Genesis 11:31, we read
that “Terah took his son Abram,” and departed
“from Ur of the Chaldeans,” suggesting that
Terah, the father, was the one who led in the departure
rather than Abraham. However, Stephen
(Acts 7:2) speaks of
Abraham as the one to whom God appeared, not mentioning
Terah. Likely the son persuaded the father to accompany
him, and the father, then according to patriarchal
propriety, became the official leader of the party.
Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his
grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s
wife; and they went out together from Ur of the
Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they
went as far as Haran, and settled there.
Click to Expand Patriarch Timeline
…The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he
was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,
and said to him, ‘LEAVE
AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL
Accompanying Terah and Abraham
were Sarai, Abraham’s wife, and Lot, the son of
Abraham’s brother, Haran.
Haran died prior to this departure
Abraham’s other brother, Nahor,
did not join the party, though apparently he moved north
to the city of Haran at some later time
(Gen. 24:10, 15).
1. Stop at Haran
The party did not get to Canaan
before stopping. They set up residence at the city of
Haran along the Balikh River about 60 miles north of
where the Balikh empties into the Euphrates. Haran
Haran was located on a main caravan road
connecting Mesopotamian cities with Damascus and Egypt.
It was considered a strategic
location and is often mentioned in letters and documents
of that time.
Excavations since 1951 indicate
that it was occupied at least from the 3rd
millennium. Similar to Ur it was a center of
moon-god worship. Abraham stayed there until Terah died
“ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in
Haran. From there, after his father died, God had
him move to this country in which you are now living.
Acts 7:4 (NASB)
Since Abraham’s destination was
Canaan, and Haran was out of Abraham’s way, why did he
One possible reason is that his
father liked Haran and its moon-god (Nanna)
worship similar to Ur.
This explanation assumes that
Terah worshiped Nanna. This is supported by
Joshua 24:2, which
states that Israel’s “forefathers” (naming
Terah specifically) “worshiped other gods.” Among
these gods, it is asserted, would have been Nanna.
Another possible reason is that
Terah fell ill on the journey and could go no further
At Haran, Terah could
either regain his strength or else live out what might
be only a few days.
In favor of this explanation is
the fact that Terah was very old.
Terah did die in Haran at
the age of 205 (Gen. 11:32),
when Abraham was 75 (Gen.
After Terah’s death Abraham was
ready to hear God’s further call to move on to the land
of His choice.
The destination God intended for
Abraham was the land of Canaan, named after the son of
Ham who settled in the region
(Gen. 10:15-18). This area is also identified by
first century historian
Philo of Byblos.
Canaan includes the Syria-Palestine region,
defined in Genesis 10:19
as extending from Sidon south to Gaza, east to Sodom and
Gomorrah, and north to Lasha (location unknown).
In the Amarna Letters (fourteenth
century B.C.), “Canaan” is referred to as
equivalent to Egypt’s Syro- Palestinian territories at
the time, which would include land well north of Sidon.
An Egyptian peasant woman found
the Amarna Letters in 1887 at Tell el-Amarna,
Akhenaton’s capital. The total collection now numbers
378 of which about 300 were written by Canaanite scribes
in Palestine, Phoenicia, and southern Syria.
The land to which Abraham came
was southern Canaan, later called Palestine.
The 3rd millennium was
drawing to a close when Abraham arrived in Canaan.
Excavation reveals that cities
like Megiddo, Bethshan, Shechem, Ai, Jericho, and
Lachish, later to be important in biblical events,
already existed and were well built, with strong
However, many of these cities
were destroyed and abandoned, beginning about 2200 B.C.
It is generally agreed that the
period from about 2200 to 2000 B.C. is one of transition
from an urban culture to the characteristic “Canaanite”
The decline of urban life during
this period was apparently accompanied by a shift of the
population to from an agrarian economy to one based on
Abraham arrived in Canaan
c. 2091 B.C., in the middle of the deurbanized period.
