JACOB'S efforts to escape his angry brother, Esau, were in vain. Esau didn't pursue him after all. Instead, he tried to please his parents, after leaving his first two wives, by marrying a third who wasn't a Canaanite. Unfortunately, she was from Ishmael's family. That still wasn't very pleasing to Isaac and Rebekah. (Gen. 28:6-9.)
Jacob Stops at Bethel
After Jacob had left for Haran, one of his first stops was on a lonely, rock-covered mountain slope. There he slept on the ground with his head resting against one of the stones. He was very weary because of the long walk during the day, but instead of sleeping deeply, he had a strange dream. He dreamed of a huge stairway leading from the Earth to very high into the sky. Many angels moved up and down the stairway, at the top of which stood a powerful looking being. "I am the God of Abraham and Isaac", came a voice from the Figure at the top of the stairway. "I will go with you on your trip, and I will protect you. The land on which you lie will become yours, and those who come after you will own it. They will spread out over the Earth, and through them all nations will receive a blessing. I will bring you safely back to this land again. I will keep all the promises I am making to you now." (Gen. 28:13-15.)
When Jacob awakened from the dream, he was filled with a strange fear. He realized that God had spoken to him for the first time. The unusual experience left him weak and trembling. (Verses 16 and 17.) He felt that this was such an important event in his life that he should mark the spot where the dream occurred. He anointed the stone against which he had rested, and set it up like a pillar as a special landmark. He was so thankful for God's promises to protect and provide for him that he promised to give God a tenth of all that came to him. (Gen. 28:18-22.) Jacob knew that the first tenth of what anyone earns should be returned to God. After all, God owns all things. Whatever man has comes to him as gifts from his Creator. Even the air he breathes is a wonderful gift, because it keeps him alive. In asking man to give back only a tenth of what he earns, God is being very generous. Besides, He promises that He will provide well for those who are faithful in giving back a tithe, or tenth. (Mal. 3:8-11.)
Jacob Falls in Love
With the pleasant knowledge that from there on God would protect him, Jacob proceeded eastward. After days of trudging over stony mountain trails and hot desert sands, wading through creeks and crossing the great Euphrates River, he came to the land of Mesopotamia. One day when he was approaching a city, he noticed some shepherds and their flocks of sheep gathered about a well that was protected by a large, flat rock. Jacob went up to the men and asked them where they were from. "We're from Haran"' they answered, pointing to the city in the distance. (Gen. 29:1-4.) Jacob was happy to learn that his long, wearying trip was about at an end. Then, on inquiring about his mother's brother, Laban, he was surprised to learn that Laban lived nearby, and that his daughter, Rachel, was at the moment approaching the well with some of Laban's sheep. (Verses 4-6.) Jacob was anxious to meet one of his own family alone. It was such a special event that he didn't want strangers around. He politely inquired of the shepherds why their flocks weren't out in the pastures grazing. When told that all the animals had to be watered at one time, Jacob started helping the men move the stone cover from the well. By this time Rachel had arrived. Jacob couldn't help noticing how beautiful she was. After he had drawn up water for her sheep, he stepped up to her and kissed her. (Verses 9-11.) "I am Jacob, your cousin", he informed the startled young woman. "My mother is Rebekah, your aunt." Rachel was so surprised and pleased that she took her sheep and hurried to tell her father about Jacob. This gave Jacob a chance to shed some tears of thankfulness and joy because of God leading him to his people. When Rachel's father heard about Jacob, he hurried out to meet him and welcome him to Laban's home. Jacob visited with his uncle's family for a month. During that time he did his part in the work that had to be done around Laban's home and in the fields. The more he saw of Rachel, the more he cared for her. She had an older sister, Leah, who was closer to Jacob's age, but Jacob was interested only in Rachel. Laban could see that Jacob could be a profitable addition to the family. He couldn't expect Jacob to keep on working, however, for only food and lodging. (Verses 12-14.) "If you wish to keep on working here, I would like to pay you fair wages", Laban told Jacob. "Tell me what you think would be fair pay." "I shall work for the next seven years for you if you will then give me Rachel for my wife", was Jacob's surprising answer. (Verse 18.) Laban was of course pleased. Seven whole years of service from a good worker was like an offer of much money. Laban agreed, but only after purposely hesitating. He didn't want it obvious that he was elated at this bargain.
Jacob Marries Someone Else!
