Isaac commands Jacob not to take a wife from among the heathen Canaanites, but rather to go back to Padan-aram, where Rebekah is from and marry one of his uncle Laban's daughters. He also blesses him, and passes along the blessing god gave to Abraham.
Esau observes all of this and goes to his uncle Ishmael and adds one of his daughters to his harem. Lots of cousin-marrying in this book. It's almost like they're hillbillies or something.
Back to Jacob, who camps in the desert, using stones for pillows, which sounds like fun, and dreams of a ladder to heaven, with angels going up and down. Rock pillows will do that to you. God is at the top, and he repeats the promise he made to Abraham and Isaac: you'll inherit this land, you'll have lots of offspring, yada yada yada. He promises to stick around until it happens. This apparently is where the expression 'Jacob's ladder' comes from.
Jacob wakes up and thinks this must be the gate of heaven, and he's afraid. So he stacks up the rocks and pours oil over them, which apparently is a pagan ritual. He names the place Beth-el and vows that if god fulfills his promise, he'll keep this stone as a place of worship and give one-tenth of his wealth to him. So begins tithing.
Jacob comes to Haran and sees a well with a stone on it. He asks the shepherds where he is and they confirm it. He asks if they know Laban, and they do, and he asks how he is, and they say fine, and that his daughter Rachel is coming with some sheep. He tells them to water the sheep, like who does he think he is, walking up to a bunch of strangers and imposing his farming methods on them? and they say to wait until all the sheep have arrived. As they're talking, Rachel arrives. Jacob, clearly showing off for the girls, rolls the stone away and waters the flock. Then, apropos of nothing, he kisses her and bursts into tears. Oddly, she does not reject him right then and there.
He introduces himself, which I would have thought should be the first thing to do, and she runs back to tell her father. Laban comes out and hugs him and bring shim back, where he stays for a month.
Laban asks Jacob to work for him, and asks how much he wants to be paid. We then get a horse-trader's assessment of his two daughters: Leah is cute, but Rachel is hot, so Jacob offers to stay for seven years if he can have Rachel at the end. Laban agrees Jacob is a good match, so Jacob stays on and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her (v.20), which I think is the most romantic thing the bible has said to date.
Of course, Jacob goes and ruins it all in the next verse with his quite obnoxious demand, give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled (v.21), and rather than telling him to say the magic word, Laban throws a feast and brings him... Leah! But Jacob doesn't notice what with the feasting and the wine and the dark and the horniness after 7 years, until morning. He asks his uncle what the hell happened, and Laban explains that in their country, the youngest daughter can't be married before the first. He tells him he can enjoy the next week for a honeymoon, but he'll have to stay another seven years if he wants Rachel as well. How hot is she going to be after 14 years of this? But Jacob does it and he marries Rachel as well, finally, and loves her more than Leah, which so isn't going to turn out well, which he should know after his own experience where his mother liked him better and his father liked his brother.
Jerry finally notices that someone in the messianic line is a polygamist, but it's okay! It isn't outlawed until later!
Anyway, god, loving the irony of this second Jerry Springer episode, makes Leah pregnant and Rachel barren, because he's the only one who's allowed to have favourites. The resulting son is Reuben, and Leah thinks he'll bring her and Jacob closer together. Oh, sweetie, if I had a nickel for every woman who has tried that and failed, I'd live in a much nicer apartment. She has another son, Simeon, so obviously Jacob doesn't hate her too much, then another and another, finally goes into menopause.
Rachel proves herself to be Jerry's kind of woman, one whose entire identity is wrapped up in her children, or lack thereof. She gets jealous of Leah and tells Jacob to give her kids or she'll die. Jacob gets pissy and says it isn't him, it's god. Well, that and his reserves are probably depleted by impregnating Leah so much. She has the brilliant idea of giving her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob, because that worked out so well with Sarah and Hagar and Ishmael, but Jacob will screw anything, rather like Abraham.
