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2. Jacob

2.2 The Human Side Of Jacob

Jacob And The God Of His Father

“Now therefore, my son (age 77!), obey my voice according to that which I command thee” (Gen. 27:8)

“And his mother said unto him, upon me be thy curse, my son: only obey my voice, and go fetch me them. And he went, and fetched...” (27:13,14)

“Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou...Jacob obeyed his father and his mother” (27:43; 28:7)

“Rebekah’s son” (29:12) - not Jacob ben-Isaac

Laban, “his mother’s brother” 3 x (29:10)

Allon-Bachuth, “the oath of his (Jacob’s) weeping” (35:8) for Deborah, his mother’s nurse

“The way that I go...bring me again to my father’s house” (28:20,21) cp.24:27,40,42,48,56

“I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (28:22) cp. 14:20; Heb. 11:9

Returning to “Isaac his father” (31:18); “thou sore longest after they father’s house” (31:30); compares his father against that of his wives (31:5-7)

Promises = “mercy and truth” (32:10), as Isaac saw them (24:27)

The negative influence of his family

Rebekah rejected promise of 25:23 in ch.27; as Jacob in 33:3-5

Gathering wealth: Abraham (12:5); Jacob (s.w. 31:18); also 24:35 cp. 30:43

Faithless fear (Mt. 25:25; Rev. 21:8) in Abraham (15:1; 20:11), Isaac (26:7,24; 31:42,53) and Jacob (28:17; 31:31; 32:7,11; 41:3 

2-2-1 Jacob And Idolatry

The following is evidence that before that watershed night of Gen. 32, Jacob was influenced by the surrounding religious ideas, and was possibly involved with idol worship. The fact he openly says that Yahweh will only become his God if He brings him back home in peace (28:21) is proof enough that up until age 77 at the earliest, Jacob was not an unreserved worshipper of Yahweh. Yet knowing the nature of the man, it seems impossible to believe that he was totally irreligious until the time of his repentance in Gen. 32. The connections between Jacob and idolatry are so very numerous throughout the prophets that it seems impossible to totally disconnect him from idolatry. Just a few examples: 

- Speaking in the context of Israel's punishment for idolatry (remember, in God's eyes Israel = Jacob), we are told, apparently out of context, that Jacob served for a wife (singular), and for a wife he kept sheep (Hos. 12:12). Yet this is in the context of v.2, which says that God would punish Israel for their idolatry, according to their ways. And the terrible 14 years of keeping the sheep which their forefather Jacob went through was a type of their punishment for idolatry. As Jacob served for Rachel, so Israel served idols and would have to serve those idolatrous nations as an appropriate punishment. Keeping sheep in Gentile lands is the basis of the prodigal parable; the young man who left home, tricked his father, sidled past his hostile elder brother with what he was sure was his inheritance by rights, squandered it, kept sheep, and came back a new man. Clearly the Lord had his mind on Jacob, although that parable is full of reference to prophetic descriptions of the nation of Israel, too. Hos. 12:4-6,12,13 seem to say that Jacob's humiliation at the hands of Laban is a type of the future suffering of Jacob, before their final homecoming (1).

- In the same context of Israel's punishment for idolatry, " brother will supplant (s.w. Jacob) his brother" (Jer. 9:9).

- The flocks conceiving in front of the rods / poles (Gen. 30:39) surely has reference to the concept of the pagan asherah poles, before which worshippers had sex. Jacob was clearly influenced by this wrong idea- and yet God patiently worked with him through it. Jacob appears to have had the idea that what a female thinks about or has before her eyes at the time of labour or conception, will affect the child. And so he peeled stripes off the rods so they appeared 'ringstraked', or striped- in the belief that if the female cattle gave birth or conceived looking at them, then the offspring would be striped too, like the striped rods. However, the connection with the asherah poles suggests that Jacob's beliefs were associated with pagan fertility myths, rather than faith in Yahweh the God of his fathers.

- Mic. 1:5 explicitly links Jacob's sin with idolatry.

- Israel are often called 'Jacob' in passages concerning idolatry. Jacob and idolatry go together. Thus " By this therefore shall the sin of Jacob be purged; when he (not 'they') maketh all the stones of the (pagan) altar as chalkstone...the groves and images shall not stand up" (Is. 27:9).  

- The idea of a stairway leading into Heaven of course has obvious connections with the ziggurats of those times. But note that those stairways had a temple on the ground immediately where the stairway started, and led up to a temple at the summit. On a human level, Jacob's subconscious was thinking of pagan temple systems. But God turned all this around. For the man Jacob lying there that night, in all his weakness, was a temple, connected by the Angels to Yahweh's Heavenly temple. And we too in all our weaknesses are the temples of God on this earth.

We have to make ourselves remember that every time we read of " Jacob" we are reading of the man Jacob who was at the root of the nation of Israel. We seem to read " Jacob" and " Israel" as referring to the physical land and nation of Israel, without remembering that essentially they are the personal names of the forefather of the people of Israel (2).  

