Jacob, the second and more prominent son of Isaac, is one of three aptly named Patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible. Much like his father and grandfather, Jacob earns the right to be known as one of God’s chosen men by being one whose “descendants shall be as the dust of the earth“ (Gen 28:14). Despite this, Jacob is a truly a flawed human being. While he is able to overcome these flaws to become the patriarch of the Israelite people, and receive a portion of the covenant God had promised to his grandfather, Abraham, his sins in life negatively affected future generations of Israelites in the form of slavery in Egypt.
When examining the original text, it becomes clear that Jacob’s flaws are a very important part of his overall disposition. His flaws are much more apparent in his early life; as evidenced by his various sins during the first part of his appearance Genesis. First, in Gen. 25:30-34, Jacob essentially steals his brother Esau’s birthright. Esau is “famished,” and asks his brother for food. Jacob agrees to feed his brother, but only if Esau is willing to “sell me [Jacob] your birthright,” which Esau agrees to do (Gen. 25:30-34 NJPS). This method of receiving the birthright points to two attributes that are very important Jacob’s personality: first, this episode illustrates Jacob’s Machiavellian tendencies, and second his proper application of intelligence. This characteristics are displayed again two chapters later in Genesis, when Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, trick his ailing father into giving him the blessing intended for Esau by dressing in Esau’s clothes and putting the skins of slaughtered goats on his hands and neck to simulate Esau’s hairiness. While Isaac is at first skeptical, he believes that Jacob ...
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...eward from God, Jacob’s descendants are punished by God in the form of slavery in Egypt. By the end of Genesis, it is not uncommon for collective punishment to be used; all living things are destroyed by the Flood in Gen. 6-9, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are annihilated in Gen. 19. By this reckoning, it is not at all a stretch to believe that sins of the Patriarchs, and in particular Jacob‘s sins, are the direct cause of for hundred years of slavery in Egypt.
Berlin, Adele, and Marc Z. Brettler, eds. Jewish study Bible [featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation]. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004.
Tullock, John, and Mark McEntire. Old Testament Story, The (8th Edition). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2009.
Zakovitch, Yair. Why Were the Israelites Enslaved in Egypt. "And You Shall Tell Your Sons..." Jerusalem: Magnes P, 1992.
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