ISAAC had just sent away his son Jacob to stay with Uncle Laban in Haran for a while. With Jacob gone, his brother Esau did not take the trouble to pursue his brother. Instead, he tried to please his parents by marrying a woman who was not a Canaanite, as were his previous wives. This third wife Esau chose was from Ishmael's family, and that still wasn't very pleasing to Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 28:6-9.)
Jacob Stops at Bethel
As for Jacob, he continued on through the mountains. When he was about fifty miles from home, he stopped for the night on a lonely, rock-covered slope. There he slept on the ground with his head resting against one of the stones. Jacob was very weary because of his long walk during the day. Perhaps that was partly why he dreamed of some very unusual things. He dreamed that he saw a huge stairway that rested on the earth and went very far up into the sky. Many angels moved up and down the stairway, at the top of which stood a very powerful looking being. "I am the God of Abraham and of Isaac," came a voice from the Figure at the top of the stairway. "I will go with you in your journey, 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 back to this land again. I will keep all the promises I am making to you now." (Gen. 28:19-15.) When Jacob awakened from his dream, he was filled with a strange fear. He felt that it was really God who had spoken to him for the first time. The unusual experience left him weak and trembling. (Verses 16 and 17.)
Jacob believed that this was such an important event in his life that he should mark the spot where the dream occurred. Therefore he anointed the stone against which he had rested his head, and set it up as a special pillar and a landmark. Jacob there promised that if God would protect him, provide for him and bring him back to his father's house, then he would give God a tenth or tithe of all that came to him. (Gen. 28:18-22.) Probably Jacob knew that the first tenth of what any man earns should be returned to God. After all, it is God who really owns all things, and whatever we have comes to us as gifts from our Creator. Even the very air we breathe is a wonderful gift because it keeps us alive. In asking us to give back only a tenth of what we earn, God is being very generous. On top of that, He promises that He will provide well for those who are faithful in giving back a tithe, or tenth. (Malachi 3:8-11.)
Jacob Falls in Love
With the pleasant feeling that from there on God would protect him, Jacob continued on his way. After days of trudging over stony mountain trails and hot desert sands, wading across cold streams and crossing the great River Euphrates, he came into the land of Mesopotamia. Finally, in the distance, he saw a city. Not far away were some shepherds and their flocks of sheep gathered about a well that was protected by a huge, flat stone. Jacob came up to the shepherds and asked, "Where are you men 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 journey was almost at an end. "Do you know a man there called Laban?" he asked. "His grandfather's name was Nahor." "We know him," the men replied. "Is he well and prosperous?" Jacob inquired. "He is," they answered, and pointing to an approaching flock, they added, "Here comes one of his flocks. The girl you see herding them is Rachel, Laban's daughter." (Verses 4-6.) When Jacob heard this, he was anxious to meet Rachel alone. Meeting one of his own family was such a special event that he didn't want strangers around. "It's only the middle of the day," Jacob reminded the shepherds. "Why don't you take your flocks back to the pastures?" "We can't do that till we've watered them," the shepherds answered. "And we can't water them till Rachel gets here with her flocks so that all the animals can be watered at once." By that time Rachel's flock was close by. Jacob helped the other men move the stone top from the well. Then he drew water for Rachel's sheep. All the while Jacob couldn't help noticing how beautiful Rachel was. When he had finished drawing water, he stepped up to her and kissed her. (Verses 9-11.) "Are you really Laban's daughter?" he asked. "I am," she replied. Jacob was so thankful that God had led him to his people that he wept with joy and thankfulness. "I am Jacob, your cousin," he told Rachel. "My mother is Rebekah, your aunt." vRachel was so surprised and pleased that she took her flock and hurried to tell her father about Jacob. When Laban, her father, heard what had happened, he hurried out to meet Jacob and welcome him to his 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 loved her. Rachel had an older sister, Leah, who was closer to Jacob's age. But Jacob was interested only in Rachel. Laban could see in the time that Jacob stayed that he would be a good addition to the family. But Laban couldn't expect Jacob to keep on working for no more than meals and a bed. (Verses 12-14.) "If you wish to keep on working here, I would like to give you fair wages," Laban told Jacob. "Tell me what you think would be fair pay." Probably Laban would have been glad to have Jacob continue working for only food and bed. But he was afraid that Jacob might leave, and so he knew he would have to offer Jacob something. "I shall work for you for the next seven years if you will then give me Rachel for my wife," Jacob said. (Verse 18.) Laban was pleased at this suggestion. Seven whole years of service from a good worker was like an offer of a great deal of money. "You shall have her for your wife," Laban heartily agreed. "I would rather have her marry you than some stranger."