Archaeology has, to date, found
an embarrassing absence of settlement at some of the
major patriarchal sites at this time. If, however,
Abraham is a pastoral nomad grazing his flock within the
sphere of influence of the few remaining cities, or the
scattered unwalled villages that characterized this
period in the south, then many elements of the Genesis
narrative are easily explained.
As in so many other areas of Old
Testament research, it is a serious mistake to link the
factuality of Scripture with prevailing scholarly
What can be asserted is that the
Canaan into which Abraham entered was a Canaan in
The urban society of the first
three quarters of the third millennium had
disintegrated, leaving a largely agrarian, decentralized
land in which political power, where it existed, was
never great and resided in the hands of local “kings”
whose domains were geographically limited city states.
Abraham, the herdsman, would have
enjoyed relative freedom of movement with no major
political entities in the areas where he established
himself. This emerging picture of Canaan in the
time of Abraham fits well with the narratives in
During the 3rd
millennium, Egypt was growing in influence.
From 2600 to 2200 B.C., the Third
to the Sixth Dynasties ruled in the Old Kingdom Period.
Egyptian culture was established,
shown especially by the giant pyramids.
Sozer, founder of the Third
Dynasty, built the Step Pyramid, the first pyramid.
Khafre, Khefren, and Menkure of
the Fourth Dynasty built the three largest pyramids.
Other pyramids built during the
Fifth and Sixth Dynasties were smaller.
Found in these pyramids is what
is called The Pyramid Texts, incantations for assuring
the Pharaoh safe passage into the afterlife.
Like Canaan, Egypt too fell upon
difficult days between 2200 and 2000 B.C., in what is
called the First Intermediate Period.
Rival Pharaohs claimed the throne
and numerous cities began to act independent of any
Economic hardship and famine
became widespread, and this resulted in a gloom of
hopelessness and depression among the people.
From this condition arose an
appealing literature, however, among which are found
The Eloquent Peasant, The Admonitions of Ipuwer, and
The Instruction for King Merikare.
1. Arrival at Shechem
Abraham’s journey into Canaan took
him to Shechem.
Shechem lay between the twin
peaks of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim about 35
miles north of Jerusalem. Toward the east stretches a
small plain in which Joshua later heard Abraham’s
posterity respond to blessings and curses of the law
(Josh. 8:30-35), and
here also Jesus met a woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well
and led her to faith in Himself
Here God told Abraham he had
arrived at the intended destination
(“To your offspring I will
give this land,” Gen. 12:7). Abraham thus learned
that he was where God had planned for him to come.
Reassured at the good news, he built an altar.
2. Down to Egypt
When a famine developed in Canaan,
Abraham journeyed southwest to Egypt.
Once in Egypt, Abraham
told a half-truth concerning his wife Sarai, a deception
probably devised when he had first left Ur
He presented her to the
Egyptians as his sister (she was, in fact, his
half-sister, Gen. 20:12),
for he feared that the Pharaoh, seeing the
attractiveness of Sarai, might so desire her for
himself that, in order to get her, she might have taken
the life of any husband.
Pharaoh, one of the rival rulers
of the First Intermediate Period, did want her and did
take her to the palace, but God intervened; he sent
plagues on Pharaoh’s house. This served to bring
Abraham’s deception to the ruler’s attention, and he
then dismissed Abraham from the land, though he gave him
3. Separation from Lot
Abraham returned to Canaan
(Gen. 13:1-18) he and Lot owned too much
livestock between them to find adequate pasture.
They dealt with the situation in
a traditional way. They divided their herds and agreed
on separate grazing areas.
Abraham gave his nephew first
choice as to which part of the land he would choose.
Lot took the valley region of the Jordan.
Scholars have long debated the
location of the notorious “Cities of the Plain.”
It is proposed that the sites of
Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim were located
along four of the fresh-water streams that flow into the
Dead Sea at its southeast edge and had, at some time in
the past, been submerged in the rising waters of the
Zoar, the fifth city (also called
Bela in the biblical text) has been identified with
modern Zoar, also located on the bank of one of the many
wadis that flows down from the Plains of Moab,
almost a mile above the Dead Sea.
