Studying the story of Jacob will make you realize how human he was and how much God meets us where we are in our humanness. Jacob in the Bible is one the most famous characters in Scripture. He’s one of the patriarchs of faith. But his life was filled with what seemed like more hardship and sorrow than joy. We will explore his strengths and weaknesses in this post.
The story of Jacob in the Bible summary
Jacob’s was one half a set of twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. His brother Esau became a victim to his jealousy. Jacob forced his brother to give up his birthright for a pot of lentil stew.
After that, he pretended to be his brother and tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was rightly Esau’s. When Esau threatened to kill him, Jacob ran away to his uncle Laban. There he fell instantly and deeply in love with Rachel.
He entered a deal with Laban to work 7 years for her hand in marriage. But Laban tricked him into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah. He ended up marrying both sisters who had a tumultuous relationship. Through them he fathered 12 sons and one daughter.
Rachel died while giving birth to his last son Benjamin. This broke Jacob’s heart and made him cling to Joseph. Jacob had a special love for Joseph because he was the first biological son born to Rachel, his first love.
When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, Jacob was once again tricked into believing that his son was killed by a wild animal. Twenty years later, when famine ravaged the land, Joseph rose to second in all the land of Egypt.
Jacob rejoiced at the news that he was alive. The whole family moved to Egypt to live closer to Joseph. Jacob died in Egypt at a good old age.
Characteristics of Jacob in the Bible
Jacob’s life is one of the most detailed accounts of a Bible character’s life. From his story, we can learn what type of person Jacob was.
H2 Jacob’s strengths and weaknesses
Jacob was a real person living in a real world with real problems. He had character weaknesses just like us today but he also had some strengths. Consider the following qualities of Jacob as we study his life.
Here is a list of Jacob’s strengths to consider:
- Jacob was industrious
- Jacob was resilient
- Jacob was a praying man
- Jacob was obedient to God
- Jacob was a brilliant animal herder and a wealthy man
Jacob was an imperfect man just like us living today. Here is a list of his weaknesses:
- Jacob was a trickster
- Jacob was discontented
- Jacob was guilt-ridden
- Jacob had a problem with favoritism
- Jacob was depressed and grief stricken
Leadership qualities of Jacob in the Bible
- Jacob was a responsible and committed family man
- Jacob was proactive and wise
Characteristics of Jacob in the Bible – Weaknesses
Let’s take a deeper look at the less desirable qualities of Jacob. His imperfections showed up in so many parts of his life.
Jacob was a trickster by influence and nature
As a young man, Jacob was under the heavy influence of his mother. It would appear there was favoritism going on in this home. Esau was Isaac’s favorite and Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite.
When Rebekah heard Isaac planning to give Esau the blessing that his right, she decided to deceive her husband so her favorite boy would get it instead.
When we read the story, we often blame Jacob. But please realize that it was his mother’s idea. Unfortunately, Jacob chose to live up to his name by going with his mother’s plan.
This was one of the worst decisions he ever made which offset a domino of events in his life.
The quality of being deceptive was quite handy when later in life he had to deal with Laban.
Jacob was discontented with his position
Although Jacob was one half of a pair of twins, Esau was recognized has the firstborn.
And rightly so.
Esau came out first. With that comes a birthright. Simply put, the right to be recognized as the first born.
There are privileges that come with that. For example, the firstborn would move up as head of the family if his father died. He would also receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance.
Jacob knew what Esau had coming. And he wanted it. Jacob was discontented. It’s not like he had a host of siblings he was competing with.
Jacob had alot coming his way too. But he just was quite dissatisfied with being second.
He was so discontented that he withheld food from his starving brother in order to get the right to be considered the firstborn.
Jacob was guilt-ridden
From the time Jacob ran away from home, guilt over what he did to his brother weighed him down like a wet blanket.
He suffered abuse from his uncle Laban all those years rather than going back home. He finally couldn’t take it anymore, God directed him to go home.
