The Background for Jacob's Story


Knowing the history of Israel’s Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) is essential to understanding God’s purpose for that nation. They were to be a witness of His compassion and redemption for the world. By considering them allegorically as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can also discover His workings in transforming believers into the Bride of Christ. The focus here is on Jacob –comparing his physical life to the Holy Spirit’s efforts in us.

Bypassed Inheritance

There’s an Old Testament theme worth highlighting before we delve into the comparison. It’s where an inheritance bypassed the traditional heir –the first-born son– and instead was given to the next in line. That’s what happened in the cases of Ishmael and Isaac –and Esau and Jacob.

Another example is Adam. He was God’s first son –at least allegorically. That’s how he’s listed in Jesus’ genealogy (Luke 3:38). He didn’t inherit God’s gift of eternal life and then pass it on to his heirs (us). Instead it was given to “the last Adam –a life-giving spirit” –it’s what Jesus is called in 1 Corinthians 15:45.

And there were the Israelites who followed Moses in the desert. They didn’t inherit the Promised Land (paralleling life in the kingdom of God). It was given to the next generation –those who followed Joshua. (Incidentally, Joshua is Jesus’ Hebrew name –it means “Jehovah’s Salvation.”)

These all describe a single principle. The flesh –our naturally born being– has pushed God aside and taken over His role as the Judge over what’s good and what’s evil. Effectively, we’ve consumed the fruit from the tree of death. As such, we don’t have eternal life –we’re dead and can’t reach the fruit from the tree of life. Only those who are born-again by the Spirit have eaten that fruit and received that life. It’s the basis of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John chapter three.

Relationships Portrayed

Like other Bible allegories, the women of Jacob’s story characterize the relationships that we each have with God. And the women’s children describe the results (the fruits) of those relationships. Before you decide this is absurd let’s look at a passage in the New Testament which plainly says to do just that.

Galatians 4:21-31 tells us to consider the Genesis account of Hagar and Sarah as an allegory of the two covenants. It says that Hagar represents the Old Covenant (the Law received on Mount Sinai) –and she also corresponds to the physical city of Jerusalem (the capitol of Jewish religion). Not only is she a slave, her child was born into slavery. Likewise, those religious Jews are slaves to the Law with its insatiable demands for being good enough to approach God. On the contrary, Sarah represents the New Covenant (the Promise) –and she corresponds to the heavenly city of Jerusalem (the center of faith). Her child is born of the Promise and is free. In a like manner, the people of that Jerusalem are free to fellowship with the One who loves them.

The passage concludes with an unyielding order. Not only are we to cast out Hagar –to cease-and-desist relating to God through the Law; we’re also to rid ourselves of her fruit –trying to gain His approval by doing what the Law states. Romans 7:4 clearly says that we can’t bear fruit to God until we have died to the Law.

These women define the two non-overlapping ways to relate to God. It’s either through human efforts like those specified by the Law –or it’s through a sole reliance on Him keeping His Promise that Jesus is everything that the Law describes. Romans 8:1-3 applies names to those two ways. One is “the law of sin and death” –the other is “the law of the Spirit who gives life.” (They are intentional references to those two trees in the Garden of Eden.)

Battle for Control

Genesis 25:21-26 says that Isaac and Rebekah wanted children but she was barren (much like his parents, Abraham and Sarah). He appealed to the Lord and she became pregnant with twin boys who struggled fiercely with each other even while they were still in her womb. Their conflict was so great that Rebekah asked the Lord what was happening. He explained that her sons would become two contending nations. When they were born, Jacob was hanging onto Esau’s heel as if trying to come out first.

The shaded view of the boys’ story that I heard for years –and eagerly repeated to others– paints Esau as an ordinary man who thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors. It also describes Jacob as a wimpy, deceitful man who cheated his innocent, hungry brother out of his deserved inheritance with nothing more than a bowl of red stew. Then he impersonated Esau in order to receive that inheritance from his blind father. Furthermore, years later, Jacob manipulated his father-in-law into giving him a large, valuable flock.

On the surface that view of Jacob seems plausible. But it sabotages Jacob’s character and it’s inconsistent with the rest of his story. The fact is, God so highly regarded Jacob that He later gave him the name Israel. He was the father of the twelve tribes of God’s chosen people. They inherited the Promised Land through Jacob –and it was through Jacob that our Lord Jesus descended.

Some say that God only rewarded Jacob after he was changed by his struggle with the angel (Genesis 32:24-31). However that can’t be the case because God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were ever born (Malachi 1:2-5 and Romans 9:10-13). It’s as though God is using this apparent inconsistency to stir our curiosity.

Since He certainly doesn’t bestow such a great honor on a person of dubious character, there must be something that we’re missing. So let’s consider another view –one that better fits with Jacob’s overall life.

Two Forces

Hints about the boys’ characters are found in the meanings of their Hebrew names. Some Bibles have footnotes that say Edom (or Esau) means that his complexion was “red or ruddy” and Jacob means “trickster or deceiver.” I hope you’ll allow me to explain the story afresh –and for now you’ll set aside your long-standing opinions about the boys.

A short biography of the brothers is found in Genesis 25:25-28. It says that Esau was red and hairy all over at birth. Literally, Esau means “handling” and it comes from a word meaning “do or make.” His name predicted that he would be known by his deeds or works –and he was. Notably, he was a skilled hunter who enjoyed the outdoors and his father was delighted to eat the game he killed. Later in his life Esau was known by the name Edom. It comes from a word meaning “red faced” and implies that he was easily angered. All in all, Esau is noted for being a self-sufficient, self-centered man of the world.