Bab edh-Dhra was a heavily
populated area, as were its four neighboring cities,
Numeira (suggested by some as the site of
Gomorrah), Safi, Feifah, and Khanazir. Bab edh-Dhra was
apparently the largest and most important of these
cities, but all share similar occupation histories, town
plans, location, and (in three of the five cities)
destruction by burning. The excavators, while not
claiming a positive identification, have acknowledged
possible connections with the biblical Cities of the
In addition to the archaeological
evidence that has been advanced for a southwestern
location, the documents from Ebla have been used
to validate this location.
Of possibly greater significance
is an article by William H. Shea that claims to have
identified the city of Sodom on the eastern edge
of the Dead Sea near the Lisan, in an Eblaite
geographical text. It is still too early,
unfortunately, to place credence in readings of the
Ebla texts. It may eventually be proven that Shea is
right, but for the time being his suggestion is more
tantalizing than conclusive.
While it is not possible to change
the reading of the biblical text to accommodate
archaeological findings, it may well be that the
archaeological data, when better understood, will
support this identification. Until then, it seems best
to not follow the current trend but to admit that there
is no certainty regarding the location of Sodom and
1. Abraham’s courageous rescue
A confederacy of four kings from
Mesopotamia, far to the east, led by Chedorlaomer, king
of Elam, attacked Sodom, Gomorrah, and other cities of
the area, taking many people, including Lot and his
Abraham, 318 of his servants and
men from Mamre, Aner, and Eschol, gave pursuit. This
coalition overtook and defeated the four-king
confederacy at Dan, set free those taken captive, and
recovered a large amount of booty.
2. Extrabiblical evidence
Biblical critiques challenge the
historical value of this event stating that kings as far
away as Mesopotamia did not make military expeditions
this far from home. However, archaeological findings do
in fact support this practice. The biblical facts are
now found to fit the conditions of Abraham’s time. For
Both Sargon and his grandson,
Naramsin, conquered all the way to the
Mediterranean and held substantial territory along its
coast three centuries before Abraham.
One Akkadian text from the time,
concerning a condition for renting a wagon, is
particularly significant for indicating frequency of
travel to the west. The condition was that the renter
not drive the wagon “unto the land of
Kittim,” meaning the Mediterranean coastland.
Further, the names of the kings
involved are all compatible with known names from that
Some have pointed out that the
mention of Dan as the place where Abraham caught the
retreating kings must be anachronistic, and so, in this
sense, an exception.
It is true that the name Dan
was not given to the city formerly called “Laish”
until the migration of the Danites in the days of the
Judges (Judg. 18:29),
but the reference may be to another Dan.
Samuel 24:6, a Dan-jaan in the Gilead area is
mentioned, and Gilead is more likely to have provided
the path these eastern kings would have taken as they
headed home than Coele-Syria (where the better known
Dan was, located).
It might also be argued that a
later scribe, in the interest of clarity, substituted
Dan for the city’s older, less familiar, name.
3. Kings of Sodom and Salem
When Abraham returned from his
victory over these armies, two kings of his own region
One was the king of Sodom,
who urged Abraham to retain the booty recovered and
return only the people to their king and city.
The other was Melchizedek, king
of Salem (Jerusalem).
His name means “king of
righteousness.” Melchizedek brought bread and wine to
Abraham’s weary troops, and Abraham in turn gave him,
as “priest of God Most High,” a tenth of the booty.
By this gesture Abraham
recognized Melchizedek to be a priest of the true God,
which is significant in illustrating that there did
exist in the world a few beside God’s chosen line who
continued to worship Him.
Abraham’s act also demonstrated
that the principle of tithing was recognized this early
as a proper basis for giving to God.
(Genesis 18: 1-19:38)
1. Abraham intercedes for Lot
The occasion concerned God’s
destruction of Sodom and surrounding cities.
We know the time when
Sodom was destroyed, namely when Abraham was 99
(Gen. 18:10; 21:5).
Three “men” came to Abraham as he
sat at the entrance to his tent in Mamre. As the account
later indicates, two were angels
(Gen. 18:22; 19:1), and
one was the “Angel of God.”