When Esau learned that his brother was on his way home, he got so excited. He dropped everything he was doing and headed off to greet his brother.
He was so excited that he decided to share the joy with 400 hundred men. They rode with him, looking very much like an army.
Meanwhile, Jacob was bucking under guilt which gave birth fear. Jacob believed with his whole being that his brother was coming to kill him. He thought that the 400 men were coming to fight alongside Esau against him.
He was so convinced that he divided his family so that they wouldn’t all be killed. He tried to send gifts to his brother to appease him as well.
When in the darkness of the night the angel of God touched him, Jacob went into full fight mode and engaged in a physical wrestling match.
Why? Because he was convinced that this was his brother Esau attempting to take his life in revenge.
Jacob’s behavior reminds me of Proverbs 28:1
The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. (NIV)
It’s a hard life to live when you are ridden by guilt every waking moment.
Jacob had a problem with favoritism
Jacob contributed to the unpleasant relationship that Joseph had with his brothers.
Joseph was the first biological son born to Rachel. She was the woman he truly loved. When she died, it broke his heart. Joseph was one small part of her that he had left. Plus, Joseph was born when he was advanced in years.
All those different things coming together made Jacob soft and shortsighted. He spoiled Joseph. While his older brothers were out in the elements of the day and night working, Joseph was at home.
Then came the dreams which seemed to say Joseph would lead them all one day. The nail that finally closed the coffin was the beautiful coat of many colors that Jacob gifted to Joseph.
There is no evidence that Joseph’s older brothers got the same kind of treatment from their father.
When Jacob feared that Esau was going to kill him, he divided his household and split up his family. He kept Rachel and Joseph closest to him so that they would be the last to be attacked should war break out.
Everyone else, we’re put at the front where the attack would come first. These are all telltale signs of Jacob’s weakness and lack of equal treatment among his sons.
This was bound to cause major problems. Joseph being thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery by his brother’s was the climax of bitter feelings that had been brewing for some time. And Jacob’s parental skills were to be blamed.
Jacob was depressed and grief stricken
Throughout his life, Jacob endured quite a lot of loss and grief. When he had to flee after stealing his brother’s blessings, he ended up going away for 20 years. He lost fellowship with his twin brother, his mother and father.
As if the guilt and fear wasn’t enough to break him down over those two decades, his uncle added to his burden. Laban tricked him into marrying both his daughters, abused his power of Jacob’s wealth, and then tried to prevent him from leaving.
When Jacob finally left, the woman whom he fell in love with at first sight, the woman he had planned on spending his life with, died while giving birth to her second son. Jacob never recovered from that loss.
Let’s not mention the rape of his only daughter Dinah and the disrespect of his son Reuben who had sex with the mother of two of his brothers.
And then there was Joseph. Her was the child of his old age and the first biological son of Rachel whom he loved and missed. When Joseph went missing, Jacob’s heart broke into a million pieces. Nobody could comfort him.
All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him. Genesis 37:35
By the time Jacob learned that Joseph is still alive, he’s now 130 years old. Upon his arrival in Egypt, he gets the privilege of meeting Pharoah. He tells Pharaoh:
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Genesis 47:9
Jacob has been treated like a rag doll and in his old age, in his golden years, he doesn’t have a glowing perspective of his life.
Characteristics of Jacob in the Bible – Strengths
As a maturing man of God, Jacob developed some really good qualities, especially as he aged. How the years with God can truly change us.
Jacob was industrious
When Jacob ran away from home to escape his brother’s wrath, he went to Laban. This was the home of his uncle. He fell in love with Rachel at first sight.
It’s funny how he was somewhat of a fugitive who was love struck. Clearly Rachel’s beauty was more beguiling than any woman he had ever seen.
Jacob decided he wanted to build a life with her. But, he was broke. Paying a bride price wasn’t going to happen without resources.
