Biblical People

Biblical People: Jacob 

When Rebekah sends Jacob away, she promises to send for him when his brother’s anger subsides and it’s safe for him to return. She never does.

Jacob leaves with his parents’ blessing and their instruction to marry one of Laban’s daughters. As we learned in the chapter about Laban, Jacob does just that, times two.

He marries both of Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel. He works for his father-in-law a total of twenty years before God tells him to return home. 

His trips mark two noteworthy events in his life, one when he leaves home and the other when he returns.

First, when Jacob leaves home to go to Uncle Laban, he stops for the night along the way. He takes a stone and uses it for a pillow. It must have worked because soon he’s asleep. That night he has a dream. He sees a stairway stretching between earth and heaven. 

Angels travel the stairway and God stands at the top. He says, “I’m the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and your father Isaac. I’ll give this land to you and your descendants, making them too numerous to count. Through you and your offspring, all people will be blessed. And I’ll be with you wherever you go and bring you back safely to this place.”

When Jacob awakes, he takes his stone pillow, tips it upright, and pours oil on it. He pledges to serve God if the Lord will do what he promised. 

This is Jacob’s first recorded interaction with the Almighty, but it won’t be his last. 

Now full of confidence, he continues his journey. God blesses his time with Laban, giving him a family and flocks. 

Twenty years later, Jacob returns home. Since his mother never sent word it was safe to come back, he has every reason to suspect Esau still intends to kill him. 

Yet God says to go, and Jacob goes.

After his parting clash with Laban, Jacob plans for his confrontation with Esau. Then he prays, reminding the Lord of the promise of prosperity made twenty years ago. He asks God to protect him from his brother.

Sending everyone on ahead, Jacob remains alone. That night, a man wrestles with him. Jacob can’t prevail, but neither can the man. At dawn, the man touches Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. But Jacob refuses to let the man go until he gives him a blessing.

The man’s response is cryptic. “I’m changing your name to Israel, for you have struggled with both God and people and have overcome.” 

Though the Bible doesn’t say if this “man” is actually a person, an angel, or some other supernatural manifestation, Jacob believes his nighttime visitor is none other than God, for he says, “I’ve seen God face to face and am still alive.” 

Jacob meets Esau, and he’s no longer holding a grudge or intent on killing his brother. The two have a peaceful reunion. God holds true to his promise from twenty years prior that he would protect Jacob, and the Lord answers Jacob’s prayer for safety.

These two events stand as cornerstones in Jacob’s life, with God supernaturally marking his departure and his return. This prepares Jacob for what is next.

What cornerstones has God given to us? Can we see how he has prepared us for what lies ahead?

[Read Jacob’s story throughout Genesis 27–35, 42, and 46–49. Discover more in Luke 1:29–33.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at