The Patriarchal Period
[Gen 25:19 - Gen 35:29]
The birth of Esau and Jacob
When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, is pregnant, there seems to be a struggle between her unborn sons, causing her some
concern. When she takes her concern to the Lord, she is told there are two nations in her womb and that the elder will
serve the younger.
Rebekah gives birth to her twins and names them Esau and Jacob, the elder being Esau. Esau grows to be a hunter and is
favoured by Isaac, whereas Jacob is a ‘plain’ man and favoured by Rebekah.
Esau sells his birthright
Esau is so indifferent about his birthright that one day, when feeling particularly hungry, he rashly sells it to Jacob for some
broth. He later takes a Canaanite wife, which grieves his parents.
Isaac and Abimelech
The Abrahamic covenant is now renewed with Isaac; God then instructs him to sojourn in Gerar while there is a famine in
the land. Like his father before him, Isaac lies about Rebekah, pretending she is his sister. After some time, the deceit
concerning Rebekah is realised when King Abimelech sees Isaac sporting with her. From this time on, Isaac and Rebekah
are protected by Abimelech. Isaac is blessed and, to the envy of the Philistines, grows in prosperity. Following disputes
concerning wells, Isaac eventually moves and settles at Beersheba.
Jacob gets Esau’s blessing by deceit
As he approaches his final days, Isaac calls Esau to give him the blessing due to the firstborn. Instigated by his mother,
and with her help, Jacob fraudulently obtains his father’s blessing while Esau is still out hunting for venison to prepare a
meal his father had requested. Despite this deception, the blessing has to stand. To avoid Esau’s anger and threat to kill
Jacob, Rebekah advises Jacob to flee to his uncle Laban until things blow over.
Jacob flees to Haran
Also encouraged by Isaac for the purpose of finding a wife, Jacob leaves for his uncle Laban’s. On the way he rests for the
night and has a vision of a ladder between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. The Lord stood
above the ladder and promised Jacob he and his seed would inherit the land on which he is resting, and through his seed
all the families of the earth would be blessed – the same promises made to Abraham and Isaac.
Leah and Rachel
When Jacob arrives at his uncle Laban’s, he meets Rachel and falls in love with her. Not having a dowry, Jacob offers to
work seven years for the hand of Rachel. When the seven years are completed a great celebration is held, but after Jacob
retires to his tent it is Leah, Laban’s eldest daughter, who is sent to him. Then, in the darkness, he spends the night with
the wrong sister. Despite the deceit, having spent the night with Leah, Jacob is now considered married to her. He then has
to work another seven years for Rachel.
Jacob’s first eleven sons and a daughter
Because Jacob loves Rachel and not Leah, the Lord prevents Rachel from conceiving and Jacob’s first four sons are by
Leah. They are Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Still unable to conceive, Rachel follows the custom of the time and gives
Jacob her handmaiden, Bilhah, as a concubine. Bilhah has two sons by Jacob, Dan and Naphtali. Leah now stops conceiving
and so gives Jacob her handmaiden, Zilpah, who bears him two children, Gad and Asher. Rachel, perhaps in desperation,
and presumably because she is in a position to do so, gives Leah a night with Jacob in exchange for mandrakes collected
by Reuben (mandrakes were considered an aphrodisiac). Leah conceives and Issachar is born. She is later able to conceive
again and has another son, Zebulun, and later a daughter, Dinah.
Rachel is at last able to conceive and gives birth to Joseph.
Jacob’s flocks increase
Jacob now wants to leave, but Laban asks him to stay because he has seen how the Lord has blessed him. Jacob is asked
to name his wages and an agreement is made based on husbandry methods suggested by Jacob. In time, Jacob becomes
rich in cattle as well as other livestock and servants.
Jacob flees Laban
After twenty years’ service to Laban – fourteen for his two daughters and six raising livestock – Jacob leaves secretly while
Laban is out sheep shearing. Unbeknown to Jacob, Rachel has stolen some of her father’s images.
Three days have passed before Laban is told that Jacob has left. Laban goes after him, his party catching up with Jacob at
Mount Gilead. However, Laban is told in a dream by God to speak not to Jacob either good or bad. Laban questions Jacob,
wanting to know why he had left secretly, and mentions the stolen images. Jacob tells him that he was afraid he would
keep his daughters by force, then tells him if he finds his gods, then whoever has taken them should not live. The tents are
all searched, Rachel’s being left until last. When Laban comes to search her tent she makes excuses for not standing,
saying it is her time of month, preventing him from finding his gods she had hidden in the camel’s bags on which she is
Jacob is now angry with Laban for apparently making a false accusation, but the two make a pact over a meal and part
God meets Jacob
Jacob continues on his way and sends messengers ahead to his brother, Esau, but is alarmed when they return to report
Esau is on his way with four hundred men. Jacob prays to God for help, then gathers some livestock as a gift for Esau and
sends them on ahead in batches with some servants. The idea is that Esau will come across each successive band of
servants with a gift of livestock, then by the time Jacob meets Esau he will be appeased.
That evening, Jacob takes all his company and sends them ahead over the ford Jabbock. He remains alone and wrestles all
night with God. In the morning, God blesses Jacob and renames him Israel.
Jacob meets Esau
Jacob rejoins his family and sees Esau coming to meet him. He divides his company for safety, putting the handmaidens
and their children first, then Leah and her children, and last of all Rachel and Joseph. Despite Jacob’s concern, all is well
between them and there is an emotional reunion. Following some bartering, Esau accepts the gifts sent ahead and returns
to Seir, while Jacob travels to Succoth and then on to Shalem where he buys a parcel of land and settles there.
After some years at Shalem, Schechem, a Hivite, rapes Jacob’s daughter, Dinah. However, Schechem loves Dinah and his
father, Hamor, meets with Jacob in an attempt at appeasement, suggesting each allows their daughters to marry a son of
the other. Simeon and Levi deceive Hamor and Schechem by saying they could agree only if all their men were
circumcised. They could then live as one nation. This is agreed, and all Haman’s men are then circumcised in one day. On
the third day, when the men are sore, Simeon and Levi slaughter them all, including Hamor and Schechem, taking all their
wives, possessions and livestock. Jacob rebukes his sons, being fearful the surrounding inhabitants will rise against him
because of what they have done.
The birth of Benjamin, Jacob’s twelfth son
Under instruction from God, Jacob moves to Bethel where he is again told by God his name is now Israel. God then repeats
His promise of the land being given to Jacob and his seed after him.
Soon after, Jacob journeys towards Ephrath (Bethlehem). On the way Rachel goes into hard labour and dies giving birth to
After burying Rachel, Jacob moves on and settles near Edah, close to Bethlehem. It is while they are there that Reuben
sleeps with Bilhah, one of his father’s concubines.
Isaac lives to 180 before he dies. He is buried by his sons, Esau and Jacob.
Chapter 36 gives us the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, who are the Edomites.