So Bilhah conceives a son, which Rachel claims as her own, whilst admitting it is a blessing and a curse at the same time so she calls him Dan. Bilhah has another son by Jacob, who Rachel also claims him and calls it a triumph over her sister, and calls him Naphtali.
Leah is in menopause, but isn't willing to give up the baby tower-building, so she gives him her handmaid, Zilpah, and they have a son together, then another one. Unlike Hagar, we never hear how these slaves feel about being part of an arms race, but I'm thinking Margaret Atwood captured it pretty succinctly in The Handmaid's Tale. Leah declares herself the winner.
Leah's first son Reuben is a farmer, and one day he finds mandrakes in his fields. Jerry informs me that mandrakes were thought to be an aphrodisiac and an aid in conception, so that's why this incident is important. Rachel asks Leah for some of he mandrakes and Leah retorts that she has their husband's heart, why does she need mandrakes, too? Rachel says Leah can have Jacob that night if only she can have the mandrakes. I'm waiting for this to be a plotline on Big Love.
Jacob comes home from the fields and Leah comes out and tells him he has to come with her, because Rachel traded her night for mandrakes. Jacob isn't particular, so he comes home with her. The result is the fifth son, because apparently sons with handmaidens don't count in the line of descent, only for sheer numbers in arms races, and calls him Issachar. Then she has a sixth son. She praises the lord and fools herself into thinking this is going to convince Jacob to stay with her forever. Her final child is Dinah, a girl.
God remembers Rachel and finally she has Joseph, but vows that she'll have another.
Jacob finally decides he's tired of living in Padan-aram so he asks Laban to let him go home. Laban asks him to stay, because god has shown him favour as a result of Jacob's presence. He asks him to name his price. Jacob says he's done his bit, his uncle is now rich in cattle, and now he wants to strike out on his own. Laban asks what Jacob wants. He promises to feed and keep the next day, and while he's doing that, he'll take all the speckled and spotted animals from Laban's flocks. Laban agrees, then takes all the same animals out of his flocks that same day, proving that it doesn't take much to be smarter than Esau.
Jacob doesn't say anything, but apparently acting on superstition, he makes white streaks in some popular, hazel and chestnut sticks, and piles them in the water troughs, so that when the animals come to drink, they'll see the branches and bear streaked and spotted offspring. I am not making this up. It is right there in verses 37-41 of Genesis, and it works. Try it for yourselves.
Jacob takes his new flock and keeps up the branch trick with the strongest animals, until he has all the strong animals and Laban the weak. Finally, he's rich in cattle, slaves, camels and asses.
Laban's sons notice that Jacob now has all the good animals, and Jacob himself notices that Laban won't look him in the eye anymore. God tells him to go back, and he'll stay with him. Just like he stayed with him for all that time Rachel was trying to get pregnant. Jacob tells his two wives what's up with their father, and what god said, and reminds them how loyal he's been to Laban, and how poorly he's been treated in return. He confesses that's why they now have all the good cows, and that god has also told him to go home.
Rachel and Leah mostly want to know if their entire inheritance is now gone, because obviously they know they can't trust Jacob as long as there are slave girls around, but they do agree to go.
So they mount their camels and Jacob gathers the cattle and the goods, and while Laban is shearing the sheep, Rachel steals the pictures from the house, though not the kitchen sink, and they ride off, but not for long.
Laban finds out on the third day that Jacob and company have left, and a seven-day camel chase occurs with all his kinsmen Somewhere on the way, God appears to Laban in a dream and tells him to be neither mean nor kind to Jacob. They finally catch up to them near mount Gilead. Jacob has stupidly made camp for the night, and Laban comes in and asks him my he left in the middle of the night and kidnapped his daughters at swordpoint? He seems most insulted that Jacob didn't let him throw a good-bye feast and say goodbye to his kids and grandkids. Apparently this lack of courtesy means he can now harm him, but god has told him not to be angry or nice here. So now he's here to say that he understands Jacob wants to go home but there's the small matter of stolen property.
Jacob says he was afraid that Laban would take his wives away. Hey, at least he didn't pull the sister racket! He tells Laban to go through his luggage and take anything that belongs to him not knowing Rachel stole the icons. So Laban goes through Leah's tent, then the servants, and finds nothing, but finally he goes into Rachel's tent. Rachel has cleverly hidden the icons in the camel saddles and sat on them, so Laban doesn't find them. She tells her father that she can't stand up because she has her period, knowing he won't go near her.
Jacob and Laban argue and Jacob asks what he's done wrong, what Laban has found after ransacking his tents. He taunts him to say it in front of all their kin, so they can be the judges. He points out his twenty years of service, that the sheep haven't miscarried and he hasn't eaten the rams that he hasn't charged him for the losses, that Laban has stolen his time, and Laban has cheated him over and over again, and god saw it all but only rebuked him the other night.
Laban says Leah and Rachel are his and by extension so are their children, as well as the cows, so what can he do to all that is his?
He proposes a pact. Jacob takes a stone and starts a pillar, and tells his kin to do the same, and they all eat on the resulting pile. Laban wants to call the pile Jegarsahadutha, but Jacob prefers Galled and can you imagine how fun family dinner must be in this house, with the arguing over what to call a pile of rocks, and whose property the women are, and who bred the cattle how? Gawd.
Laban calls on god to watch over things when they aren't together, and says he doesn't want Jacob taking any further wives, as if four isn't enough, and says that in exchange he won't cross the border formed by the rock pile, nor will Jacob. Jacob agrees and sacrifices an animal and then they feast and Laban goes home.
Jacob sets off and meets some angels. He asks them to go to Esau and tell them what he's been up to and that he's on his way. They do, and come back to say Esau is on his way to meet them with 400 men. Jacob is afraid and divides his people into two, on the theory that Esau can only fight one contingent. He asks god for safe passage. He camps for the night and chooses some goats, sheep, camels, donkeys and cattle and gives them to his servants with instructions to meet Esau and tell him this is a tribute. He sends out two more servants in different directions with the same orders. He figures this should appease Esau. Then he sends his wives and sons along, too. Then Jacob is alone except for a man, whom he wrestles all night.
Finally, Jacob wins despite his dislocated 'thigh', which might be his hip, or his penis, which I will find out when my uncensored bible arrives. The man asks for mercy, but Jacob says not until he blesses him. The man asks who he is, and he says Jacob, and the stranger says he's no longer Jacob, but Israel, because he has power over god and man. Jacob asks who he is, and why he wants to know who he is, but it's a secret, so the man shuts him up with a blessing.
Jacob calls the wrestling ring Peniel, because he saw there. Finally, the pain in his thigh catches up to him, and apparently that's why Jews don't eat the sinew of the thigh, which I did not know.
The copy editor must have been on holiday that week because suddenly Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah are there, and Esau is within sight. Jacob lines them up in order of importance: handmaids, Leah, Rachel, himself, then goes to the front and bows down before his brother.
Esau hasn't gotten any smarter in the past 20 years, so he runs up to his brother and kisses him. He sees the harem and asks who they are, and Jacob says they're the children god has given his (Esau's) servant. The handmaidens bow, then Leah, then Rachel. Esau asks about all the other people he met, and Jacob says they're presents. He urges them on Esau, who refuses, because he's got enough, thanks to god. Jacob says he's found Grace in Esau's sight, and begs him to take the loot, and flatters his brother that he looks like God, which he ought to know, since he just saw him. Finally, Esau agrees and Jacob asks to go home, and Esau offers to go first. There is some discussion about driving the stock too hard and Esaw asks to leave some of his slaves with Jacob who says god will help him. Esau goes back to Seir, and Jacob to Succoth then to Shalem where he pitches his tent and buys a field and builds an altar.