Having cheated his brother Esau and tricked his father Isaac, Jacob leaves Canaan and heads for the town of Haran. Along the way God speaks to him from heaven, promising to give him a land and a big family. In Haran, Jacob marries Leah and Rachel, the daughters of his uncle Laban, and has many children. Eventually he realises it is time to go home and face up to his brother.
Jacob was in trouble, big trouble! He'd tricked his brother, Esau, and his father, Isaac, into agreeing that he could be in charge of the land of Canaan when Isaac died. It should have been Esau's job because he was born first and when he realised he'd been tricked, Esau was furious.
“JACOB!” he roared, “When I get my hands on him I'm going to kill him!”
When their mother, Rebekah, heard that Esau was threatening to murder his brother, she called Jacob to her.
“Gather your things and get out of here,” she commanded him, “head for the town of Haran and when you get there ask for my brother, Laban, he'll take care of you.”
So Jacob took as many of his belongings as he could carry and without stopping to look back he ran. He ran until it was so dark he couldn't see where he was going and then finally he collapsed, panting with exhaustion. Looking around, he saw a large flat stone and using it as a pillow, he lay down and went to sleep.
In the middle of the night something incredible happened. The sky above Jacob seemed to split down the middle and a beam of golden light shone down from heaven to earth. Jacob stared at the light in amazement. There were angels, shining white, moving up and down the beam. It was like a stairway to heaven. Jacob looked up and up and there, standing at the top of the beam of light, was God himself.
And God spoke to Jacob – “I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham and your father Isaac. I will give you this land where you are lying now and a family that spreads across it to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. I will watch over you and protect you wherever you go. I will never leave you.”
Then the beam of light faded back to heaven and the sky closed up. When Jacob woke up in the morning he wondered if what he'd seen and heard had been real or just a dream, but he took the stone he'd used as a pillow and stood it on its end so that he would never forget this place. At that very moment he made a promise – “If the Lord will watch over me, he will be my God, too, and I will serve him.”
Then Jacob continued his journey until at last he came to the town of Haran. Just outside the town was a well and standing around the well were shepherds watering their sheep. They were a hairy, smelly bunch – the shepherds that is, not the sheep!
“Excuse me,” Jacob called out to the shepherds, “but do you know a man called Laban?”
“Yes, indeed,” replied the shepherds, “we know Laban we do, he lives nearby. Look, see! Here comes one his shepherds now.”
Jacob turned around expecting to see another hairy, smelly shepherd. But leading the sheep was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. They stared at each other with open mouths – it was love at first sight! Jacob soon learned that her name was Rachel and that she was the youngest daughter of his uncle Laban. Rachel took Jacob home to meet her father and she introduced him to her older sister, Leah. Jacob noticed that Leah had pretty eyes, but she wasn't nearly as beautiful as Rachel. Laban was delighted to meet Jacob, it was the first time he'd ever seen his nephew, and he invited him to stay and help them with the sheep. Jacob agreed at once.
A month went by and Laban came to Jacob and said “Listen here, you can't work for me for nothing just because we're family, I must pay you something. How much do you want?”
Jacob thought for a moment and then answered, “I will work for you for seven years if you will then let me marry your daughter Rachel.”
“It's a deal” Laban declared.
Seven years is a long time to work for anything, but Jacob was so in love with Rachel that it only seemed like seven days. When the time came, Laban arranged a big wedding. He invited everyone from the town of Haran and threw a huge party and he bought his daughter a long gown with a veil that covered her face. By the time the wedding ceremony was over and all the guests had finally gone home it was completely dark, so Jacob and his bride went straight to bed and were soon asleep. In the morning, Jacob woke up feeling happier than he'd ever been before, at last Rachel was his. But when he opened his eyes to look at his wife, he found that the woman lying next to him was Leah – uncle Laban had tricked him into marrying the wrong daughter!
Jacob was furious, he wanted to kill Laban! But then he realised, what Laban had done to him was no worse than what he'd done to his own brother. So Jacob went to Laban and said “I've married Leah, now let me marry Rachel too.”
“Of course,” Laban grinned, “you can marry Rachel, but then you must work another seven years for me.”
And Jacob agreed, he didn't have any choice. But as the years went by Jacob grew rich and he became a father. By the end of the seven years he had more money than Laban and he had eleven sons. But Jacob was homesick, he knew that it was time to go back to the land of Canaan and make up with his brother Esau.
So Jacob and Leah and Rachel and their eleven sons packed up their belongings and left the town of Haran. They travelled until they reached a river that was only a day's journey from Canaan, then they set up camp. In the morning Jacob sent his servants ahead of him with gifts for Esau, hoping that his brother would be pleased and forgive him. They waited until nightfall and then Jacob sent Leah and Rachel and their eleven sons after the servants.
Jacob was all alone in the camp when suddenly a man appeared out of nowhere. He grabbed hold of Jacob and the two of them began to wrestle. They struggled with each other, rolling around and around, until the sun began to rise. Realising that Jacob was not going to give up, the stranger struck him on the side. Jacob felt a terrible pain in his hip and he fell to the ground but he dragged the man down with him.
“Let me go!” the man demanded.
“No!” refused Jacob.
The stranger stopped struggling. “What is your name?” he asked.
“My name is Jacob.”
“Now you will have a new name,” the man told him, “you will be called Israel, because you have wrestled with God.”
And then he was gone. Jacob sat there, wondering if this had been a dream too, but when he stood up and felt the pain in his hip, he knew it had really happened and he knew what he had to do. He crossed the river and set off to find his brother Esau. He hadn't gone far when he saw Esau in the distance, heading towards him with four hundred men.
“This it,” Jacob told himself as Esau began to run , “my brother is going to kill me!” As Esau approached he threw his arms high into the air and then ... he hugged Jacob!
“Brother!” Esau cried out with tears rolling down his cheeks, “you're home at last.”
Jacob couldn't believe it, had his brother really forgiven him for tricking him all those years ago? Was he really going to be head of the land of Canaan? Then in his mind's eye he saw a large flat stone standing on its end and he remembered what God had told him – “I will give you this land, I will watch over you and protect you, I will never leave you” – and that was when Jacob realised, God always keeps his promises.