Jacob Story Introduction

Jacob Story Introduction

Genesis may be broadly conceived of as the inauguration of God’s work to bring about blessing to mankind. The four major sections of the book, then, deal with different facets of divine blessing: creating for blessing (Primeval History), moving towards blessing (Abraham Story), experiencing the blessing (Jacob Story), and becoming a blessing (Joseph Story) (see table below).


The Jacob Story (Gen 25:19–36:43)—our focus in this book—tells us how one goes about Experiencing the Blessing. This cycle of narratives depicts one who is constantly chasing blessing in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways, until he comes to the realization that only God can bless. In Genesis 25:19–36:43, the thrust of the Jacob Story is: The way to experience God’s blessings is to trust him to bring it to pass, rather than manipulating circumstances and attempting to force God’s hand. Jacob’s incapacity to bless himself by his devices and stratagems, and his subsequent recognition of what, instead, he must do to experience divine blessing, is the dynamo of the Jacob Story. Each pericope details a facet of the diamond (or serves as a single pearl in the necklace) describing how God’s people ought to live in order to experience (and enjoy) God’s promised blessings.

Text Section Theme
Gen 1:1–11:26 Primeval History Creating for Blessing
Gen 11:27–25:18 Abraham Story Moving towards Blessing
Gen 25:19–36:43 Jacob Story Experiencing the Blessing
Gen 37:1–50:26 Joseph Story Becoming a Blessing

Summaries of Pericopes

Here are the summaries of the pericopes composing the Jacob narratives:

1. Genesis 25:19–34. The first pericope commences the Jacob Story with Rebekah’s twin pregnancy and the oracle detailing the prominence of the younger over the older—a sovereignly ordained hierarchy. The subsequent strife between the twins at their birth and later on in life describes the struggle for divine blessing. All told, the story tells of a failure to recognize God’s sovereignty in the disposition of blessing, as well as of a despising of one’s own blessings.

2. Genesis 26:1–33. This pericope, a seemingly digressive chapter, details Isaac’s response to God’s unequivocal promise of descendants and prosperity. The first half of the pericope paints a negative picture of the patriarch who, rather than trusting God, resorts to subterfuge, passing his wife off to Abimelech as his sister. The second half, however, pictures Isaac, though besieged by opposition to his well-digging enterprises, trusting God to provide for him, and moving away from his opponents with no thought of retaliation. God can be trusted to keep his promises of blessing.

3. Genesis 26:34–28:9. This section constitutes the extended account of the passing of the blessing of the firstborn to Jacob, who obtains it by deception. In fact, the narrative clearly portrays each of the actants as culpable—Isaac, Esau, Rebekah, and Jacob himself—all trying to divert/subvert divine blessings into directions and destinations of their own choices. The result of such a frenetic chase for blessing, with deception and manipulation, is catastrophic fragmentation of family/community.

4. Genesis 28:10–22. Here we have Jacob, a fugitive, escaping from his brother and making his way to uncle’s place in Paddan-Aram. He encounters God in a dream, and God reaffirms to Jacob the patriarchal promise, upon which Jacob, rather impertinently, sets conditions upon his allegiance to God. God’s guaranteed promises for the future should, instead, impel one to worship unconditionally, even before the fulfillment of those promises.

5. Genesis 29:1–30. Jacob now arrives at his uncle’s house in Paddan-Aram. He works for seven years for the hand of Rachel, his uncle’s daughter, but is deceived by Laban who substitutes the older Leah for the younger Rachel on his wedding night. The many parallels between the narrative here and that of the deception of Isaac earlier make it clear that Jacob is now receiving his just deserts. Discipline for misdeeds is a distinct possibility for God’s people in his economy.

6. Genesis 29:31–30:24. The next pericope depicts the struggle between Leah and Rachel: one for her husband’s love, the other for her husband’s children. Rachel does all she can to gain a child, even engaging in deceptive practices, jealous manipulations, and obscure therapies, all in vain. However, the text informs us that the moment she gave up her stratagems, God opened her womb. The blessings of God are experienced by those who maintain not a posture of highhandedness (hubristic manipulation), but one of openhandedness (humble dependence).

7. Genesis 30:25–31:16. Jacob now decides to return to Canaan. His request for appropriate compensation from Laban, his employer, is met with insidious tactics on the latter’s part to deprive Jacob of his due. Jacob engages in some creative animal husbandry and his flocks greatly increase in number. Later he attributes this prosperity to God’s sovereign work, thus pointing to the fact that divine sovereignty works in tandem with the faithful discharge of human responsibility.

8. Genesis 31:17–55. Jacob and his caravan are on their way back to the Promised Land. They are pursued by Laban who accuses Jacob of abruptly decamping with his wives and children; moreover, Laban’s household gods are missing as well, stolen by Rachel, unbeknownst to others. Rachel’s theft is undetected, and Laban departs after striking a peace pact with Jacob. God’s protection covers the faithful Jacob (and all believers) even from the dangerous consequences of sin within his (and their) own camp(s).

9. Genesis 32:1–32. This pericope describes Jacob preparing to meet Esau who is approaching with a large company. Not unexpectedly, Jacob is afraid, and seeks protection from God, but he also attempts to appease his brother with extravagant gifts. In a desperate moment of his life, he encounters God in a nocturnal wrestling match, recognizes deity, and acknowledges God as the true and sole source of blessing. And, for the first time in the Jacob Story, Jacob is said to be blessed! With this dramatic expression of his transformation, Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel” and, in faith, he realizes he will not have to fight any more, for God will do the fighting for him, as God does for all his children.

10. Genesis 33:1–20. The long-awaited encounter between the battling brothers, Jacob and Esau, occurs in this pericope. Jacob (literarily) returns the stolen blessing to Esau who seems surprisingly content with what God has given him and seeks no more. The brothers are reconciled and go their own ways in peace. The full enjoyment of promised blessings calls for such restoration of relationships between alienated members of God’s community.

11. Genesis 34:1–31. The rape of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, by a Shechemite, and its aftermath are described in this pericope. Dinah’s siblings, the sons of Jacob, retaliate with an incommensurately violent rampage, slaughtering and pillaging. Jacob’s silence throughout the pericope, except for a concern for his own standing in the community, is striking. Apathy towards evil only perpetuates more evil, forfeiting the blessings of peace.

12. Genesis 35:1–36:43. In this final pericope of the Jacob Story God prompts Jacob to keep his promise made in Genesis 28 that he would worship following his safe return to his homeland. Jacob complies. The patriarchal blessings are then reaffirmed as well. In all, the pericope moves God’s people to worship God for his blessings; that continues the cycle of divine blessing.

So here is the “necklace” with its “pearls”—the broad theological thrust of the Jacob Story assembled pericope by pericope, summarized in another long sentence:

The way to enjoy God’s promised blessings is: by recognizing that he sovereignly blesses individuals differently and by not despising one’s own blessings; by trusting God to secure the promised blessings; by eschewing guile to obtain blessings in one’s own way and at one’s own time; by worshiping God for his blessings even before their fulfillment; by acknowledging that divine blessings do not preclude divine discipline for misdeeds; by putting away highhandedness; by trusting him to bless even as one works responsibly and faithfully even in adverse situations; by remaining in God’s will and thereby ensuring divine protection; by remembering that God is the only source of blessing; by making restitution and seeking forgiveness of those one has wronged; by maintaining moral standards in the face of worldly evil; and, once blessings have been fulfilled, by worshiping in gratitude, thus continuing the cycle of divine blessing for the future.

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