Bible History Online
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 Israel 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 BC (so Petrie, Breasted) there was a place (not a tribe; see W. M. Muller, Asien und Europa, 162 ff) in Central Israel 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 Hos 12:3; compare Gen 27:36); (b) "to follow with evil intent," "to supplant" or in general "to deceive" (so Gen 27:36; Jer 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 Gen 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" (Heb 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" (Heb 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" (Rom 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 (Dt 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 25:32). It was not until long afterward that the companion scene to this first "supplanting" (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 25:23) and the sanctions of a solemn oath (Gen 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 Gen 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" (Gen 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" (Gen 35:7; 48:3; 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 (Gen 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" (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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; Gen 30:21 is obviously in preparation for the story of Gen 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 Gen 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 (Gen 32:10). At the same time the apology of Jacob for his conduct during this entire period of residence in Haran is spirited (Gen 31:36-42); it is apparently unanswerable by Laban (Gen 31:43); and it is confirmed, both by the evident concurrence of Leah and Rachel (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 31:30; compare 30:25)--a desire which in fact presented itself to him in the form of a revelation of God's own purpose and command (Gen 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 Gen 31:19,34 f 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 Israel, 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 (Gen 35:5), and in a renewal of the old forgotten ideals of consecration (Gen 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 (Gen 35:9-12). No wonder that Jacob here raises anew his monument of stone--emblem of the "Stone of Israel" (Gen 49:24)--and stamps forever, by this public act, upon ancient Luz (Gen 35:6), the name of Beth-el which he had privately given it years before (Gen 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 (Gen 35:8; compare 24:59) was followed by the death of his beloved wife Rachel at Ephrath (Gen 35:19; 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 35:29).
Jacob now is by right of patriarchal custom head of all the family. He too takes up his residence at Hebron (Gen 37:14), and the story of the family fortunes is now pursued under the new title of "the generations of Jacob" (Gen 37:2). True, most of this story revolves about Joseph, the youngest of the family save Benjamin; yet the occurrence of passages like Gen 38, devoted exclusively to Judah's affairs, or 46:8-27, the enumeration of Jacob's entire family through its secondary ramifications, or Gen 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 (Gen 42 through 45). Joseph's dearest thought, as it is his first thought, is for his aged father (43:7,27; 44:19; 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 47:9). And in fact he had yet 17 years to live in Goshen (Gen 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 (Gen 48:22; 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 Gen 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" (Heb 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" (Hos 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. For Jacob was not at any time in his career indifferent to the things of the spirit, the things unseen and belonging to the future. Unlike Esau, he was not callous to the touch of God. Whether through inheritance, or as a fruit of early teaching, he had as the inestimable treasure, the true capital of his spiritual career, a firm conviction of the value of what God had promised, and a supreme ambition to obtain it for himself and his children. But against the Divine plan for the attainment of this goal by faith, there worked in Jacob constantly his natural qualities, the non-moral as well as the immoral qualities, that urged him to save himself and his fortunes by "works"--by sagacity, cunning, compromise, pertinacity--anything and everything that would anticipate God's accomplishing His purpose in His own time and His own way. In short, "the end justifies the means" is the program that, more than all others, finds illustration and rebuke in the character of Jacob.
2. Stages of Development:
Starting with such a combination of natural endowments, social, practical, ethical, Jacob passed through a course of Divine tuition, which, by building upon some of them, repressing others and transfiguring the remainder, issued in the triumph of grace over nature, in the transformation of a Jacob into an Israel. This tuition has been well analyzed by a recent writer (Thomas, Genesis, III, 204 f) into the school of sorrow, the school of providence and the school of grace. Under the head of sorrow, it is not difficult to recall many experiences in the career just reviewed: long exile; disappointment; sinful passions of greed, anger, lust and envy in others, of which Jacob was the victim; perplexity; and, again and again, bereavement of those he held most dear.