The Angel of God, indicated here
directly as “God” (Gen. 18:1,
13, 17, 20), warned Abraham about the plan for
destruction, which prompted the patriarch to intercede
for the city (Gen. 18:23-33).
He urged that if there were even only a few righteous in
the city, the city might be spared.
Abraham was assured that if there
were only ten his request would be granted.
2. Lot delivered from Sodom
While Abraham made this
intercession, the two angels, who earlier had departed,
were making their way toward Sodom and were eventually
received by Lot into his house.
After a night in which men of the
city gave shocking witness to the grave wickedness of
Sodom, Lot, his wife, and his two daughters were
persuaded to leave the city.
There were not ten righteous
people there, as Abraham had hoped, and so the city had
to be destroyed.
But God showed favor toward
Abraham’s entreaty in at least having these four led to
safety. The city was consumed as the four moved away,
and Lot’s wife, in a gesture of longing and
regret, turned to look back, for which God brought death
by changing her into a “pillar of salt”
Later, Lot’s two daughters,
apparently under the false impression that they were
the last people alive on earth, tricked their father
into having incestuous relations, which issued in the
births of Moab and Ben-ammi.
These became fathers of the
Moabites and Ammonites, enemies of Israel in
3. Destruction of Sodom
(Genesis 19:24-25, 27-28)
The destruction of Sodom was
effected by a rain of “burning sulfur.”
In examining the meaning of this
expression, scholars have ruled out volcanic action
because the geology of the region does not lend itself
to this type of activity.
Many believe that it refers to an
earthquake resulting in an enormous explosion. Several
factors favor this view. The idea of brimstone and fire
(KJV) suggests incendiary materials raining upon the
city as the result of an explosion.
Another descriptive word used is
“overthrew” (Gen. 19:29),
and this fits the thought of an earthquake.
That Abraham saw smoke rising in
the direction of the city indicates that there was fire.
Inflammable asphalt has long been
known in the area and records from ancient writers speak
of strong sulphuric odors, which suggest that quantities
of sulphur were there in past time. Further, the whole
Jordan Valley constitutes an enormous fault in
the earth’s surface, given to earthquake conditions.
It is possible that God
miraculously timed an earthquake at this precise moment,
which could have released great quantities of gas, mixed
sulphur with various salts found in abundance, and
measurably increased the flow of asphalt seepage.
Lightning could have ignited all, the entire country
being consumed as indicated. The Bible is clear that
God does sometimes use natural means to accomplish His
purpose. He may have done so in this instance. Whatever
the method employed, God did bring the destruction.
God’s promise to Abraham that he
would have a large posterity came the first time just
before he entered Palestine at the age of 75.
After waiting ten years
(Gen. 16:3), Sarah
suggested that Abraham take Hagar as a secondary wife to
have a child (Gen. 16:1-4).
Abraham’s actions, obviously not God’s will, must be
understood and judged in terms of customs of the day.
Hagar bore a son, Ishmael.
After the birth, Sarah became
bitter and wanted Abraham to drive Hagar with her son
from the household.
Abraham thought he had a long wait
before Ishmael was born, he had 14 more years to wait
When Abraham was 99
(Gen. 17:1), God, told
him concerning Isaac (Gen.
So many years had passed that
both Abraham (Gen. 17:17)
and Sarah (Gen. 18:12-15)
laughed in their hearts.
Isaac was born when Abraham was
100 and Sarah was 90 (Genesis
It was at this time that God also
directed Abraham that every male of his household should
be circumcised as a “sign of the covenant.”
Circumcision was not unique to
Israel. Arabians, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites,
and Egyptians all practiced it. An Egyptian tomb has a
picture of a circumcision operation.
1. Second half-truth regarding Sarah
Between the time of the
announcement of Isaac’s birth and the birth itself,
Abraham was again guilty of telling a half-truth
regarding his wife; this time to Abimelech, King of
Gerar, a city west of Beersheba.
About 25 years had elapsed since
the similar occasion in Egypt.
Abimelech took Sarah to his
palace, as Pharaoh had earlier, but God once more
intervened to protect her.
