The Bible presents many characters throughout its entirety.The purpose of all of Scripture is to point to Jesus in some way, some parts more than others.In the gospel of Johnit is recorded that Jesus claimed that all scripture pointed to Him!What an amazing claim from a man.This being said, an interpreter of scripture must be careful not to assume upon what aspects each event is pointing to when revealing an aspect of the Messiah.The book of Genesis should be seen as no different.It is the first volume in a five volume set known to us today as the Pentateuch.Genesis should be interpreted and understood in light of its context of the whole Pentateuch, as well as the original audience to whom it was written.This being said, Jacob plays a crucial role in Moses’ purpose in the book of Genesis.
It is the goal of this paper to briefly show the purpose of Jacob in Genesis in light of the whole book, as well as to reveal to the reader the Jacob presented in Genesis.This also will be done briefly, given the assignment and the allotted space given to do so.
Context in which Genesis is written
Assuming that Genesis was indeed written by Moses as tradition and history states, it is most commonly understood that Moses wrote the Pentateuch after leading Israel out of bondage and slavery to Egypt.Moses was the prophet to these people to reveal God to them and what they were to do.This brought about the law and how Israel as a nation came about.Most scholars agree that Genesis acts as a prequel to Exodus to explain the God of Israel and how Israel became God’s chosen nation to display Himself.
In the beginning of Genesis we have a clear representation of who the God of Israel is in the creation account.In Genesis 4-11 we have the historical account of how the world was populated and from where every tribe and nation came, with special attention to the line of the promised seed. In Genesis 12-25 the setting apart of the descendants of Abraham to be a nation is established with a covenant of the God who created all things.Isaac is a promised seed that continues the promise made to Abraham and is the father of Jacob.Jacob becomes Israel and is the father of twelve tribes, which make up what is known in Moses’ time as the nation of Israel.Genesis 25-50 explains how Israel becomes a nation and how they ended up dwelling in Israel. The end of Genesis sets the stage for how Exodus begins.This is the context in which Genesis is written.This is the backdrop upon which Jacob/Israel should be seen by the writer Moses.
The Jacob/Israel presented in Genesis 25-50
Jacob is arguably the single most important character in the book of Genesis.His life spans half of the book of Genesis.This is more than any other character presented in Genesis.It is also from Jacob that the nation of God receives its name “Israel.”
The first introduction we have to Jacob is his conception coming about through the prayers of his father Isaac.In Genesis 25:19-26, we are told that Jacob had a twin named Esau and that he and Esau were going to be the fathers of two nations. However, God had chosen the younger, Jacob, and the older, Esau, would serve the younger.This event is to point to the sovereign appointment of God.The nation of Israel did not come about by happenstance, nor were they arbitrarily chosen.Rather, God had specifically chosen who his nation would be. Secondly, Jacob was not chosen because he was the firstborn nor was he less sinful, but rather, from birth he was known as one to trip others for his gain.
Genesis 25:27-28 gives a background to the type of personality Jacob had and his relationship with his parents.The father of the two favored Esau because of his food.The mother of the twins favored Jacob. However, no reason is given for this love in contrast to the father’s love for Esau.
The second account of Jacob being active is found in Genesis 25:29-34, where Jacob again is seen as one who is crafty and wise and trips others for his own gain.There is significance in the fact that Jacob is named “he takes by the heel” or “he cheats” and the first accounts shown about him are in accordance to his name.Jacob is not seen in a better light than Esau, merely wiser.
In Genesis 27:1-40 we see the founding of the nation of Israel at threat.Jacob is the promised seed to which the nations should be blessed, but Esau is to receive the blessing that God has appointed for Jacob from Isaac.A lack of faith is shown in both the mother and Jacob in the promise that was given by God.Instead the father of Israel takes matters into his own hands at the advice of a woman (Genesis 27:8).Perhaps a warning to the audience of Moses.The nation of Israel is often lead into disobedience by the listening to the advise of women.This is also a common theme throughout Genesis with Adam, those in the time of Noah, Abraham, and now Jacob.We see many of the Israelites sins being found in its father, perhaps a warning from Moses to guard themselves.
There are also many props in the narrative that are later found to come back and bite Jacob.The blindness Jacob used to deceive, so also, Laban does with Leah.The clothes of Esau were used to deceive his father, so his sons will use the cloak of Joseph to deceive him.Just as Jacob was using a ritual for his advancement, so also will Laban use them to trip Jacob.
