Q&A: The Original Meaning of the Jacob Stories

The Original Meaning of the Jacob Stories

How would the Jacob stories reinforce God's promise that Israel would one day inhabit the Promised Land?

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Answer

To understand how the stories of Jacob emphasize that Israel has a right to the Promised Land, we have to remember at least two different things. One is that these stories are primarily about the contrast between Jacob and Esau, groups that would have been competing, as it were, as the rightful heirs of Abraham's promises. And the stories of Jacob and Esau, the contrast between them, shows very plainly that Esau went south toward the Edomites and that God gave him that land, that that's where God established him, and that Jacob, rather, is the rightful heir of the promise given to Abraham for the Promised Land. But you can also find it in the story of Laban when Jacob leaves. These are northern neighbors, relatives of his, but he doesn't stay there but for a period of time.

But more important than just these contrasts between Jacob-Esau, Jacob and Laban, is the fact that as Jacob is leaving the Promised Land, having deceived his father, deceived his brother, he's leaving the Promised Land, in chapter 28 he has that well known dream at Bethel, where he finds God and the angels appearing to him, and then Jacob says, "Will you please just assure me that I am going to come back to this land?" And God does assure him that he will do just that. And then, in chapter 35, you have a recollection of that event, where God says, Go to Bethel, build an altar, build an altar at the place that I told you I would bring you back to. And Bethel, as we know, is in the Promised Land. And those two passages in the life of Jacob positively emphasize the idea that this is the land that God had given to Jacob despite all of his failings, despite that he deceived his brother, deceived his father, even did things up in the land of Laban that were questionable, despite all of that, God chose Jacob as the one who would inherit the land that had been promised to his forefather Abraham.

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.