International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Form and Distribution
2. Etymology and Associations
II. HIS PLACE IN THE PATRIARCHAL SUCCESSION
1. As the Son of Isaac and Rebekah
2. As the Brother of Esau
3. As the Father of the Twelve
1. With Isaac in Canaan
2. To Aram and Back
3. In Canaan Again
4. Last Years in Egypt
IV. CHARACTER AND BELIEFS
1. Natural Qualities
2. Stages of Development
3. Attitude toward the Promise
4. How Far a "Type" of Israel
V. REFERENCES OUTSIDE OF GENESIS
1. In the Old Testament
2. In the New Testament
VI. MODERN INTERPRETATIONS OF JACOB
1. Personification of the Hebrew Nation
2. God and Demi-God
3. Character of Fiction
1. Form and Distribution:
ya`aqobh (5 times ya`aqowbh); Iakob, is in form a verb in the Qal imperfect, 3rd masculine singular. Like some 50 other Hebrew names of this same form, it has no subject for the verb expressed. But there are a number of independent indications that Jacob belongs to that large class of names consisting of a verb with some Divine name or title (in this case 'El) as the subject, from which the common abbreviated form is derived by omitting the subject.
(a) In Babylonian documents of the period of the Patriarchs, there occur such personal names as Ja-ku-bi, Ja-ku-ub-ilu (the former doubtless an abbreviation of the latter), and Aq-bu-u (compare Aq-bi-a-hu), according to Hilprecht a syncopated form for A-qu(?)-bu(-u), like Aq-bi-ili alongside of A-qa-bi-ili; all of which may be associated with the same root `aqabh, as appears in Jacob (see H. Ranke, Early Babylonian Personal Names, 1905, with annotations by Professor Hilprecht as editor, especially pp. 67, 113, 98 and 4).
(b) In the list of places in Palestine conquered by the Pharaoh Thutmose III appears a certain J'qb'r, which in Egyptian characters represents the Semitic letters ya`aqobh-'el, and which therefore seems to show that in the earlier half of the 15th century B.C. (so Petrie, Breasted) there was a place (not a tribe; see W. M. Muller, Asien und Europa, 162) in Central Palestine that bore a name in some way connected with "Jacob." Moreover, a Pharaoh of the Hyksos period bears a name that looks like ya`aqobh-'el (Spiegelberg, Orientalische Literaturzeitung, VII, 130).
(c) In the Jewish tractate Pirqe Abhoth, iii.l, we read of a Jew named 'Aqabhyah, which is a name composed of the same verbal root as that in Jacob, together with the Divine name Yahu (i.e. Yahweh) in its common abbreviated form. It should be noted that the personal names `Aqqubh and Ya`aqobhah (accent on the penult) also occur in the Old Testament, the former borne by no less than 4 different persons; also that in the Palmyrene inscriptions we find a person named `ath`aqobh, a name in which this same verb `aqabh is preceded by the name of the god `Ate, just as in `Aqabhyah it is followed by the name Yahu.
2. Etymology and Associations:
Such being the form and distribution of the name, it remains to inquire: What do we know of its etymology and what were the associations it conveyed to the Hebrew ear?
The verb in all its usages is capable of deduction, by simple association of ideas, from the noun "heel." "To heel" might mean:
(a) "to take hold of by the heel" (so probably Hosea 12:3; compare Genesis 27:36);
(b) "to follow with evil intent," "to supplant" or in general "to deceive" (so Genesis 27:36 Jeremiah 9:4, where the parallel, "go about with slanders," is interesting because the word so translated is akin to the noun "foot," as "supplant" is to "heel");
(c) "to follow with good intent," whether as a slave (compare our English "to heel," of a dog) for service, or as a guard for protection, hence, "to guard" (so in Ethiopic), "to keep guard over", and thus "to restrain" (so Job 37:4);
(d) "to follow," "to succeed," "to take the place of another" (so Arabic, and the Hebrew noun 'eqebh, "consequence," "recompense," whether of reward or punishment).
