Jesus said Isaac and Jacob would be in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:28). They must, then, be considered great men of the Old Testament. Isaac, the son of Abraham, was the father of Jacob. His birth was as follows:
And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. (Gen. 25:19-26)
Like Abraham, Isaac had to wait a long time before his son was born-a period of 20 years. By revelation, Rebekah was given an insight into the future outcome of these two sons. Esau was called Edom because of his red hair, while Jacob was given a name that meant “heel catcher,” or “tripper upper.”
The sons had different interests. “And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain [quiet, harmless] man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Gen. 25:27-28). Jacob was not a man prone to violence. The inference is that Esau was. Rebekah’s preference for Jacob is likely to have come from the revelation God gave her. While Esau was the elder, the holder of the birthright, he had no appreciation for the things that really mattered. In just a moment of discomfort, he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of pottage.
And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. (Gen. 25:29-34)
What was the value of the birthright?
According to Deuteronomy 21:15-17, the firstborn son was given a double portion of the inheritance, a benefit he was expected to receive during his lifetime. Esau saw no value in the birthright as a future endowment for his descendants. He lived only for the moment. Notice above. Esau told Jacob he was about to die. This was, in fact, an exagerration. He was not about to die, and had he not sold the birthright, Jacob surely would have fed him anyway. His treatment of the birthright indicates the shallowness, lack of appreciation, and laxity he had for the things of God.
Jacob was entirely different. He had an insight into the future. The difference between Jacob and Esau is seen by Paul’s statement in Hebrews 12: 15-17. Paul warns about a root of bitterness, which was expressed by Esau’s hatred of Jacob (Gen. 27:41). Paul tells the Hebrews to follow peace and holiness with all men. Then he adds: “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Had Esau been a man with an appreciation for God, Paul would not have referred to him as “profane,” meaning “common,” or “mundane.” He was a man without a spiritual perspective. Perhaps “irreligious” would describe it better. If he had possessed a proper perspective toward God, he would have appreciated his birthright and placed great value on it. Instead he sold it for a bowl of pottage. Isaac was a wealthy man, and now Jacob would receive the double portion. Esau’s remorse came too late. He had no real change of heart, and his repentance was of no value.
But there was another benefit to be received. It was the blessing, a benefit that was distinct from the birthright. Rebekah was instrumental is securing this gain for Jacob. By her scheming and Jacob’s cooperation with this subterfuge, Jacob secured the blessing. The account is as follows:
And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I. And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death: Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison; And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die. And Rebekah heard when Isaac spake to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. And Rebekah spake unto Jacob her son, saying, Behold, I heard thy father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying, Bring me venison, and make me savoury meat, that I may eat, and bless thee before the LORD before my death. (Gen. 27:1-7)
God had revealed the future outcome of these two sons to Rebecca. Isaac favored Esau without regard to what God had foretold regarding Jacob. Rebekah felt she must do something to correct this misguided effort. It is probable she felt she must take matters into her own hands because the fulfillment of God’s promise regarding Jacob was heading in the wrong direction. What she did, of course, was wrong. Isaac some years after this incident. If she had she waited, God would have seen to it that Jacob gained the blessing. But what did she instruct Jacob to do?
Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command thee. Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savoury meat for thy father, such as he loveth: And thou shalt bring it to thy father, that he may eat, and that he may bless thee before his death. And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man: My father peradventure will feel me, and I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing. 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, and brought them to his mother: and his mother made savoury meat, such as his father loved. And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son: And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck: And she gave the savoury meat and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob. And he came unto his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I; who art thou, my son? And Jacob said unto his father, I am Esau thy firstborn; I have done according as thou badest me: arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac said unto his son, How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son? And he said, Because the LORD thy God brought it to me. And Isaac said unto Jacob, Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not. And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau’s hands: so he blessed him. And he said, Art thou my very son Esau? And he said, I am. And he said, Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son’s venison, that my soul may bless thee. And he brought it near to him, and he did eat: and he brought him wine, and he drank. And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near now, and kiss me, my son. And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed: Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee. (Gen. 27:8-29)
What was the blessing, and what was its value?
In Bible usage a blessing is a testament of conveyance of a promise, done in a formal setting with solemnity. It was similar to an ordination or an ordinance, and was accompanied with prayer, predictions, and the authoritative transfer of the covenant promises. When directed by an oracle, it was irrevocable. Once made it could not be revoked. Much like a contract today, the failure to read the fine print does not revoke the contract. The blessing, then, was a legal pronouncement, irrevocable, and honored by God. Abraham had been given the blessing from God, and then it passed to Isaac, and now to Jacob. When Esau appeared before Isaac to receive the blessing, it was too late.
And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. And he also had made savoury meat, and brought it unto his father, and said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac his father said unto him, Who art thou? And he said, I am thy son, thy firstborn Esau. And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed . . . . And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son? (Gen. 27: 30-33, 37)
The decision was final. While Rebekah went about securing the blessing for Jacob, God’s revelation had made it plain that Jacob would eventually receive it. As a result of this subterfuge, much anguish and fear followed. But what would Esau have done with it? Even his poor choices in marriage demonstrated his lack of understanding. Abraham had shown the importance of marrying into family bloodlines, but Esau ignored this example and married Canaanite women, much to the disappointment of his parents (Gen. 26:34-35; 28:6-9).
