Rebekah hears Isaac’s plan to bless Esau, so she crafts a deception to allow Jacob to receive “the blessing” from Isaac. Of course, Jacob could have said no, but not only was Rebekah a strong leader, he wanted the reward offered by her scheme. The stage is set and Jacob plays his part well, lies to his father and receives the blessing. Esau finds out and is outraged as you would expect. This seems to be a typical Esau reaction, lots of words and anger, but later we’ll learn that he doesn’t act on the threats to kill his brother–he’s just piping mad! Who could blame him? Jacob stole his birthright over some lentil soup, now his father’s blessing.
The Stairway to Heaven
Jacob has a dream about a stairway from earth to heaven where angels are going up and down, a portal in our sci-fi imagination. God is standing above the stairway and declares that Jacob will receive all of the land before him and his descendants will fill the earth–basically Abraham’s blessing repeated. Jacob wakes up excited! He makes a vow to honor God.
Jacob continues on his journey to find a suitable spouse in Laban’s family. Jacob finds Rachel and is immediately in love with her, but Laban has his own plans in mind. Back when Isaac sent his servant to this land and found Rebekah, Laban wanted to delay the departure, but was thwarted by Rebekah. This time Laban will exact his will on Jacob by making him stay until he has fully taken what he wants from the exchange. For seven years Jacob works to receive Rachel’s hand in marriage only to be switched by Laban (my guess is Jacob had a lot of wine and didn’t notice who he was making love to that night–seriously?). He wakes up to discover the switch!
Another seven years for Rachel. Meanwhile, Leah gives birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah (re: tribes). Rachel is barren, so she offers a servant as a proxy: Dan and Naphtali were born from Billah. Leah stopped having children, so her servant Zilpah was offered and she gave birth to Asher. Leah becomes pregnant again and has Issachar and Zebulun. Finally, Rachel has a son and names him Joseph. Thus the 12 tribes of Israel are born. Rachel and Leah worked hard for the privilege of having Jacob’s children. Through it all, we can see why Rachel favored Joseph over the others, but what a mess!
Jacob prospers and asks Laban to be released, but again Laban begs him to stay. Jacob has a plan to be released from Laban. His cunning scheme adds to the drama of this narrative and Jacob departs with better livestock. “So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob” (Genesis 30:42b).
Jacob is on the run again! Laban catches up to Jacob after three days, but God has told Laban in a dream not to say anything good or bad. In the dash, Rachel stole Laban’s gods. Laban searches but doesn’t find them (Rachel is hiding them in her saddle bags). Ultimately Laban concedes and agrees to let Jacob go with a blessing–after 20 years!
The famous Mizpah:
May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. Genesis 31:49
This is the agreement between Laban and Jacob as he finally is blessed to leave. An incredible story of deception and yet God still honors his commitment to Jacob.