Among these four significations, which most commends itself as the original intent in the use of this verb to form a proper name? The answer to this question depends upon the degree of strength with which the Divine name was felt to be the subject of the verb As Jacob-el, the simplest interpretation of the name is undoubtedly, as Baethgen urges (Beitrage zur sem. Religionsgeschichte, 158), "God rewardeth" ((d) above), like Nathanael, "God hath given," etc. But we have already seen that centuries before the time when Jacob is said to have been born, this name was shortened by dropping the Divine subject; and in this shortened form it would be more likely to call up in the minds of all Semites who used it, associations with the primary, physical notion of its root ((a) above). Hence, there is no ground to deny that even in the patriarchal period, this familiar personal name Jacob lay ready at hand-a name ready made, as it were-for this child, in view of the peculiar circumstances of its birth; we may say, indeed, one could not escape the use of it. (A parallel case, perhaps, is Genesis 38:28, 30, Zerah; compare Zerahiah.) The associations of this root in everyday use in Jacob's family to mean "to supplant" led to the fresh realization of its appropriateness to his character and conduct when he was grown ((b) above). This construction does not interfere with a connection between the patriarch Jacob and the "Jacob-els" referred to above (under 1, (b)), should that connection on other grounds appear probable. Such a longer form was perhaps for every "Jacob" an alternative form of his name, and under certain circumstances may have been used by or of even the patriarch Jacob.
II. Place in the Patriarchal Succession.
1. As the Son of Isaac and Rebekah:
In the dynasty of the "heirs of the promise," Jacob takes his place, first, as the successor of Isaac. In Isaac's life the most significant single fact had been his marriage with Rebekah instead of with a woman of Canaan. Jacob therefore represents the first generation of those who are determinately separate from their environment. Abraham and his household were immigrants in Canaan; Jacob and Esau were natives of Canaan in the second generation, yet had not a drop of Canaanitish blood in their veins. Their birth was delayed till 20 years after the marriage of their parents. Rebekah's barrenness had certainly the same effect, and probably the same purpose, as that of Sarah: it drove Isaac to Divine aid, demanded of him as it had of Abraham that "faith and patience" through which they "inherited the promises" (Hebrews 6:12), and made the children of this pair also the evident gift of God's grace, so that Isaac was the better able "by faith" to "bless Jacob and Esau even concerning things to come" (Hebrews 11:20).
2. As the Brother of Esau:
These twin brothers therefore share thus far the same relation to their parents and to what their parents transmit to them. But here the likeness ceases. "Being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto (Rebecca), The elder shall serve the younger" (Romans 9:11, 12). In the Genesis-narrative, without any doctrinal assertions either adduced to explain it, or deduced from it, the fact is nevertheless made as clear as it is in Malachi or Romans, that Esau is rejected, and Jacob is chosen as a link in the chain of inheritance that receives and transmits the promise.
3. As Father of the Twelve:
With Jacob the last person is reached who, for his own generation, thus sums up in a single individual "the seed" of promise. He becomes the father of 12 sons, who are the progenitors of the tribes of the "peculiar people." It is for this reason that this people bears his name, and not that of his father Isaac or that of his grandfather Abraham. The "children of Israel," the "house of Jacob," are the totality of the seed of the promise. The Edomites too are children of Isaac. Ishmaelites equally with Israelites boast of descent from Abraham. But the twelve tribes that called themselves "Israel" were all descendants of Jacob, and were the only descendants of Jacob on the agnatic principle of family-constitution.
The life of a wanderer (Deuteronomy 26:5 the Revised Version, margin) such as Jacob was, may often be best divided on the geographical principle. Jacob's career falls into the four distinct periods: that of his residence with Isaac in Canaan, that of his residence with Laban in Aram, that of his independent life in Canaan and that of his migration to Egypt.
1. With Isaac in Canaan:
Jacob's birth was remarkable in respect of
(a) its delay for 20 years as noted above,
(b) that condition of his mother which led to the Divine oracle concerning his future greatness and supremacy, and
(c) the unusual phenomenon that gave him his name: "he holds by the heel" (see above, I, 2).