God revealed to Abimelech her
true relationship to Abraham through a dream.
2. Early Philistines
The land where Abimelech lived is
called “the land of the Philistines”
(Gen. 21:32, 34). Also,
later when Isaac had further dealings in the area, the
people themselves are called Philistines
(Gen. 26:1,8, 14, 15, 18).
Were these people indeed the ancestors of those of the
same name following Israel’s conquest?
Liberal scholars commonly answer
no, stating that the Bible mentions these as
However, evidence does exist that
they are the same people.
It is true that the major number
of Philistines came to Palestine as a
member group of the Sea Peoples that were repulsed by
Rameses III of Egypt c. 1190 B.C. (the Sea Peoples
consisted of at least five different ethnic groups who
moved from the Aegean area, particularly Crete). This
does not eliminate the possibility that some ancestors
came many years before. Archaeological evidence shows
Caphtorian type pottery, like
that which Philistines left later in Palestine, since
their earlier home had been the region of Caphtor, has
been found both in Philistia proper and as far inland as
Bethshan and Jericho, daring at least to 1500 B.C.
Furthermore, evidence that there
was communication in patriarchal times between Canaan
and Caphtor has been found through the discovery of
Middle Minoan II pottery at both Hazor and Ugarit and by
an 18th century Mari document that mentions the king of
Hazor sending gifts to Kaptara (Caphtor).
Abraham’s most severe test came
when God called him to sacrifice Isaac.
Abraham must have wondered how a
nation could be formed through him if Isaac were
Still Abraham was able to obey.
God had designated the place for
the sacrifice as Mount Moriah.
The term “Moriah” occurs only
twice in the Old Testament: here and in
2 Chronicles 3:1 as “on
Mount Moriah,” where the reference is to the
mountain where Solomon built the temple.
Not until Isaac had been bound
and Abraham had raised the knife to perform the actual
sacrifice did God intervene.
He told Abraham that he should
substitute for Isaac a ram caught in a nearby thicket.
God let Abraham go this far, to
prove his sincerity of faith.
Sarah died at the age of 127.
Isaac was 37 at the time; Abraham still had 38 years to
Sarah had been married to
Abraham while they were yet in Ur of the Chaldees
She was Abraham’s half-sister,
the daughter of his father, but not of his mother
A Hittite named Ephron sold Abraham
the cave of Machpelah at Hebron as a burial place for
Sarah. The business transaction is described in
Abraham asked to buy only the cave of Machpelah,
Ephron urged him to take the whole field in which it was
located. If he was to be rid of a part of his property,
he apparently wanted to be rid of it all and so avoid
his military obligation.
Abraham paid four hundred shekels
for it, weighing the money to Ephron. The transaction
was effected before the “children of Heth” (KJV) and so
made public and binding. This was the only real estate
that Abraham purchased of the total land God had
promised to give him for his posterity.
1. Rebekah is found
Three years after Sarah’s death,
when Isaac was forty years old
(Gen. 25:20), Abraham sought a bride for his son.
He did not want Isaac to marry a Canaanite daughter.
Abraham thought of his relatives living in “the town of
So decided, Abraham sent his
senior servant, probably Eliezer
(Gen. 15:2), on the
long journey to find the one whom Abraham believed God
Himself would select (Gen.
Persons indicated as living there
are those of Nahor’s family, particularly his son,
Bethuel, and two children of Bethuel, Rebekah and Laban.
Nahor had either accompanied Terah and Abraham in going
there or else made the journey from Ur himself
The servant went and arrived at
the “town of Nahor” (likely Haran), so called in
the account because Nahor, Abraham’s brother, now lived
It could also mean a city named
Nahor because a Mari text speaks of a city of this name
Under God’s blessing and
guidance, the servant met Rebekah, Nahor’s
granddaughter, at a well on the edge of town as she came
to draw water. The servant went with the young lady into
the city, met her family (Gen.
