Was Jacob a Prophet?

During a Friday night talk, the rav of my shul suggested that Yaakov / Jacob was not a prophet.

After his talk I asked him for more details. He told me that since God only spoke to Jacob in dreams, that meant he was not a prophet.

I wasn’t satisfied, so I started digging into the topic.

Gemara Megillah

According to Jewish tradition, there were 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses.

Megillah 14a

Our Rabbis taught: “Forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses prophesied to Israel, and they neither took away from nor added anything to what is written in the Torah save only the reading of the Megillah.”

Later on the Gemara questions the 48 number. It says we know that there were actually hundreds of prophets. The Gemara clarifies that the 48 are those who had a prophesy that applies for future generations.

Who are the 48? The Gemara does not list them.

However, Rashi based on Seder Olam does give a list of the 48. His listing begins, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Aaron, Joshua, …”

The rest of this article will look at the verses in Bereshit / Genesis that record God communicating with Jacob. Other events in Jacob’s life will not be mentioned in this article.

Join the Thinking Torah weekly newsletter. Click here for details.

1. Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob's Ladder

This is the first time God speaks to Jacob. He appears to him in a dream as Jacob is about to leave the Land of Israel:

Genesis Chapter 28

11 And he [Jacob] arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place.
12 And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.
13 And behold, the Lord was standing over him, and He said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed.

The encounter starts after Jacob “arrived at the place.” The Hebrew root translated as “arrived” is pey-gimmel-ayin. We’ll see this root later on.

Jacob dreams. He first sees a ladder and angels. After that God appears to him and speaks to him.

2. Time to Leave

About 20 years later, God again speaks to Jacob. Jacob has been living and working is Padan Aram for Lavan, his mother’s brother.

God tells him it’s time to leave Lavan’s house and return to his father’s home.

Genesis Chapter 31

3 And the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your forefathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you.”

From this verse it seems God did not appear to him in a dream. However, the next few verses tell a different story.

3. Jacob Tells His Wives

This is the day after God told Jacob to leave Padan Aram. Jacob is speaking to his wives, Rachel and Leah.

Genesis Chapter 31

11 And an angel of God said to me in a dream, ‘Jacob!’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’
12 And he said, ‘Now lift your eyes and see [that] all the he goats mounting the animals are ringed, speckled, and striped, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.
13 I am the God of Beit-El, where you anointed a monument, where you pronounced to Me a vow. Now, arise, go forth from this land and return to the land of your birth.'”

Jacob explains to Rachel and Leah what has been going on. He explains that an angel of God spoke to him in a dream and showed him how to influence the color pattern of the animals that would be born.

This dream would have happened about 6 years earlier. That is when Jacob made a a deal with Lavan to continue working for him. Jacob’s pay was to be sheep and goats born with certain color patterns.

But verse 13 is about the command that God spoke to Jacob the night before. In other words, Jacob is relating to his wives the content of 2 separate dreams that were 6 years apart.

So far, all of Jacob’s encounters with God have been in dreams.

4. Two Camps of Angels

Jacob has left Lavan and is ready to enter the Land of Israel. He is met by two camps of angels:

Genesis Chapter 32

2 And Jacob went on his way, and angels of God met him.
3 And Jacob said when he saw them, “This is the camp of God,” and he named the place Mahanaim.

Jacob is permitted to view these angels even though he is awake, not having a dream.

The Hebrew root translated as “met” is the pey-gimmel-ayin that we saw above in Genesis 28:11.

The shoresh pey-gimmel-ayin is used at the beginning of the parsha and now at the end.

At the beginning, Jacob had to be directed to the place where God could appear to him. Now, at the end, the angels meet Jacob where he is.

This seems to indicate that Jacob grew spiritually during his 20 years with Lavan.

5. Jacob Sends Messengers

Jacob is returning to the Land of Israel and about to meet his brother / enemy Esau after 20 years.

Genesis Chapter 32

4 Jacob sent messengers / angels ahead of him to his brother Esau, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.

What is the nature of these “messengers.” According to one opinion in Rashi, these are literal angels since the same Hebrew word is used here as was used in verse 32:2.

If in fact these are real angels, then Jacob’s ability to command them indicates that he has reached a significant spiritual level.

6. Jacob Wrestles with an Angel

Jacob prepares to meet his brother. At one point during the night, he is alone and a “man” wrestles with him.