Unlike his twin brother, Jacob seems to have been free from any physical peculiarities; his smoothness (Genesis 27:11) is only predicated of him in contrast to Esau's hairiness. These brothers, as they developed, grew apart in tastes and habits. Jacob, like his father in his quiet manner of life and (for that reason perhaps) the companion and favorite of his mother, found early the opportunity to obtain Esau's sworn renunciation of his right of primogeniture, by taking advantage of his habits, his impulsiveness and his fundamental indifference to the higher things of the family, the things of the future (Genesis 25:32). It was not until long afterward that the companion scene to this first "supplanting" (Genesis 27:36) was enacted. Both sons meanwhile are to be thought of simply as members of Isaac's following, during all the period of his successive sojourns in Gerar, the Valley of Gerar and Beersheba (Genesis 26). Within this period, when the brothers were 40 years of age, occurred Esau's marriage with two Hittite women. Jacob, remembering his own mother's origin, bided his time to find the woman who should be the mother of his children. The question whether she should be brought to him, as Rebekah was to Isaac, or he should go to find her, was settled at last by a family feud that only his absence could heal. This feud was occasioned by the fraud that Jacob at Rebekah's behest practiced upon his father and brother, when these two were minded to nullify the clearly revealed purpose of the oracle (Genesis 25:23) and the sanctions of a solemn oath (Genesis 25:33). Isaac's partiality for Esau arose perhaps as much from Esau's resemblance to the active, impulsive nature of his mother, as from the sensual gratification afforded Isaac by the savory dishes his son's hunting supplied. At any rate, this partiality defeated itself because it overreached itself. The wife, who had learned to be eyes and ears for a husband's failing senses, detected the secret scheme, counterplotted with as much skill as unscrupulousness, and while she obtained the paternal blessing for her favorite son, fell nevertheless under the painful necessity of choosing between losing him through his brother's revenge or losing him by absence from home. She chose, of course, the latter alternative, and herself brought about Jacob's departure, by pleading to Isaac the necessity for obtaining a woman as Jacob's wife of a sort different from the Canaanitish women that Esau had married. Thus ends the first portion of Jacob's life.
2. To Aram and Back:
It is no young man that sets out thus to escape a brother's vengeance, and perhaps to find a wife at length among his mother's kindred. It was long before this that Esau at the age of forty had married the Hittite women (compare Genesis 26:34 with 27:46). Yet to one who had hitherto spent his life subordinate to his father, indulged by his mother, in awe of a brother's physical superiority, and "dwelling in tents, a quiet (domestic) man" (Genesis 25:27), this journey of 500 or 600 miles, with no one to guide, counsel or defend, was as new an experience as if he had really been the stripling that he is sometimes represented to have been. All the most significant chapters in life awaited him: self-determination, love, marriage, fatherhood, domestic provision and administration, adjustment of his relations with men, and above all a personal and independent religious experience.
Of these things, all were to come to him in the 20 years of absence from Canaan, and the last was to come first; for the dream of Jacob at Beth-el was of course but the opening scene in the long drama of God's direct dealing with Jacob. Yet it was the determinative scene, for God in His latest and fullest manifestation to Jacob was just "the God of Beth-el" (Genesis 35:7; Genesis 48:3; Genesis 49:24).
With the arrival at Haran came love at once, though not for 7 years the consummation of that love. Its strength is naively indicated by the writer in two ways: impliedly in the sudden output of physical power at the well-side (Genesis 29:10), and expressly in the patient years of toil for Rachel's sake, which "seemed unto him but a few days for the love he had to her" (Genesis 29:20). Jacob is not primarily to be blamed for the polygamy that brought trouble into his home-life and sowed the seeds of division and jealousy in the nation of the future. Although much of Israel's history can be summed up in the rivalry of Leah and Rachel-Judah and Joseph-yet it was not Jacob's choice but Laban's fraud that introduced this cause of schism. At the end of his 7 years' labor Jacob received as wife not Rachel but Leah, on the belated plea that to give the younger daughter before the elder was not the custom of the country. This was the first of the "ten times" that Laban "changed the wages" of Jacob (Genesis 31:7, 41). Rachel became Jacob's wife 7 days after Leah, and for this second wife he "served 7 other years." During these 7 years were born most of the sons and daughters (Genesis 37:35) that formed the actual family, the nucleus of that large caravan that Jacob took back with him to Canaan. Dinah is the only daughter named; Genesis 30:21 is obviously in preparation for the story of Genesis 34 (see especially 34:31). Four sons of Leah were the oldest: Reuben, with the right of primogeniture, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Next came the 4 sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, the personal slaves of the two wives (compare ABRAHAM, iv, 2); the two pairs of sons were probably of about the same age (compare order in Genesis 49). Leah's 5th and 6th sons were separated by an interval of uncertain length from her older group. And Joseph, the youngest son born in Haran, was Rachel's first child, equally beloved by his mother, and by his father for her sake (33:2; compare 44:20), as well as because he was the youngest of the eleven (37:3).
