Jacob and Rachel Biography

How would you like it if your parents had named you ‘Manipulator’? This is essentially what the parents of Jacob did. His name meant supplanter “one who tries to take the control, often unfairly, for one’s own benefit, or as we might say today ‘smooth operator.’”

Jacob deceives Isaac to inherit the birthright

Jacob deceives Isaac to inherit the birthright

Jacob was a twin. Even before he was born, God had communicated to his mother that Jacob’s older twin, Esau, would end up serving him. However, instead of trusting God to fulfill this prediction in His own way, the mother and son proceeded to manipulate circumstances to ensure success. This lethal mother-son duo apparently grew out of a two-way parental favoritism that had gradually evolved into a rather ugly family competition.

In any case, one day when his brother came in famished from an unsuccessful hunt, Jacob finagled his brother’s birthright for a pot of stew. Then when Esau was to receive his father’s blessing, the mother-son duo again sprang into action. Using tactics deserving of an Oscar, they deceived the blind Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of his older brother.

Terrified that Esau may kill his twin in a fit of rage, Rebekah hustled Jacob off to her brother, who lived far away in Haran. During the long trek, Jacob had a dream one night in which God reiterated the same promise he had given to his father and grandfather—a land, a vast people, and great blessing. When morning dawned, Jacob was awestruck. But instead of simply accepting God’s gracious promise, Jacob felt he had to wheel and deal. He prayed, “God, if you will agree to take care of me so I can eventually return to my parents in peace, I will give you a tenth of what I earn.”

Jacob was a con artist. As an infant, he probably conned his mother out of extra milk. As Buechner writes, “He wanted the moon and if he’d ever managed to bilk Heaven out of that, he would have been back the next morning for the stars to go with it.” As a young man he’d taken his older brother’s birthright as well as his blessing. Now he imagined he could even trick God into prospering him by offering Him a financial percentage.

One might expect God to angrily snuff out this conniving upstart or at least write him off as spiritually bankrupt. But, surprisingly, God took Jacob’s character flaws as a divine challenge. When Jacob arrived at the home of his mother’s brother, a very unpleasant situation awaited him. Jacob’s Uncle Laban turned out to be as much of a confidence man as Jacob. The trickster had finally met his match.

Jacob immediately fell in love with Laban’s beautiful younger daughter, Rachel. He agreed to work for Laban seven years just to marry Rachel. However, behind the wedding veil at Jacob’s marriage ceremony was Leah, Rachel’s older, less attractive sister. The enraged Jacob had to work another seven years for his beloved Rachel.

Jacob and Rachel

Jacob and Rachel

After the fourteen years passed, Laban offered to begin paying Jacob. Instead of a salary, Jacob asked for all the speckled and spotted livestock. Laban secretly rounded up all such livestock and had his sons move them covertly three day’s journey away. However, as newborn speckled and spotted livestock continued to outnumber all others, Laban tried every trick in the book to defraud Jacob. Ten times he renegotiated Jacob’s ‘salary,’ giving him less each time. Jacob was cheated so flagrantly and so often that surely being cheated became hateful as hell in his eyes. Yet, that is not quite the same as hating deception in one’s own heart. One great encounter to come would finally humble the devious Jacob.

Finally, Jacob decided that flight may solve his problems with Laban. While Laban was away at sheep shearing, Jacob sneaked away with his family and possessions. As his caravan neared the region where his brother Esau lived, Jacob became terror-stricken, especially when he heard Esau was headed his way with 400 men. True to his ways, Jacob sent flock after flock of livestock toward Esau’s advance, hoping to pacify him with gifts.

That night, whether in a vision or in person, Jacob wrestled all night with a figure. At dawn, the stranger wrenched Jacob’s thigh out of joint. Still Jacob would not let the stranger go unless he blessed him. Apparently, the figure represented God Himself, for He blessed Jacob and changed his name from Manipulator to Israel, which means ‘prince.’

The Jacob who met his brother, Esau, the next day was now Israel. No longer the self-aggrandizing cheater, Israel bowed low to the ground before his brother, kissed him, and wept like a child. A humbled con artist had finally come back home.

What can we learn from Jacob and Rachel?

Jacob’s story is for everyone tempted to use their own clever ingenuity to succeed in life, even at the expense of those around them. There is nothing inherently wrong with applying honest, God-given wisdom to life’s challenges. It is only wrong when it becomes a selfish, underhanded way of taking advantage of others.

Bible Verses about Jacob and Rachel

Genesis 25-50; Exodus 1:1; Leviticus 26:42; Numbers 24:5; Deuteronomy 1:8; Joshua 24:4; 1 Samuel 12:8; Psalm 46:7, 105:23; Isaiah 41:8, 45:4; Jeremiah 33:26; Ezekiel 28:25; Malachi 1:1-2; Matthew 1:16; Mark 12:26; Luke 3:34; John 4:5, 12; Acts 7:8-15; Romans 9:13; Hebrews 11:9, 20-21

What questions does this help to answer?

  • Who was Jacob?
  • Who was Rachel in the Bible?
  • What does Jacob mean?
  • What’s the story of Jacob and Eseau?
  • How did Jacob become Israel?
  • What’s the difference between Jacob and Israel?

Author Info

Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes.  Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education.  Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally.  He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.

Steve Fortosis