Jacob stops for the night and sleeps using a rock for a pillow. Here he has the Jacob’s Ladder dream.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
Genesis 28:12-15 (KJV)
Jacob takes the magic rock he slept on and sits it on a pillar and anoints it with oil. He interprets his dream that his is literally on the spot that angels use to come to earth (“this is the gate of heaven.” 28:17) so he names it Bethel (meaning, house of god).
This has been interpreted by Christians that the world will be blessed by his seed, since Jesus is born from this bloodline. He isn’t, though, since he is not Joseph’s biological son, but that’s another story. This still reeks of the empty promise that his children will have everything. The Jacob’s ladder symbolism has led many interpretations over the centuries, but they rely on pure speculation since this seems to be the only real canonical reference to it.
Genesis 29 starts off with a long, rambling story about watering sheep, and ends with Jacob meeting Rachel, his cousin and kissing her. Then he goes to his Uncle’s house and his uncle tells him he can live here and work for wages. He said he would work for seven years for the hand of Rachel in marriage. They agree and Jacob spends seven years working for his uncle. On the day of the wedding feast, Uncle Laban sent in his oldest daughter, Leah in place of Rachel. Since this was before electric lighting, Jacob had sex with the wrong cousin!
And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.
Genesis 29:26-28 (KJV)
Jacob did what any honorable man would do and got the other daughter too…for the low, low cost of seven years labor. The Bible said Jacob loved Rachel (who he fell in love with) more than Leah (who he was forced to marry) so god punished him by making Rachel barren and gave Leah a son. Wait, Jacob is the good guy in this story, right? I mean, he loves Rachel but is apparently still sleeping with Leah too, but that isn’t a sin yet. Also, what’s up with all the women being barren in this book? Leah calls her son Reuben, and thinks, “now Jacob will have to love me!” She has two other sons later, Simeon and Levi…hey, apparently Jacob doesn’t hate her too much, because he is knocking the bottom out of that every chance he gets.
And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.
Genesis 29:34 (KJV)
So, three is the magic number? Wouldn’t he be “bound to her” after one son? Oh, yeah. His family has a history of sending unwanted mothers and children into the wilderness to die. Just to be sure, she pops out Judah in verse 35 to close out Genesis 29.
Did you think that was going to be the end of that? Nope.
And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
Genesis 30:1-3 (KJV)
With Rachel barren, she convinces Jacob to get her slave pregnant. Soon the slave Bilhah gives birth to Dan and then Naphtali. Not to be outdone (seriously, what is up with this family) Leah tells Jacob to have children with her slave, Zilpah! So Zilpah has Gad and then Asher.
And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes. And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes. And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.
Genesis 30:14-16 (KJV)
There’s a lot going on here. The word translated into Mandrake is literally “love-plant.” It is true that Mandrakes were used in magic rituals to cure infertility and would have been rare in this part of the world, so it would make sense. Then Leah buys sex with her husband (who we’ve established has tons of sex with her) from her sister/co-wife. Obviously, Jacob is into it and what do you know, Leah is pregnant with Issachar. Later, she has Zebulun and a daughter Dinah.
And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, The Lord shall add to me another son.
Genesis 30:22-24 (KJV)
Ta-Dah! God suddenly remembers Rachel (after eleven kids) and she is allowed to bare a child. After that, Jacob tells Laban he’s out. Laban asks him to stay, saying that God has blessed him because Jacob lived with them. (Yeah, blessed him with all that free labor). Laban tells him to name his price.
Okay, this gets weird.
The story is a little long and convoluted, so I’ll set a link here. Jacob says he’ll take all the livestock with spots or stripes. If there is ever an animal born without spots or stripes, it will be Laban’s. Laban agrees, forgetting that everyone in his family is a grifter.
Jacob took sticks and peeled some of the bark off, so the sticks appeared striped. Then, when strong animals mated, he would lay these sticks next to them, so their offspring would be spotted or striped. If the weak, crappy ones mated, he would leave them alone, so their offspring would be solid colored. That way, he could cheat his Uncle. Remember, he is just killing time while he waits for his father to die so he can get the massive inheritance he stole from his older brother. The Bible says he became very wealthy.
In Genesis 31, Laban’s kids tell dad that Jacob is using his magic sticks to steal their inheritance. Laban tells him to go back where he came from. Then, Jacob tells his wives to meet him in the fields, so he can tell them his side of the story.
And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money. For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children’s: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.
Genesis 31:14-16 (KJV)
The girls side with Jacob, being as he is rich now and dad is broke. The Rachel sneaks in and steals the household gods (statues) from her dad’s house! Then they left before Laban knew what happened. It was three days until Laban realized Jacob was gone. With a three day head start, it may seems Jacob was in the clear but he was carrying with him all his possessions, as well as his cattle, and family. Still, it took Laban seven day to catch up.
And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
Genesis 31:24 (KJV)
God tells Laban not to speak to Jacob, so he immediately speaks to Jacob. He tells him, “I could totally kill you right now, but God said to be nice. Why did you sneak out? I would have thrown you a party! Plus, I would have liked to say goodbye to my daughters.” Jacob says he was worried Laban would take his daughters back. He says everything is fine, BUT…
With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them. And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched but found not the images.
Genesis 31:32-35 (KJV)
Rachel as literally sitting on the stolen goods, and she says she cannot rise up and be around dad because she is menstruating. Then Jacob gets pissed.
And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me? Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight. And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?
Genesis 31:36-43 (KJV)
To settle the matter, the pile up a bunch of rocks. They pledge to not cross the rocks to do harm to each other, and god will referee the whole affair. That’s right, like an episode of the Odd Couple, they make a line in the middle of the desert to divide up the land. They then had a sacrifice (remember that killing something was how they displayed they were serious about something) and parted ways.
Let’s review. The hero of the story (Jacob) married two cousins, cheated his uncle, and fathered children with his slaves. What could possibly happen now? Next time, Esau and Jacob meet again!