Jacob, Heir to the Promises of God

Discovery for Teachers

Jacob, Heir to the Promises of God


Genesis 27:1 through 36:43

“And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)


Jacob was the younger of the twin sons born to Isaac and Rebekah, and the third patriarch of the Hebrews with whom God made a covenant. Before Jacob was born, God ordained that His plan for His chosen people would be through Jacob, rather than through Jacob’s twin brother, Esau, even though Esau was the elder. Jacob and his brother, Esau, were at odds with each other even before they were born, struggling within Rebekah’s womb.

As Jacob grew to manhood, he must have learned much about God and His promises from his parents and his grandfather, Abraham, who died when Jacob was about fifteen. He no doubt also knew that the hereditary responsibilities, privileges, and blessings would customarily flow through Esau, the elder. Through devious means, he tricked his father, Isaac, into giving him the eldest son’s blessing, but as a result, he had to flee his homeland and go to dwell with his mother’s kinsmen in Haran. In time, Jacob married, and fathered twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. They are the ancestors of the tribes of Israel, and the ones for whom the tribes are named. Joseph is the father of two tribes: Manasseh and Ephraim.

As we trace the key events in Jacob’s life, we also follow his spiritual pilgrimage as God prepared him to be Israel, ancestor of His chosen people and heir of the promises made to his father and grandfather. Many times Jacob seemed an unlikely candidate for the role of a patriarch of Israel, but God repeatedly appeared to him, affirming His covenant and reminding Jacob of his place in God’s plan.

Sin and its effects, God’s sovereignty, conviction, God’s grace, redemption of man, and God’s keeping power are some of the many themes present in the account of Jacob.


  1. The text of our previous lesson contains the account of how Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger and seeming disregard for his hereditary privileges, and obtained Esau’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of lentil stew. (See Genesis 25:27-34.) In the first chapter of today’s text, we read how Jacob deceived Isaac into giving him the blessing that Isaac expected to give to Esau. Why was the trickery and conniving of Jacob and Rebekah unnecessary in both of these circumstances?

    God had revealed to Rebekah before the twins were born that the elder of her sons would serve the younger (see Genesis 25:23), although this was contrary to the custom of the day. There was no need for Rebekah and Jacob to connive in order to bring about what God had already ordained.

    Ask your class what lessons we can learn from this account. They will likely conclude that no matter how worthy we think our goals, we must be careful about how we attempt to achieve them. It is important not to get ahead of God, and critical that we guard against anything dishonest or even questionable in our pursuit of a goal. God has a perfect plan for each of our lives, and if we submit to Him and follow His leading, He will bring it to pass no matter how impossible it may seem from our human perspective.

  2. What was Esau’s response to Jacob’s deceitful action in securing Isaac’s blessing, and how did God use this in Jacob’s life? Genesis 27:41-45

    Esau was angry at Jacob’s deception, and determined to get revenge. Rebekah became aware of Esau’s intent, and warned Jacob to flee from his brother’s wrath and go to her family in Haran. Her counsel was for him to stay there “a few days” but God had a different scenario in mind, and Jacob spent many years away from his homeland. It is interesting that in all of Jacob’s planning and conniving, leaving home to dwell in an unknown land was not in his plans. However, God can use circumstances in our lives to bring about His own purposes. It was in Haran that Jacob married, and fathered the sons who would become the leaders of the tribes of Israel. Later, it was the knowledge of Esau’s anger which helped Jacob learn humility and dependence upon God.
  3. God spoke to Jacob in a dream as he fled from Esau. What did God show Jacob, and how did Jacob respond when he awoke? Genesis 28:12-22

    God showed Jacob a vision of a ladder resting on the earth, with its top reaching Heaven. The angels of God were moving up and down the stairway, and at the top stood the Lord. At this point, God extended to Jacob the covenant promise He had made with Abraham and Isaac. In response, when Jacob awoke, he acknowledged that God was in that place. He rose up and created an altar from the stone he had used as a pillow, and made a lifelong commitment that the Lord would be his God, and also that he would give God a tenth (or tithe) of all that came to him.

    Bring out to your class that Jacob had to establish his own personal relationship with God. Jacob’s response of making an altar and an offering to God parallels our steps of conviction, admission of sin, repentance, committing our lives to God, and then, by His power, walking in a new way. God extended grace to Jacob, which He does to us as well.

