BIBLE HISTORY: The Travels of Jacob

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Jacob’s journeys encompassed almost as much territory as those of his grandfather Abraham. Unlike Isaac, who was content to live in the Negev, Jacob roamed from northwest Mesopotamia to Egypt. Jacob and his brother Esau grew up in the Negev, in the vicinity of Gerar and Beer-sheba. The numerous wells of the area blunted the effects of the nearby desert and supplied water for his father’s flocks. After tricking Esau out of his birthright and later deceiving Isaac to secure the blessing of the firstborn, Jacob traveled north to his ancestral home, Paddan-aram, to find a wife. His route took him to Luz where, in a dream, God reaffirmed His covenant made with Abraham and extended it to Jacob. In gratitude, Jacob renamed the place “Bethel”—“House of God”—and vowed to return with God’s help (Gen. 28:10–12). He then departed for his ancestral homeland beyond the Euphrates River, probably following the same route previously taken by Abraham.

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Jacob’s Family Rivalries. After arrival in the Haran area, Jacob met his uncle Laban with his two daughters, Rachel and Leah. Jacob loved the comely Rachel, but Laban’s trickery forced him into a marriage with Leah as well. Nevertheless, the years spent in Paddan-aram were prosperous for Jacob. Leah bore him six sons and a daughter, while her handmaiden, Zilpah, gave Jacob two more. Rachel’s handmaiden, Bilhah, also bore Jacob two sons before Rachel, previously barren, gave birth to Joseph. Moreover, Laban’s flocks multiplied under Jacob’s supervision, creating a status of prestige and wealth for Jacob’s family.

Laban’s sons grew wise to Jacob’s schemes and turned their father against Jacob. Secretly fleeing with his family and herds, Jacob traveled south along the King’s Highway through Gilead, a distance of over three hundred miles. Laban overtook Jacob near Mizpah in Gilead (see also Judges. 10:17), where the two worked out a covenant of peace (Gen. 31:43–55). Jacob still had to face his brother Esau, whom he had cheated out of his birthright (Gen. 27:30–45).

Return to the Land of Promise. At Mahanaim, near the top of the Jabbok Valley, Jacob sent presents ahead to Esau in an attempted appeasement before crossing the Jabbok Ford. That night, Jacob wrestled with an angel, resulting in God changing his name to Israel. Subsequently, Jacob called that place Peniel (Penuel), “face of God,” in recognition of his personal encounter with Yahweh.

The Jabbok River

Jacob settled at Succoth before returning to the mountains to live, first near Shechem and then at Bethel (Gen. 33:17; 35:6). Resuming the old pattern of migrating south, Jacob was reunited with his father, Isaac, at Mamre near Hebron. Rachel died and was buried near Bethlehem along the way (Gen. 35:16–27; but cf. 1 Sam. 10:2 which implies Rachel was buried in Benjamin near Bethel). Jacob and his sons remained at Mamre, but in the summertime the sons took the herds north to the mountains near Shechem seeking pasturage.

Source

Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas, Holman Reference (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998).

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