Do you know what your name means? How would you like a name that means “one who cheats or deceives”? (Carry that one around in grade school!) Jacob got that name simply because he had held on to the heel of his first-born twin brother Esau at birth. Having been saddled with that name, he lived up to it for his entire life. Not that Jacob didn’t have help. He came from a long line of deceivers and cheaters.

His mother, Rebekah, coaxed and coached Jacob into deceiving his blind and elderly father so that he could receive Esau’s rightful blessing. When he discovered the ruse, Esau decided that Jacob would shortly follow when his father had breathed his last breath. Rebekah told Jacob to flee to her family in Paddan Aram to find a wife. So, at 76 years of age, Jacob left his family home. (You thought you knew children who were slow to leave the nest!)

When Jacob arrived in Paddan Aram, he met his match. He fell in love with Rachel and worked seven years for the right to marry her. However, his father-in-law, Laban, deceived him at the wedding by replacing Rachel as the bride with her sister. Then came another seven years of hard work to earn Rachel’s hand…again. (Those who wish for the good old days may not want to go back too far!) At this point, Jacob returned to his old ways. During the next six years while he worked for Laban, somehow, he genetically modified the sheep to his advantage. Once the deceit was discovered, Jacob packed up his family and property and fled back to his home.

Now Jacob had deceived himself straight between a rock and a hard place. A fuming Laban was pursuing him and Esau, as far as Jacob knew, still wanted to kill him. But then came one of the many lessons of this story. Before Laban caught up to Jacob, God spoke to him, cooled his anger, and instructed him to speak civilly to Jacob. (How many times I wish I had followed that advice!) After a heated exchange of accusations, counteraccusations, and defenses, the two made peace—promising never again to harm each other. With much trepidation, Jacob continued his journey home. Jacob humbled himself and asked for forgiveness when he met Esau, not knowing that Esau had already forgiven him.

Deception depends on and takes advantage of trust. Like Jacob and everyone else, I have deceived others, been deceived by others, and even deceived myself. Some lessons learned have been the need to stay calm and, when possible, ask for forgiveness, forgive, and make peace. Once we do, we can move on to see what else God has called us to do. God certainly was not done with Jacob, even after He gave him a new identity by changing his name to Israel. And we know Who that brought forth!

by Elder Bill Jones

Learn more about Jacob in the series “Heroes with Feet of Clay” on Life Academy.