Genesis 28:9


In the study on Genesis 31:38-41 it was shown why it is commonly thought that Jacob spent just 20 years in Haran.  The appendix to that study did raise some questions about how all the events concerning Jacob, particularly that of fathering 12 children in 7 years, seemed highly unlikely.  It was also shown that Joseph's age would have been almost the same as his brothers, particularly Zebulun, yet Joseph is singled out as the son of Jacob's old age in Genesis 37:3.  This apparent inconsistency, and the issue of Jacob's time in Haran, can be resolved by considering Genesis 28:9,
 
Genesis 28:6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padanaram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;
Genesis 28:7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padanaram;
Genesis 28:8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;
Genesis 28:9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.
 
The verses above give an account of events right after Isaac blesses Jacob.  Recall that Jacob, the younger brother of Esau, took the blessing meant for Esau, Jacob's eldest son.  As a result, Esau was very angry and had determined to kill his brother in revenge.  However Rebekah learned of Esau's plan and encouraged Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in Haran (Padanaram).  Rebekah also got the support of Jacob's father Isaac by reminding him how unhappy they were with Esau's Canaanite wives (Genesis 26:35), and how it would be better for Jacob to find a wife in the land of Haran instead (Genesis 27:46).  Now it was at this time that verse 8 indicates that Esau, possibly in an attempt to regain favor with his father and upon learning that his parents were unhappy with the Canaanite wives he had, decides to go to take a wife of Abraham's son Ishmael, his father's brother.  One might suspect Esau figured if he married into the family of Abraham's descendants, that this would satisfy his parents.  In any case, we learn that Esau goes to Ishmael, and arranges to marry Ishmael's daughter Mahalath. 
 
So why is this important?  First, recall from Genesis 25:17 that Ishmael lived to be 137 years old.  Also, Ishmael was 14 years older than Isaac being born when Abraham was 86 years old (Genesis 16:16), while Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 21:5).  Further, we know Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac when he was 60 years old (Genesis 25:26).  From these various ages we can determine that in the year Ishmael died (at 137 years old), Isaac who was 14 years younger, was 123 years old.  And since Jacob and Esau were born when Isaac was 60 years old, then in the year Ishmael died they would both have been 63 years old.  This means that the oldest Esau could have been when he went to visit Ishmael to marry his daughter Mahalath was 63 years old, and similarly, the oldest Jacob could have been when he left for Padanaram (Haran) was also 63 years old.  Thus, we have established that the oldest Jacob could have been when he left his parents to go to Haran was 63 years old. 
 
Let's hold that information for a minute while we look at how old Jacob was when his son Joseph was born.  We find in Genesis 37 that Jacob's son Joseph was taken and sold to the Egyptians when he was 17 years old.  In Egypt Joseph worked in an Egyptian house until he was wrongly accused and sent to prison.  But after 13 years, when Joseph was 30 years old (Genesis 41:46), he was brought out of prison in order to interpret a dream for Pharaoh.  Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream as showing there would be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of severe famine.  After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream he was made a ruler in Pharaoh's house, and set up in a very high position within Egypt.  Following this the 7 years of plenty passed and the years of severe famine started.  This famine was not only in Egypt but also in Canaan, and Jacob and his family were suffering greatly, so much so Jacob sent his sons to buy food in Egypt.  In time Joseph was reunited with his brothers, and he urged them to go back to Canaan and bring their father and all their family into Egypt.  These things occurred at the end of the 2nd year of famine (Genesis 45:6).  Now since Joseph was 30 years old when he interpreted Pharaoh's dream, and the 7 years of plenty had already passed, and it was the end of the 2nd year of famine, we know that Joseph was 39 years old when he told his brothers to bring Jacob and his family to Egypt.  We also know that Jacob left Canaan and came to Egypt when he was 130 years old (Genesis 47:9).  So based on the ages of Jacob and Joseph at this time we can determine that Joseph was born when Jacob was 91 years old (130 - 39). 
 
Now that we know how old Jacob was when Joseph was born, we also know that Jacob was 91 years old when he told Laban he wanted to leave Haran and return to Canaan.  But as we know Laban convinced Jacob to remain in Haran and work for him, this time in order to get a portion of Laban's livestock.  We also know Jacob worked for Laban a final 6 years before finally leaving Haran (Genesis 31:41), which would mean Jacob would have been 97 years old.  Now we have two very important dates in Jacob's life, his age when he left Haran (97 years old) and also the oldest he could have been when he came to Haran (63 years old).  One can readily see this shows Jacob was in Haran for at least 34 years (97 - 63).  But remember, Jacob could very well have come to Haran before age 63, sometime before the year Ishmael died.  In order to figure out exactly how long Jacob was in Haran we'll take a second look at Genesis 31:38-41 (note: Jacob's and Laban's names have been inserted for clarity),
 
Genesis 31:38 Now I [Jacob] was with you [Laban] twenty years. Your ewes and your she-goats have not failed to bear, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock.
Genesis 31:39 I did not bring to you the mangled; I replaced it. From my hand you exacted it, that stolen by day and that stolen by night.
Genesis 31:40 I was there; by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night. And my sleep fled from my eyes.
Genesis 31:41 Now I [Jacob] have been twenty years in your [Laban's] house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock. And you have changed my wages ten times.
 
In verse 38 and 41 Jacob mentions 20 years, but in verse 41 those 20 years are qualified as being ones in which Jacob was in Laban's house.  Now compare this with the important statement given in Genesis 30:36 (note: Laban's name has been inserted for clarity),
 
Genesis 30:36 And he [Laban] set three days' journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks.
 