In Genesis 27:41-46 Jacob is hated by others because of his receiving of the blessings of God.This will be a characteristic of Israel as well, seen even by the persecution done to them by Egypt.Jacob’s mother also fears Jacob taking a wife who is not set apart by God just as the struggle will be with the nation of Israel upon entering their land.
Jacob receives the blessing given to His fathers from God in Genesis 28.He is given the same commands and assurance that he will be fruitful and multiply.We will see the immediate fulfillment of this in the end of Genesis when list the size of his family that resides in Egypt.He is also sent to find a wife that is from the family of Abraham.Jacob is held in contrast to the following passage of Esau who marries an Ishmaelite.Jacob marries within the promised line whereas Esau fails in his best attempts.Jacob is also promised the presence and protection of God wherever he goes.Jacob offers a sacrifice to the LORD God of his fathers and an offering.He makes a pillar there as a testimony to the significance of that place.
In Genesis we see the very common theme being repeated in chapter 29 where Jacob will meet his wife at the well.Jacob displays great strength in this scene where he rolls a stone away that usually takes the force of several men.He makes a covenant with Laban of seven years of labor in exchange for his daughter Rachel.Jacob is deceived by his uncle Laban in many similar ways to that which Jacob used to deceive his father.Instead of receiving Rachel, Jacob receives Laban’s eldest daughter Leah, as is the custom.Jacob must work another seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage.After fourteen years Jacob makes another deal to work seven more years for wages so as to provide for his family.
A good portion of scripture is spent on the children of Jacob.Jacob’s wives are seen at the mercy of God to grant them children and it is God who will open and close the womb and his wives.Jacob learns this lesson and we see this in Genesis 30:2.At the close of the children of Jacob, the reader is left in suspense as to where the twelfth tribe comes from. The blessing of eleven children shows that the hand of God is on Jacob to bless him children the number of sand on the shore.
Following the blessing of children in accordance to the covenant spoken to Jacob we now see the prosperity of wealth given to Jacob.We also see the Abrahamic covenant showing the blessing to others through the means of Abraham’s descendants.Laban is greatly blessed for Jacob’s sake.
Again, the blessing of the LORD upon his covenant people leads Laban to hate Jacob.The LORD tells Jacob to return to his father’s land.Laban pursues Jacob much as Pharaoh does the nation of Israel.However, God preserves Jacob by a vision given to Laban.He is warned not even to say an unkind thing to Jacob.Jacob leaves with the riches of Laban just as Israel will later leave with the riches of Egypt.
In Genesis 32, Jacob encounters his next enemy.Esau has become a powerful man, and Jacob is vulnerable with his children and wives.We find in verse 9 Jacob’s first recorded prayer.He calls upon the God of his fathers and asks Him to be true to His covenant.His first recorded prayer is a plea for deliverance.Jacob plans on presenting a huge gift to Esau to show his remorse on what he had to done to Esau.
The night before Jacob sees Esau, he wrestles with a man all night.Jacob refuses to let go of him until he is blessed.The man cripples Jacob, blesses him, and renames him Israel, which means, “he strives with God.”Israel makes the claim that he has seen the face of God.Israel is granted the blessing of seeing God face to face and yet remain living.Perhaps a fulfillment of the promise that God will dwell with him.In any case, Israel is shown mercy from this God-man.However, after his encounter with God he remains forever changed.
Jacob meets with Esau and is shown mercy from him.This reminds Jacob of the mercy he was shown by individual last night.So much so that he refers to Esau’s face as being “like” the face of God.Perhaps in that instance, his life was threatened, yet he was delivered.
However, although restitution is made between the brothers, Israel separates paths with Esau.Though Israel is to strive to be at peace with other nations, he is to remain holy and set-apart from the other nations.
As is almost always the case in the lives of the patriarchs, Israel greatly sins shortly after the pinnacle of his life.Upon having his name changed and being forever changed in his encounter with God, as well as demonstrating faith in the midst of trials, he fails as a godly patriarch when he does not protect his daughter nor the family line.His disregard leads to his son’s rebellion and the genocide of a clan who sin against their sister Dinah.
In Genesis 35 God again states that Jacob’s name will now be Israel.God reminds Israel what he has done for Israel and commands him to cleanse himself from their idols and go and worship the LORD.He builds an alter and presents an offering to the LORD.
This chapter also explains where the twelfth tribe of Israel comes about.Israel loses his wife Rachel with the birth of Benjamin.It also speaks of the burial of Israel’s second wife Rachel.Reuben also sleeps with Israel’s wife/concubine Bilhah.Israel removes the blessings of firstborn from him due to this.
