Gen 27:1-40 Jacob, now aged 50, disguises himself as his older brother Esau, and deceives his elderly father Isaac in order to get the blessing of the first-born.
Gen 27:41-46 Esau is furious and threatens to kill Jacob. Rebekah advises Jacob to flee to his uncle Laban at Haran in Mesopotamia (see Genesis 24:10 & 29).
Gen 28:1-9 Isaac tells Jacob he must leave, and sends him to Paddan Aram (‘Plain of Aram’ in north west Mesopotamia - see Genesis 24:10) to seek a wife from amongst his relatives living in Haran.
Traditional beehive houses at Haran (Zhengan)
Gen 28:10-19 Jacob leaves Beersheba and flees to Haran in c.1710BC. Travelling north, he rests for the night at Luz (Bethel) and has an amazing dream (see 6 on Map 41).
Having fled for his life from Beersheba, Jacob settled down for the night at Luz. While asleep, he dreamed of a ladder - or stairway - leading up to heaven, with angels going up and down. In his dream, the LORD renewed his covenant promise to give the land of Canaan to Jacob and his descendants. God also promised that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” through Jacob’s offspring (Genesis 28:14). Jacob was awestruck and declared “This place ... is surely the house of God” (Genesis 28:17). He set up a stone pillar as an altar and re-named the place Bethel (‘Beth-el’ means ‘House of God’).
The site of Bethel is traditionally identified as the Palestinian West Bank village of Beitin, on the outskirts of El-Bireh, 3 miles / 5 km to the north east of Ramallah (though, more recently, it has been argued that Bethel was actually located at El-Bireh, while Beitin is the site of Beth Aven). Beitin was a prosperous town during Roman times, and still contains the remains of a Byzantine monastery built to commemorate Jacob’s dream. An ancient tower now marks the spot where it is believed Jacob had his vision of the ladder leading up to heaven and where, earlier, Abraham built an altar on his journey south from Shechem to the Negev Desert (see Genesis 12:8-9).
Today, many non-conformist Christian chapels in Britain are called Bethel – to indicate that they are the ‘House of God’.
The site of Luz (Bethel) in the Judaean Hills (Pessimist2006)
Gen 28:20-22 Jacob promises to follow God and to give him a tithe – a tenth of all his wealth.
Gen 29:1-30 Jacob meets his young cousin Rachel at the well near Haran and immediately falls in love with her. He works seven years for his uncle Laban in return for Rachel, but is tricked into marrying Leah (the elder daughter who, by tradition, was expected to be married first). He then works a further seven years for Rachel (the younger daughter).
Gen 29:31-30:24 Jacob (later called 'Israel' - see Genesis 32:28) has twelve sons by Leah, Rachel and their maidservants – who become the fathers of the '12 tribes of Israel'. His favourite is Joseph, the son of Rachel, born in c.1700BC.
Fig. 11 The Twelve Sons of Jacob
Gen 30:25-43 Jacob agrees with his uncle Laban that he will take the speckled sheep and goats as his wages for the next six years. By selective breeding, he ensures that most of the new lambs are speckled, and so builds up his own flocks at Laban’s expense. (An old breed of black and white speckled sheep is still known today as ‘Jacob’s Sheep’.)
Gen 31:1-21 Laban’s sons are furious with their cousin Jacob, so Jacob flees secretly from Haran. He puts his wives and children on camels and crosses ‘the river’ (the River Euphrates) then heads for the hill country of Gilead (see 7 on Map 41).
Gen 31:22-30 Laban discovers that his daughters have left and his family idols are missing. So he pursues Jacob and catches up with him in the hills of Gilead.
Gen 31:31-44 Laban cannot find his household gods (Rachel - who has stolen these family treasures - is hiding them). So he agrees to settle up with Jacob.
Gen 31:45-54 Laban and Jacob make a covenant. They pile stones in a heap as a reminder of their agreement. Laban calls the place Jegar Sahadutha (Aramaic for ‘A pile (of stones) to remind us’), while Jacob calls it Galeed (Hebrew for ‘A pile (of stones) to remind us’). The place is also called Mizpah (Hebrew for ‘A watchtower’) as Laban says, “Let the LORD watch over us” (Genesis 31:49).
Hills of Gilead
Gen 31:55 Laban returns home to Haran while Jacob, with his wives and sons, sets off for Canaan in c.1695BC.