What is Jacob’s Trouble and how does it relate to end times prophecy?

Genesis 32 is the story of Jacob’s return to Canaan after having been exiled from his homeland for 20 years. This is often referred to as Jacob’s Trouble (from Jer 30:7). His exile occurred after he obtained his divinely promised birthright through shrewd if not unscrupulous means from his brother Esau resulting in his having to flee Canaan for fear of his life due to Esau’s vengeance. Jacob found refuge in the region of Babylonia at his Uncle Laban’s home where he married Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Genesis 32 recounts Jacob’s encounter with Esau who, along with his small army, physically stood in Jacob’s way from entering the land of his promised inheritance—later to be known as the land of Israel or Promised Land.

country road with lightning

The Jewish sages believe that this encounter between Jacob and Esau is prophetic in nature and will happen again in the end times, but this time on a much larger scale and this time involving the numerous descendants of Israel and Esau. The Israelites will be attempting to return to their ancestral homeland, while the descendants of Esau will be attempting to block their way. As we proceed in this study, we will see whether this prophecy is beginning to come to pass in our days.

Rolling the film backwards a little, Laban had chased Jacob out of the area of Babylon, and yet Jacob was being blocked from entering Canaan by Esau (or Edom meaning “red”). This is reminiscent of Pharaoh chasing the Israelites out of Egypt only to find themselves blocked by the Red Sea, which is a picture of Edom (meaning “red”). In both instances, YHVH’s people were forced to totally rely on him for deliverance from their enemies who were before and behind them.

Chapter 32 is a study in how we often deal with major trials and stressful situations in life. Jacob (a) was gripped by fear, (b) resorted to fleshly schemes to appease his brother’s wrath and “to save his own hide” and that of his family, and (c) at the same time he expressed faith in YHVH by uttering what some consider to be the first prayer in Scripture (verses 9–12). Jacob resorted to the “shotgun approach.” He was afraid, he schemed, and he prayed in hopes that something would work out to his favor and that he would live to see another day.

Jacob figured that by bribing angry and bloodthirsty Esau with wave after wave of gifts, that he might appease Esau and assuage his brother’s desire for revenge (Gen 32:13–20).

Yet Jacob’s half in-the-flesh and half-in-the-spirit approach to his present danger by resorting to both appeasement and prayer was not acceptable to YHVH who wanted in Jacob a man of unmitigated faith. To bring Jacob to this point, a part of Jacob had to die. His reliance upon his own ability at craftiness and scheming to extricate himself from difficult situations had to stay on the east side of the Jordan where Babylon (a spiritual metaphor for the old spiritual man and the ungodly ways of this world) was, and in its place a spiritual man who would totally trust YHVH in all things had to rise up. Only a mighty man of faith would be worthy to enter the Promised Land. The old man would not die without a fight, however.

Jacob had to come to grips with his own limitations and overcome the ugly side of his flesh nature. This occurred during a dark-night-of-the-soul-encounter when he wrestled all night with the Messenger of Elohim (Gen 32:22–32).

The result was that in the struggle Jacob became permanently lame in his hip (Gen 32:32). He became physically injured, but more importantly, he became humbled in his heart. Out of the wrestling match, he gained a new identity, a new heart and a new name. Jacob the “heal catcher” became Israel “the prince of El [God].” By wrestling with and overcoming his own limitations he became a broken and changed man—truly a vessel that YHVH could use to further his purposes, since YHVH was about to birth the nation of Israel through this man’s seed.

Jacob’s attempts at appeasing Esau gained him nothing except a lighter pocket book. His surrendering to the Messenger of Elohim—the preincarnate Yeshua—gained him not only the Promised Land and a nation, but the whole world and a place in YHVH’s eternal kingdom.

Interestingly, in an attempt to save his hide, Jacob divided his family into two camps with the hopes that if Esau killed one, the other would survive and vice versa. This was another one of his schemes that did not work, but which has tremendous end-time prophetic implications. Genesis 32:2 records that Jacob called the name of the place where he split his family into two camps Mahanaim, which is a Hebrew word meaning “two camps” and is the plural of the root word machanah meaning “encampment, camp, camp of armed host, army camp, company, body of people.” This spot is near the River Jabok, which is a tributary to the Jordan River located on the east side of that river in the modern country of Jordan. During the time of the nation of ancient Israel, it was located in the Gilead region on either the border between Gad and Reuben or Gad and Ephraim. The Song of Solomon makes reference to mahanaim in 6:13 where we read,

Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon you. What will you see in the Shulamite? As it were the company/m’kolah of two armies/mahanah.