Genesis Chapter 32

25 And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. …

31 And Jacob named the place Peniel, for [he said,] I saw an angel face to face, and my soul was saved.”

This “man” is the guardian angel of Esau. Jacob knew he was in a struggle with his brother. He has now been shown the significant spiritual forces that he is also battling against.

The “man” blesses Jacob and changes his name to Israel “because you have struggled with God and with man and overcome.”

7. God Tells Jacob to Move On

God next speaks to Jacob after the rape of Dinah. Jacob has been living in Shechem / Sukkot in the Land of Israel for some time. God tells him it’s time continue his journey to his father’s home.

Genesis Chapter 35

1 And God said to Jacob, “Arise and go up to Beit-El and abide there, and make there an altar to the God Who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”

There is no hint that this communication was during a dream.

8. God in Beit-El

Jacob has obeyed God’s previous command and arrived in Beit-El.

Genesis Chapter 35

9 And God appeared again to Jacob when he came from Padan Aram, and He blessed him.
10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob. Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” And He named him Israel.

God appears to Jacob and blesses him. God changes his name to Israel, the name the angel had given him back in Chapter 32.

9. Jacob Sees Food in Egypt

Joseph is now in Egypt and has been promoted to viceroy, Pharaoh’s second in command. The famine that Joseph predicted has begun.

Genesis Chapter 42

1 Jacob saw that there was grain being sold in Egypt; so Jacob said to his sons, “Why do you appear satiated?”

Jacob “sees” that there is food in Egypt. It’s not possible that he literally saw food in Egypt. This was a partial prophetic experience and Jacob did not realize the full significance of what he “saw.”

According to Rashi, God showed him that there was “hope” in Egypt. However, God did not allow him to have a full prophetic experience because then he would know that Joseph was in Egypt.

10. Going Down to Egypt

God appears to Jacob in night visions

Jacob is traveling down to Egypt with his entire family. God appears to him in “night visions.” This could mean that God appeared to him in a dream.

Genesis Chapter 46

2 And God said to Israel in visions of the night, and He said, “Jacob, Jacob!” And he said, “Here I am.”
3 And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.
4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up, and Joseph will place his hand on your eyes.

11. Jacob and the End of Days

Jacob has been living in Egypt for 17 years. He is about to die.

He gathers his sons together and tells them that he will reveal to them what will happen at the End of Days.

Genesis 49

1 Jacob called for his sons and said, “Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days.

However, in his blessings to his 12 sons, he does not reveal much about the future.

Summing Up

What we see in these verses is Jacob’s growth as a prophet.

At the beginning, God only communicates with him via dreams (Points 1 – 3).

Then (Point 4) Jacob has grown and can see angels. In fact, at the beginning Jacob had to be directed to the place where he would have a prophetic vision. But in Point 4, the angels come to where he is. This is based on the use of the root pey-gimmel-ayin in both (1) and (4).

In Points 5 and 6 Jacob has direct encounters with angels, a further demonstration of his spiritual growth.

In Points 7 and 8, God appears to Jacob directly not in a dream.

However, Point 9 seems to indicate a backward step, since God only grants Jacob a partial prophetic experience. Rashi explains this is because God is still hiding from Jacob the fact that Joseph is still alive.

In other words, if there were no restrictions placed on him, Jacob had the prophetic power to discern that Joseph was alive.

Point 10 seems to indicate that Jacob has slipped backward and God can only communicate with him in a dream. However, I don’t think we have to explain “night visions” as being the same as a dream.

Jacob is on his way down to Egypt. The exile and years of suffering foretold to Abraham are about to enter a very dark period. Also, God tells Jacob that he will die in Egypt. This is a dark message that is appropriately delivered in the dark.

Finally, Point 11 indicates that Jacob knew the End of Days. However, God did not permit him to reveal it to his sons.

In short, these verses and events prove that Jacob was a prophet.

Further Reading

This article only looked at the verses that record God communicating with Jacob. Many other significant events in Jacob’s life are not mentioned.

Jacob’s life is recorded in Genesis Chapters 25 – 49. You can read more about his life in these articles:

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
Click here to grab your copy of my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi.

3 thoughts on “Was Jacob a Prophet?”

  1. Excellent discussion on an interesting question. Years ago, I learned that all of the Avot had prophecy– not on the level of Moses or even Isaiah, but sufficient enough that they could be known as prophets in their time. Do you post every week at this site– it just when the “spirit” moves you? Many thanks

Comments are closed.