But besides these sorrows, God's providence dealt with him in ways most remarkable, and perhaps more instructive for the study of such Divine dealings than in the case of any other character in the Old Testament. By alternate giving and withholding, by danger here and deliverance there, by good and evil report, now by failure of "best laid schemes" and now by success with seemingly inadequate means, God developed in him the habit--not native to him as it seems to have been in part to Abraham and to Joseph,--of reliance on Divine power and guidance, of accepting the Divine will, of realizing the Divine nearness and faithfulness.
And lastly, there are those admirably graded lessons in the grace of God, that were imparted in the series of Divine appearances to the patriarch, at Beth-el, at Haran, at Peniel, at Beth-el again and at Beersheba. For if the substance of these Divine revelations be compared, it will be found that all are alike in the assurance (1) that God is with him to bless; (2) that the changes of his life are ordained of God and are for his ultimate good; and (3) that he is the heir of the ancestral promises.
It will further be found that they may be arranged in a variety of ways, according as one or another of the revelations be viewed as the climax. Thus (1), agreeing with the chronological order, the appearance at Beersheba may well be regarded as the climax of them all. Abraham had gone to Egypt to escape a famine (Gen 12:10), but he went without revelation, and returned with bitter experience of his error. Isaac essayed to go to Egypt for the same cause (Gen 26:1 f), and was prevented by revelation. Jacob now goes to Egypt, but he goes with the express approval of the God of his fathers, and with the explicit assurance that the same Divine providence which ordained this removal (Gen 50:20) will see that it does not frustrate any of the promises of God. This was a crisis in the history of the "Kingdom of God" on a paragraph with events like the Exodus, the Exile, or the Return.
(2) In its significance for his personal history, the first of these revelations was unique. Beth-el witnessed Jacob's choice, evidently for the first time, of his fathers' God as his God. And though we find Jacob later tolerating idolatry in his household and compromising his religious testimony by sin, we never find a hint of his own unfaithfulness to this first and final religious choice. This is further confirmed by the attachment of his later revelations to this primary one, as though this lent them the significance of continuity, and made possible the unity of his religious experience. So at Haran it was the "God of Beth-el" who directed his return (Gen 31:13); at Shechem it was to Beth-el that he was directed, in order that he might at length fulfill his Beth-el vow, by erecting there an altar to the God who had there appeared to him (Gen 35:1); and at Beth-el finally the promise of former years was renewed to him who was henceforth to be Israel (Gen 35:9-15).
(3) Though thus punctuated with the supernatural, the only striking bit of the marvelous in all this biography is the night scene at Peniel. And this too may justly be claimed as a climax in Jacob's development. There he first received his new name, and though he deserved it as little in many scenes thereafter as he had deserved it before, yet the same could be said of many a man who has "seen the face of God," but has yet to grasp, like Jacob, the lesson that the way to overcome is through the helpless but clinging importunity of faith.
(4) Rather than in any of the other scenes, however, it was at Beth-el the second time that the patriarch reached the topmost rung on the ladder of development. As already noticed, the substance of all the earlier revelations is here renewed and combined. It is no wonder that after this solemn theophany we find Jacob, like Moses later, `enduring as seeing him who is invisible' (Heb 11:27), and "waiting for the salvation" (Gen 49:18) of a God `who is not ashamed of him, to be called his God' (Heb 11:16), but is repeatedly called "the God of Jacob."