24:29-50)-including Bethuel (her, father) and
Laban (her brother)- told of his mission, and received
consent for Rebekah to accompany him to become Isaac’s
2. Abraham’s marriage to Keturah
Abraham still lived thirty-five
years after Isaac’s marriage. He married Keturah, of
whom nothing is known before this time.
Six sons were born to them:
Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and
Shuah, all of whom became ancestors of various Arabian
Nothing is known of Abraham’s
life during this period. He died at the advanced age of
175 (Gen. 25:7), and
Isaac and Ishmael buried him next to Sarah in the
cave of Machpelah.
One tends to think of Isaac as
either the son of Abraham or the father of Jacob. Isaac
was the least conspicuous of the patriarchs. He was not
given to daring action or unusual exploits. But he still
constituted an important link in the ancestral chain of
Israel and is honored throughout Scripture in parallel
with Abraham and Jacob.
1. Jacob and Esau born
Even before birth, the twins
struggled within the womb of Rebekah. She inquired as
to the significance and God told her that this was a
sign that the two, followed in turn by their lineage,
would struggle with each other in years to come, with
the elder being made to serve the younger. Esau was born
first, with Jacob grasping his heel.
Jacob was fair, a man of the
house, beloved of his mother. Esau was rugged, a man of
the outdoors, favored by his father.
In keeping with God’s prediction,
they did clash (Gen. 25:27-34).
Having been born first, Esau enjoyed the inheritance
rights of the eldest son. Jacob wanted these rights and
persuaded Esau to exchange them for a portion of food
Jacob was preparing.
Nuzi tablets give instances of
similar negotiations in inheritance rights between
brothers. In one case a brother sells a grove, which was
his inheritance, to another brother for three sheep.
Esau, having been in the field,
was hungry and foolishly made the trade urged by Jacob.
2. Relations With Philistines
A famine in the land prompted
Isaac to move. They moved near the city of Gerar where
Philistines lived, an area where Abraham had similarly
sojourned (Gen. 20:1-18).
Gerar is thought to be one of two
places, Tell Jemmeh eight miles south of Gaza, or
Tell Abu Hureira eleven miles southeast of Gaza.
Isaac followed in the sin which
his father had twice committed saying that Rebekah was
It was sometime later that
Abimelech, probably a descendant of the Abimelech
visited by Abraham, the Gerar ruler, learned of the
deception, warned his people against familiarity with
Rebekah, and permitted Isaac to remain in his land.
3. The stolen blessing
At the age of 137, Isaac took
steps to bestow the parental blessing on his eldest son.
(Isaac would live to be 180 years old
(Gen. 35:28), so he
still had 43 years to live, but he could not know this.
His age here is figured on the basis that Jacob was now
77 and he was born when Isaac was 60.)
In spite of God’s clear
indication at the birth of the two boys that the elder
should serve the younger (Gen.
25:23), Isaac determined to perform the rite in
favor of Esau.
However, Rebekah wanted it for
Jacob. She persuaded Jacob to disguise himself as his
brother in order to procure it.
Isaac bestowed the blessing on
Jacob, calling for the recipient to receive abundant
material provisions and rule over his household.
Jacob had scarcely left his
father’s presence when Esau came expecting to receive
the blessing. When both father and son realized the
deception that had been perpetrated, each experienced
remorse and anger. But what had been done, even though
in this manner, was binding, and all Isaac could do for
Esau was grant a secondary blessing, promising all that
was left, the and lands out of reach of the winter rains
and subservience to his younger brother.
Esau resolved to kill Jacob as
soon as their father died. Accordingly, at Rebekah’s
urging, Jacob made ready to flee north to the home
country of Rebekah in Haran.
Jacob, like Abraham, was a
man of action, but unlike him, Jacob was a man whose
recorded actions demonstrate a consistent deceitfulness;
his schemes against his brother, deceiving his father,
and he would later take advantage of his uncle Laban. In
later life, however, God changed him, and he became
1. The flight to Haran
Before Jacob departed for
Rebekah’s homeland, Isaac summoned him. Though Jacob had
wronged his father, Isaac loved him and had his best
interest in mind.
