Just the gist (for small children and others with tiny attention spans):
Jacob tricked his brother into selling him his birthright and he tricked his father into giving him the firstborn blessing. He dreamt of a ladder that bridged heaven and earth. His tricking ways would come back to haunt him when he was tricked into marrying Leah before getting to marry the girl he wanted to marry, Rachel. He wrestled with an angel and won. God renamed him Israel and he had twelve sons.
For those that can handle just a bit more:
“When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.” (Gen 25:27) Which to modern ears sounds like “Esau was a man’s man and Jacob was a basement-dwelling nerd.” In reality, however, it was Bible talk for Esau was a man of the world and Jacob was a man in the world but not of the world.
Jacob was also a bit of a deceiver.
Once, when Esau was hangry after coming home from a day of hunting, Jacob withheld his famous lentil soup until Esau sold him his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34)
Another time, he got over on both Isaac and Esau. Isaac had gotten old and lost his eyesight. The old man asked Esau to go out and hunt up fresh game to make some fresh game stew in order that he could give Esau the first-born blessing.
Rebekah overheard the whole conversation and called for Jacob. “Run and get me a couple of goats so that I may prepare a savory stew for your father, such as he loves, so that you may dress up as Esau and bring it to him and get his blessing before he dies.”
“But Esau is hairy and I’m a smooth man. Dad will never buy it.”
“Just do it!” Rebekah said.
Jacob brought her the goats as told. She prepared the savory soup, dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes, covered his arms and neck with the goat skins and sent him into Isaac with the savory soup and bread he’d requested.
“My father, here I am,” Jacob said.
“Who are you?” Isaac asked.
“I am Esau, your firstborn,” Jacob said, trying to drop his voice three octaves with little success. “I did all you asked. Now sit up, eat my game-hunt-thingy and lay that blessing on me.”
“How so quickly?”
“Because God granted me success in my hunt. He helped my long, sharp pointy-thing stab at the wild animal until it died. I then somehow got the meat off of the wild animal’s body for cooking and made this delicious stew for you.”
“Come closer so that I may feel you to confirm that you are Esau,” Isaac said.
“That’s a little weird, but okay.” Jacob, beginning to worry he wasn’t going to be able to pull this off, moved closer and Isaac felt him.
“The voice is Jacob’s, but the hairy mitts are definitely Esau’s,” Isaac said. “Are you really my son Esau?”
“Sure,” Jacob said.
“Then bring me that savory soup and I will give you my blessing.”
Isaac ate and drank. He told Jacob (thinking it was Esau) to give him a kiss, smelled that his garments smelled of Axe Body Spray, Esau’s scent, and gave him the blessing normally reserved for the first born. (Genesis 27: 1-29). Jacob slipped away just before Esau showed up with his game soup.
Not surprisingly, Esau was pretty mad when he found out. Word got around to Rebekah that Esau planned to kill Jacob. Since Esau was a hairy, hunting man’s man and Jacob was a smooth, tent-dweller, Rebekah had concerns that Jacob wouldn’t stand a chance against his brother. She had Jacob skip town until things simmered down. He headed to his mom’s hometown to stay with his uncle.
On the way there, in Bethel, he fell asleep. “And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” (Genesis 28:12)
God stood at the top of the ladder and reiterated the promises he’d made to Abraham to Jacob:
- the promised land
- lots of descendants
- blessing to all the nations of the earth through his descendants.
Thus, confirming that though Esau was a first-born hairy, hunting man’s man that made one heck of a stew, the Abrahamic covenant was passed down through the tent-dwelling Jacob.
Once he reached his mother’s hometown, he came across a well. Since this is the Old Testament, there’s probably a future wife nearby. Moments later, Rachel showed up and Jacob fell in love.
Jacob found himself on the other side of being deceived when his future father-in-law tricked him into marrying Rachel’s less attractive sister, Leah. Whereas, Rachel was described as beautiful and lovely, Leah is described as having weak eyes (Genesis 29: 17). Which, I guess, was her best attribute? Eventually (7 years later), Jacob was able to marry Rachel, too.
God felt bad that Leah wasn’t as loved by Jacob as Rachel, so he sent her a bunch of sons. Rachel remained childless. And then after much shenanigans that aren’t Christmas talk (Genesis 29:31 – 30:24), Barren Lady Gets a Baby: Rachel ends up finally having a boy and names him Joseph.
Having prospered greatly in his mother’s homeland, Jacob decided it was time to pack up and head for home.
Wanting to avoid being murdered by his brother Esau, Jacob sent him a bunch of gifts ahead of his caravan to which Esau responded, “Don’t worry brother, we’re cool.”
On the journey, Jacob ended up wrestling with an angel and winning. God changed his name to Israel, which means, fittingly (for both Jacob and the eventual nation named after him) “he who wrestles with God”. (Genesis 32: 22-32) As they traveled past the city of Bethlehem, Rachel gave birth to her second son Benjamin and died. They buried her there.
Jacob returned home with his remaining wife, Leah, and his twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph and Benjamin.
Isaac died and was buried with Abraham by Jacob (now Israel) and Esau.
Christmas for Beginners is now available in book form! Click here to take your Advent readings Old School.