Finally, such a comparison of these revelations to Jacob reveals a variety in the way God makes Himself known. In the first revelation, naturally, the effort is made chiefly to impress upon its recipient the identity of the revealing God with the God of his fathers. And it has been remarked already that in the later revelations the same care is taken to identify the Revealer with the One who gave that first revelation, or else to identify Him, as then, with the God of the fathers. Yet, in addition to this, there is a richness and suitability in the Divine names revealed, which a mechanical theory of literary sources not only leaves unexplained but fails even to recognize. At Beth-el first it is Yahweh, the personal name of this God, the God of his fathers, who enters into a new personal relation with Jacob; now, of all times in his career, he needs to know God by the differential mark that distinguishes Him absolutely from other gods, that there may never be confusion as to Yahweh's identity. But this matter is settled for Jacob once for all. Thenceforth one of the ordinary terms for deity, with or without an attributive adjunct, serves to lift the patriarch's soul into communication with his Divine Interlocutor. The most general word of all in the Semitic tongues for deity is 'El, the word used in the revelations to Jacob at Haran in Gen (31:13), at Shechem (35:1), at Beth-el the second time (35:11) and at Beersheba (46:3). But it is never used alone. Like Allah in the Arabic language (= the God), so 'El with the definite article before it serves to designate in Hebrew a particular divinity, not deity in general. Or else 'El without the article is made definite by some genitive phrase that supplies the necessary identification: so in Jacob's case, El-beth-el (35:7; compare 31:13) or El-Elohe-Israel (33:20). Or, lastly, there is added to 'El some determining title, with the force of an adjective, as Shaddai (translated "Almighty") in 35:11 (compare 43:3). In clear distinction from this word, 'El, with its archaic or poetic flavor, is the common Hebrew word for God, 'Elohim. But while 'Elohim is used regularly by the narrator of the Jacob-stories in speaking, or in letting his actors speak, of Jacob's God, who to the monotheistic writer is of course the God and his own God, he never puts this word thus absolutely into the mouth of the revealing Deity. Jacob can say, when he awakes from his dream, "This is the house of 'Elohim," but God says to him in the dream, "I am the God ('Elohim) of thy father" (28:17,13). At Mahanaim Jacob says, "This is the host of 'Elohim" (32:2), but at Beersheba God says to Jacob, "I am .... the God ('Elohim) of thy father" (46:3). Such are the distinctions maintained in the use of these words, all of them used of the same God, yet chosen in each case to fit the circumstances of speaker, hearer and situation.
The only passage in the story of Jacob that might appear to be an exception does in fact but prove the rule. At Peniel the angel of God explains the new name of Israel by saying, "Thou hast striven with God ('Elohim) and with men, and hast prevailed." Here the contrast with "men" proves that 'Elohim without the article is just the right expression, even on the lips of Deity: neither Deity nor humanity has prevailed against Jacob (Gen 32:28).
Throughout the entire story of Jacob, therefore, his relations with Yahweh his God, after they were once established (Gen 28:13-16), are narrated in terms that emphasize the Divinity of Him who had thus entered into covenant-relationship with him: His Divinity--that is to say, those attributes in which His Divinity manifested itself in His dealings with Jacob.
3. Attitude toward the Promise:
From the foregoing, two things appear with respect to Jacob's attitude toward the promise of God. First, with all his faults and vices he yet was spiritually sensitive; he responded to the approaches of his God concerning things of a value wholly spiritual--future good, moral and spiritual blessings. And second, he was capable of progress in these matters; that is, his reaction to the Divine tuition would appear, if charted, as a series of elevations, separated one from another, to be sure, by low levels and deep declines, yet each one higher than the last, and all taken collectively lifting the whole average up and up, till in the end faith has triumphed over sight, the future over present good, a yet unpossessed but Divinely promised Canaan over all the comfort and honors of Egypt, and the aged patriarch lives only to "wait for Yahweh's salvation" (Gen 49:18).