Seven years can be a long time. For Jacob, who was happy in seeing Rachel every day, the months went by quickly. When at last it was time for the marriage, Laban gave a feast that lasted a week. It was a time of great celebration by many people in that area. At the time of the ceremony, Jacob's bride wore a long, heavy veil that hid her almost from view. Jacob was very happy. He felt that it was well worth seven years of labor to finally have Rachel for his wife. Later, when the veil was removed so that he could look on the woman he had married, his happiness suddenly left him. His bride wasn't Rachel. She was Leah! (Gen. 29:20-25.) Filled with anger, Jacob went at once to Laban. "Why have you cheated me this way?" he demanded. "You know I didn't ask to marry Leah! I asked for Rachel!" "I'm sorry, my nephew", Laban explained, "but in this land it's a custom that the older daughter must marry first. I can't change the custom. I had to give you Leah." If Laban had been fair, he would have told Jacob about the custom. What he really wanted was to get Leah married, and he chose a dishonest way to do it. Jacob was disappointed and bitter. This trick by his uncle reminded him of the way he had tricked his brother and his father in order to obtain the birthright and a special blessing. Perhaps he then realized that it was just that he should be the victim of a dishonest act. Later, he was surprised at what Laban had to say. "If you feel that only Rachel should be your wife, I will give her to you if you will do two things", Laban told Jacob. "But Leah is my wife" Jacob said. "What two things could change that?" "If you will be a good husband to Leah for the rest of the marriage feast this week, then I shall see that you will be married to Rachel at the end of the week", Laban replied. "I am willing to be a good husband to whomever is my wife", Jacob said. "That is the answer to one thing you ask. What is the other thing?"
"You must work for me seven years more for Rachel," Laban replied. Jacob was stunned by Laban's words. For a while he said nothing, leaving Laban to wonder if he had asked too much of Jacob. "I agree to those terms"' Jacob finally replied. "Rachel is worth more to me than fourteen years of work." (Verses 27-28.) Perhaps the remainder of the seven days of feasting seemed almost as long to Jacob as were the first seven years of service to his uncle. At the end of the week, he and Rachel were married. Thus he had two wives, which was a common thing in those times. Rachel was the one he loved, however. Jacob carried out his promise to work seven more years for Laban whose scheme to marry off both his daughters later brought grief to this deceitful man.
Six More Years of Work
By the time his fourteen years of labor for Laban were finished, Jacob had little more than a large family and tents to live in. As it happened, only one son of his eleven boys was born through Rachel. Meanwhile, because of Jacob's careful planning and willingness to work hard, Laban became wealthy in sheep and cattle. Jacob couldn't see a very profitable future for himself in keeping this up. He told Laban that he wished to take his family and go back to Canaan to visit his elderly father. This worried Laban, who didn't want to lose such a valuable man. "If you will continue working for me" Laban told Jacob, "I shall pay you any wage you ask." "I don't want wages," Jacob said. "I'll look after your animals for a while longer if you will give me those with spots or ring marks on their hides." Jacob was surprised that Laban agreed at once on this arrangement. (Gen. 30:25-32.) Next day he found out why. Laban had his workmen and sons quickly remove and take away most of the animals Jacob had asked for. (Verses 35-36.) Jacob had counted on taking sizeable flocks and herds with him back to Canaan. Now he would have to wait for more of those kinds of animals to be born. God had promised Jacob that He would look out for him. God had kept that promise. During the next six years that Jacob continued to take care of Laban's animals, God miraculously increased the animals with spots or rings. So many of the cattle, sheep and goats became Jacob's, having come mostly from the small number Laban had allowed him to have, that Jacob became a wealthy stockman in those last few years with Laban. By careful trading and buying, he also acquired many camels, burros, tents and other expensive equipment. At the same time, Laban's animals weren't increasing as he wanted them to. It had long been plain to Jacob's uncle that he had become prosperous because a man who relied on God was managing his business. But now that Jacob was prospering, Laban wasn't pleased. He feared that Jacob would leave him at any time.
Jacob Leaves Laban Secretly
As Laban became less friendly, Jacob's desire to leave grew. One day God made it plain to Jacob that he should go back to Canaan. (Gen. 31:13.) Fearing that Laban might forcibly try to prevent his leaving, Jacob waited until a time when his father-in-law had gone several miles away to oversee the shearing of his sheep. Then Jacob had his workmen take down his tents and pack them and his belongings on his camels and burros. Jacob was careful not to take anything that belonged to Laban. With all his family, flocks and herds, it was a big moving job. Cattle, sheep and goats had to be herded. The caravan couldn't move very fast. (Verses 17-18.) Leah and Rachel were glad of the chance to leave. They felt that their father hadn't been fair to them or to Jacob. Laban didn't find out what had happened until the caravan had been gone for three days. (Verse 22.) Of course he was very angry. His anger was even greater when he found that some small idols he prized highly, and which Rachel had stolen, were missing. He was certain that Jacob had taken them. "Saddle my fastest camels for a trip to the west!" Laban roared at his foreman. "I will overtake Jacob if we have to go all the way to Canaan!" After seven days of hard travel, during which the camels were forced to move at top speed, Laban and his men came within sight of Jacob's caravan encamped for the night beside the main east-west trail. (Verse 23.) "We'll stay back here tonight out of their sight", Laban told his men. "Early tomorrow morning we'll overtake them. Then Jacob will regret leaving me as he did!" By next morning, however, Laban wasn't very intent on revenge. That night God spoke to him in a dream (verse 24) warning him that if he harmed Jacob, God would deal with him harshly. Laban was so disturbed by the dream that he dared not carry out his intent to cause Jacob any trouble. By the time his caravan overtook Jacob's, his anger had subsided. "Why did you sneak away as you did?" he demanded of Jacob. "If you had told me, I would have prepared a great feast. I didn't even get to tell my daughters and grandchildren good-bye." (Verses 25-29.) "I left while you were away so that there wouldn't be any arguments," Jacob answered. "I would more than argue with you," Laban said, "if God hadn't warned me in a dream last night not to oppose you." "You're wise to obey that warning", Jacob said. "Probably so", Laban agreed. "I respect your belief, but you obviously don't respect mine. Otherwise you wouldn't have taken my little idols. I demand them back!"