Isaac bestowed further blessing
on him and then charged him not to take a wife from the
Canaanites, but rather from his mother’s relations in
It should be noted that Jacob at
this time was no longer young. A comparison of
Scriptures reveals that he was 77 years of age.
When Jacob was 130 at his descent
to Egypt (Gen. 47:9),
Joseph was 39 (41:46, 47, 54;
45:11), which means that Jacob was 90 when Joseph
was born. Joseph was born 14 years after Jacob’s arrival
in Haran (31:41; 30:25),
which, subtracted from 91, leaves 77.)
Jacob departed and had proceeded as
far as Bethel when, resting for the night, he had a
dream of a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels
ascending and descending upon it
In the morning he poured oil on
the stone that he used for a pillow and called the place
Bethel (house of God).
Jacob met Rachel, his bride-to-be,
as she came to water her flock of sheep at a well hear
Jacob had arrived somewhat sooner
and found shepherds awaiting removal of the well’s
covering stone. He now proceeded to move the stone
himself so that he could water Rachel’s flock.
Jacob told her who he was; she in
turn called her father, Laban, who came and greeted
Jacob; and then all went to the uncle’s house. Here
Jacob was to spend the next 20 years.
2. Twenty years in Haran (Genesis
a. Jacob’s two wives
loved Rachel and agreed with Laban to serve him seven
years for her hand in marriage. When the seven years
were completed, Laban showed his deceitfulness by
giving Leah, his eldest daughter, to Jacob in place of
Jacob did not have to wait seven
years before Rachel was given to him, however. He waited
only one week, while wedding festivities for Leah were
completed (Gen. 29:27-28).
He was then permitted to marry Rachel, but he was
expected to work seven additional years in payment for
her, which he did.
b. Jacob’s children
It was at this point that the promise to Abraham of
more than a century and a half earlier began to be
fulfilled in greater degree. Jacob was now given a large
Through Leah God gave Jacob his
first and most children. Leah bore in succession Reuben
(see, a son), Simeon (hearing), Levi
(joining), and Judah (praise).
Rachel, who continued to be
barren, now urged Jacob to raise up children unto her
through her handmaid, Bilhah. Jacob did so, and Bilhah
gave birth to Dan (judge) and Naphtali
Leah then countered by giving
her handmaid, Zilpah, to Jacob; and to her were born Gad
(troop) and Asher (gladness).
God again blessed Leah with
children, and she bore Issachar (he brings wages)
and Zebulon (dwelling). She also gave birth to a
daughter, Dinah (judgment).
Finally, God permitted Rachel to
conceive, and she bore Joseph (adding). This gave
Jacob eleven sons and one daughter. The twelfth son,
Benjamin (son of my right hand), was born to
Rachel, but not until the family had moved back to
Canaan (Gen. 35:16-20).
c. The last six years
Following Joseph’s birth, and with the completion of
the fourteen years of service owed, Jacob asked
permission of Laban to leave the land; but Laban
persuaded him to remain longer
Jacob set as his new wage all
Laban’s sheep and goats that were other than solid white
or solid black (or dark brown), including those living
and those to be born while he worked. Laban agreed,
since he knew that normally few animals were born
Jacob sought to better his own
interests through selective breeding measures
(Gen. 30:40) and
devices for prenatal influence.
God prospered Jacob, and the
spotted animals became unusually numerous. Laban,
probably pressured by his sons, countered by changing
the agreement, as Jacob later says, ten times
(Gen. 31:7, 41), but
still Jacob prospered.
Recognizing that his prosperity at
his father-in-laws expense did not endear him to the
Haran relation, Jacob left after six years, for a total
of 20, (Gen. 31:1-20).
Jacob waited until a day when
Laban was away for sheep shearing. Then Jacob took his
two wives, twelve children, servants, and abundant
livestock, and departed for home.
Unknown to Jacob, Rachel took
the family idols also, which were significant for
symbolizing inheritance rights.
As he left, Jacob recognized
that God had been good to him. Jacob had come to
Haran as one person alone and now, after twenty years,
was departing as wealthy man with a large family
3. Return to Canaan
a. Laban’s pursuit
Laban was angry when he discovered Jacob’s secret
departure. He immediately pursued Jacob’s slower moving
company, but was unable to catch the group until it had
reached Mount Gilead, at least 275 miles from Haran.