The contrast of Jacob with Esau furnishes perhaps the best means of grasping the significance of these two facts for an estimate of Jacob's attitude toward the promise. For in the first place, Esau, who possessed so much that Jacob lacked--directness, manliness, a sort of bonhomie, that made him superficially more attractive than his brother--Esau shows nowhere any real "sense" for things spiritual. The author of Hebrews has caught the man in the flash of a single word, "profane" bebelos)--of course, in the older, broader, etymological meaning of the term. Esau's desires dwelt in the world of the non-sacred; they did not aspire to that world of nearness to God, where one must `put off the shoes from off his feet, because the place whereon he stands is holy ground.' And in the second place, there is no sign of growth in Esau. What we see him in his father's encampment, that we see him to the end--so far as appears from the laconic story. With the virtues as well as the vices of the man who lives for the present--forgiving when strong enough to revenge, condescending when flattered, proud of power and independent of parental control or family tradition--Esau is as impartially depicted by the sacred historian as if the writer had been an Edomite instead of an Israelite: the sketch is evidently true to life, both from its objectivity and from its coherence.
Now what Esau was, Jacob was not. His fault in connection with the promises of God, the family tradition, the ancestral blessing, lay not in despising them, but in seeking them in immoral ways. Good was his aim; but he was ready to "do evil that good might come." He was always tempted to be his own Providence, and God's training was clearly directed, both by providential leadings and by gracious disclosures, to this corresponding purpose: to enlighten Jacob as to the nature of the promise; to assure him that it was his by grace; to awaken personal faith in its Divine Giver; and to supplement his "faith" by that "patience" without which none can "inherit the promises." The faith that accepts was to issue at length in the faith that waits.
4. How Far a "Type" of Israel:
A nation was to take its name from Jacob-Israel, and there are some passages of Scripture where it is uncertain whether the name designates the nation or its ancestor. In their respective relations to God and to the world of men and nations, there is a true sense in which the father was a "type" of the children. It is probably only a play of fancy that would discover a parallel in their respective careers, between the successive stages of life in the father's home (Canaan), life in exile, a return, and a second exile. But it is not fanciful to note the resemblance between Jacob's character and that of his descendants. With few exceptions the qualities mentioned above (IV, 2) will be found, mutatis mutandis, to be equally applicable to the nation of Israel. And even that curriculum in which the patriarch learned of God may be viewed as a type of the school in which the Hebrew people--not all of them, nor even the mass, but the "remnant" who approximated to the ideal Israel of the prophets, the "servant of Yahweh"--were taught the lessons of faith and patience, of renunciation and consecration, that appear with growing clearness on the pages of Isaiah, of Habakkuk, of Jeremiah, of Malachi. This is apparently Hosea's point of view in Hos 12:2-4,12.
A word of caution, however, is needed at this point. There are limits to this equation. Even critics who regard Jacob under his title of Israel as merely the eponymous hero, created by legend to be the forefather of the nation (compare below, VI, 1), must confess that Jacob as Jacob is no such neutral creature, dressed only in the colors of his children's racial qualities. There is a large residuum in Jacob, after all parallelisms have been traced, that refuses to fit the lines of Hebrew national character or history, and his typical relation in fact lies chiefly in the direction of the covenant-inheritance, after the fashion of Malachi's allusion (Mal 1:2), interpreted by Paul (Rom 9:10-13).
V. References Outside of Genesis.
Under his two names this personage Jacob or Israel is more frequently mentioned than any other in the whole of sacred history. Yet in the vast majority of cases the nation descended from him is intended by the name, which in the form of "Jacob" or "Israel" contains not the slightest, and in the form "children of Israel," "house of Jacob" and the like, only the slightest, if any, allusion to the patriarch himself. But there still remain many passages in both Testaments where the Jacob or Israel of Gen is clearly alluded to.