"If you think I have them, search my belongings", Jacob replied." If you find them with the property of any person in this caravan, let that person die!" Jacob didn't know that Rachel had the images, or he wouldn't have made such a promise. While Laban and his men searched for the images, Rachel rested in her tent on a camel saddle in which she had hidden the idols. Soon the search brought Laban to Rachel's tent. "Get up from that saddle so that I may search there", he gruffly muttered to his daughter. Rachel stopped further inspection of her things by telling Laban that she didn't feel well and didn't want to be disturbed. Laban irritably left to go tell Jacob that the images couldn't be found. Jacob was angry because of the search. Jacob asked Laban why he had been unfair to him through twenty years of devoted service, and why he now treated him as an enemy. Laban knew that Jacob deserved better treatment. Because he wanted the reputation of a fair man, Laban suggested that they make an agreement that there wouldn't be any more unfriendliness toward each other. As a monument to this agreement, they had their men erect a large pile of stones where they were. Then they dined together as a further sign of friendship. Next morning Laban said good-bye to his daughters and their children, and set back toward Haran. (Gen. 31:35.) Jacob's caravan moved on westward.
Jacob Tested by God
The closer Jacob moved to Canaan, the more concerned he became about meeting his brother, Esau. For a long time Esau had lived in the rough, wild country of Seir, through which Jacob's caravan would almost travel on the way to Canaan. Jacob feared that there would be trouble if Esau heard that he was coming that way. Jacob was certain that Esau hadn't forgotten how he had been tricked many years previously. Esau had threatened to kill Jacob, and it could be that he was still awaiting Jacob's return. In an attempt to find out how Esau felt about him, Jacob sent messengers ahead to try to contact his brother. They were instructed to tell him that Jacob was about to pass through the land with much wealth from Haran, and that Jacob hoped they could meet as friends. Not long afterward the messengers returned to report that they had met Esau, and that he was not far behind them with four hundred men! (Gen. 32:3-6.) The report shocked Jacob. He knew that all the people in his caravan couldn't stand against four hundred men led by a man who had promised to kill him. He gave orders for the caravan to divide into two groups and to separate. He reasoned that if one group suffered an attack by Esau's men, the other group might escape. (Verses 7 and 8.) Jacob then did the thing that would be more helpful to him than anything else he could do. He asked for God's protection. He admitted to God that he wasn't worthy of it, at the same time reminding God, though that wasn't necessary, that God had promised him protection. God wants us to look to Him for Him for help, but if there is anything we can do to help or protect ourselves, He expects us to do it instead of being lazy. Jacob didn't stand idly by and wait for his Creator to do what man could do. Probably God inspired him to act as he did. Out of his animals he picked five hundred and fifty of the choicest cattle, goats, sheep, burros and camels. Then he divided each kind of stock into groups, and each group was sent out at a different time to approach Esau as one of several gifts.
"Tell my brother that I hope he will accept my presents", Jacob instructed the men who departed with the stock in the direction from which Esau had been reported to be approaching. (Verses 13-21.) Thus Jacob hoped to make Esau feel friendly toward him. After the animals intended for Esau had gone on, Jacob moved the two sections of his caravan on ahead a short distance to camp for the night. (Verses 22 and 23.) He remained behind to be alone and pray. That night a strange thing happened. Suddenly somebody seized him and held him down as though trying to prevent his completing his trip to Canaan. Before long Jacob and his attacker were engaged in a furious wrestling match! Soon Jacob realized that his opponent wasn't an ordinary man. Instead, he was an angel sent from God. (Verses 24-25.) Years later the prophet Hosea was inspired to write that the angel with whom Jacob wrestled was actually the One who later became Jesus! (Hosea 12:3-5.) That was a trying night for Jacob. When he realized that he was dealing with more than a human being, he struggled to be able to get the blessing of this Superior Entity. (Verse 26.) Before dawn, Jacob was blessed and praised for determination greater than that of his brother Esau. Jacob was determined to strive with all his might to not lose God's blessings and eternal promises. He proved by his physical wrestling that he had the strength of character to overcome his spiritual problems. The wrestling match was a test of character! Before Jacob's wrestling partner left, he informed Jacob that his name should be changed from Jacob to Israel, which meant one who overcomes, or proves to be a champion. (Verse 28.) God wouldn't give His blessing and a birthright to a man who had taken them from a weaker brother unfairly. Therefore He appeared as a man to give Jacob the chance to prove himself with one who appeared as his equal. When dawn came, Jacob found that he was very sore in one hip, showing that God's blessings don't come without hardship and suffering. (Verse 31.) Later, when he joined his caravan, he was troubled to see a growing cloud of dust in the distance. There was no doubt that it was Esau and his four hundred men swiftly riding toward Jacob's caravan.