The Life of Jacob

This lesson looks at Jacob: a famous person in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jacob was the son of Isaac. He was the grandson of Abraham. Please review the lessons about Abraham and Isaac if you are not sure who these people were. These notes are very brief, so for the complete life of Jacob please read Genesis chapter 28 to 37.

The family tree below shows who is who in the family of Abraham.

Lesson 11

Lesson 11 read out in fall
The blessing of Jacob

In another lesson, we learned that Isaac and his wife Rebekah had twin boys – Esau the older and Jacob the younger. God had told them that the younger son would be greater than the older. When the time came for blind Isaac to give the special blessing to the older son, Jacob, with the help of his mother Rebekah, tricked Isaac and took the blessing for himself. Esau was very angry with his brother, and was going to kill him. Isaac sent Jacob away to his mother’s relatives in Paddan Aram (Genesis 28:1-5)

God loved Jacob, even though he had tricked his father. Because Jacob had tried to follow God, the blessing stayed with him. God had intended that Jacob would be the one to receive the promises to Abraham. Jacob is like us isn’t he? We try to follow God and His son Jesus, and so often we do bad things. But like any good father, God still loves us and cares for us.

The journey to Paddan Aram

Jacob began his long lonely journey to Paddan Aram. While Jacob came from a wealthy family, he left home with nothing. He had to leave in a hurry, so he had to trust God to care for him. On the way, Jacob slept one night at the town of Bethel. In a dream, God told him that he would be blessed like Abraham was. In the dream, Jacob saw a stairway going between heaven and earth, and saw God’s special messengers, the angels, going up and down. Read Genesis 28:10-15.

Jacob starts a family
Rachel at the well

Jacob came to Paddan Aram. In those times there were no telephones, and it was hard to send a letter. So Jacob did not know anything about his relatives, except the name of his uncle: Laban. In those times, water was the most important thing for any city. Therefore, the well of the city was the most important place where everyone came to get water for their homes and their animals. When Jacob came to the well, he saw a beautiful girl looking after some sheep. Her name was Rachel, and she was Laban’s daughter. Jacob stayed with Laban and his family for several years. During this time, he married Leah, Rachel’s older sister, and Rachel herself. He also married each sister’s servant girl. So Jacob had four wives, and he had thirteen children – 12 sons and one daughter. There must have been problems in Jacob’s family. He had wives who were also sisters always wanting his attention! He had 12 sons who were rivals! Jacob may have wanted a peaceful life like his father Isaac, but with such a family, it was not possible!

Jacob worked for his Uncle Laban until he had many sheep and goats. After many years, Jacob was richer than Laban and his sons. Laban’s family did not like Jacob anymore. If Jacob stayed, there would be fighting in the family. God told Jacob to return to the land of Canaan (Genesis 31:1-3).

The return of Jacob to Canaan

Jacob took all his family and returned to Canaan. But what about his twin brother Esau? Esau had planned to kill his brother, and was now coming to meet him with 400 men! Jacob split up his family into groups as he came back into Canaan.. If Esau attacked one group, the others might get away. But Esau had forgotten about the past, and the two brothers met as friends. However, they did not stay together. Esau moved away to live in the land called Edom, and Jacob stayed in Canaan.

As Jacob went through the difficult times in his life he gradually learned to rely more on God. When life was hard, Jacob learned to trust God and he developed faith that helped him through difficult times. This is a great lesson for us as well – to learn to trust God with the problems we face in our lives. At this time God gave Jacob a new name. Jacob means “deceiver” – God gave him the new name “Israel”. It means “he struggles with God”, or may also mean “prince of God”. The name showed how Jacob had changed to be like Isaac and Abraham. The nation that came from Jacob was called “Israel”. You can read this in Genesis 32:22-32. The people descended from Jacob live today in the land called “Israel”. The Jewish people who live in Israel are called “Israelis”.

Remember that one of the promises to Abraham was that he would be the start of a great nation. Well, the nation was small, but it was growing. But at this time, the family may have been “lost” in all the people of Canaan, and God did not want this. The people of Canaan did not worship God – they worshipped statues, or the sun, moon or stars. When we see the whole story of Jacob in the book of Genesis, we can see how God was working to keep the family of Jacob separate from the rest of the people of Canaan.

The 12 sons of Jacob

As we said before, there was rivalry between Jacob’s 12 sons. To make things worse, Jacob loved the sons of his wife Rachel more than the others. The oldest son of Rachel was Joseph, and Jacob made him a special coloured robe to wear: Genesis 37:1-4. In those times, such a robe would have been very expensive; it was very rare to have coloured clothes. But it made Joseph’s brothers hate him.

Joseph also had strange dreams that he told his family. These dreams said that he (Joseph) would be the ruler of the family, and that they would all bow to him. Jacob did not know what the dreams meant, and his brothers only hated him more. Genesis 37:5-11.

One day, the brothers were away from home, and Joseph was sent to visit them. When the brothers saw him coming, they made plans to kill Joseph. But instead of killing him, they sold him as a slave; this way, they would not have actually murdered him, and they would make some money. Joseph was put in chains and taken to Egypt. Here was Jacob’s favourite son in chains. The brothers thought that they would never see Joseph again. They took his special robe and dipped it in goat’s blood. They returned to Jacob with the bloodstained robe and said they had found it along the road. Jacob was shattered by the news. His favourite son Joseph must have been torn apart by wild beasts. You can read what happened in Genesis 37:31-35.

Do you remember that Jacob tricked his father Isaac by pretending to be Esau? Well, now the sons of Jacob tricked their father Jacob. From this time, Jacob believed that Joseph was dead, when, in fact, Joseph was a slave in Egypt. We often wonder why God did not tell Jacob that his son was alive until many years later. But God had His reasons, though we may not understand them.

The story does have a happy ending, and we shall look at the life of Joseph in another lesson, and how Jacob sees his son at the end of his life.

What can we say about Jacob? He believed the promises that God had made to his grandfather Abraham. Jacob was not perfect, but he did try to follow his God. Like all of us, Jacob tried to control his life no matter what happened. He planned what he would do, but so often what he did was quite different. Jacob learned the hard way that God is in control of all things. In the same way, God cares for us, and we should trust Him to care for us. Please read Genesis 48:15 and 16 to see what Jacob said at the end of his life.


Jacob was the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Jacob tricked his father and received the blessing of Abraham. But God had meant Jacob to have it.
Jacob lived in Paddan Aram, and then returned to Canaan.
He had 4 wives, 12 sons and 1 daughter.