1. In the Old Testament:
There is a considerable group of passages that refer to him as the last of the patriarchal triumvirate--Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: so particularly of Yahweh as the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," and of the covenant-oath as having been "sworn unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." And naturally the nation that is known by his name is frequently called by some phrase, equivalent to the formal bene yisra'el, yet through its unusualness lending more significance to the idea of their derivation from him: so "seed of Jacob" and (frequently) "house of Jacob (Israel)." But there are a few Old Testament passages outside of Gen in which so much of Jacob's history has been preserved, that from these allusions alone a fair notion might have been gathered concerning the Hebrews' tradition of their common ancestor, even if all the story in Gen had been lost. These passages are: Josh 24:3,4,32; Ps 105:10-23; Hos 12:2-4,12; Mal 1:2 f. Besides these, there are other allusions, scattered a word here and a sentence there, from all of which together we learn as follows. God gave to Isaac twin sons, Esau and Jacob, the latter at birth taking the former by the heel. God elected Jacob to be the recipient of the covenant-promise made to his father Isaac and to his grandfather Abraham; and this choice involved the rejection of Esau. Yahweh appeared to Jacob at Beth-el and told him the land of Canaan was to be his and his seed's after him forever. Circumstances not explained caused Jacob to flee from his home in Canaan to Aram, where he served as a shepherd to obtain a wife as his wage. He became the father of 12 sons. He strove with the angel of God and prevailed amid earnest supplication. His name was by Yahweh Himself changed to Israel. Under Divine protection as God's chosen one and representative, his life was that of a wanderer from place to place; once only he bought a piece of land, for a hundred pieces, near Shechem, from Hamor, the father of Shechem. A famine drove him down to Egypt, but not without providential preparation for the reception there of himself and all his family, through the remarkable fortunes of his son Joseph, sold, exiled, imprisoned, delivered, and exalted to a position where he could dispose of rulers and nations. In Egypt the children of Jacob multiplied rapidly, and at his death he made the sons of Joseph the heirs of the only portion of Canaanitish soil that he had acquired.
From this it appears, first, that not much that is essential in the biography of Jacob would have perished though Genesis had been lost; and, second, that the sum of the incidental allusions outside Gen resemble the total impression of the narratives in Genesis--in other words, that the Biblical tradition is self-consistent. And it runs back to a date (Hosea, 8th century BC) little farther removed from the events recounted than the length of time that separates our own day from the Norman conquest, or the Fall of Constantinople from the Hegira, or Jesus Christ from Solomon.
2. In the New Testament:
In the New Testament also there are, besides the references to Jacob simply as the father of his nation, several passages that recall events in his life or traits of his character. These are: Jn 4:5,6,12; Acts 7:12,14-16; Rom 9:10-13; Heb 11:9,20 f. In the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman it appears that the Samaritans cherished the association of Jacob with the ground he bought near Shechem, and with the well he dug while sojourning there with his sons and his flocks; they prided themselves on its transmission to them through Joseph, not to the hated Jews through Judah, and magnified themselves in magnifying Jacob's "greatness" and calling him "our father." Stephen's speech, as Luke reports it, includes in its rapid historical flight a hint or two about Jacob beyond the bare fact of his place in the tribal genealogy. Moved by the famine prevailing in Egypt and Canaan, Jacob twice dispatches his sons to buy grain in Egypt, and the second time Joseph is made known to his brothers, and his race becomes manifest to Pharaoh. At Joseph's behest, Jacob and all the family remove to Egypt. There all remain until their death, but the "fathers" (Joseph and his brethren; compare Jerome, Epistola cviii, edition Migne) are buried in the family possession near Shechem. (Here emerges one of those divergences from the Old Testament tradition that are a notable feature of Stephen's speech, and that have furnished occasion for much speculation upon their origin, value and implications. See commentaries on Acts.) Paul's interest in Jacob appears in connection with his discussion of Divine election, where he calls attention to the oracle of Gen 25:23 and to the use already made of the passage by Malachi (1:2 f), and reminds his readers that this choice of Jacob and rejection of Esau was made by God even before these twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca were born. Finally, the author of He, when charting the heroes of faith, focuses his glass for a moment upon Jacob: first, as sharing with Abraham and Isaac the promise of God and the life of unworldly, expectant faith (Heb 11:9); and second, as receiving from Isaac, and at his death transmitting to his grandsons, blessings that had value only for one who worships and believes a God with power over "things to come" (Heb 11:20 f).
