Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, and the twin brother of Esau (Genesis 25:23-26). Jacob, meaning "grabber", was born clutching Esau's heel. He eventually received his father's blessing that was meant for Esau. Cheated by his brother, Esau vowed to kill Jacob (Genesis 27:41). Jacob left his home and went to the town of Padan Aram, where his uncle, Laban, lived.
At the outset of his journey, near Bethel, Jacob was given a vision by God of Israel's future: that the Jews would establish their own nation, that they would be scattered like dust to the ends of the earth, that they would have a worldwide impact, and that they would one day return to their homeland. All of these things of course have happened, long after the prophecy from Jacob was written down.
After working seven years as a herdsman for his uncle Laban, Jacob wanted to marry Laban's youngest daughter Rachel. But, Laban deceived Jacob by giving him his eldest daughter, Leah, in marriage. Jacob consented to work another seven years for the permission to marry Rachel.
Leah bore Jacob four sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel, who was barren, gave her maid, Bilhah, to bear Jacob's children for her. Bilhah bore Dan and Naphtali. Leah likewise gave Jacob her maid, Zilpah, who bore him Gad and Asher. Afterwards Leah gave birth to Issachar and Zebulun, and Jacob's only daughter, Dinah. Only then did Rachel conceive, bearing Joseph.
Jacob packed up his large family and went back to Canaan. On that trip, at night Jacob wrestled with an angel, asking for a blessing. At last the angel blessed him and gave him a new name: Israel ("You have struggled with God.") Jacob made amends with his brother Esau. Rachel died in childbirth of Jacob's last son, Benjamin.
Jacob settled again in the land of Canaan. After some years, his son Joseph became a high ranking official in Egypt. Jacob and his family moved to Egypt and lived there. Jacob blessed Joseph's two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. When Jacob died, his body was taken back to Canaan for burial. The 12 sons of Jacob (Israel) became the twelve tribes of Israel. They multiplied greatly in Egypt for a few hundred years, and returned to Canaan with Moses during the Exodus.
Next person in the Bible: Jael
Go to: List of people in the Bible