. However, God appeared to him in a dream and told not to say a good or bad word to Jacob.
“Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen encamped in the hill country of Gilead. Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done? You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword. Why did you flee secretly and deceive me and not tell me? I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre. Why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? What you have done is foolish. It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ Even though you had to go because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?’ Jacob answered Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen, point out what I have that is yours, and take it.’ Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.”
Nevertheless, Laban went to Jacob and accused him of stealing his daughters. Why are you sneaking away when I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre.’ Laban called Jacob foolish and asked why he had stolen his gods. Jacob responded that he feared that Laban would take his daughters by force. He also said that whoever stole his gods will not live, since Jacob did not know that Rachel took the gods.
“So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. He went out of Leah’s tent, and entered Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat upon them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. She said to her father, ‘Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.’ So he searched, but did not find the household gods.
Laban searched the tents and could not find them because Rachel had put them in the saddle of the camel that she was sitting on. She said that she could not get off the camel because ‘the way of women is upon me.’
“Then Jacob became angry, and upbraided Laban. Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? Although you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, so that they may decide between us two. These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. That which was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. Of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. It was like this with me. By day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.’”
Then Jacob became angry towards Laban and let him know that he was not pleased. Laban had searched all his goods and found nothing. Jacob had worked for Laban, day and night, over 20 years, to gain his daughters and his flock, as Laban changed his wages ten times. Jacob justified his leaving by talking about the 20 years he had spent there working for Laban. God was on his side. ‘If the God of Abraham and Isaac had not been on my side, surely you would have sent me away empty- handed.’
“Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s wealth. He has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’ Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him as favorably as he did before. Then Yahweh said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.’ So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, and said to them, ‘I see that your father does not regard me as favorably as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, `The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore speckled. If he said, `The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father, and given them to me.”
The sons of Laban were mad that Jacob had taken all the wealth of Laban and even Laban was looking less favorable towards him. Yahweh appeared to Jacob and told him to return to the land of his ancestors because Yahweh would be with him. Jacob called his two wives into the field and said that their father had been unfair to him, since their father had changed his wages ten times. God has taken away Laban’s livestock and given it to Jacob with all the speckled and stripped animals.
“During the mating of the flock, I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats that leaped upon the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, `Jacob,’ and I said, `Here I am!’ He said, `Look up and see that all the goats that leap upon the flock are striped, speckled, and mottled. I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once, and return to the land of your birth.’ Then Rachel and Leah answered him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? He has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. All the property that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, do whatever God has said to you.’”
Jacob told of his dream about the male speckled goats that were attacking the rest of the flock. Then the angel of God appeared to him and said that he was the God of Bethel, where he made a pillar and vow. Jacob responded with the common theme response ‘Here I am.’ Then God told him to leave this land at once and return to the land of his birth. Both Rachel and Leah, although they legally were part of Laban’s property, agreed to do whatever God wanted. They also felt mistreated by their father.
“So Jacob arose, and set his children and his wives on camels. He drove away all his livestock, all the property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. He fled with all that he had, staring out he crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.”
Thus, Jacob got his children, his wives, and all his property and livestock to go back to the land of Canaan and his father Isaac. For some reason, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Obviously they were not monotheists. Jacob did not tell Laban that he was leaving at he set out crossing the Euphrates River.
“When Yahweh saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb. But Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son. She named him Reuben. For she said, ‘Yahweh has looked upon my affliction. Surely now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because Yahweh has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ She named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise Yahweh.’ Therefore she named him Judah. Then she ceased bearing.”
Although Jacob loved Rachel, she was barren. However, Leah bore 4 sons named Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Each time Leah praised Yahweh and hoped that her husband Jacob would love her. You would think that these 4 sons would be important, but only the later two, Levi and Judah, take on an important significance. Nevertheless, Leah is responsible for a third of the 12 families of Israel.
“When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!’ Jacob became very anger with Rachel. He said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’ Then she said, ‘Here is my maid Bilhah. Go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees, and that I too may have children through her.’ So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife. Jacob went in to her. Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.’ Therefore she named him Dan. Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestling I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed.’ So she named him Naphtali.”
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 God’s will not his to have or not have children. Rachel gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob to have children, and Jacob had sex with her. Bilhah had two sons named Dan and Naphtah. Jacob now has had sex with three women, and has 6 sons.
“When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Leah said, ‘Good fortune! So she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For the women will call me happy.’ So she called his name Asher.
Then Leah asked her maid Zilpah to sleep with Jacob and she had two sons with him, Gad and Asher. This makes the fourth woman for Jacob with 8 sons.
“In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’ But she said to her, ‘Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?’ Rachel said, ‘Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.’ When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, ‘You must come in to me. I have paid for you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night. God heeded Leah and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, ‘God has given me my wages because I gave my maid to my husband.’ So she named him Issachar. Leah conceived again and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good dowry. Now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.’ So she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
One day Reuben brought mandrakes, some sort of aphrodisiac, to his mother Leah, but Rachel wanted some. So Leah gave her the mandrakes in exchange for sleeping with Jacob that night. Thus Leah bore a fifth and sixth son, Issachar and Zebulun, as well as a daughter, Dinah. Leah then has 6 sons, one daughter, and 2 sons by her maid, ¾ of the children of Jacob.
“Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ She named him Joseph, saying, ‘May Yahweh add to me another son!’”
Then God remembered Rachel and ‘opened her womb’ and she conceived a son called Joseph. Of course, he will become the most famous of the sons of Jacob. Now we have 11 sons, one more to come.
“Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel. So he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man. Stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
Laban decided to pay Jacob because he was a ‘kinsman.’ Laban had two daughters, Leah, the oldest, and Rachel, the youngest. Jacob loved Rachel and he said that he would serve Laban for seven years in order to marry her. This seems like a real love story when years seem like days. Jacob did this so that he could marry his first cousin.
“Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed. So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob. He went in to her. Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid. When morning came, it was Leah! Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born. Complete this marriage week, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.’ Jacob did so, and completed her nuptial week. Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.”
On the wedding night, Laban brought the veiled Leah, not Rachel, to Jacob. ‘He went in to her,’ a euphemism for intercourse. He also gave her a maid called Zilpah. This time it is Jacob who is deceived. Laban explained that the older daughter must be married before the younger daughter. Nevertheless they completed the week of marriage festivities. However, he said if you work another seven years I will give you Rachel, the younger one with a maid named Bilhah. It turns out to be a two for one deal as Jacob marries two sisters at the same time.