Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


Additional Links

the son of Isaac and Rebekah. He was the younger brother of Esau, and a twin. It was observed, that at his birth he held his brother Esau's heel, and for this reason was called Jacob, Genesis 25:26 , which signifies "he supplanted." Jacob was of a meek and peaceable temper, and loved a quiet pastoral life; whereas Esau was of a fierce and turbulent nature, and was fond of hunting. Isaac had a particular fondness for Esau; but Rebekah was more attached to Jacob. The manner in which Jacob purchased his brother's birthright for a mess of pottage, and supplanted him by obtaining Isaac's blessing, is already referred to in the article ESAU.

The events of the interesting and chequered life of Jacob are so plainly and consecutively narrated by Moses, that they are familiar to all; but upon some of them a few remarks may be useful. As to the purchase of the birthright, Jacob appears to have been innocent so far as any guile on his part, or real necessity from hunger on the part of Esau, is involved in the question; but his obtaining the ratification of this by the blessing of Isaac though agreeable, indeed, to the purpose of God, that the elder should serve the younger, was blamable as to the means employed. The remarks of Dr. Hales on this transaction implicate Isaac also:—Thirty-seven years after, when Jacob was seventy-seven years old, according to Abulfaragi, and Isaac a hundred and thirty-seven, when he was old, and his sight had failed, and he expected soon to die, his partiality for Esau led him to attempt to set aside the oracle, and the cession of Esau's birthright to Jacob, by conferring on him the blessing of Abraham, in reward for bringing him savoury venison to eat, before his death. In this design, however, he was disappointed by the artifice of Rebekah, who dressed her favourite Jacob in his brother's clothes, and made him personate Esau, and thereby surreptitiously obtained for him the blessing: "Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee," Genesis 27:1-29 . It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the agitation of Isaac, when "he trembled very exceedingly," at the detection of the fraud, he did not attempt to rescind the blessing, nor transfer it to Esau; but, on the contrary, confirmed it on Jacob: "Yea, and he shall be blessed." His wishes were overruled and controlled by that higher power which he vainly endeavoured to counteract; and that he spoke as the Spirit gave him utterance, appears from his prediction respecting Esau's family: "And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break thy brother's yoke from off thy neck," Genesis 27:40; which was fulfilled in the days of Jehoram, king of Judah, when "the Edomites revolted from under the dominion of Judah, and made themselves a king unto this day," 2 Chronicles 21:8-10 .

According to this view, all the parties were more or less culpable; Isaac, for endeavouring to set aside the oracle which had been pronounced in favour of his younger son; but of which he might have an obscure conception; Esau, for wishing to deprive his brother of the blessing which he had himself relinquished; and Rebekah and Jacob, for securing it by fraudulent means, not trusting wholly in the Lord. That their principal object, however, was the spiritual part of the blessing, and not the temporal, was shown by the event. For Jacob afterward reverenced Esau as his elder brother, and insisted on Esau's accepting a present from his hand in token of submission Genesis 33:3-15 . Esau also appears to have possessed himself of his father's property during Jacob's long exile. But though the intention of Rebekah and Jacob might have been free from worldly or mercenary motives, they ought not to have done evil that good might come. And they were both severely punished in this life for their fraud, which destroyed the peace of the family, and planted a mortal enmity in the breast of Esau against his brother: "Is he not rightly named Jacob?" a supplanter; "for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright, and lo, now he hath taken away my blessing. The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob,"

Genesis 27:36-41 . And there can be little doubt of his intention of executing his threat, when he came to meet him on his return, with such an armed force as strongly alarmed Jacob's fears, had not God changed the spirit of Esau into mildness, so that "he ran to meet Jacob, and fell on his neck, and they wept," Genesis 33:4 . Rebekah, also, was deprived of the society of her darling son, whom "she sent away for one year," as she fondly imagined, "until his brother's fury should turn away," Genesis 27:42-44; but whom she saw no more; for she died during his long exile of twenty years, though Isaac survived, Genesis 35:27 . Thus was "she pierced through with many sorrows." Jacob, also, had abundant reason to say, "Few and evil have been the days of the years of my pilgrimage,"