So what did he do?
Jacob hired himself out to his uncle. Over the course of 20 years, Jacob worked very hard in less than ideal conditions.
This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks. Genesis 31:40-41
Jacob was wealthy. But he worked his fingers to the bone for his wealth.
Jacob was resilient
Living with his uncle Laban was not easy. Jacob was put through the wringer I tell you. But he always found a way to bounce back.
When Laban deceived him by giving him the wrong woman to sleep with on his wedding night, Jacob was angry. But he didn’t give up. He bounced back and kept pursuing what he desired.
When Laban tried to break him down with abuse he kept going. I talk some more about this in depth because there are a ton of lessons to learn. Anyway, Jacob kept going even under this pressure.
When Laban tried to swindle him out of his payment, Jacob used his wisdom and wits to secure assets for himself so he could get out from under Laban.
And he was victorious!
Jacob was able to persevere and his resilience paid off.
Jacob was a praying man
One reason Jacob was able to keep going was because God was with him. Scripture says so….
Jacob was always talking to God. When he was having a difficult time with Laban, he talked to God. And God talked to him and told him what to do.
When he thought that Esau would kill him and he was overwhelmed with fear, he talked to God.
When his sons slaughtered a whole village, Jacob called his house to prayer for protection against retaliation from surrounding villages.
Jacob was an imperfect man but he had a consistent and constant prayer life that bore fruit.
Jacob was obedient to God
When Laban mistreated and abused Him, God told him to go back home. Jacob obeyed.
God showed him in a dream what to do to secure assets for when he would take his family and leave Laban’s house. Jacob followed the instructions given to him in that dream.
After the rape of his daughter, his sons slaughtered an entire village and put the whole family in danger of being killed.
God told him to leave that place and go elsewhere. Jacob packed up his family and left instantly.
Jacob’s obedience saved his wealth and his life.
Jacob was a brilliant animal herder and a wealthy man
Jacob decided to work for Laban in order to fulfill the dowry requirement for Rachel. It seems his work to be a herder of both sheep and goat.
Jacob did extremely well with it. God showed him how to do it. He was so good at it that he made Laban a wealthy man and himself as well.
Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” Genesis 31:1
To appease his brother Esau, Jacob tried to send him gifts. During his time working with Laban, Jacob had amassed quite a fortune. He was able to put together quite the package:
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. Genesis 32:13-15
Jacob used the gift God gave him to set up an empire so that his family could be taken care of.
Leadership qualities of Jacob in the Bible
While Jacob did not occupy a position like Moses, he did have a very large family that he had to take care of. Therefore, these leadership qualities are in the context of his family.
Jacob was a responsible and committed family man
Jacob did not have a perfect family life. But, who does. His wives were always at each other.
But Jacob maintained one thing: he ensured they were taken care of. In fact, Jacob endured abuse from Jacob for 20 years in an effort to ensure that he could foot the bill for his growing family.
When he could take the abuse no more, he consulted with his wives about leaving. He ensured that they were involved in the decision to move the entire family back to his homeland of Canaan.
Jacob wasn’t about to run off and leave them to the mercy of Laban. They were his responsibility and he was committed to them because he loved them.
Great leaders take responsibility. They also ensure that they listen to those who are impacted by the decisions they make. When change is coming, they involve those who are most affected by the change.
Jacob was proactive and wise
Although it was God who told Jacob to return home, that didn’t stop him from being consumed by fear. Fear of being killed by his brother. Fear of his brother slaughtering his whole family.
So when he heard that his brother was coming with 400 men, Jacob employed a strategy.
He separated his family into three parts so some of them could escape if they were attacked.
This was a wise move. And he put the plan in action before his brother reached him.
Jacob was trying to ensure that the next generation would be possible. He was trying to protect the legacy of his seed. But he didn’t have to worry because God had already covered him. (More on this later).
