Jacob entered the world grasping-literally. The secondborn of twin boys, Jacob started his life journey by grasping his brother Esau’s heel. The symbolism is difficult to ignore. Jacob wanted what was his-and then some.
What he wanted most was Esau’s birthright. In the culture of the Old Testament, being the firstborn son was everything. The firstborn received a doubled portion of inheritance and a special blessing from his father.
Jacob saw his opportunity to secure these for himself one day when his brother, Esau, came back from a hunt. Esau was famished, and Jacob just happened to be cooking lentil stew. Jacob offered his brother some in exchange for his birthright. That Esau agreed to the exchanged shows how little he cared for the birthright, but that doesn’t absolve Jacob of his deceitfulness.
Securing the birthright itself was only half the equation, though. In order for Jacob to get everything he wanted, he needed his father’s blessing, which was irrevocable. Working for him was the fact that his father, Isaac, was old and nearly blind. Going against him was the fact that his appearance was nothing like his brother’s. For one thing, Esau was hairy; Jacob was smooth-skinned.
That’s where Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, stepped in to help. While Esau was out hunting, Rebekah disguised Jacob by putting animal furs on his arms and neck. The ruse worked. Jacob tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. His usurping of Esau was complete.
Esau was furious when he learned what his brother had done. He vowed to kill Jacob after their father’s death. Rebekah learned of his plan, however, and sent Jacob to lived with Laban, a relative in a distant land. There he would be safe.
While living with Laban, Jacob fell in love with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel. Laban offered to give Jacob his daughter’s hand in marriage in exchange for seven years of labor. But the morning after Jacob’s wedding, he discovered that Laban had substituted his older daughter, Leah, for Rachel.
In order to marry Rachel, too, Jacob agreed to work seven more years for Laban. It seems that those who lived by deception find themselves deceived.
IN the years that followed, Jacob’s wives (and their handmaidens) bore him 12 sons-who would be the basis for the 12 tribes of Israel.
Jacob himself amassed a tremendous amount of wealth. He seemed to have everything a man could want-except closure.
As time went by, Jacob felt a great need to reconcile with his brother. As far as Jacob knew, Esau still wanted him dead. Yet he was willing to risk everything he had, including his life, for the chance to make things right. He packed up everything he owned and journeyed with his family back to his homeland. He sent gifts of oxen, donkeys, flocks, and slaves ahead of him, hoping to appease Esau. Jacob soon received a message: Esau was riding out to meet him- with 400 men in tow.
Before he met with Esau, however, Jacob had to contend with one other person. According to Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled all night with a mysterious man. When the man saw he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he struck Jacob, dislocating his hip. Still Jacob refused to let go of the man until he blessed him. “Your name will no longer be Jacob; He said. ‘It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed'” (v 28).
That struggle had just been resolved when Esau and his men approached Jacob. Gathering his courage, Jacob walked out to meet Esau and his men alone. He bowed to the ground seven times as he approached, humbling himself before the brother he had wronged so many years earlier.
Jacob’s fears were quelled when he saw Esau running to meet him. The two men hugged, kissed, and wept together. Esau refused Jacob’s gifts on the grounds that he, too, was a wealthy man. But Jacob insisted. He had a debt to repay.
The Bible says little about their post-reunion interaction. We’re left with a picture of reconciliation. The relationship that had once been a source of contention for the brothers became a source of comfort and connection.
GENESIS 32:28 – ‘”Your name will no longer be Jacob; He said. ‘It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.'”