Profiles of the patriarchs: Jacob

Jacob, like his father, Isaac, was born of a previously barren mother only after intercession by the Lord. He was the younger of twins and emerged into the world holding his brother's heel. His name means "the supplanter." (Bible Dictionary, p. 708.) Rebekah complained that before birth, the two inside her womb fought all the time. (Gen. 25: 22-23.) Jacob's brother Esau was inclined for hunting and was not faithful, but "despised his birthright." (Gen. 25:34.) So Jacob, the more righteous, obtained his brother's birthright. Guided by his mother, Jacob received the blessing from his father.

He was afterward hated by his brother, so Jacob fled to the land of his mother's family to seek a wife and elude Esau. On the way, he dreamed of a ladder that ascended into heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. In the dream, Jacob was promised that his seed should be as numberless "as the dust of the earth." (Gen. 28:14.) Later, he arrived in Haran, the land of his mother's family (also called Mesopotamia in Gen. 24:10, near the source of the Euphrates River). In Haran, he worked for his uncle, Laban, for seven years to provide a dowry so he could marry his cousin, Rachel.But Laban instead deceitfully gave his elder daughter, Leah. Jacob was also given Rachel after the marriage week of Leah, and labored an additional seven years for dowry. He worked another six years to acquire animals as wages. At the end of 20 years in Haran, Jacob's wealth was extensive. He had four wives: Leah, Rachel, and their handmaidens Bilhah and Zilpah. From these wives, the long-awaited promise of seed began to be fulfilled. Sons were born to each woman. He also had large herds of strong cattle and camels and donkeys.

After 20 years in Haran, Jacob was commanded to return to Canaan, and he departed with his large retinue when Laban was away. When Laban returned, he pursued Jacob from behind and caught him, but the two were reconciled and Laban departed.

Jacob's next threat came as Esau approached from the front with 400 men. Jacob divided his group into several companies, hoping some would survive what could be a slaughter. He sent a large number of animals as gifts. Appeased, Esau allowed them to pass. (Gen. 33:1-16.) The night before they met, Jacob was visited by an angel, with whom he wrestled for a blessing until daybreak. Jacob was blessed by the angel and given the name of Israel, "for as a prince hast thou power with God." (Gen. 32:28.)

Jacob settled in Shechem, south of the Sea of Galilee. Called by the Lord to journey to Bethel, he was met there by the Lord, who reiterated that he would no more be called Jacob, but Israel (Gen. 35:10-12), and repeated to him the blessings promised Abraham of a posterity that would comprise nations, and was given the land for his descendants.

Here, Rachel died after giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob favored Joseph, his oldest child by Rachel, for his faithfulness. His other sons became jealous and sold Joseph away to a traveling band of Midianite merchantmen bound for Egypt. Jacob concluded his son "was devoured by a wild beast" and "refused to be comforted." (Gen. 37:33-35.)

Taken to Egypt, Joseph won the Pharoah's favor, and was the instrument of providing for Jacob's family during a seven-year famine. Joseph also arranged for Jacob's, or Israel's, family to move to Egypt where food was plentiful. In this land of ample food, Israel's generations multipied.

While in Egypt, Jacob blessed the Pharoah, and passed his birthright on to Joseph, and Joseph's son Ephraim. After Jacob died, he was embalmed and carried back to Canaan and buried in a cave. It was this cave Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite, and here Abraham and Isaac were buried. (Gen. 50:13.) Because Isaac and Jacob "did none other things that that which they were commanded . . . they have entered into their exaltation." (D&C 132:37.)

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