After Jacob outwits his older twin brother Esau for the birthright and blessing from their father, Isaac, he flees the wrath of his brother in search of a wife in the homeland of his grandfather Abraham. On his journey, he will undergo trials, receive visions, be married, and be on both ends of duplicitous acts. When the journey comes to a close, Jacob will be a new man with a new name.   

Jacob sets out to stay with his mother’s brother, Laban. On his journey, he had a dream in which there was a ladder that stretched from Earth to Heaven with angels ascending and descending it. While this is happening, God speaks to Jacob and reaffirms the promises that were made to Abraham will be fulfilled through Jacob’s lineage. God also promises Jacob His constant presence. This dream is very important: First, it shows us that God is affirming Isaac’s blessing of Jacob, even though it occurred during duplicitous actions. Jacob himself may have wondered if God was with him after his deceit, and the dream would have been a sign of consolation. Second, the ladder was a prefiguration of the cross of Jesus which is the doorway to heaven. 

After the dream, Jacob arrives at Laban’s and asks for his daughter Rachel in marriage. Laban agrees as long as Jacob serves him for seven years. Jacob accepts and the marriage commences. However, Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah (Laban’s eldest daughter) instead when the marriage was to be consummated. Seemingly unaware of the switch in the night, Jacob wakes up the next morning and confronts Laban. Laban tells him it is custom for the older daughter to be married first, but he will give Jacob Rachel as well if he serves another seven years. Jacob agrees. He loves his wife Rachel more than his wife Leah. Yet, Leah is able to have children while Rachel is barren. 

In this portion of Jacob’s story, we see that the trickster is now the one who is tricked. We do not know why Jacob was unaware of his sexual partner on the night of his wedding (the two theories I find most satisfying was that either she was veiled during the event, or Jacob was intoxicated. Or both.) Regardless, Jacob receives the trickery that he had once given, but as his father Isaac, stays true to his word. 

We also see the continuation of the Bible revealing the injustice of polygamy. Just as Sarah and Hagar ended in jealousy and strife, we will see Leah and Rachel at odds with each other. Jacob favors Rachel, yet Leah bears him six sons. Both Leah and Rachel are jealous of each other and desire what the other had (Rachel’s love and Leah’s fertility). Two handmaids get involved in the birthing process as well. By the end, 12 sons were born to Jacob (and a daughter). These will be the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. 

Jacob desires to gain some property and return to his homeland. Laban names the terms by delineating certain livestock to be Jacob’s. Jacob agrees and breeds himself a sturdy flock. Yet through all of this, Laban continually changes the terms of the deal just as he had done with Jacob’s wives. Finally, Jacob leaves discreetly with his family and all of his flock, fearing that Laban would not honor their agreement and keep everything for himself. Laban goes after him, they discuss and settle their differences, and a covenant is made between. We see in this moment, the duplicity of Jacob comes to an end. Yet, it will not be the last time that someone will be duplicitous to him. 

Jacob then turns his attention to meeting his brother Esau. He is deathly afraid and decides to appease Esau by sending three waves of gifts of livestock. He then splits his company into two so that one may escape if Esau and his men attack. The night before Jacob returns to his homeland and meets his brother, a man wrestles with Jacob. The struggle lasts until morning, and Jacob would not relent. Finally, the man strikes Jacob on the hip, causing him to limp. Jacob will not let go despite his injury until he receives a blessing from the mysterious messenger that Jacob realizes is from God. Jacob is blessed and his name is changed to Israel. 

The next morning, Israel meets his brother Esau who has forgiven his brother. Their reunion was marked with tears of joy and generosity toward each other. 

In the completion of this chapter of Jacob’s (now Israel) life, we see Jacob has gone through trials, yet remained true to God. Despite his failures, God has worked with Jacob to fulfill the promises He made to his grandfather Abraham. The change of Jacob’s name to Israel signifies a change in Jacob and God claiming him. The trials of Jacob’s life will reflect the trials of the nation that will come from his lineage. Just as their father, the nation of Israel will wrestle with God many times over the centuries. Now the story will turn to the 12 sons of Israel who will become the fathers of the nation of Israel.