Israel is a nation of God’s chosen people. The unity of the 12 tribes formed the nation of Israel. The 12 tribes – the Shevatim – are descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob. And so, Jacob means Israel.
Israel was born out of lands of Canaan, Egypt and Haran, where Jacob lived. There were only three Jewish patriarchs, and Jacob was the final. Jacob had achieved what his predecessors had never achieved – defeating an angle. God recognized him as “Bnei Yisrael”.
Let’s trace the origin of the nation by looking at Jacob’s life.
Isaac who originated from Ur, a wealthy city in Sumeria where his father Abraham lived, married Rebekah from Mesopotamia. Together, they had twin sons: Jacob and Esau, although the latter was older.
Prophet Shem, Noah’s son, foretold the birth of the two sons. Even though Jacob followed Esau, the younger son dominated his elder brother. Esau was more of an outdoorsman than Jacob who was studious. However, Esau was inquisitive, even though this wasn’t to convince his mother that he was morally upright. Whether Isaac was aware of this isn’t clear.
How Esau Lost his Firstborn Rights
Whether the red lentil soup Jacob prepared for his father was delicious isn’t clear, but what’s apparent is that Esau was very hungry. Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger, buying firstborn rights with the meal.
How Mother’s Machinations Changed History
Rebekah was a wise woman. She used her wit and foresight to ensure the rightful person received the eternal blessing. She heard Isaac, sick and bedridden, telling Esau to go out, hunt game and prepare a meal for him before blessing him.
She called Jacob, and devised a plan, which involved Jacob masquerading as Esau. By the time the elder son returned, it was too late, as Jacob will have “stolen” what rightfully belonged to him: the blessing. When Isaac realized what happened, he told Esau that the plot was bound to happen. Esau got angry, swearing to kill Jacob when he gets an opportunity. In spite of all the drama, Isaac blessed Esau in another way.
The 12 Stones
Sensing Jacob’s life was in danger, Isaac and his wife sent Jacob to his uncle, Laban. The place of Jacob’s hiding was Haran. But as he was heading to Haran, he slept along the way, and God approached him in his sleep. When he woke up, the 12 stones he had placed around his head had unified. He picked up the stone, oiled it and offered it to God.
Jacob and Rachel
Jacob fell in love with his cousin, Rachel. Leah and Rachel were daughters of Laban. Jacob took care of his uncle’s flock. Under his care, the flock’s number grew. Laban was happy, and loved to have Jacob as his son-in-law only if he could continue overseeing his flock for seven years.
But Laban was a schemer. He devised a plan to have Leah masquerade as Rachel during marriage so that Jacob continue working for seven more years.
However, Jacob and Leah were ahead of the game, because they devised a secret way of identifying each other. True to Jacob’s expectations, Laban had deceived him into marrying Leah. Laban told him that it was Haran’s tradition for marry off the eldest sister first.
Laban gave conditions and made several agreements but God gave Jacob a sign during the sixth year of new contract. Jacob was growing wealthy, despite his uncle’s machinations. Jacob stayed in Haran for 20 years, and married Rachel, whom together with her two handmaidens, gave birth to children.
The 12 Tribes of Israel
Jacob married Leah but he had handmaidens who gave him other sons and daughters. The following were Leah’s sons with Jacob:
Leah had a daughter, Dinah. Leah’s handmaidens, Bilhah and Zilpah bore the following sons:
A Secret Departure
Jacob left Haran for Canaan secretly with his wives and children. However, Rachel stole her father’s idols in secret.
When Laban realized what happened, he thought Jacob had stolen from him. He launched a manhunt. God warned Laban not to harm Jacob. When he caught with Jacob around Mount Gilead, Laban, heeding God’s warning, demanded to know who stole his idols. Realizing it wasn’t Jacob, and the thief still at large, Laban issued a curse, which would later harm his daughter, Rachel.
The Twins Reunite
Jacob’s intention was to make peace with his brother. He sent people to deliver a message of peace, but they came back with bad news. Esau was going to attack him. But Jacob’s preparation and consultation with God prevented conflicts.
The Battle Between Jacob and his Guardian Angel
When Jacob returned to the opposite side of Yabbok river after seeing his family through safely, he met with a stranger who attacked him. The fight took the whole night.
As dawn approached, the stranger realized he was in trouble. Why wouldn’t he just give up. The angel must have reasoned. He’d overstayed, as his time to sing praises had arrived. God would be angry. He thought. In a hurry to break free of Jacob’s grip, he dislocated his thigh. The pain was unbearable but Jacob stuck to his guns.
Jacob realized it was an angel who took human form, but he couldn’t release him until he agreed to Jacob’s conditions regarding his blessings. Jacob recovered that day because God healed his wounds.
God Declares Jacob Israel
After meeting up with Esau and parting ways, satisfied that his family is safe, at least then, Jacob returns to where God approached him and unified the 12 stones on his head. Again, God approached and gave him a new name: Israel.
The Birth of a Nation
Jacob’s covenant with God gives birth to a nation. The 12 stones represented the 12 sons of Jacob, and the single stone, which results after God unifies all the stones, is the nation of Israel. And so, Israel’s unity depend on God. Because Jacob was a righteous man, the unity has remained to date, and will endure for eternity.