Commemoration: Jacob (Israel), Patriarch

“Isaac Blesses Jacob,” illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in “The Hague.”

The third patriarch of the Hebrews, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was the younger of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. The major highlights of his youth and early adulthood turn on the fact that he was exactly what his name suggested: a cheater (Jacob literally means “he takes by the heel,” which was an idiom of the time for “he cheats”).

He cheated his brother out of his birthright and deceived his father into giving him the elder son’s blessing using his wits and his mother’s help. His uncle later tricked him into marrying both his daughters, and Jacob’s favoritism for his wife Rachel and her sons plagued his family life, stirring up strife within his household. Jacob spent much of his adult life grieving over Rachel’s passing and the presumed death of his beloved son Joseph, who was secretly sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (the sons of Rachel’s sister).

Yet God dealt kindly with him. Renamed Israel (meaning “he strives with God”), he was a deceiver, a liar, and a cheat, but he was also richly blessed according to God’s gracious will and mercy.

Through him we too, cheaters and liars and murders alike, are blessed. The long foretold Messiah came to His people through Judah, Israel’s fourth son. Thus Jesus Christ fulfilled the law for all sinners, and through Him we are counted among the saints.

“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?
“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”
~Galatians 3:5-7