  4. After Jacob spent a month with his uncle Laban’s family, Laban inquired what wages Jacob desired for his services. According to Genesis 29:15-19 the two men agreed that after seven years of service, Rachel would become Jacob’s wife. How did Laban deceive Jacob in this matter? Genesis 29:23

    Laban did not reveal to Jacob the custom of the area which dictated that an older daughter must be married before a younger. After Jacob labored seven years for Rachel, he was given Rachel’s sister Leah as his wife instead. When Laban said “fulfill her week” (Genesis 29:27), he referred to a week of marriage festivities. When that week was fulfilled, Rachel was given to Jacob, and he worked another seven years for her. Jacob may have been reaping what he had sowed years before when he deceived his father into giving him the birthright that belonged to Esau.

    Ask your class what admirable characteristics Jacob exemplified in this situation. They will likely comment on his deep love for Rachel, and his apparent acceptance of the injustice of his employer
  5. Over the twenty years that Jacob worked for Laban, the relationship between the two men was strained and, at times, adversarial. Chapters 30 and 31 relate details of some of their disputes, which are summed up in Jacob’s complaint, “I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou has changed my wages ten times” (Genesis 31:41). In spite of the unfair manner in which Jacob was treated, God prospered him. When God told Jacob it was time for him to return to the land of his fathers, Jacob told Leah and Rachel of his decision. What verses reveal that he knew that God had been with him? Genesis 31:1-13

    Jacob’s words in verses 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 all indicate Jacob’s clear awareness of God’s activity in his life. God had showed concern for Jacob, allowing him to prosper greatly, and Jacob rightly attributed his prosperity to God rather than to his own ingenuity. Jacob had been deceived repeatedly in the house of Laban, and likely this caused him to recall the deceit he himself had practiced. The lessons Jacob learned at the hands of Laban must have reinforced the standard of God, which he previously had ignored.

    Use this question to bring out the two parallel themes that emerge in this narrative: Jacob’s suffering the consequences of his sin, and God’s mercy and providential care.

  6. As Jacob prepared to meet Esau, he was afraid of what might transpire, and was not reassured when he heard that Esau was coming with four hundred men. Referring to Genesis 32, list the steps Jacob took before meeting his brother Esau.

    Jacob asked God for help and protection and then organized an enormous gift and arranged for Esau to receive it by installments. He put all of his family and possessions over the brook Jabbok, and turned to prayer. Verse 24 indicates that “there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Though this heavenly Being touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, putting it out of joint, Jacob would not release Him until he received the reassurance he needed.

    Bring out to your class that we need to keep our commitments and consecrations up to date. In this account, God again used what seemed to be a fearful situation from Jacob’s past to bring him to a new experience with Him, and into a closer and deeper walk. You may wish to encourage your class to share incidents from their own experiences in which God used a difficult situation or even a spiritual battle to bring about ultimate good.

  7. The name Jacob meant “supplanter.” The name Israel meant “one who struggles with God and prevails.” What change of character was represented by the change of names for Jacob? (Genesis 32:28)

    People in Jacob’s culture believed that a person’s name revealed his character, so this change was significant to Jacob. Use this question to summarize with your class the transformation of this man from a scheming conniver to a man who prevailed with God.
  8. Genesis 33:1-17 recounts the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. What was Jacob’s first action when he approached his brother? How many times in that passage did Jacob refer to himself as Esau’s “servant” and Esau as his “lord”? What do these details indicate?

    Jacob bowed himself to the ground seven times before Esau. He referred to himself as Esau’s “servant” two times, and to Esau as “my lord” five times in these verses. Jacob’s bowing low seven times was a sign of respect — it was the manner in which one would indicate homage and subjection to a king. His reference to himself as Esau’s servant, and to Esau as his lord, were further indicators of his submissive spirit and his desire to obtain forgiveness and mercy from his estranged brother.
  9. In Genesis 35:1, God instructed Jacob to return to Bethel, the site where He had made the initial covenant revelation to Jacob, and build an altar there. After receiving that instruction, what did Jacob command his family to do? What was the significance of his command? Genesis 35:2

    Jacob required his whole household to put away their strange gods. They were instructed to clean themselves and change their garments; these were ceremonies signifying the purification and change of heart. The cleaning of the household was a solemn preparation made before they attended to the solemn ordinance of God.

    Follow-up discussion of this point could revolve around the thought that we, too, need to be sure that we remove all idols — anything that takes precedence over God in our lives — in order to worship Him acceptably.


No matter what we perceive to be happening, God is sovereign and well able to bring about His plan. Let us learn a lesson from the life of Jacob, and allow God to work out the details of our lives in accordance with His divine will. As we submit to Him, we can be assured of His favor.