God warned Laban in a dream not
to speak harshly to Jacob, and his own daughter tricked
him so that he was unable to locate the idols
(Gen. 31:32-35). The
matter ended with an agreement that neither he nor Jacob
would impose on the other again.
b. Jacob’s wrestling match
Jacob feared an inevitable meeting with Esau; but before
that meeting could occur, he experienced another
confrontation of much greater significance. This came in
the form of a wrestling match with the Angel of God.
Jacob was alone on the north bank
of the Jabbok River. He had sent his family and
possessions across the stream the prior evening and had
remained by himself apparently for a time of private
During the night, the Angel drew
near and began to wrestle with him. Jacob was now 97
years old but evidently still in good physical
condition. He realized as the match progressed that his
opponent was more than human, and accordingly he asked
for a blessing.
The Angel gave this assurance. As
tangible evidence, he changed Jacob’s name to
Israel and touched his thigh, apparently dislocating the
hip. From now on, Jacob would limp, but it would be a
constant reminder of both God’s gracious favor and his
own responsibility for proper life conduct. From this
time on, Jacob is not seen scheming or deceiving.
c. Jacob’s meeting with Esau
(Gen. 32:1-23; 33:1-17).
On the next day, Jacob received clear
evidence that God indeed was blessing him. He met Esau,
and no bitterness was shown
(Gen. 33: 1-17). Jacob had dreaded this meeting,
especially after having learned that Esau, accompanied
by four hundred men, was coming to meet him
(Gen. 32:3-6). Jacob
had sent three droves of animals as presents in an
attempt to appease his brother’s anticipated anger, but
these presents proved to be unnecessary.
Somehow Esau’s heart had mellowed
through the intervening 20 years. The brothers embraced
each other warmly, exchanged pleasantries, and
parted-with all previous barriers removed. Jacob’s heart
was now much lighter for moving on. Esau returned to his
chosen territory of Mount Seir, south of the Dead
Sea, and Jacob continued across the Jordan to Shechem.
Jacob here purchased a tract of
land from Hamor (Gen.
33:18-20). Today one can view a site known to
tradition as Jacob’s well just outside old Shechem,
supposedly located on the tract that Jacob bought. Here
Jesus met the woman of Samaria years later
4. Back in Canaan
Arriving at Shechem, Jacob was
unable to remain long as a result of the slaughter of
Shechemites by two of his sons, Simeon and Levi
A young man, Shechem, son of
Hamor, leader in the city of Shechem, took Dinah,
violated her, and requested permission of Jacob to marry
Jacob’s sons devised a plan for
revenge. All Shechemites would have to be circumcised if
Shechem’s request were granted. Hamor and Shechem
agreed, and all Shechemites were circumcised. Then,
while they were incapacitated and unable to defend
themselves, they were killed by Simeon and Levi. Dinah
was brought home. Jacob, fearing reprisal from other
inhabitants of the area, quickly moved further south.
Jacob now came again to Bethel,
where he had experienced his memorable dream
(Gen. 35:1-10). Once
more God appeared to him, this time renewing the
promises given to both Abraham and Isaac concerning a
large posterity and the land of Canaan as an inheritance
He traveled farther south. When
he drew near Bethlehem, Rachel died while giving
birth to Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-20), and Jacob set a
monument on the grave of this one whom he dearly loved.
A grave for her is still marked
today by a small Moslem mosque on the northern outskirts
of Bethlehem, but the actual site is probably
farther north (see 1 Sam.
He then moved on to Hebron
where he found his father yet living. Jacob now seems to
have lived with, or at least near, his father for the
remainder of Isaac’s life. When Isaac died, Esau came
to join Jacob for his burial
At this point in the record,
Esau’s generations are listed, closing with the words,
“This was Esau the father
of the Edomites”
(Gen. 36:1-43). In later years Edom proved to be
a perennial enemy of Israel.
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