VI. Modern Interpretations of Jacob.
For those who see in the patriarchal narratives anything--myth, legend, saga--rather than true biography, there is, of course, a different interpretation of the characters and events portrayed in the familiar Genesis-stories, and a different value placed upon the stories themselves.
Apart from the allegorizing treatment accorded them by Philo the Jew and early Christian writers of like mind (see specimen in ABRAHAM), these views belong to modern criticism. To critics who make Hebrew history begin with the settlement of Canaan by the nomad Israelites fresh from the desert, even the Mosaic age and the Egyptian residence are totally unhistorical--much more so these tales of a pre-Mosaic patriarchal age. Yet even those writers who admit the broad outlines of a residence of the tribes in Egypt, an exodus of some sort, and a founder of the nation named Moses, are for the most part skeptical of this cycle of family figures and fortunes in a remote age, with its nomads wandering between Mesopotamia and Canaan. and to and fro in Canaan, its circumstantial acquaintance with the names and relationships of each individual through those 4 long patriarchal generations, and its obvious foreshadowing of much that the later tribes were on this same soil to act out centuries later. This, we are told, is not history. Whatever else it may be, it is not a reliable account of such memorable events as compel their own immortality in the memories and through the written records of mankind.
1. Personification of the Hebrew Nation:
The commonest view held, collectively of the entire narrative, specifically of Jacob, is that which sees here the precipitate from a pure solution of the national character and fortunes. Wellhausen, e.g., says (Prolegomena(6), 316): "The material here is not mythical, but national; therefore clearer (namely, than in Gen 1 through 11) and in a certain sense historical. To be sure there is no historical knowledge to be gained here about the patriarchs, but only about the time in which the stories concerning them arose in the people of Israel; this later time with its inward and outward characteristics is here unintentionally projected into the gray antiquity and mirrored therein like a glorified phantasm .... (p. 318). Jacob is more realistically drawn than the other two (Abraham and Isaac)." In section IV, 4, above, we observed that, while many of Jacob's personal qualities prefigured the qualities of the later Hebrew people, there were some others that did not at all fit this equation. Wellhausen himself remarks this, in regard to the contrast between warlike Israel and the peaceful ancestors they invented for themselves. In his attempt to account for this contrast, he can only urge that a nation condemned to eternal wars would naturally look back upon, as well as forward to, a golden age of peace. (An alternative explanation he states, only to reject.) He fails to observe that this plea does not in the least alter the fact--his plea is indeed but a restatement of the fact--that this phenomenon is absolutely at variance with his hypothesis of how these stories of Jacob and the rest came to be what they are (see Meyer, Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstamme, 250 ff).
2. God and Demi-God:
This general view, which when carried to its extreme implications (as by Steuernagel, Die Einwanderung der israelitischen Stamme in Kanaan, 1901) comes perilously near the reductio ad absurdum that is its own refutation, has been rejected by that whole group of critics, who, following Noldeke, see in Jacob, as in so many others of the patriarchs, an original deity (myth), first abased to the grade of a hero (heroic legend), and at last degraded to the level of a clown (tales of jest or marvel). Adherents of this trend of interpretation differ widely among themselves as to details, but Jacob is generally regarded as a Canaanitish deity, whose local shrine was at Shechem, Beth-el or Peniel, and whose cult was taken over by the Hebrews, their own object of worship being substituted for him, and the outstanding features of his personality being made over into a hero that Israel appropriated as their national ancestor, even to the extent of giving him the secondary name of Israel. Stade attempted a combination of this "mythical" view with the "national" view in the interest of his theory of primitive animism, by making the patriarch a "mythological figure revered as an eponymous hero." This theory, in any form, requires the assumption, which there is nothing to support, that Jacob (or Jacob-el) is a name originally belonging to a deity and framed to fit his supposed character. At first, then, it meant "'El deceives" or "'El recompenses" (so B. Luther, ZATW, 1901, 60 ff; compare also the same writer, as well as Meyer himself, in the latter's Israeliten, etc., 109 ff, 271 ff). Meyer proposes the monstrosity of a nominal sentence with the translation, " `He deceives' is 'El." Thus, the first element of the name Jacob came to be felt as the name itself (= "Jacob is God"), and it was launched upon its course of evolution into the human personage that Genesis knows. It suffices to say with regard to all this, that in addition to its being inherently improbable--not to say, unproved--it goes directly in the face of the archaeological evidence adduced under I, 1, above. The simple fact that Jacob(-el) was a personal name for men, of everyday occurrence in the 2nd-3rd millenniums BC, is quite enough to overthrow this whole hypothesis; for, as Luther himself remarks (op. cit., 65), the above evolution of the name is essential to the "mythical" theory: "when this alteration took place cannot be told; yet it has to be postulated, since otherwise it remains inexplicable, how personal names could arise out of these formations (like Jacob-el) by rejection of the 'El."