Then there’s Jacob. His name means “heel-catcher or supplanter” and it comes from a word meaning “circumvent or restrain.” He was even-tempered (peaceful) –he liked the indoors (living in tents) –and he was loved by his mother. That’s quite the opposite of his brawny brother. Yet God told Rebekah that the day was coming when Esau’s family would serve Jacob’s (Genesis 25:23).

Rebekah’s children personify two mighty forces. Esau represents our human spirit with its rebellious, worldly ways –ruling over us since our birth. Its natural desire is to be its own god –deciding for us what’s good and what’s evil. Jacob represents the Holy Spirit who wants to establish peace with God –urging us to relinquish that role of Judge and letting Him reign from within us.

The struggle that began in her womb symbolizes the epic battle that we go through to determine our destiny. If our human spirit remains in control, then it will escort us to our death –an eternal separation from God. But if our spirit submits to the Holy Spirit, He takes over and immediately unites us with God in His kingdom forever –and begins our transformation.

Isaac’s Will

The story says that one day after Esau had been out in the fields, he came home famished. That’s when he found Jacob cooking and sold his birthright (his inheritance –regardless of what it might entail) for a bowl of red, lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34).

Some time later, when Isaac was old and blind, he decided to announce what his heirs would receive. Normally the better inheritance would have gone to Esau. However Rebekah carried out a plan for Jacob to circumvent that order. (I use the word “circumvent” because it’s in the meaning of Jacob’s name.)

Before “reading his will” Isaac asked Esau to go hunting and bring home some wild game for his favorite meal. Meanwhile, Rebekah helped Jacob put on Esau’s best clothes and she used hairy animal skin to cover his exposed smooth skin. She had him kill two young goats that were penned up and bring in the meat for her to cook –and she baked some bread. The plan worked. Jacob’s covering was enough to convince blind Isaac that he was Esau. Though one detail couldn’t be avoided –Jacob’s voice was suspiciously different from his brother’s.

So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son Is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed; Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you.” (Genesis 27:27-29)

We know how it went –Jacob took over as the head of the family. God changed his name to Israel and his sons became the heads of the twelve tribes. But let’s look at how this seemingly underhanded chain of events dovetails into the allegory.

Two Prices Paid

First we need to examine these characters and their roles. Jacob corresponds to the Holy Spirit –and Esau, the human spirit. Isaac corresponds to Jesus and Rebekah is God’s love and desire for us.

The Allegory Names and Meanings

Abraham

Means: Great Father

Represents: God the Father, God’s soul

Hagar

Means: (none noted so no special value)

Represents: Our relationship to God through the Law (Old Covenant)

Ishmael

Means: God heard

Represents: Our natural body, a slave to doing good and avoiding evil

Sarah

Means: Princess

Represents: Our relationship to God through the Promise (New Covenant)

Isaac

Means: He laughs

Represents: Jesus, God’s body, He’s pleased by those who trust Him

Rebekah

Means: Fettered by beauty

Represents: Our relationship to Jesus through His desire for us

Esau

Means: To handle (press, squeeze)

Represents: Our human spirit, it enjoys experiencing the world’s treasures

Jacob

Means: Circumvent or restrain

Represents: Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, He pursues us for salvation

Rachel

Means: To journey as a ewe

Represents: Our eternal relationship to God through His love for us

The two key elements of the story are the meals. The first was made from lentils –legumes harvested from beneath the ground. The other was made through the death of a living, breathing being. Those dissimilar main ingredients should sound familiar.

They are embodiments of Adam and Eve’s coverings. The fig leaves that first couple picked were the basis for God’s cursing the ground. And the skin of the lamb that God killed alludes to redemption through the Passover Lamb. (The former represents self-righteousness; the latter is the righteousness that God provided.) The first replica of those coverings appeared when Cain gave from his plants and Abel gave from his flock. Another was Saul (the king selected by men –who was a farmer) and David (the king selected by God –who was a shepherd).

Jacob supplied both meals…

Esau (the human spirit) came to Jacob (the Holy Spirit) after exploring his dominion. He was a skilled hunter and had been enjoying the sensual things –even deciding matters of life and death. He was tired and hungry (unfulfilled) and stated his desires. He got what he asked for –but the lentil stew (the products of the cursed ground) weren’t the goodness (the fulfillment) that he expected. –And he was angry.

Isaac (Jesus) was already with Jacob (the Holy Spirit) –and he knew that death was coming (the cross). He was the youth that was laid on the altar by his father –predicting the sacrifice of God’s own Passover Lamb. Isaac was about to partake in a meal where two young goats would be killed –predicting the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

The word goat means “water’s border or bank; a shoreline.” He (Jesus) would accomplish two “crossings” with His death. They were previewed by the Israelites crossing the Red Sea following Moses –and the Jordan following Joshua.

Killing the first goat –crossing the Red Sea– is a picture of God reconciling the world to Himself through the death of His Son according to the punishment that He prescribed in the Law. Like the Exodus, God has brought all mankind out of the certainty of death and the tyranny of Satan. Killing the second goat –crossing the Jordan– is a picture of salvation through Jesus’ resurrection. Entering the Promised Land points to eternal life in the kingdom (see Romans 5:10).

About the tradition of Yom Kippur… It required one goat to be killed –and another to be sent out to wander in the desert-wilderness until it died. The first goat shows that God has completed the task of reconciling mankind to Himself. The other goat is a reminder that we have to accept that reconciliation –put our trust in Him– before we die (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

From the time of Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit dwelled within what looked like a worldly person. There was nothing kingly or beautiful about Him (Isaiah 53). This correlates to Jacob dressed in Esau’s clothes. And when the Holy Spirit spoke through Him, He didn’t sound like those religious zealots –instead it was with power and authority (Luke 4:31-36).