Genesis 47:9 . Though he had the consolation of having the blessing of Abraham voluntarily renewed to him by his father, before he was forced to fly from his brother's fury, Genesis 28:1-4 , and had the satisfaction of obeying his parents in going to Padanaram, or Charran, in quest of a wife of his own kindred, Genesis 28:7; yet he set out on a long and perilous journey of six hundred miles and upward, through barren and inhospitable regions, unattended and unprovided, like a pilgrim, indeed, with only his staff in his hand Genesis 32:10 . And though he was supported with the assurance of the divine protection, and the renewal of the blessing of Abraham by God himself, in his remarkable vision at Bethel, and solemnly devoted himself to his service, wishing only for food and raiment, and vowing to profess the worship of God, and pay tithe unto him should he return back in peace, Genesis 28:10-22; yet he was forced to engage in a tedious and thankless servitude of seven years, at first for Rachel, with Laban, who retaliated upon him the imposition he had practised on his own father; and substituted Leah, whom he hated, for Rachel, whom he loved; and thereby compelled him to serve seven years more; and changed his wages several times during the remainder of his whole servitude of twenty years; in the course of which, as he pathetically complained, "the drought consumed him by day, and the frost by night, and the sleep departed from his eyes," in watching Laban's flocks, Genesis 31:40; and at last he was forced to steal away, and was only protected from Laban's vengeance, as afterward from Esau's, by divine interposition. Add to these his domestic troubles and misfortunes; the impatience of his favourite wife, "Give me children, or I die;" her death in bearing her second son, Benjamin; the rape of his daughter Dinah; the perfidy and cruelty of her brothers, Simeon and Levi, to the Shechemites; the misbehaviour of Reuben; the supposed death of Joseph, his favourite and most deserving son:—these were, all together, sufficient to have brought down his gray hairs with sorrow to the grave, had he not been divinely supported and encouraged throughout the whole of his pilgrimage. For the circumstances which led Jacob into Egypt, see JOSEPH .

When Jacob, at the invitation of Joseph, went down to Egypt, Joseph introduced his father to his royal master; and the patriarch, in his priestly character, blessed Pharaoh, and supplicated the divine favour for the king. The venerable appearance and the pious demeanour of Jacob led the monarch to inquire his years; to which he replied, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been; and I have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage." This answer of the patriarch was not the language of discontent, but the solemn reflection of a man who had experienced a large share of trouble, and who knew that the whole of human life is indeed but "a vain show," Genesis 47:1-10 .

Jacob spent the remainder of his days in tranquillity and prosperity, enjoying the society of his beloved child seventeen years. The close of his life was a happy calm, after a stormy voyage. The patriarch, perceiving that his dissolution was near, sent for Joseph, and bound him by a solemn promise to bury him with his fathers in Canaan. Shortly after this, Jacob was taken ill, and it being reported to Joseph, he hastened to the bedside of his father, taking with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. On hearing that his son was come, Jacob exerted all his strength, and sat up in his bed to receive him, and to impart that blessing which, in the spirit of prophecy, he was commissioned to bequeath. He next blessed the infant children of Joseph; but, as he placed his hands upon their heads, he crossed them, putting his right upon Ephraim the younger, and his left upon Manasseh the elder. Joseph wished to correct the mistake of his father, but Jacob persisted, being guided by a divine impulse; and he gave to each of the lads a portion in Israel, at the same time declaring that the younger should be greater than the elder, Genesis 48:22 . When this interview was ended, Jacob caused all his sons to assemble round his dying bed, that he might inform them what would befall them in the last days, Genesis 49:1-2 . Of all the predictions which he pronounced with his expiring breath, the most remarkable and the most interesting is that relating to Judah: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be," Genesis 49:10 . One grand personage was in the mind of the patriarch, as it had been in the contemplation of his predecessors, even the illustrious Deliverer who should arise in after ages to redeem his people, and bring salvation to the human race. The promised Seed was the constant object of faithful expectation; and all the patriarchal ordinances, institutions, and predictions, had an allusion, positive or incidental, to the Messiah. Hitherto the promise was confined generally to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that from them the glorious blessing should arise; but now, under the divine direction, the dying patriarch fortels in what tribe, and at what period, the great Restorer shall come. The sovereign authority was to continue in the possession of Judah, till from that tribe Shiloh should appear, and then the royalty must cease. This was fulfilled; for the tribe of Judah possessed legislative power till the time of Christ, and from that period the Jewish people have neither had dominion nor priesthood. Jesus Christ, therefore, must either be the true Shiloh, or the prophecy has failed; for the Jews cannot prove that they have had any thing like temporal power since his crucifixion. When they were so clamorous for the execution of Jesus, and Pilate told them to take the law into their own hands, they shrunk fearfully from the proposal, and acknowledged their slavish state by saying, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death," John 18:31 . Here, then, we have a glorious proof of the veracity of Scripture, and an incontestible evidence of the truth of our religion.

When Jacob had finished blessing his sons, he charged them to bury him in the cave of Machpelah, with Abraham and Isaac, and, "gathering his feet into the bed, he yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people,"

Genesis 49:33 . Joseph, having closed the eyes of his father, and wept over him, commanded the physicians to embalm the body. After a general mourning of seventy days, he solicited the king's permission to go with the remains of Jacob into Canaan, to which Pharaoh consented; and with Joseph went up all the state officers and principal nobility of Egypt, so that when they came to the place of interment, the Canaanites were astonished, and said, "This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians," Genesis 50:1-11 .

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Jacob'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Jacob's Well