Genesis 37 begins with Israel’s faithfulness by dwelling in the land promised as a sojourner.However, he is also shown as being unwise in favoring Joseph over his other sons.In fact, he uses Joseph to spy on his brothers and bring him reports on what they are doing.He gives him a special coat of many colors.Israel’s favoritism is a major component in alienating Joseph from his brothers.He is seen as rebuking Joseph for his dreams all the while keeping them in mind.The last time Israel will speak with Joseph for many years is when he tells him to go and give him a report of his brothers in Shechem.
Perhaps the ultimate breaking point in Israel’s life is when he is deceived by his sons that Joseph had been attacked by a wild beast.He is deceived by the garments of Joseph, much like he deceived his father with the garments of his brother Esau.
The main character of Genesis swings from Israel to Joseph in Genesis 39.We do not hear of Israel again until Genesis 42 where he commands his sons to go down to Egypt where there is food to be purchased.Moses makes it clear to the reader that Israel did not send down Benjamin with the other sons.The brothers meet Joseph, unbeknownst to them, and through a long series of events, they tell him they are brothers, have an aged father, and another younger brother.Joseph will use this to bring about repentance in his brothers, as well as help his father realize his mistakes with him and now Benjamin.
Israel refuses to let Benjamin encounter any danger.It is not until the life of the entire family is being threatened that Israel will submit to the wishes of Joseph concerning Benjamin coming down to Egypt.Israel is forced to entrust his youngest and last son from Rachel with the other boys.This is the final breaking point in Israel’s life.
Israel is not disappointed with the outcome of his sons’ journey to Egypt.He not only lost none of his sons, but he received Joseph back.He refuses to believe his sons, though, until he sees the wagons and all that Joseph sends back to testify of this message.Israel states that he will die a happy man.
In the following chapter Israel is found faithful in placing the LORD as priority over Joseph.Before going and seeing Joseph, although he was near death, he makes one stop at Beersheba to make an offering to the LORD and worship him.God speaks to him in the night and tells him he will keep his covenant that he has made with Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
The next portion of the story is to show how God had already began his fulfillment of making Israel a great nation with great wealth.Without counting daughters or wives, their number is 70.This number represents a good full and complete number.
Israel is finally reunited with Joseph, upon which he blesses him and makes Joseph promise he will bury him with his fathers in the land promised to them by God. Joseph then brings his father to Pharaoh.Israel explains the days of his life to Pharaoh along with his fathers and then blesses pharaoh.This is a huge part to Israel’s life, because throughout Genesis to bless someone meant to be greater than they were.
Israel ends up living 17 years in Egypt with his family and sees his son’s success and adopts Josephs children.He again ask Joseph to bury him as he promised.He asks for Joseph to bring his sons to him before he dies.Here we see Israel understanding of the LORD’S working where he blesses the younger over the older.Israel breaks into a praise chorus before Joseph in which he praises God for he has done throughout his life.
Shortly before his death, Jacob makes one last request and asks for all his sonsto come before him that he may tell them what will happen to each.Here, Israel acts as a prophet in which some events come true years after the Pentateuch.He knows the sins of his sons and knows what the outcome will be.At the end of this prophecy he lay down and breathed his last.
The death of Israel is also seen as significant because all of Egypt mourns for him 70 days.This is likely the amount of time it took to embalm him and take him back to his burial.There was a very great company that took him.It also states that all that he asked his sons to do was done according to his wishes.
How Jacob/Israel fits into the plot of Genesis
As stated before, Israel plays a crucial role in the book of Genesis for two main reasons.First, Jacob explains how the Israel became a nation of twelve tribes.Second, Jacob exhibits many of the same struggles and sins that the nation of Israel had gone through, was going through, and would go through.These things were written so as to keep Israel from the same mistakes.Along with the second reason, Jacob’s life serves as a purpose for much of the law that will be given at Mount Sinai.
When examining the life of a character as significant as Jacob/Israel the understanding for the purpose for the book of Genesis becomes more clear.Israel made many mistakes and was not perfect, nor was he chosen because of what he could do for the LORD.Rather, he was chosen because of what the LORD could do for him.This in return would display the wisdom and mercy of the great God and LORD of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.This brought much comfort to the seemingly useless nation of Israel, having just escaped from the terrors of Egypt and pondering why God delivered them from slavery and chose them to be a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.