Lessons from the life of Jacob in the Bible
What can we learn from the life of Jacob. After taking a close look at who he was, I am sure you are already thinking about the lessons you can apply to your life. Here are a few to start with.
Be content by counting your blessings
Jacob’s desire to occupy the position of the firstborn came from a desire for more. When people have all their needs met and have more to spare but still want more, those desires are fueled by something.
Wherever there is a desire for more and more and more, the person usually has a problem with being content.
For some reason, Jacob was not content with not having the birthright of a firstborn. And he absolutely did not like the idea of not getting the blessing of his father. Jacob’s discontent led him to deceive and steal.
Jacob was neither hungry nor homeless. But he was bitten by the bug of envy. This whole thing started in heaven with Lucifer.
There is nothing wrong with being ambitious. This is not what I am talking about here. There is a difference between contentment and ambition.
Ambition makes good decisions. It protects integrity. It uses wisdom when taking risks. It uses delayed gratification to achieve its goals of acquiring wealth. It appreciates other people’s blessings and is genuinely happy for them.
But as for discontentment? it will not get to any good place.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. James 6:6-9
Be prepared to face the consequences of bad decisions
Be clear: God forgives sin. That’s his nature and that’s his promise. But there is one thing to be certain of too.
God will not always rescue us from the consequences of our sins. What people call karma is what God calls consequences. For every decision we make, it sets things in motion in our lives.
We see this in Jacob’s life. Jacob tricked his brother. This leads to him having to run away to his uncle Laban.
Then Jacob got tricked by his uncle. It started a domino effect which landed him in an unwanted marriage and in a contentious relationship between rival sisters who together orchestrated the birth of a dozen sons whose personality and characters are shaped by the family dynamic.
Whew! That’s a long sentence but I hope you see the point I’m making.
Jacob lost 20 years of being close to his twin brother, of spending time with his father in his golden years, and of being close to his mother. He missed out on the births of his nephews. By the time he made it back home, his father died soon after.
Before you make a decision, think about the things you will set in motion. Generations could be affected.
But if you have already made some bad decisions and you’re now living with the consequences, my next point will encourage you.
God shows up even for the guilty sinner
When Jacob ran away from home, he was not in the best mental state. He was panicked. He was stressed. He was anxious. He was terrified. But more than anything, he was burdened by the guilt of what he had done to his twin brother.
Jacob’s decision to rest allowed God to show up. Jacob has the most amazing dream. (Side note: Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by life that God has to wait till we’re asleep to talk to us…lol).
So God shows up in Jacob’s sleep to talk to him.
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Genesis 28:12
With this dream, God assures Jacob of his presence.
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Genesis 28:15
Twenty years later when Jacob is returning home his unresolved guilt makes him paranoid. He is already aware that Esau is on his way with 400 men. He is so afraid that he divides his family in preparation for a potential attack by his brother.
As he tries to get some sleep on the ground in the pitch blackness of the night, Jacob is touched by someone.
He immediately goes into flight mode. He wrestles with this individual. All night long. Before the break of day, Jacob recognizes that he wasn’t wrestling with a human being.
Jacob was far from perfect. There is no question about His guilt. But God never left him alone.
God is not afraid of your sin friend. No matter how awful. God forgives faster than you’re able to churn out sins. And he restores faster than you can blink.
God’s promises endure despite our weaknesses
As I said before, God showed up in Jacob’s dream while he was running away from his brother.
In that dream, God repeats to Jacob the same promise that was given to his grandfather and father, Abraham and Isaac.
There above itc stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. Genesis 28:13-14
Here is Jacob, as guilty as sin itself. But God shows up to remind him of the covenant.
God has a goal. His goal is to save humanity. And to do that He must keep his promise. God’s business is still rolling on in the middle of Jacob’s questionable character.
Human weaknesses are no threat to God fulfilling His word. He will work with us, through us, around us, despite us.
