This is an exploratory attempt to plot the structure of the Jacob narrative. I have been working through the book of Genesis for a Sunday School class, and this section was inspired by the Biblical Horizons Newsletter 109, Crisis Time: Patriarchal Prologue, Part 1.
A. Naming of Jacob (25:19-28)
B. Esau Despises his Birthright (25:29-34)
C. Abimelech (26)
D. Jacob is blessed and incites Esau to Murder (27-28:9)
E. Vision of God at Bethel (28:10-22)
F. Jacob vs. Laban (29:1-30)
G. Leah vs. Rachel (29:31-24)
H. God opens Rachel’s womb – Joseph (30:22-24)
’G. Speckled vs. White Goats (30:25-34)
’F. Jacob vs. Laban (31)
’E. Vision of God at Peniel (32:22-32)
’D. Esau turns from his anger and Jacob blesses Esau (33)
’C. Dinah (34)
’B. Jacob casts out the idols (35:1-8)
’A. Renaming of Jacob (35:9-15)
A- Jacob is originally named for his heel-grabbing. He takes Esau’s place. Later, after having his own leg grabbed by God, Jacob is renamed Israel. He is now named “He who fights for God.”
B- Esau’s despising his birthright is a sort of rejection of his God. Jacob throws out all other gods out of allegiance to the true God.
C- The Abimelech story appears in the midst of the Jacob and Esau narrative. It is almost parenthetical, and is the only place where the adult Isaac takes a central role. He recapitulates Abraham’s deception of Abimelech, as Abimelech once again seeks to attack the bride. The bride is again attacked in the Dinah incident, however, Shechem seeks to make things right, and when Jacob’s sons take out vengeance through deception, they make him obnoxious to all the other tribes of the land. This is an anti-deception scene, as rather than resulting in the usual spoils principle, it creates an opportunity for future harm.
D- Jacob’s receiving of the blessing incites Esau to anger. He swears to kill Jacob. Later it appears that Esau has had a change of mind, as he forgives Jacob and Jacob blesses Esau. This resolves the brother-brother strife and sets things aright.
E- While fleeing Esau, Jacob meets God as a friend at Bethel. While fleeing Laban and just prior to meeting Esau again, Jacob meets God as a foe at Peniel.
F- Jacob meets Laban but is deceived by him into marrying Leah and thus owing seven more years of labor for Rachel. In chapter 31, Jacob and Rachel deceive Laban, and Jacob rebukes Laban and strikes up an agreement for his safe passage.
G- Leah and Rachel compete for Jacob’s affection by producing children. Jacob competes with Laban through Laban’s flocks. The speckled goats represent Leah, who looked sickly, but Jacob has arranged it so that they are actually the stronger. While looking like Leah, they are actually like Rachel.
H- Amidst the competition between Leah and Rachel, God remembers Rachel and removes her reproach. Joseph is the promised child who will carry on the Seed of the woman.