Genesis 32:1–32, Jacob’s trouble explained.
Genesis 32 is the story of Jacob’s return to Canaan after having been exiled from his homeland for 20 years. 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. Eventually, Jacob had to flee Babylon with Laban in angry pursuit. As Jacob and his family are returning to Canann, they encounter Jacob’s brother Esau who, along with his small army, physically stood in Jacob’s way from entering the land of his promised inheritance and wanted to kill Jacob.
This account is not only the story of Jacob’s personal, spiritual struggles, but it also has end times prophetic implications relating to the regathering out of exile of the twelve tribes of Israel (the Jews and the Christians) and their return to their Promised Land in Israel under Yeshua their Messiah at his second coming. The Scriptures refer to this as Jacob’s Trouble (see Jer 30:7).
The Jewish sages believe that the encounter between Jacob and Esau (no doubt informed by Jeremiah’s prophecy) 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 end-times Israelites will be attempting to return to their ancestral homeland, while the descendants of Esau will be blocking their way. As we proceed in this study, we will see whether this prophecy is beginning to come to pass in these last days.
Not only this, the Jewish sages speak of two major redemptions in Israel’s long history. The first redemption occurred when YHVH delivered the oppressed and enslaved children of Israel out of Egypt at the exodus. The second or final redemption will occur at the end of this present era when the Messiah will regather and lead his exiled and scattered Israelite people back to the Promised Land in fulfillment of numerous biblical prophecies.
Rolling the film backwards a little in the present story of Jacob, Laban had chased Jacob out of the area of Babylon, and yet Jacob was being blocked from entering Canaan by his murderous brother 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 prophetic picture of Edom. In both instances, YHVH’s people were forced to rely totally on him for deliverance from their enemies who were in front of and behind them.
Initially, Jacob deals with the crisis in a typically human way—by scheming and conniving instead of having faith in YHVH to work things out. He figured that by bribing angry and bloodthirsty Esau with wave after wave of gifts, he might appease Esau and assuage his brother’s desire for revenge (Gen 32:13–20).
Yet Jacob’s dual response to his present danger by resorting to both appeasement and prayer was not acceptable to YHVH who wanted Jacob to be a man of unmitigated faith—to solely trust in him. To bring Jacob to this point, a part of Jacob had to die. His prideful and fearful self-reliance to extricate himself from difficult situations had to die. YHVH wanted Jacob to leave his aspect of his human nature 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 located. In its place, a spiritually-oriented 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, however, would not die without a fight as we are about to see.
In the process, Jacob had to come to grips with his own limitations and overcome the ugly side of his innate human 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]” or “the prevailer with El.” By wrestling with and overcoming his own limitations, his own pride and self-reliance, 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, as part of the plot to save his own skin from his vengeful brother, 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 or body of people.” This spot is near the River Jabok, which is a tributary to the Jordan River and is 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 chapter 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.” We see a correlation between Song 6:13 and 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.
What is the prophetic connection between these two biblical passages? It appears 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. This prophetic scenario is confirmed in the Jer 30:7 Jacob’s trouble prophecy where the context is the returning from captivity and exile of the YHV H’s people—Israel (the Christians) and the Judah (the Jews, see v. 3). This prophecy along with the raising up of David at the end-times resurrection of the dead to rule over a regathered and reunited Israel (v. 9) hasn’t occurred yet.
Prior to this, 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 and will be returning out of end-times spiritual Babylon (see Rev 18:4) where they have been in servitude to the Babylonian the Great New World Order Antichrist system even as Jacob was a servant to Laban (who lived in the area of ancient Babylon). Judah and Ephraim 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, at times, as Jacob did with Esau by giving in to their demands in exchanging land and prisoners for peace. Appeasement didn’t work for Jacob, and it’s not presently working for the Jews in Israel.
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 and sinful 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 (both the Jews and Christians) will finally repent of their pride and die to “the sinful self” as a people-group, this will please the Father and he will give his people victory over their enemies. (Remember what Yeshua said in Luke 17:33, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”) Appeasing the enemy, as the modern Israeli government is currently doing with the Palestinians, will get them nowhere, even as it gained Jacob nothing. YHVH’s people must confront their demonic enemy head-on in humble faith in the Abrahamic Covenant promises of YHVH. As with Jacob, 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 us to understand who we really are spiritually. Only when 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.
All Jews and Christians individually and collectively must go through the same process. The good news is that the kingdom of Israel will rise up. Spiritual Jacob will get transformed into Israel. How can we be 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) or Yeshua our Sar Shalom (or Prince of Peace), who is their heavenly Bridegroom to come. Only then can we become the bride of Yeshua—like the Shulamite (also derived from the Hebrew word shalom) was to Solomon. This will occur when we have made peace King Yeshua and with each other as the Song of Solomon (shalom) and Genesis 32 both prophetically 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 had to go through his own wilderness experience, as the children of his namesake would do several generations later when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. 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).
The end-times Israel of Elohim (a term found in Gal 6:16) is following in their father Jacob’s footsteps leaving their exile and captivity in spiritual Babylon (of which both Christianity and Judaism are a part and both of which contain a mixture of both good and evil elements, 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.
On an individual bases, Genesis 32 is a study in how we often deal with major trials and stressful situations in life. For example, Jacob (a) was gripped by fear, (b) resorted to fleshly schemes to appease his brother’s wrath and “to save his own skin” 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” by resorting to several strategies simultaneously in hopes that at least one would work out for him. He was afraid, he schemed, and he prayed in hopes that something would work out to his favor and that he and his family would be saved from certain death.
How often, when facing serious trials like Jacob, do we take this same shotgun approach by throwing everything we can think of at the problem. We exercise the “strong arm of the flesh” as well as our mustard seed of faith. Does YHVH’s grace cover us in such times of spiritual weakness? Yes. For example Yeshua healed the son of the man who said, “I believe, help my unbelief?” (Mark 9:24). But as we mature spiritually, YHVH requires more faith and less carnality from his people. YHVH sometimes force his people into situations where they will learn that relying on their own schemes won’t work. They must rely solely on him and have faith that he will deliver them from their enemies.
How does Jacob’s wrestling all night with the Messenger of Elohim and him becoming a lame and humbled man with a new name (i.e. a new spiritual identity) figure into this process? Jacob didn’t gain the victory through appeasing Esau (verse 20), but by wrestling with his own limitations and coming out a broken and spiritually changed man.
When did you last face such a trial? How did you handle it? Like Jacob? Are you learning to “let go and let God” as the old saying goes? To walk by faith and not by sight? To trust and obey YHVH? Compare Jacob’s response to YHVH this time with his response in Genesis 28:16–22. Has his faith response changed? In Genesis 28:20–22, notice how Jacob bargains with YHVH. He promises to serve YHVH if he will bring him back safely to his father’s house. In Genesis 32, no bargains are made. Jacob values the promises of YHVH so much that he was willing to wrestle all night with Elohim to insure that the divine blessing was his.