Whether we err or not. Whether we make a fool of ourselves or not, God’s promises still stand.
He doesn’t lie. He says His word will not return to Him unfulfilled. He says He watches over His word to ensure it comes to pass.
If God made you a promise, don’t worry about whether your mistakes have caused him to change His mind. God isn’t that fickle.
Having favor doesn’t mean laziness will pay off
Jacob was blessed. When his father placed his hand on him, that was a very important life-changing ritual.
A part of the blessing was material.
May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Genesis 27:28
They didn’t have money the way we do now so their wealth was weighed in land and food and livestock.
But here’s the thing. Although Jacob had this blessing, he didn’t sit around waiting for it to materialize.
While hiding away at his uncle Laban, Jacob worked hard. For 20 years, he was a herder. He applied his knowledge so that the livestock could multiply.
And God blessed his efforts. God even told him exactly what to do when Laban tried to rip him off.
Jacob had God’s divine favor but he still had to work long and hard and smart for his blessings.
Divine favor doesn’t mean you get to be lazy. Not so. You still have to sweat. Joseph was blessed, but he had to work. So was Abraham and Isaac too. God isn’t in the business of rewarding the lazy, even those whom he has gifted and favored.
Forgive yourself, God has already forgiven you
As Jacob was traveling back home, the reality of how he left home 20 years earlier weighed on him heavily. I imagine he had a lot of flashbacks about twin brother promising to kill him. Afterall, that was the reason he ran away and stayed away for two decades.
Jacob was guilt-ridden for those two decades. As he endured life with Laban he must have thought alot about how he robbed his brother unjustly.
The thing is, God had already forgiven him for his wicked actions. Over the course of his absence from home, God was with him. He gave him assurance and instructions through dreams. God was still supporting his life. God ensured that Laban would not kill him.
Esau had also forgiven him. But Jacob had no way of knowing this. Jacob lived in fear and guilt over a mistake he made 20 years ago. He had not forgiven himself.
I love 1 John 3:20-21. It says:
If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.
If you find yourself feeling burdened by decades-old sin, know that God has already forgiven you. But if you are still living under the condemnation of your own heart, that will stand in the way of your spiritual growth.
You will always lack the confidence to approach God with boldness and peace. God knows you aren’t perfect. That’s why He has made grace available. You should probably give yourself some grace as well.
FAQs about Jacob in the Bible
Here are some quick answers to popular questions about Jacob.
What is Jacob best known for?
Jacob is perhaps best known for his act of stealing his brother Esau’s birthright and blessing.
Why was Jacob so important in the Bible?
Jacob’s story fits into the bigger story of the redemption of the human race. God continues the fulfillment of his promise to Abraham through Jacob. Jacob’s son Judah becomes the tribe through which Jesus is born into the world to save mankind.
What does Jacob symbolize?
Depending on how you look at Jacob’s story, he could symbolize more than one thing. Jacob underwent a significant change in character. As a young man, he was a deceiver. As he got older, his relationship with God matured. Jacob could symbolize conversion.
5 Facts about Jacob in the Bible
Spiritual meaning of Jacob in the Bible
Jacobs’ name means supplanter or deceiver. To a great extent, it represents his character. However, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel by God to signify his repentance and spiritual maturity.
How many wives did Jacob have?
How many sons did Jacob have?
Jacob had 12 sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali,Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. These boys formed most of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Who was Jacob’s brother?
Jacob had a twin brother named Esau.
Who was Jacob’s grandfather?
Jacob’s grandfather was Abraham, the giant of faith.
Conclusion to the story of Jacob in the Bible
Jacob’s story is one of the longest in the Bible. We learn quite a bit of detail about his life. What we have learned is that he had many weaknesses and strengths.
Jacob might have struggled throughout his life, but he never stopped believing God and God never stopped showing up. It is comforting that God is still showing up in our lives today.
Despite our imperfections, He meets us right where we are and fulfills his promises anyway.