Genesis is home to some of the most intriguing stories in the Bible. Of its characters, Jacob stands above the rest as an unlikely recipient of God’s grace and promises. I was pleased to receive a review copy of Philip Kern’s new book, Jacob’s Story as Christian Scripture, for the chance to dive a little deeper into the Scriptural account. Jacob’s Story is a pleasantly short and insightful study of the story as it is recounted in Genesis 25-35 and echoed in later Scriptures.
According to Kern, Jacob’s story is essentially one of reproduction, of Jacob’s development into a powerful clan (vii). This story in the context of Genesis is part of the narrator’s purpose of “identifying and establishing the line of promise” (vii), seen in light of the programmatic promise that the seed of the Woman would crush the serpents head (viii, xii-xiii). Because the story looks forward to this promise of curse removal, reading Jacob’s story involves paying attention to the story’s role in developing the hopes of God’s people. The book was originally presented as a series of lectures intended to be accessible to the public; Kern has not made significant changes for print format. The purpose of the book is not to move from the story to contemporary application but to uncover what is needed to know “about the Jacob story in order to preach it as a Christian Scripture.” Thus, “it is a prelude to that final step of bringing the text to bear on the life of one’s hearers” (viii). Kern’s exposition follows the flow of the Biblical narrative, beginning with more detailed expositions of key early texts (e.g. Chapter 1, Gen 25:27-34) and moving towards more sweeping accounts of the later events (e.g. Chapter 7, Genesis 31).
Kern shows himself to be a careful reader of the text. He draws on some of the best narrative scholarship of the Old Testament, building on Alter and Bar-Efrat’s work, among others. He exercises sober judgment in doing so, not following the former in his more idiosyncratic readings. The reader will benefit from Kern’s attention to the narrative detail and engagement with the scholarship surrounding Jacob’s story. Occasionally Kern’s style is confusing, perhaps owing to the book’s originally verbal context. That is, he will occasionally make an assertion that is not yet apparent, usually drawing it out a page or two later. Perhaps the weakest part of the books was Chapter 12, where Kern turned to the echoes of Jacob’s story in Scripture. Here, he follows Sailhamer’s analysis of the Pentateuch, which is helpful in many ways. However, I did not find his exposition of Jacob’s significance in Obadiah/Jeremiah 49 and Malachi convincing. That being said, I believe the reader will be served greatly by Kern’s work and heartily recommend it for those looking to understand Jacob’s story better.