The evidence seems to be that until he left home, Jacob was influenced by the idolatrous thinking of the surrounding world. For the next 20 years, he more tacitly went along with these things being practiced in his family. The mandrakes used by Leah were not just aphrodisiacs, but were believed to have the magical ability to induce fertility (30:14). This pagan nonsense was believed by Leah and Reuben, and tacitly gone along with by Jacob- although God worked through these wrong ideas, apparently uncorrected, in order to bring about His purpose. And yet from these mixed up women God built the house of Israel. Another example of this is found in the way Jacob says " With this staff...I became (many)" (32:10). Strong comments that the word for " staff" here suggests a magical, pagan stick associated with fertility, coming from a root meaning 'to germinate'. The same word occurs when we read that Jacob put the animals before the " rods" ; it seems this is an intensive plural for 'the great rod', i.e. his staff. Yet, fascinatingly enough, at the very point when Jacob leaves home to start his wilderness journey with only (in his eyes) his pagan staff to bring him good luck, God as it were takes a snapshot of him, and asks Israel to leave Egypt with a staff in their hands- a strange request, surely, unless it was intended to drive their minds back to Jacob, asking them to emulate his example.   Jacob and idolatry go together.

In similar vein to all this, Jacob's superstitious ideas about the cattle mating were used by God to teach Jacob that He would bless him physically, as a prelude to the more important spiritual blessings which Jacob was later to value. There is no biological truth at all in what he did. Jacob wasn't specifically corrected for his paganism; later he must have realized the depth of God's grace in still working through him at this time, still giving him blessing. Likewise, when Laban sets out to attack Jacob, it was clearly in his power to kill him. But the incident of him accusing Jacob of stealing his idols, him publicly searching the whole camp, feeling (Heb.) absolutely everything, and not finding them, probably led to a loss of face which meant he couldn't do what he planned to Jacob. Jacob then bursts out in proud, arrogant denunciation of Laban- not realizing that his beloved, idolatrous Rachel couldn't bear to be without those idols, and had stolen them. Despite Rachel's deceit and idolatry, and Jacob's arrogance, God worked through all this to save them. The way God works with us in our weakness, leading us on, hoping we will later reflect back and marvel at His grace and patience... all this God works oftentimes with man. Not only should we be deeply humbled as a result of our self-examination. We ought to reflect this kind of patience and going along with weakness in the hope of later change in our attitude to our brethren.  

But the moment of truth came during his wrestling with the Angel. He realized then that in our relationship with God, it's all or nothing. And after that, he firmly rejected the ways of the world in his own life and that if his family; he made them bury all their idols (35:2). This connection between the night of wrestling and Jacob's rejection of idols is hinted at in 1 Kings 18:31; here, Israel openly renounce their idolatry and claim to turn to Yahweh with their whole heart. To celebrate this, " Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob unto whom the word of Yahweh came saying, Israel shall be thy name" . The change of name that night is associated with Israel's rejection of idolatry. And then finally, at the very end, Jacob realizes his earlier idolatry and confesses it, and emphasizes his utter conviction that there is only one God, the God of his fathers, Yahweh, the God of Messiah, his very own God. 

And yet even after this, there are a few hints that the way of thinking associated with a life of idolatry was still in Jacob. Thus he set a pillar over Rachel's grave (35:14,20); something which was later forbidden under the Law because of its evident association with idolatry (same word in Lev. 26:1; Dt. 12:3; 16:22; 2 Kings 3:2; 10:27). He had done this previously, in a way his forefathers are not recorded as doing (28:18,22; 31:45,51,2).  

Yet at the end of his life, Jacob had come to terms with his earlier idolatry. 'Gad' was the name of a Babylonish deity which presided over chance; Israel were condemned for believing in him in Is. 65:11 AVmg. Leah using this name reflected the sentiment of 'Good fortune at the hand of the god Gad'. The way she effectively accuses Jacob’s God of treating her like a prostitute who gave her “hire” because she let her maid sleep with her husband…doesn’t indicate that she was a great believer in Yahweh. Yet when Jacob blessed Gad in 49:19, he seems to change this: " Gad, a troop (Heb. gedud, not gad) shall overcome (guwd, related to gad) him: but he shall overcome" . These word plays would suggest that the god Gad would be overcome, would be 'Gad-ed', by the troop of warriors that would come from the tribe of Gad.  


(1) Spare a thought for Jacob at this time. During those years he would have gone through all the shame of an intelligent man who is desperately poor, and knows himself to be hopelessly in love (at 77). And when he finally gets the object of his lust, still having to work for her, it really doesn't turn out as he thinks. Bitterness between his wives escalates to the point where he has to have sexual relations with their handmaids; who were, remember, Laban's ex women. He had to go in to the women of a man he must have hated, picking up his throw offs. And then his wages were changed ten times, the conditions of service were ridiculous. To escape from his domestic pain he must have gone out and talked to those sheep. But " in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from my eyes" (31:40). This was all a far, far cry from the cozy life with mum and dad and granddad, thinking that he'd go off and pick up a lovely wife just as Isaac obtained Rebekah.

(2)  Thus the statement that 'Israel was the Kingdom of God and will be re-established as such' is of course quite true, but 'Israel' as God's Kingdom meant that the people more than the physical land was God's Kingdom, the dominion over which He ruled; and it is the Kingdom in the sense of this relationship which will be restored on earth (Ex. 19:6 cp. 1 Pet. 2:9 teaches that this has already begun)- although this is not to say that the land is not in any sense the Kingdom. It is, of course, relevant to the concept of the future Kingdom.