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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Ja´cob, was the second son of Isaac by his wife Rebekah. Her conceiving is stated to have been supernatural. Led by peculiar feelings she went to inquire of the Lord, and was informed that she was indeed with child; that her offspring should be the founders of two nations, and that the elder should serve the younger: circumstances which ought to be borne in mind when a judgment is pronounced on her conduct in aiding Jacob to secure the privileges of birth to the exclusion of his elder brother Esau.

As the boys grew, Jacob appeared to partake of the gentle, quiet, and retiring character of his father, and was accordingly led to prefer the tranquil safety and pleasing occupations of a shepherd's life to the bold and daring enterprises of the hunter, for which Esau had an irresistible predilection. Jacob, therefore, passed his days in or near the paternal tent, simple and unpretending in his manner of life, and finding in the flocks and herds which he kept images and emotions which both filled and satisfied his heart. That selfishness and a prudence which approached to cunning had a seat in the heart of the youth Jacob, appears but too plain in his dealing with Esau, when he exacted from a famishing brother so large a price for a mess of pottage as the surrender of his birthright.

The leaning which his mother had in favor of Jacob would naturally be augmented by the conduct of Esau in marrying, doubtless contrary to his parents' wishes, two Hittite women, who are recorded to have been a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Circumstances thus prepared the way for procuring the transfer of the birthright, when Isaac, being now old, proceeded to take steps to pronounce the irrevocable blessing which acted with all the force of a modern testamentary bequest. This blessing, then, it was essential that Jacob should receive in preference to Esau. Here Rebekah appears the chief agent; Jacob is a mere instrument in her hands. Isaac directs Esau to procure him some venison. This Rebekah hears, and urges her reluctant favorite to personate his elder brother. Jacob suggests difficulties; they are met by Rebekah, who is ready to incur any personal danger so that her object might be gained. Her voice is obeyed, the venison is brought, Jacob is equipped for the deceit; he helps out his fraud by direct falsehood, and the old man, whose senses are now failing, is at last with difficulty deceived. It cannot be denied that this is a most reprehensible transaction, and presents a truly painful picture; in which a mother conspires with one son in order to cheat her aged husband, with a view to deprive another son of his rightful inheritance. Justification is here impossible; but it should not be forgotten in the estimate we form that there was a promise in favor of Jacob, that Jacob's qualities had endeared him to his mother, and that the prospect to her was dark and threatening which arose when she saw the neglected Esau at the head of the house, and his hateful wives assuming command over herself.

Punishment in this world always follows close upon the heels of transgression. Fear seized the guilty Jacob, who is sent by his father, at the suggestion of Rebekah, to the original seat of the family, in order that he might find a wife among his cousins, the daughters of his mother's brother, Laban the Syrian. Before he is dismissed Jacob again receives his father's blessing, the object obviously being to keep alive in the young man's mind the great promise given to Abraham, and thus to transmit that influence which, under the aid of Divine Providence, was to end in placing the family in possession of the land of Palestine, and in so doing to make it 'a multitude of people.' On his journey eastward he tarried all night upon a certain plain, where he was favored with a vision, and received a promise of divine protection in all the way on which he should go.

Jacob, on coming 'into the land of the people of the East,' providentially met with Rachel, Laban's daughter, to whom, with true Eastern simplicity and politeness, he showed such courtesy as the duties of pastoral life suggest and admit. And here his gentle and affectionate nature displays itself under the influence of the bonds of kindred and the fair form of youth:—'Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept.'

After he had been with his uncle the space of a month, Laban inquires of him what reward he expects for his services. He asks for the 'beautiful and well-favored Rachel.' His request is granted on condition of a seven years' service—a long period truly, but to Jacob 'they seemed but a few days for the love he had to her.' When the time was expired, the crafty Laban availed himself of the customs of the country, in order to substitute his elder and 'tender-eyed' daughter Leah. In the morning Jacob found how he had been beguiled; but Laban excused himself, saying, 'It must not be done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born.' Another seven years service gains for Jacob the beloved Rachel. Leah, however, has the compensatory privilege of being the mother of the first-born—Reuben; three other sons successively follow, namely, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, sons of Leah. This fruitfulness was a painful subject of reflection to the barren Rachel, who employed language on this occasion that called forth a reply from her husband which shows that, mild as was the character of Jacob, it was by no means wanting in force and energy (). An arrangement, however, took place, by which Rachel had children by means of her maid Bilhah, of whom Dan and Naphtali were born. Two other sons—Gad and Asher—were born to Jacob of Leah's maid, Zilpah. Leah herself bare two more sons, namely, Issachar and Zebulun; she also bare a daughter, Dinah. At length Rachel herself bare a son, and she called his name Joseph.

Most faithfully, and with great success, had Jacob served his uncle for fourteen years, when he became desirous of returning to his parents. At the urgent request of Laban, however, he is induced to remain. The language employed upon this occasion (, sq.) shows that Jacob's character had gained considerably during his service both in strength and comprehensiveness; but the means which he employed in order to make his bargain with his uncle work so as to enrich himself, prove too clearly that his moral feelings had not undergone an equal improvement, and that the original taint of prudence, and the sad lessons of his mother in deceit, had produced some of their natural fruit in his bosom.