Jacob's years of service for his wives were followed by 6 years of service rendered for a stipulated wage. Laban's cunning in limiting the amount of this wage in a variety of ways was matched by Jacob's cunning in devising means to overreach his uncle, so that the penniless wanderer of 20 years before becomes the wealthy proprietor of countless cattle and of the hosts of slaves necessary for their care (Genesis 32:10). At the same time the apology of Jacob for his conduct during this entire period of residence in Haran is spirited (Genesis 31:36-42); it is apparently unanswerable by Laban (Genesis 31:43); and it is confirmed, both by the evident concurrence of Leah and Rachel (Genesis 31:14-16), and by indications in the narrative that the justice (not merely the partiality) of God gave to each party his due recompense: to Jacob the rich returns of skillful, patient industry; to Laban rebuke and warning (Genesis 31:5-13, 24, 29, 42).
The manner of Jacob's departure from Haran was determined by the strained relations between his uncle and himself. His motive in going, however, is represented as being fundamentally the desire to terminate an absence from his father's country that had already grown too long (Genesis 31:30; compare Genesis 30:25)-a desire which in fact presented itself to him in the form of a revelation of God's own purpose and command (Genesis 31:3). Unhappily, his clear record was stained by the act of another than himself, who nevertheless, as a member of his family, entailed thus upon him the burden of responsibility. Rachel, like Laban her father, was devoted to the superstition that manifested itself in the keeping and consulting of teraphim, a custom which, whether more nearly akin to fetishism, totemism, or ancestor-worship, was felt to be incompatible with the worship of the one true God. (Note that the "teraphim" of Genesis 31:19, 34 are the same as the "gods" of 31:30, 32 and, apparently, of 35:2, 4.) This theft furnished Laban with a pretext for pursuit. What he meant to do he probably knew but imperfectly himself. Coercion of some sort he would doubtless have brought to bear upon Jacob and his caravan, had he not recognized in a dream the God whom Jacob worshipped, and heard Him utter a word of warning against the use of violence. Laban failed to find his stolen gods, for his daughter was as crafty and ready-witted as he. The whole adventure ended in a formal reconciliation, with the usual sacrificial and memorial token (Genesis 31:43-55).
After Laban, Esau. One danger is no sooner escaped than a worse threatens. Yet between them lies the pledge of Divine presence and protection in the vision of God's host at Mahanaim: just a simple statement, with none of the fanciful detail that popular story-telling loves, but the sober record of a tradition to which the supernatural was matter of fact. Even the longer passage that preserves the occurrence at Peniel is conceived in the same spirit. What the revelation of the host of God had not sufficed to teach this faithless, anxious, scheming patriarch, that God sought to teach him in the night-struggle, with its ineffaceable physical memorial of a human impotence that can compass no more than to cling to Divine omnipotence (Genesis 32:22-32). The devices of crafty Jacob to disarm an offended and supposedly implacable brother proved as useless as that bootless wrestling of the night before; Esau's peculiar disposition was not of Jacob's making, but of God's, and to it alone Jacob owed his safety. The practical wisdom of Jacob dictated his insistence upon bringing to a speedy termination the proposed association with his changeable brother, amid the difficulties of a journey that could not be shared by such divergent social and racial elements as Esau's armed host and Jacob's caravan, without discontent on the one side and disaster on the other. The brothers part, not to meet again until they meet to bury their father at Hebron (Genesis 35:29).
3. In Canaan Again:
Before Jacob's arrival in the South of Canaan where his father yet lived and where his own youth had been spent, he passed through a period of wandering in Central Palestine, somewhat similar to that narrated of his grandfather Abraham. To any such nomad, wandering slowly from Aram toward Egypt, a period of residence in the region of Mt. Ephraim was a natural chapter in his book of travels. Jacob's longer stops, recorded for us, were
(1) at Succoth, East of the Jordan near Peniel,
(2) at Shechem and
(3) at Beth-el.