In Genesis chapter 30 we find the entire account of Laban talking Jacob out of leaving Haran following the birth of Joseph, and Jacob agreeing to stay on and work for some of Laban's livestock.  But note the statement in Genesis 30:36, where it is noted that Laban separates himself from Jacob by 3 days journey.  Now if Jacob is separated 3 days journey from Laban then he is certainly no longer in Laban's house (Genesis 31:41).  And so the 20 years mentioned in Genesis 31:41 cannot include the 6 years in which Jacob lived 3 days journey from Laban.  Thus, it appears that there were two separate 20 years periods, one in which Jacob lived in Laban's house (verse 41), and another in which Jacob lived in Haran but outside of Laban's house (verse 38), which included the 6 years in which Jacob lived 3 days journey from Laban.  In all likelihood, the 20 years in Haran but outside Laban's house included the 14 years working for Laban's daughters as well as the 6 years working for Laban's livestock.  All together this would mean that Jacob was in Haran for a total of 40 years, not just 34 years, and certainly not just 20 years.  And so Jacob would have come to Haran at 57 years old (6 years before Ishmael died), and stayed until 97 years old before returning to Canaan (note 1).
 
Now recall one of the difficulties of Jacob being in Haran for only 20 years is that this forces him to have 12 children in just 7 years, and forces Joseph to be roughly the same age as his brothers, making Genesis 37:3 (i.e., Joseph the son of Jacob's old age) nonsensical.  But now that we see Jacob was in Haran for 40 years, this allows Jacob to start having children when he was 64 years old (7 years after coming to Haran at 57 years old).  In which case it is very much possible that all of Jacob's children were born by the time he was 76 years old, with the exception of Joseph, who we know wasn't born until 15 years later when Jacob was 91 years old.  Now in this scenario the statement of Genesis 37:3 makes much more sense, given that Joseph was born when Jacob was 91 years old and his other children much earlier, when Jacob was probably between the ages of 64 and 76 years old. 
 
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Timeline of Jacob's Sojourn in Haran (referenced to Jacob's age)
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Age 57 - Jacob leaves Canaan and comes to Haran
Age 64 - Jacob marries Leah and Rachel, begins having children
Age 65 - Jacob begins having children by Leah
:
Age 76 - Jacob probably has last of children by Leah (Dinah)
:
Age 91 - Joseph (son of Jacob's old age) born
Age 97 - Jacob leaves Haran and returns to Canaan after 40 years (note 1)
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Appendix:  Why doesn't Jacob say 40 years?
 
It is sometimes questioned, if Jacob was in Haran for 40 years total, then why doesn't Jacob simply mention that in Genesis 31:38-41?  Why would he emphasize 20 years in Laban's house and 20 years outside of Laban's house?  The answer has to do with the point Jacob was making to Laban.  Laban had chased down Jacob after he left Haran without telling him.  The reason Jacob left in this manner was due to his distrust of Laban, who had deceived Jacob and changed his wages 10 times (Genesis 31:7).  But it was Laban, when he caught up with Jacob, who accused Jacob of being dishonest, for Laban accused Jacob of stealing his idols (Genesis 31:30).  Jacob went on to answer that the reason he left quietly was because he was afraid of Laban, but Laban didn't believe him and proceeded to search through Jacob's belongings looking for his idols.  Then, not finding them, Jacob begins to testify to Laban (Genesis 31:36-41), saying first that he had none of Laban's property.  Then beginning in verse 38 Jacob continues, first by citing how honest Jacob had been while taking care of Laban's livestock in the 20 years outside of Laban's house (a time in which Jacob suffered the loss if anything happened to any of Laban's livestock).  And then Jacob follows up with how honest he was while living in Laban's house, at time in which Laban himself would have seen that Jacob was not a liar or cheater or thief.  Thus, Jacob was highlighting his honesty, not only while in Laban's presence for 20 years, but also while not directly in Laban's presence for another 20 years.  In a sense, Jacob was testifying that he was not guilty of eyeservice, but was a faithful servant, as Colossians 3:22 says, 

Colossians 3:22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.

 
Note 1 - Jacob's Last Year in Haran
 
There is some debate about how old Jacob was when he left Haran, which was at the end of his 40 years in Haran.  This in turn affects how old Jacob was when he came to Haran.  However we can set some limits on these times.  As shown above, the oldest Jacob could have been when he left for Haran was 63 years old (the year Ishmael died).  The earliest Jacob could have come to Haran is determined by adding his last 6 years of working for Laban to his age when Joseph was born (97=91+6), and then subtracting Jacob's 40 years in Haran which results in an age of 57 years old as the earliest he could have come.  Thus we have limits on Jacob coming to Haran when between 57 and 63 years old, and leaving Haran at 97 to 103 years old.  There are a few reasons to suspect an earlier age is more appropriate:
 
Genesis 30:25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.
 
Here we find that right after Rachel gives birth of Joseph that Jacob asks Laban to allow him to leave Haran and return to his homeland Canaan.  Now ultimately Laban convinced Jacob to remain and work in order to earn some of Laban's cattle, a period of apparently six years (Genesis 31:41).  Thus, it would appear that Jacob finally left 6 years after Joseph was born, at 97 years old.  Now it has been argued that Jacob probably would not have desired to leave Haran so quickly after the birth of his son Joseph.  While this may be true, there is no indication of this in Genesis 30:25.  A second reason to suspect an earlier arrival in Haran (and earlier departure back to Canaan) is that this would allow more time for Judah to have his seven sons by Shuah's daughter and Tamar before leaving Canaan for Egypt (reference study on Genesis 46:5-12).  (Return)
 
 
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