Jacob Becomes Israel

Source: Genesis 28-33

After Jacob received the blessing that was intended for Esau, Esau was furious and wanted to kill Jacob. Jacob's parents, Isaac and Rebekah, wanted to protect Jacob as well as help Jacob get married and start a family. So, they sent him to Haran to find a wife from amongst the family of Rebekah's brother Laban. Jacob set out from his home in Canaan, and as night approached he set up a camp. He used some stones for pillows and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he began to dream. He dreamed that he saw a great stairway reaching from the earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. The Lord God stood above it, and promised Jacob that He would bless him and give him the land that had been promised to his grandfather Abraham. Jacob awoke, and thought "Surely the Lord is in this place". He called the place Bethel, set up a stone to commemorate the experience, and vowed to follow God. 

Jacob then continued on his trip to Haran. Near Haran he came upon a well in a field. It was at this well that Jacob met Laban's daughter Rachel, who was at the well to water her sheep. Jacob told Rachel who he was, and Rachel ran and told her father Laban. Laban ran to Jacob, embraced him, and brought Jacob to his home. Laban soon asked Jacob to stay with him and work for him. Jacob loved Rachel, and wanted to marry her. So, he told Laban he would serve him for seven years if he could marry Rachel. Laban agreed.    

After serving Laban for seven years, Jacob told Laban that it was time to give him Rachel as his wife. Laban gathered his people together for the marriage ceremony, but unknown to Jacob, Laban arranged a surprise for him. In those days, a woman was veiled during the marriage ceremony. Her identity could thus be concealed until after the wedding was over. This is what happened to Jacob. After the wedding was over, and the veil was removed, he found out he had married Leah, Rachel's older sister. Jacob was furious with Laban and asked him why Laban had given him Leah instead of Rachel. Laban told Jacob that it was the custom of Laban's people for the oldest daughter to be married first. However, Laban said that if Jacob would work for him another seven years, Jacob could marry Rachel in a week. Because Jacob loved Rachel so much, he agreed. A week later, Jacob married Rachel.   

Over the years Jacob had twelve sons and one daughter. During this time, Jacob also became very good at raising sheep, and soon Jacob had more sheep than Laban. Laban's sons began to grumble against Jacob, and even Laban was not friendly towards Jacob anymore. At this time God spoke to Jacob and told him it was time to move back to his home in Canaan. While Laban was away shearing his sheep, Jacob gathered his family and his flocks together and left Haran. Laban found out a few days later that Jacob had left and pursued after him. Laban caught up to Jacob, and would have harmed Jacob, but God had told Laban not to harm Jacob. After camping with Jacob and saying good-bye to his daughters and grandchildren, Laban departed back to Haran, and Jacob continued on towards Canaan.

As Jacob approached Canaan, he sent messengers to his brother Esau. When he left home many years before, Esau had been very angry at Jacob. Jacob wanted to see if Esau was still angry and what his plans were. The messengers soon returned and reported that Esau was coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men. Jacob was very concerned and divided his family into two groups. Jacob thought that if Esau attacked one group, the other would have a chance to get away. Then Jacob prayed to God to protect him and his family from Esau. Jacob rose up that night, and moved his family across the water to a safer place. Jacob stayed on the other side, and there he wrestled with a mysterious man until dawn. The mysterious man could not defeat Jacob even though Jacob's leg was injured while wrestling.

The man asked Jacob to let him go. Jacob refused to let the stranger go until he blessed Jacob. The stranger asked Jacob his name, and then told him that his name was no longer Jacob (which means "supplanter"), but Israel (which means "a prevailing prince with God"). The stranger disappeared shortly after that. Jacob called the place "Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved". Jacob then looked up, and saw Esau and his men approaching. Jacob bowed down to the ground seven times, and Esau ran over to meet him. Esau hugged his brother, and the two men wept as they were reconciled. Jacob introduced his family to Esau and presented him with presents. They then departed from each other. Jacob was back home at last!