Esau’s loss generated a hatred for Jacob, and he intended to kill him after the death of Isaac. “And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob” (Gen. 27:41). Esau even accused Jacob of taking away his birthright (Gen. 27:36). This was not true because Esau had sold it. Esau’s nature was certainly manifested when Isaac told him that he would live by the sword, and eventually be freed from his brother’s domination. Rebekah heard of Esau’s plan to kill his brother. Wanting him to marry into his own family bloodlines, she sent him to her brother Laban in Padanaram.
Isaac eventually accepted the fact that Jacob should have the birthright and blessing, so he blessed him again before he departed for Padanaram.
And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother. And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham. (Gen. 28:1-4)
Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob, all valued the things of God. On his journey to Padanaram, Jacob stopped to spend the night at a certain place. There he was given a revelation-a futuristic view of the value of the birthright and blessing. While Jacob was sleeping, God revealed its importance to him in a dream.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. (Gen. 28:12-15)
Jacob was so moved by this experience that he made a vow.
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee (Gen. 28:16-22).
Jacob had a sense of reality in his relationship with God, not at all like Esau who had no spiritual insight and lived for the mundane only. Jacob knew that all the blessings on this earth come from God, and in his determination to tithe he understood that a universal law of tithing had existed from the beginning.
In the New Testament Jesus alluded to this dream. Jesus told His disciple Nathanael: ” . . . Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51). Jacob’s importance is emphasized by Paul who wrote: “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:10-13).
Jacob had some unusual abilities. Coupled with the blessing God had given him, he had an uncanny ability to prosper. Jacob’s uncle, Laban, had benefited greatly from his association with Jacob, mainly because of God’s blessing. Yet Laban changed his wages ten times and constantly tried to take financial advantage of him. Jacob now began a program of selective breeding with all his livestock. In this way he could not be accused of becoming rich at Laban’s expense. Jacob set up cattle guards so that certain animals would breed. He bred strong varieties while Laban’s remained weak. God now began to bless Jacob exceedingly, so that he was able to establish financial independence. “And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses” (Gen. 30:43).
An example of Jacob’s wisdom is seen in how he handled his meeting with Esau after his return home. Jacob left his home because of Esau’s threats to kill him, and was not sure whether he still harbored a grudge. When Esau heard that Jacob was approaching he went out to meet him with 400 men. “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was]with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape” (Gen. 32:7-8). Then, he sent expensive gifts ahead for Esau.
And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother; Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams, Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals. And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove. And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meeteth thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? and whither goest thou? and whose are these before thee? Then thou shalt say, They be thy servant Jacob’s; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us. (Gen. 32:13-18)
In the prayer that he made to God, he displayed a humble spirit and called upon God’s promises (vv. 9-12). Then, an amazing event took place.
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved (Gen. 32:24-30).
Jacob had wrestled with the Angel-with none other than JHWH himself! This was Jesus Christ, who was the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Jacob was very strong, and in the struggle he insisted on a blessing and would not give up until he received it. The prophet Hosea tells us: “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us” (Hos. 12:4). What was the result of this contest? “And he [JHWH] said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen. 32:28). God blessed him there. He had seen God face to face and had lived. Because of Jacob’s persistence and humility, God granted him his wish.
Jacob’s devotion to God is recorded in Genesis 35. After an ugly incident involving his sons at Shechem, Jacob was instructed to go to Bethel. This was the place where he had dreamed of the ladder ascending into heaven. At this place Jacob required his household to put away the strange gods, and he denounced all forms of idolatry. God protected him from any reprisals because of the incident at Shechem, placing His terror on all the surrounding cities.
One of his last acts was to bless his sons, placing future benefits upon their descendants. It was this faith in the promises of God that made Jacob great. The account is given in Genesis 48. Jacob especially emphasized the birthright promise and placed it upon the sons of Joseph.
And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance. And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem. And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these? And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them. Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed. And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him. And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. (Gen. 48:3-16)
Paul commented upon this act of faith when he said: “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff” (Heb. 11:21). Jacob’s name-Israel-was placed on these two sons, the holders of the birthright. Jacob knew that this name would be preserved through his posterity.
Of the sons of Joseph, Jacob said:
Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren. (Gen. 49:22-26)
First Chronicles, chapter five, summarizes the promises of race and grace. Race is the promise of great national wealth, as seen in the descendants of Jacob today. Grace is the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. “Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s)” (vv.1-2). The “chief ruler” is a reference to Christ-the Messiah. This is why Jesus Christ was born as a Jew, from the tribe of Judah.
Notice the description of national wealth, promised to Israel in the last days.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the LORD, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off. (Micah 5:7-9)
The Jewish people have never fulfilled these promises. They are only one of the twelve tribes. Ten of these tribes are spoken of the “lost ten tribes.” Where are they today? The authenticity of God’s Word rests on the fulfillment of these promises to Israel.
Why was Jacob great? He was great because, unlike his brother Esau, Jacob had a spiritual orientation. He had a sense of responsibility and had foresight into the future. He understood the value of the birthright and the blessing. Being entirely devoted to God, he served Him faithfully. He was humble and yielded to God’s instruction. He was a man of persistence, who sought God’s blessings and received them. He is an example of a great man of the Old Testament.