Genesis 30-33 portrays the initial fulfillment of the ‘lineage’ promise in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-6)—despite continued challenges against the covenant family. Jacob had to endure the perils of both Laban and Esau. Yet, by the conclusion of Genesis 33, Jacob enjoyed a parcel of land in Canaan.
The latter portion of Genesis 29 and the initial developments of Genesis 30 provide a picture of the expansive covenant family. But Genesis 30 relates more than an increase in lineage among the descendants of Abraham. Under Jacob’s care, even Laban’s livestock prospered (Gen 30:27). The balance of Genesis 30 and the preliminary scene of Genesis 31 explain how God worked through Laban’s greed to provide Jacob and his clan with enough plunder to live and thrive as an independent family. After Jacob had grown wealthy and Laban’s sons began to view the patriarch as a threat, God called him and his family to return to the Promised Land (Gen 31:1-3). Despite confessing God’s providence over Jacob’s increasing fortune, his wife Rachel faltered in allegiance to the God of the covenant. Rachel choose to adopt her father Laban’s family idols into her religious practices (Gen 31:19). When Laban set out after his son-in-law Jacob, God warned Laban in a dream not to harm Jacob, the heir of promise (Gen 31:22-24).
Genesis 30-32 details how the covenant survived—even thrived—in the midst of threats and family strain. While this had been the case even in Jacob’s servitude of Laban, Jacob had yet to face what may have been considered the greatest obstacle to God’s promises, his brother Esau. The previous encounter between the brothers was so severe that Jacob’s parents sent him away simply to ensure his survival (Gen 27:41-28:9). Though blind and aged and deceived, in Gen 27:29 Isaac spoke prophetic words to Jacob that he would be master over his older brother and in time Isaac’s words were coming true.
God, ever quick to remind His people of covenant faithfulness, met with Jacob at the ford of Jabbok (Gen 32:24-32). There God rewarded Jacob’s persistence by touching his thigh and disabling the patriarch. Weakened, Jacob was made stronger in faith and God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. The threat of Esau proved to be no real cause for alarm. Genesis 33 records that Esau departed to the mountains of Seir (see Genesis 36) and Jacob purchased a section of land for his family, “And he set up an altar there and called it ‘God, the God of Israel’” (Gen 33:20).
Jesus and the author of Hebrews saw the faithful acts of Isaac and Jacob as illustrative for teaching their audiences to respond faithfully to Jesus as the Messiah.
(1) According to the author of Hebrews, Isaac’s trust in God is a model for all Christians. The author of Hebrews wrote that by faith Isaac prophesied that Jacob, the younger, would be favored over Esau. “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Heb 11:20), he observed. Even though Isaac was blind, he acted in a faithful manner and ultimately trusted God to fulfill His earlier word to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb; two people will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). For the author of Hebrews, the point of the Genesis narrative was that if blind Isaac could act in a faithful manner and trust God in the blessing of Jacob and Esau, his audience—who lived with the profound insight of God’s faithfulness in Christ—should trust God to work out the details of life as they walk by faith in Christ even during persecution.
(2) Jesus claimed superiority over Jacob and his well. God’s faithfulness to Jacob at the end of Genesis 33 elevated Jacob’s status in the history of Israel. Esau did not take revenge on his brother and Jacob was able to build a house for himself in the Promised Land (Gen 33:16-20). Jacob purchased land and built stalls for his cattle. Wells provided for his needs and Jacob built an altar to God and called it “God, the god of Israel” (Gen 33:20). The Samaritan woman Jesus met in John 4 questioned Jesus’ claim that He could provide her with living water. “You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock” (John 4:12), she quipped. Jesus replied “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus claimed not only superiority over Jacob but deity. Jacob built an altar to the Lord because the Lord had faithfully provided even the wells that nourished his herds. Jesus said that He could give the water of eternal life.