The prosperity of Jacob displeased and grieved Laban, so that a separation seemed desirable. His wives are ready to accompany him. Accordingly he set out, with his family and his property, 'to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.' It was not till the third day that Laban learned that Jacob had fled, when he immediately set out in pursuit of his nephew, and after seven days' journey overtook him in Mount Gilead. Laban, however, is divinely warned not to hinder Jacob's return. Reproach and recrimination ensued. Even a charge of theft is put forward by Laban—'Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?' In truth, Rachel had carried off certain images which were the objects of superstitious reverence. Ignorant of this misdeed, Jacob boldly called for a search, adding, 'With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live.' A crafty woman's cleverness eluded the keen eye of Laban. Rachel, by an appeal which one of her sex alone could make, deceived her father.

Laban's conduct on this occasion called forth a reply from Jacob, from which it appears that his service had been most severe, and which also proves that however this severe service might have encouraged a certain servility, it had not prevented the development in Jacob's soul of a high and energetic spirit, which when roused could assert its rights and give utterance to sentiments both just, striking, and forcible.

Peace, however, being restored, Laban, on the ensuing morning, took a friendly, if not an affectionate farewell of his daughters and their sons, and returned home. Meanwhile Jacob, going on his way, had to pass near the land of Seir, in which Esau dwelt. Remembering his own conduct and his brother's threat, he was seized with fear, and sent messengers before in order to propitiate Esau, who, however, had no evil design against him; but, when he 'saw Jacob, ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept'—the one tears of joyful recognition, the other of gladness at unexpected escape.

It was immediately preceding this interview that Jacob passed the night in wrestling with 'a man,' who is afterwards recognized as God, and who at length overcame Jacob by touching the hollow of his thigh. His name also was on this event changed by the mysterious antagonist into Israel, 'for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men and hast prevailed' (). It is added that on this account his descendants abstained from eating the thigh of slaughtered animals.

Having, by the misconduct of Hamor the Hivite and the hardy valor of his sons, been involved in danger from the natives of Shechem in Canaan, Jacob is divinely directed, and under the divine protection proceeds to Bethel, where he is to 'make an altar unto God that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.' Obedient to the divine command, he first purifies his family from 'strange gods,' which he hid under 'the oak which is by Shechem;' after which God appeared to him again with the important declaration, 'I am God Almighty,' and renewed the Abrahamic covenant. While journeying from Bethel to Ephrath, his beloved Rachel lost her life in giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. At length Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, the family residence, in time to pay the last attentions to the aged patriarch. Not long after this bereavement Jacob was robbed of his beloved son Joseph through the jealousy and bad faith of his brothers. This loss is the occasion of showing us how strong were Jacob's paternal feelings; for on seeing what appeared to be proofs that 'some evil beast had devoured Joseph,' the old man 'rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days, and refused to be comforted…. I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning' ().

A widely extended famine induced Jacob to send his sons down into Egypt, where he had heard there was corn, without knowing by whose instrumentality. The patriarch, however, retained his youngest son Benjamin, 'lest mischief should befall him,' as it had befallen Joseph. The young men returned with the needed supplies of corn. They related, however, that they had been taken for spies, and that there was but one way in which they could disprove the charge, namely, by carrying down Benjamin to 'the lord of the land.' This Jacob vehemently refused:—'Me have ye bereaved; Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin; my son shall not go down with you; if mischief befall him, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave' (). The pressure of the famine, however, at length forced Jacob to allow Benjamin to accompany his brothers on a second visit to Egypt; whence in due time they brought back to their father the pleasing intelligence, 'Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.' How naturally is the effect of this on Jacob told—'and Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not.' When, however, they had gone into particulars, he added, 'Enough, Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die.'

Encouraged 'in the visions of the night,' Jacob goes down to Egypt. 'And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive' (). Joseph proceeded to conduct his father into the presence of the Egyptian monarch, when the man of God, with that self-consciousness and dignity which religion gives, instead of offering slavish adulation, 'blessed Pharaoh.' Struck with the patriarch's venerable air, the king asked, 'How old art thou?' What composure and elevation is there in the reply, 'The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh' ().

Jacob, with his sons, now entered into possession of some of the best land of Egypt, where they carried on their pastoral occupations, and enjoyed a very large share of earthly prosperity. The aged patriarch, after being strangely tossed about on a very rough ocean, found at last a tranquil harbor, where all the best affections of his nature were gently exercised and largely unfolded. After a lapse of time Joseph, being informed that his father was sick, went to him, when 'Israel strengthened himself, and sat up in his bed.' He acquainted Joseph with the divine promise of the land of Canaan which yet remained to be fulfilled, and took Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, in place of Reuben and Simeon, whom he had lost. Then having convened his sons, the venerable patriarch pronounced on them also a blessing, which is full of the loftiest thought, expressed in the most poetical diction, and adorned by the most vividly descriptive and engaging imagery, showing how deeply religions his character had become, how freshly it retained its fervor to the last, and how greatly it had increased in strength, elevation, and dignity:—'And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people' ().





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Jacob'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​j/jacob.html.
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