Nothing worthy of record occurred at Succoth, but the stay at Shechem was eventful. Genesis 34, which tells the story of Dinah's seduction and her brother's revenge, throws as much light upon the relations of Jacob and the Canaanites, as does chapter 14 or chapter 23 upon Abraham's relations, or chapter 26 upon Isaac's relations, with such settled inhabitants of the land. There is a strange blending of moral and immoral elements in Jacob and his family as portrayed in this contretemps. There is the persistent tradition of separateness from the Canaanites bequeathed from Abraham's day (chapter 24), together with a growing family consciousness and sense of superiority (34:7, 14, 31). And at the same time there is indifference to their unique moral station among the environing tribes, shown in Dinah's social relations with them (34:1), in the treachery and cruelty of Simeon and Levi (34:25-29), and in Jacob's greater concern for the security of his possessions than for the preservation of his good name (verse 30).
It was this concern for the safety of the family and its wealth that achieved the end which dread of social absorption would apparently never have achieved-the termination of a long residence where there was moral danger for all. For a second time Jacob had fairly to be driven to Beth-el. Safety from his foes was again a gift of God (Genesis 35:5), and in a renewal of the old forgotten ideals of consecration (Genesis 35:2-8), he and all his following move from the painful associations of Shechem to the hallowed associations of Beth-el. Here were renewed the various phases of all God's earlier communications to this patriarch and to his fathers before him. The new name of Israel, hitherto so ill deserved, is henceforth to find realization in his life; his fathers' God is to be his God; his seed is to inherit the land of promise, and is to be no mean tribe, but a group of peoples with kings to rule over them like the nations round about (Genesis 35:9-12). No wonder that Jacob here raises anew his monument of stone-emblem of the "Stone of Israel" (Genesis 49:24)-and stamps forever, by this public act, upon ancient Luz (Genesis 35:6), the name of Beth-el which he had privately given it years before (Genesis 28:19).
Losses and griefs characterized the family life of the patriarch at this period. The death of his mother's Syrian nurse at Beth-el (Genesis 35:8; compare Genesis 24:59) was followed by the death of his beloved wife Rachel at Ephrath (Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7) in bringing forth the youngest of his 12 sons, Benjamin. At about the same time the eldest of the 12, Reuben, forfeited the honor of his station in the family by an act that showed all too clearly the effect of recent association with Canaanites (Genesis 35:22). Finally, death claimed Jacob's aged father, whose latest years had been robbed of the companionship, not only of this son, but also of the son whom his partiality had all but made a fratricide; at Isaac's grave in Hebron the ill-matched brothers met once more, thenceforth to go their separate ways, both in their personal careers and in their descendants' history (Genesis 35:29).
Jacob now is by right of patriarchal custom head of all the family. He too takes up his residence at Hebron (Genesis 37:14), and the story of the family fortunes is now pursued under the new title of "the generations of Jacob" (Genesis 37:2). True, most of this story revolves about Joseph, the youngest of the family save Benjamin; yet the occurrence of passages like Genesis 38, devoted exclusively to Judah's affairs, or 46:8-27, the enumeration of Jacob's entire family through its secondary ramifications, or Genesis 49, the blessing of Jacob on all his sons-all these prove that Jacob, not Joseph, is the true center of the narrative until his death. As long as he lives he is the real head of his house, and not merely a superannuated veteran like Isaac. Not only Joseph, the boy of 17 (37:2), but also the self-willed elder sons, even a score of years later, come and go at his bidding (Genesis 42; Genesis 43; Genesis 43 44; 45). Joseph's dearest thought, as it is his first thought, is for his aged father (43:7, 27; 44:19:00; and especially 45:3, 9, 13, 23, and 46:29).