The Hebrew word m’kolah means “dance.” Song 6:13 is definitely related to Genesis 32:2 since Mahanaim in -Genesis and Machneh or “two armies” in the Song of Solomon are the same word; the former is the plural and the latter is the root word.

We believe that Genesis 32 is a prophetic shadow-picture of just how Jacob’s descendants will come back into the land of their inheritance prior to Yeshua’s return. The people of Israel will be divided into two camps as they enter the land of Israel and will have to confront Esau or Edom—many of whose descendants comprise the modern Palestinian-Arabs who will be blocking the way. Both camps (Judah and Ephraim, currently represented by the Jewish and Christians peoples) are returning out of spiritual Babylon (as per Rev 18:4) where they have been in servitude to the Babylonian world system even as Jacob was a servant to Laban (who lived in the area of ancient Babylon). They will not defeat Esau through appeasement (Gen 32:20) as Jacob tried to do with Esau. Appeasement got Jacob nowhere except monetarily poorer, and the modern state of Israeli is dealing with the Palestinians as Jacob did with Esau by giving in to their demands in exchange for a peaceful existence in the land. Appeasement didn’t work for Jacob, and it’s not presently working for the Jews.

As our father Jacob did, so the end-time Israelites will have to wrestle with man and El (Gen 32:28) in order to return to the Promised Land. YHVH’s people will have to prevail with YHVH and demonstrate to him that they are serious about wanting to possess their promised inheritance, and at the same time, overcome themselves (the carnal man within) with their pride and self-reliance, and the notion that they will return to the land of Israel by their own strength and prowess apart from YHVH’s divine direction and empowerment.

When YHVH’s end-time people will repent of their pride and die to “self” as a people-group (both Judah and Ephraim), this will please the Father and he will give his people victory over their enemies. Appeasing the enemy, as the modern Israeli government is currently doing with the Palestinians, will get them nowhere, even as it gained Jacob nothing. They/we must confront the devil/enemy head-on in humble faith in the Abrahamic Covenant promises of YHVH. As with Jacob, they/we as collective Israel need to spend a dark night of the soul wrestling with YHVH. We need to get a good look at Elohim’s face to see who he really is, which will in turn help them/us to understand who they/we really are. Only when they/we are finally humbled, will we learn to place our trust in the promises and protection of YHVH resulting in our being transformed from being a Jacob (meaning “heel catcher, supplanter, a deceptive sneak thief”) into an Israel (meaning “a prince of El or prevailer with El”) with a new name and identity.

Similarly, Messianic Israel/Ephraim must go through the same process. The good news is that the kingdom of Israel will rise up. Jacob will get transformed into Israel. How can we be so sure of this? Because IT IS WRITTEN in YHVH’s Word! The two houses of Israel will have to learn to dance with each other before they can dance on their wedding day with King Shlomo (or Solomon, which is derived from the Hebrew word shalom)/Yeshua Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace)—their heavenly Bridegroom. Only then can we become the bride of Yeshua—like the Shulamite (also from shalom) was to Solomon—when we have found peace within ourselves and each other as the Song of Solomon (shalom) and Genesis 32 depict.

Jacob’s trouble was a phase through which the self-confident and self-reliant Jacob had to go. The humbling of Jacob was necessary, for he was a self-made man who had started 20 years earlier penniless, homeless and in disgrace as an exile in a foreign land, and through his own effort had now amassed a small fortune along with wives and children.

En route westward back to Canaan, Jacob went through a wilderness experience, as the children of his namesake would do several generations later. What type of individuals does YHVH not permit and permit to enter into the land of promise? The answers are in Hebrews 4:1–11 where the writer speaks of doubt and unbelief, faithlessness, hardness of heart and not resting in YHVH, but reliance in the works of our flesh instead as factors keeping the Israelites out of the Promised Land. To come home, like the prodigal son in the parable of Yeshua, to the home of his earthly parents and to that of his Heavenly Father (Beth-el or House of El) what was required of Jacob? He had to manifest brokenness, humility, a new identity, repentance, and make restitution for past sins committed against others (Gen 34).

End-time Israel is following in their father Jacob’s footsteps leaving their exile and captivity in Babylon (false religious systems—both Christian and Jewish, which contain a mixture of both good and evil, see Rev 18:4), returning westward across the Jordan River into the land of promise, to their spiritual inheritance, which is defined in terms of YHVH’s covenants with Israel (Eph 2:12–14). YHVH is calling out a growing remnant of redeemed believers to do just that in our time. Jacob’s life is a prophetic road map of what each individual believer must go through to obtain his spiritual inheritance. Furthermore, Jacob’s life is not only a prophetic picture of what all Israelites individually must experience, but also of what all Israel collectively or nationally, must go through.


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