Jacob Marries Someone Else!
Seven years is quite a long time. But to Jacob, who was happy in seeing Rachel every day, time went by quickly. When the seven years had passed, Jacob reminded Laban that it was time for the marriage. Laban gave a great marriage feast that lasted a whole week. Many people were invited, and it was a time of much celebration. On the evening of the day of the ceremony Jacob was married to his bride. She was covered with a long, heavy veil that almost hid her from view. This was the custom in those times in that country, and it still is in some eastern nations. Jacob was very happy. It was well worth seven years of labor, he thought, to finally have Rachel as his wife. But later, when the veil was removed so that he could look upon the woman he had married, his happiness suddenly left him. It was not Rachel. It was Leah! (Gen. 30:23.) Filled with anger, Jacob went at once to Laban. "Why have you cheated me this way?" he demanded. "I asked for Rachel to marry, not Leah!"
"I'm sorry, my nephew," Laban explained, "but it is a custom of this land that the older daughter must marry first. 1 couldn't change that custom. 1 had no choice but to give you Leah." If Laban had been fair, he would have told Jacob about that custom long before. But he wanted to get Leah married, and he chose this dishonest way to do it. Jacob was very unhappy and disappointed. This trick his uncle had put over on him reminded him of the way he had tricked his brother and his father in order to get a birthright and a special blessing. Perhaps Jacob realized then that it was only just that he should now be the victim of a dishonest act. "If you must have Rachel for your wife, 1 will give her to you if you will do two things," Laban told Jacob. "What are the two things?" Jacob asked, wondering if Laban had some other trick in mind. "If you will be a good husband to Leah for the remainder of the marriage feast during this week, then you shall have Rachel to wed at the end of the week," Laban replied. "I am willing to do that," Jacob said. "But that is only one thing. What is the other thing?" Laban hesitated a little before answering. He was hoping that Jacob loved Rachel enough to agree to what he was about to ask. "You must work for me seven more years for Rachel," Laban said. 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 both things," Jacob suddenly replied. "Surely Rachel is worth more to me than fourteen years of work!" (Verses 27-28.) Perhaps the remainder of the first seven days of feasting seemed almost as long to Jacob as were the 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. He willingly 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 to his name than a large family and tents to live in. As it happened, only one son of his eleven boys was thus far born to him by Rachel. Meanwhile, because of Jacob's careful planning and willingness to work hard, Laban became wealthy in flocks. Jacob could see that there wasn't much reason for him to keep on working for Laban, so he told him that he would like to take his family and return to Canaan to visit his elderly father, Isaac, who was still living. Laban was very upset when he learned what Jacob wanted to do. He didn't want to lose such a valuable man. "If you will continue working for me, " he told Jacob, "I shall pay you any wage you ask. " "I don't want wages," Jacob replied. "In return for my continuing looking after your flocks, let me have any of the cattle or sheep or goats that have spots or ring marks on their hides." "I agree to that," Laban said. (Verses 31-32.) But before Jacob could get around to separating one kind of animal from an — other, Laban had his workmen remove most of the animals Jacob claimed. These he turned over to his sons, who kept them at a distance where Jacob wouldn't notice them. (Verses 35-36.) You will remember that God had promised Jacob that He would look out for him. God kept that promise. During the next six years, while Jacob managed Laban's flocks, God miraculously helped him by greatly increasing the numbers that had rings or Spots on them. This was the opposite of the usual habits of cattle breeding. (Gen. 3 1:11-12.) Thus so many of the cattle and sheep and goats became Jacob's that he soon became wealthy. By carefully trading and buying, he also acquired many camels and burros and tents and much other expensive equipment. At the same time, Laban's flocks were not increasing as he wanted them roo It had long been plain to him that he, Laban, had become prosperous because a man who relied on God was managing his business. But now that God was causing Jacob to prosper, Laban was not pleased. He feared that Jacob would leave at any time, now that he didn't have to worry about making a living.
Jacob Leaves Laban Secretly
Laban became less friendly toward Jacob, causing Jacob to have a greater desire to leave. Then one day God spoke to Jacob and told him to return to Canaan. (Gen. 31:13.) Jacob feared that Laban might not let him leave, so he waited till a time when Laban 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 all his belongings on camels and burros. Jacob was careful not to take anything that belonged to Laban. With all his servants and family and flocks, it was a big moving job. The animals had to be herded, and thus the caravan couldn't move very fast. (Verses 17-18.) As for Leah and Rachel, they were glad of the chance to leave. They felt that their father hadn't been fair to them or to Jacob. It was not until three days after Jacob had left for Canaan that Laban found out what had happened. (Verse 22.) He was very angry at the thought of Jacob leaving him without a word. Then he found that a number of small idols which he prized highly were also missing from his tents. He felt certain that Jacob had taken them. "Gather my best men together for a fast trip! " Laban roared at his foreman. "Saddle the fastest camels! I will overtake this Jacob if I have to go all the way to Canaan!" After seven days of hard travel, during which the camels were forced to move as fast as possible, Laban and his men came within sight of Jacob's caravan, which had encamped for the night. (Verse 23.) "We'll camp back here tonight out of their sight," Laban told his men. "Early
tomorrow morning we'll overtake them. Then Jacob will learn that he was most unwise to leave as he did!" But by next morning Laban wasn't so intent upon revenge, for God spoke to him in a dream. (Verse 24.) "Do not harm Jacob in any way," God warned. "If you do, I shall suddenly act against you!" Laban was greatly disturbed by the dream. Perhaps he wasn't absolutely certain that it was God who had warned him. But he felt he couldn't take any chances. Early in the morning, when Laban overtook Jacob's caravan, his anger had almost gone. "Why did you do this to me?" he demanded of Jacob. "If you had told me you were going, I would have prepared a great feast. As it happened, I didn't even get to tell my daughters and grandchildren goodbye." (Verses 25-29.) "I left while you were away because I knew you might otherwise force your daughters to stay with you," Jacob answered. "I have enough men with me to force them from you right now," Laban went on. "And I would do it now if it weren't for a dream I had last night. I dreamed that God warned me not to harm you." "It is good that you are obeying that warning," Jacob answered. "No one can stand against God." "Probably that is so," Laban said. "I respect your belief. But it is plain to me that you don't respect mine. Just before I started out after you, I found that certain little images that mean much to me were missing from my tents. Someone in your caravan stole them, and I want them back!" "If you think we have your images, then search our tents and belongings," Jacob said. "If you find them with the property of any person in my caravan, then let that person die!" Jacob was certain that Laban had come searching in the wrong place for the images. He didn't know that Rachel had stolen them from her father's tent because she knew that Laban looked to them for advice the same as many people even today look to images, crystal balls and other lifeless objects for advice. (Verse 32.) Rachel didn't want her father to pursue Jacob. She was fearful he would find out through his idols which route Jacob's caravan had taken. Perhaps she realized that relying on idols and sorcery and such things can sometimes result in getting in touch with demons that will make known some surprising things. While Laban and his men searched fo r the images, Rachel was resting at her tent seated on a camel saddle. It was there that she had hidden her father's little idols. Soon Laban came to her tent and searched. "Get up from that saddle, so that I may look there," Laban said. "I'm sorry, father," Rachel said to him, "but I'm not feeling well. Please excuse me if I stay here and rest." When Laban went to Jacob to admit that the images couldn't be found, Jacob was angry. He demanded to know why Laban, who had not been fair to him through Jacob's twenty years of honest service, had come to treat him like an enemy. Laban knew that Jacob deserved better treatment. Therefore he suggested that they make an agreement that there would be no more wrong feeling toward each other. Their men piled up stones as a monument to their agreement. Then they ace a meal together as a further sign of friendliness. Next morning Laban said goodbye to his daughters and their children, and returned to Haran. (Gen. 31:55.) At the same time, Jacob's caravan moved on toward Canaan.
Jacob Tested by the Lord
The closer Jacob moved to Canaan, the more he worried about meeting his brother, Esau. For a long time Esau had lived in the rough, wild country of Seir, and Jacob's caravan would have to travel near that area to reach Canaan. Jacob feared that there would be trouble if Esau heard of his brother coming that way. "My brother is probably still angry because of the way I tricked him twenty years ago," Jacob thought. "He said then that he would kill me. Unless he has changed his mind, he'll probably attack my caravan if he hears I'm passing this way." In an attempt to find out how Esau felt about him, Jacob sent messengers on ahead to try to get in touch with Esau. They were instructed to tell Esau that his brother was about to pass through the land with much wealth from Haran, and that Jacob hoped that 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. 32:3-5.) This 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. Jacob at once gave orders for the caravan and flocks 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) Then Jacob did the thing that was more helpful to him than anything else could be. He asked God to spare him and his family from any attack by his brother. He admitted to God that he wasn't worthy of protection, but he reminded God that he had been promised protection. God wants us to look to Him for help. But if there is anything we should do at the same time to help or protect ourselves, He expects us to do it. God doesn't like laziness. Therefore Jacob just didn't sit idly by and wait for his Creator to do what he should do. Probably God inspired him to act as he did. He brought his flocks to a halt. Out of them he picked five hundred and fifty of the choicest goats, sheep, camels, burros and cattle. Then he divided each kind of stock into groups, and each herded 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 kindly toward him. After the herds intended for Esau had gone on, Jacob sent the two sections of his caravan on ahead a short distance to encamp for the night. (Verses 22 and 23.) He remained behind at a certain spot to be alone and pray. Before the next day dawned, he had a peculiar experience. That night a strange man seized him, as though to keep him from completing his trip to Canaan. The man began a wrestling match with Jacob! Jacob soon realized the man was a messenger or angel sent from the Almighty God. (Verses 24-25.) Years later the prophet Hosea was inspired to write that the angel or messenger with whom Jacob wrestled was none other than the Lord — the One who later became Jesus! (Hosea 12:3-6.) Jacob proved that trying night that he was not a quitter. He wrestled all the night and would not let the Lord go until He had blessed him. (Verse 26.) As morning dawned the Lord blessed Jacob and praised him because he was not a quitter like his brother Esau had been. Jacob was determined to strive with all his might in order not to lose God's blessings and eternal promises. Jacob proved by his physical wrestling that he had the strength of character to overcome his spiritual problems. That wrestling match was a test of character! As Jacob found favor with God, his name was changed. The name Jacob meant that he supplanted others by taking advantage of them unfairly. But Jacob's God could not give the Birthright and His blessings to the man who had taken them from his weaker brother Esau unfairly. So the Lord appeared as a man and gave Jacob a chance to prove himself with one who appeared as his equal. Jacob proved that he was as determined as the Lord! He would not let the Lord go until He blessed him! That is why he was now called "Israel." He overcame every obstacle that stood in the way of receiving God's blessing. In the Hebrew language that Jacob spoke, the name Israel means one who prevails, or overcomes, or proves to be a champion with God. (Verses 28-30.) When that dawn came, Jacob found that he was very sore in one hip — a proof that God's blessings do not come without suffering and hardship. (Verse 3l.) 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 the caravan.