4. Last Years in Egypt:
It is this devotion of Joseph that results in Jacob's migration to Egypt. What honors there Joseph can show his father he shows him: he presents him to Pharaoh, who for Joseph's sake receives him with dignity, and assigns him a home and sustenance for himself and all his people as honored guests of the land of Egypt (Genesis 47:7-12). Yet in Beersheba, while en route to Egypt, Jacob had obtained a greater honor than this reception by Pharaoh. He had found there, as ready to respond to his sacrifices as ever to those of his fathers, the God of his father Isaac, and had received the gracious assurance of Divine guidance in this momentous journey, fraught with so vast a significance for the future nation and the world (Genesis 46:1-4): God Himself would go with him into Egypt and give him, not merely the gratification of once more embracing his long-lost son, but the fulfillment of the covenant-promise (Genesis 15:13-16) that he and his were not turning their backs upon Canaan forever. Though 130 years of age when he stood before Pharaoh, Jacob felt his days to have been "few" as well as "evil," in comparison with those of his fathers (Genesis 47:9). And in fact he had yet 17 years to live in Goshen (Genesis 47:28).
These last days are passed over without record, save of the growth and prosperity of the family. But at their close came the impartation of the ancestral blessings, with the last will of the dying patriarch. After adopting Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, as his own, Jacob blesses them, preferring the younger to the elder as he himself had once been preferred to Esau, and assigns to Joseph the "double portion" of the firstborn-that "preeminence" which he denies to Reuben (Genesis 48:22; Genesis 49:4). In poetry that combines with the warm emotion and glowing imagery of its style and the unsurpassed elevation of its diction, a lyrical fervor of religious sentiment which demands for its author a personality that had passed through just such course of tuition as Jacob had experienced, the last words of Jacob, in Genesis 49, mark a turning-point in the history of the people of God. This is a translation of biography into prophecy. On the assumption that it is genuine, we may confidently aver that it was simply unforgetable by those who heard it. Its auditors were its theme. Their descendants were its fulfillment. Neither the one class nor the other could ever let it pass out of memory.
It was "by faith," we are well reminded, that Jacob "blessed" and "worshipped" "when he was dying" (Hebrews 11:21). For he held to the promises of God, and even in the hour of dissolution looked for the fulfillment of the covenant, according to which Canaan should belong to him and to his seed after him. He therefore set Joseph an example, by "giving commandment concerning his bones," that they might rest in the burial-place of Abraham and Isaac near Hebron. To the accomplishment of this mission Joseph and all his brethren addressed themselves after their father's decease and the 70 days of official mourning. Followed by a "very great company" of the notables of Egypt, including royal officials and representatives of the royal family, this Hebrew tribe carried up to sepulture in the land of promise the embalmed body of the patriarch from whom henceforth they were to take their tribal name, lamented him according to custom for 7 days, and then returned to their temporary home in Egypt, till their children should at length be "called" thence to become God's son" (Hosea 11:1) and inherit His promises to their father Jacob.
IV. Character and Beliefs.
In the course of this account of Jacob's career the inward as well as the outward fortunes of the man have somewhat appeared. Yet a more comprehensive view of the kind of man he was will not be superfluous at this point. With what disposition was he endowed-the natural nucleus for acquired characteristics and habits? Through what stages did he pass in the development of his beliefs and his character? In particular, what attitude did he maintain toward the most significant thing in his life, the promise of God to his house? And lastly, what resemblances may be traced in Israel the man to Israel the nation, of such sort that the one may be regarded as "typical" of the other? These matters deserve more than a passing notice.
1. Natural Qualities:
From his father, Jacob inherited that domesticity and affectionate attachment to his home circle which appears in his life from beginning to end. He inherited shrewdness, initiative and resourcefulness from Rebekah-qualities which she shared apparently with her brother Laban and all his family. The conspicuous ethical faults of Abraham and Isaac alike are want of candor and want of courage. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the same failings in Jacob. Deceit and cowardice are visible again and again in the impartial record of his life. Both spring from unbelief. They belong to the natural man. God's transformation of this man was wrought by faith-by awakening and nourishing in him a simple trust in the truth and power of the Divine word.
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(1) The patriarch (see preceding article).
(2) The father of Joseph the husband of Mary (Matthew 1:15, 16).
(3) Patronymic denoting the Israelites (Isaiah 10:21; Isaiah 14:1 Jeremiah 10:16).
JACOB, TESTAMENT OF
See APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE.