Jacob was the second born of the twin sons of Isaac by Rebekah. Like his father, Jacob tended to quietness and took up looking after the family flock. The gentleness of his nature, however, concealed an opportunistic character that seized on opportunities that came his way to make the best for himself. This first became evident when his older twin Esau returned home hungry one day.
Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!" Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright." "Look, I am about to die," Esau said. "What good is the birthright to me?"
But Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright. (Gen. 25:29-34).
Later, on the instigation of his mother, Jacob helped perpetrate a deception on his blind and ailing father, disguising himself as Esau in order to steal the blessings that a father traditionally gave to his eldest son. When Esau discovered the underhanded trick that Jacob had played, he swore to kill his brother, who fled to take refuge with his uncle Laban at Haran.
On the way there he had a dream that became immortalized as Jacob's Ladder.
In Haran, he met with Rachel, Laban's younger daughther and fell in love with her. However, Laban would not consent to give him his daughter in marriage until Jacob had served him for seven years. When the seven years passed, though, Laban craftily deceived Jacob by giving him his elder daughter, Leah instead. Another seven years of servitude was required to obtain Rachel, and this time he duly got her. Though Jacob wished to return to his parents, Laban entreated him to stay on. Six years later, though, God told Jacob it was time he returned to the land of his fathers.
Realizing that Laban would not let him go, Jacob stole away with his wives, taking with him all they possessed. On the way back, Jacob had another encounter with God, also immortalized by the term, "wrestling with God", and with the added significance of Jacob's name being changed to Israel.
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD , and he said: "I am the LORD , the God of your father Abraham
and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Gen. 28:12-15).
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."
But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
The man asked him, "What is your name?"
"Jacob," he answered.
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." (Genesis 31:24-28)
The injured Jacob was then reunited with his brother Esau. After a brief sojourn at Succoth, Jacob moved forward and pitched his tent near Shechem, but under divine directions, he moved to Bethel, where God appeared to him and renewed the Abrahamic covenant.
Jacob had twelve sons through Rachel and Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph and Benjamin. When the boys were old, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers who were jealous of Jacob's affection for him. They told the father that he had been killed. Years later, the patriach was reunited with Joseph, who had ended up becoming a right hand man to the Pharoah of Egypt. He spent the remainder of his life in Goshen, where he died. His body was embalmed and carried with great pomp into the land of Canaan, and buried beside his wife Leah in the cave of Machpelah.