3. Character of Fiction:
The inadequacy of the two theories hitherto advanced to account for the facts of Genesis being thus evident, Gunkel and others have explicitly rejected them and enunciated a third theory, which may be called the saga-theory. According to Gunkel, "to understand the persons of Genesis as nations is by no means a general key to their interpretation"; and, "against the whole assumption that the principal patriarchal figures are originally gods is this fact first and foremost, that the names Jacob and Abraham are shown by the Babylonian to be customary personal names, and furthermore that the tales about them cannot be understood at all as echoes of original myths." In place of these discredited views Gunkel (compare also Gressmann, ZATW, 1910, 1 ff) makes of Jacob simply a character in the stories (marvelous, humorous, pathetic and the like) current in ancient Israel, especially on the lips of the professional story-teller. Whereas much of the material in these stories came to the Hebrews from the Babylonians, Canaanites or Egyptians, Jacob himself is declared to have belonged to the old Hebrew saga, with its flavor of nomadic desert life and sheep-raising. "The original Jacob may be the sly shepherd Jacob, who fools the hunter Esau; another tale, of the deceit of a father-in-law by his son-in-law, was added to it--the more naturally because both are shepherds; a third cycle, about an old man that loves his youngest son, was transferred to this figure, and that youngest son received the name of Joseph at a time when Jacob was identified with Israel's assumed ancestor `Israel.' Thus our result is, that the most important patriarchs are creations of fiction" (Schriften des Altes Testament, 5te Lieferung, 42).
It is so obvious that this new attitude toward the patriarchs lends itself to a more sympathetic criticism of the narrative of Genesis, that critics who adopt it are at pains to deny any intention on their part of rehabilitating Jacob and others as historical figures. "Saga," we are told, "is not capable of preserving through so many centuries a picture" of the real character or deeds of its heroes, even supposing that persons bearing these names once actually lived; and we are reminded of the contrast between the Etzel of saga and the Attila of history, the Dietrich of saga and the Theodoric of history. But as against this we need to note, first, that the long and involved course of development through which, ex hypothesi, these stories have passed before reaching their final stage (the Jahwist document (Jahwist), 9th century BC; Gunkel, op. cit., 8, 46) involves a very high antiquity for the earlier stages, and thus reduces to a narrow strip of time those "so many centuries" that are supposed to separate the actual Jacob from the Jacob of saga (compare ABRAHAM, vii, 4); and second, that the presuppositions as to the origin, nature and value of saga with which this school of criticism operates are, for the most part, only an elaborate statement of the undisputed major premise in a syllogism, of which the minor premise is: the Genesis-stories are saga. Against this last proposition, however, there lie many weighty considerations, that are by no means counterbalanced by those resemblances of a general sort which any student of comparative literature can easily discern (see also Baethgen, op. cit., 158).
James Oscar Boyd
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'JACOB (1)'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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