How Jacob Became Abraham's Heir
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God chose Jacob, the second-born of Isaac's twins, to receive the birthright inheritance that is usually reserved for the firstborn. This bestowed on him the right to become the family's patriarch upon Isaac's death (Genesis 25:29-34). The birthright blessing made Jacob the direct heir of Abraham and the recipient of the divine commitments to Abraham and his posterity.
At the time Jacob received the blessing, he still had not committed himself to live by faith in God. Though God had designated Jacob as heir of Abraham's blessing shortly before his birth (Genesis 25:23), Jacob and his mother were both weak in faith and resorted to deceit to obtain the blessing from Isaac (Genesis 27). This earned Jacob the hatred of his brother. Esau seethed with anger and set out to kill him (Genesis 27:41). Their mother heard about Esau's plans, so she asked Isaac to send Jacob to stay with relatives far away so he would be safe (Genesis 27:42-46).
So Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob back to Rebekah's family in northern Mesopotamia. Apparently the only reason they mentioned to their large household was that they wanted Jacob to find a wife from among Rebekah's relatives. This was true, but Rebekah was also trying to prevent Esau from killing Jacob.
Before sending Jacob away, however, Isaac summoned his overly ambitious and crafty son and blessed him again. Isaac apparently forgave his son's previous deceptive behavior and this time willingly repeated his original blessing. By this time Isaac had probably remembered and acknowledged that God had designated Jacob, even before his birth, as the heir.
Then Isaac rehearsed some of the key covenant promises that God had made to him and Abraham (Genesis 28:1-5). In doing so Isaac openly announced to the family that Jacob was indeed inheriting the prime responsibility for the family's everlasting relationship with God (Genesis 17:19).
God was making sure no one forgot His promises to Abraham. He was formally passing them from one generation to the next.
Isaac passed on the key covenant promises to Jacob: "May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and numerous, that you may be a company of peoples. May he give to you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your offspring with you, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien—land that God gave to Abraham" (Genesis 28:3-4, NRSV).
As Jacob hurriedly left home, he possessed both the birthright promise and a special blessing. But his life had suddenly turned upside down. What did it all mean? Would his grandfather's and father's God really be there for him too?
Jacob must have thought about the stories he had heard while growing up about his family's encounters with this awesome, divine being. Would that same great God honor what he had worked so deceitfully to obtain, even though God had promised it to him before he was born?
It was at this point in his life that God personally revealed Himself to Jacob. "[Jacob] came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
"And the LORD stood beside him and said, 'I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.'
"Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, 'Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!' And he was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.' So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel..." (Genesis 28:11-19, NRSV). Jacob now knew for certain that he was the officially confirmed heir of the promises made to Abraham.