Fathers in the Bible: Jacob, the Father of Many Sons

Jacob is the son of Isaac and Rebekah and has a twin brother, Esau.

“Jacob is an outstanding illustration of the presence and conflict of the two natures within a believer. Similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, Jacob is good and bad; he rises and falls, yet in spite of his failures was a chosen instrument.” {All the Men of the Bible}

Jacob met {and eventually married} Leah and Rachel

Jacob went to his uncle Laban and met his daughters there.  He married Leah and then his favorite wife, Rachel.  Eventually each wife also provided a hand maiden who provided children.  Through these women, he had twelve sons and a daughter.  Eventually, his sons would become known as the twelve tribes of Israel.

We can learn a lot about Jacob as a husband and the emotional journey of his wives through the names of his sons:  {Genesis 29:31-30:1-24: Genesis 35:16-29}


  • Reuben—behold a son and God has seen my misery
  • Simeon—obedient, listening, little hyena
  • Levi—jointed attached
  • Judah—praise

Bilhah  {Handmaiden of Rachel}

  • Dan—God is my judge
  • Naphalti—my struggle, my strife

Zilpah {handmaiden of Leah}

  • Gad—fortune, luck
  • Asher—happy, blessed


  • Issachar—hire, wage, reward
  • Zebulun—dwelling place, exalted, honored
  • Dinah—a daughter; means avenged, judged and vindicated


  • Joseph—may God add or increase
  • Benjamin—son of the right hand

But, what can we learn about Jacob as a father.  Well, several things.

  1. When Jacob meets Esau, he puts his wives and children in order of prominence.
  2. “so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. “  {Genesis 33:1-2}
  3. Dinah—his daughter is raped. He did nothing until his son came in from the fields. Jacob made an agreement for Dinah to be married, but Simeon and Levi attacked the city and killed all the men. {Genesis 30}
  4. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” {Genesis 34:30}
  5. Reuben—” While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.”  {Genesis 35:22}
  6. Joseph—he favored his first son with Rachel.  “because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”  {Genesis 37:3-4}
  7. Mourns Joseph—” Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.”  {Genesis 37:34}
  8. Benjamin goes to Egypt—” Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty[a] grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.””  {Genesis 43:13-14}
  9. Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die.  {Genesis 43:8}
  10. Joseph is alive—” They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.””  {Genesis 45:26-28}
Jacob and his sons where shepherds

“ Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.””   {Genesis 46:30}

Jacob’s name has now been changed to Israel.  Seeing the son he mourned for for so long provides all the comfort he needs.  He can die happy now, but once reunited he still has time with his son.

“ Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven.  When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt,  but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.””   {Genesis 47:28-30}

Jacob was reunited with his favorite son

“The Hebrew nation is spoken of as “the sons of Jacob” and “the children of Israel”.”   {All the Men of the Bible}

In Genesis 49, he blesses his sons telling us more about his sons and how well he knew each of them, as well as blessing each tribe to come.

Jacob became a father to many sons.  These sons became clans and he became the father of the Israelites.

“Jacob’s character then, is full of interest and difficulty because of its weakness and strength. His is not a life to be described by a single word as, for example, the faith of Abraham or the purity of Joseph. Jacob seemed to have a many-sided life. He was a man of guile, yet a man of prayer. Inconsistencies are everywhere.”  {All the Men of the Bible}

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