The term ‘Jacob’s trouble’ occurs only once in the entire Bible. It was used in a prophecy by Jeremiah thousands of years ago. He said, “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” (Jeremiah 30:7). Obviously it is a significant event linked to a specific time, but what does it mean? Who does it affect? And when will it occur?
Interpretations of this verse tend to vary according to personal perspectives with regard to prophecy tempered by denominational preferences. A number of Bible commentators claim that Jeremiah was predicting of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians that occurred in his own life-time. Others maintain that the prophecy referred to an end-time event. Or that in duality the suffering of Jacob at the time of the Babylonian invasion foreshadowed end-time events.
A popular view among the Churches of God is that the ‘time of Jacob’s trouble’ refers to the ‘great tribulation’ of Matthew 24, claimed to be an end-time punishment upon the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matthew 24:21-22).
While some commentators agree that Jeremiah may have been referring to the great tribulation of Matthew 24, not all agree that the great tribulation is an end time event. Many are adamant that Matthew 24 predicted the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 AD.
Others attribute the time of Jacob’s trouble specifically to the Day of the Lord. Robert P Carroll in his commentary on Jeremiah said ‘What the poem is about is the day of Yahweh’ - ‘Its real function is to point forward to a time when all nations which have opposed Israel for so long will be destroyed by the deity’. James Burton Coffman, one of the leading authorities in the Church of Christ also says that Jeremiah 30:7 is referring to the Day of the Lord. Some have a problem with this interpretation because they consider the Day of the Lord to be the time of trouble for Jacob’s adversaries, rather than Jacob!
With so many interpretations of Jeremiah 30:7 it can be difficult to know what to believe. Is the time of Jacob’s trouble a past or future event? Obviously Jacob has suffered troubles in the past, but do these past events fulfil the prophecy about the time of Jacob’s trouble?
To understand Jeremiah 30:7 correctly we need to establish who the prophet was talking about, what event he was referring to and when it is to take place.
Who was Jacob?
Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and patriarch of the House of Israel and according to the New Bible Dictionary (second edition) is described as ‘the father of the chosen people'. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, but his descendants were often referred to as ‘Jacob’ in prophetic literature.
They were a nation chosen to have a special relationship with God. That relationship was sealed by a formal agreement or covenant. Unfortunately Jacob’s descendants did not keep their side of the covenant and over the next thousand years their fortunes ebbed and flowed according to whether they obeyed God or not. Eventually because of their sin they lost favour in God’s sight. The northern tribes of Israel succumbed to paganism and were defeated by the Assyrians. Later the remnant in the south followed suit and fell to the Babylonians.
During the captivity some were able to return to rebuild Jerusalem and temple. God mercifully extended His relationship with the remnant of Jacob for a further four hundred and ninety years until Christ’s time. However, when they failed to recognise His son and publicly crucified him the special relationship they had previously enjoyed with God came to an end.
From that time God has formed a special relationship with individuals who through Christ He has called to salvation and to receive God’s Holy Spirit. This body of called out ones have replaced the natural descendants of Jacob. The Apostle Paul refers to those who replaced Israel as God’s chosen called them the ‘elect’, “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.” (Romans 11:7-8).
Paul drew a distinction between the ‘children of the flesh’ and the ‘children of the promise’, “.....For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Romans 9:6-8). Clearly the natural descendants of Abraham through Jacob, were no longer in favour and their place had been taken by the children of the promise.
That promise was the Holy Spirit which is received by those whom God calls through Christ, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14).
Jesus Christ was a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Luke 3:23-34). And according to Paul anyone who receives the Spirit which is in Christ also becomes a spiritual descendant of those patriarchs, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29).
In drawing a distinction between the ‘children of the flesh’ and the ‘children of the promise’ Paul shows that there are the natural children of Abraham, descended from the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob, and there are the spiritual children who through Christ are in a spiritual sense also descended from the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob.
It is import to understand that in prophetic literature the name ‘Jacob’ and synonyms like ‘Israel’ and ‘Judah’ can apply to either the natural descendants, or the spiritual descendants of Jacob. The names generally apply to the natural descendants with regard to events that were to occur prior to the first advent of Christ. However, with regard to prophetic events after Christ’s time the names often apply to the spiritual descendants of Jacob who in this age are defined as those who have God’s Holy Spirit.
Who was Jeremiah Talking About?
In Jeremiah 30 when the prophet talks about the restoration of Israel and Judah at the end of this age, he was talking about the spiritual descendants of Jacob, “For behold, days are coming, says the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land which I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it. These are the words which the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah:” (verses 3-4 RSV). “For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break the yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.” (verses 8-9).
Jeremiah was not talking about the ancient Israelites at the time Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Nor was he talking about the Israelites who lived in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. They will not have the opportunity to serve God until they are resurrected in the Great White Throne Judgement. Jeremiah was talking about those who are Christ’s in the end-time - the elect, the Church who will be rescued when Christ returns. They will be rescued when Christ returns to receive their spiritual inheritance, which is eternal life, so they can serve God. The Davidic king will be none other than Christ himself who sits on the throne of David. This is the context in which he used the term ‘Jacob’s trouble’.
Jacob’s natural descendants will eventually be restored, along with the rest of the world, when they are resurrected in the Great White Throne Judgement period and given the opportunity to receive God’s Spirit and thus become spiritual descendants of Jacob.
None Like it!
Not only has the time of Jacob’s trouble not yet occurred, Jeremiah indicated that would be an unprecedented event. He said, “that none is like it”. Matthew also described the great tribulation in the same terms. Does that mean Jeremiah and Matthew were describing the same event? Or is it possible that both events will be unprecedented in their own right?
According to Matthew the great tribulation is a time of severe adversity for many in the world including the elect who will be persecuted. It will be unprecedented because there has never been such a troubled time inflicted by Satan on the world as whole and specifically aimed at God’s elect – the spiritual descendants of Jacob – the church.
John the Apostle said that one quarter of the world’s population will be killed at that time and confirms that it will include the elect, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” (Revelation 6:8-11).
The Day of the Lord on the other hand, is when Christ executes God’s judgement on His adversaries. While judgement has been executed on Jacob’s adversaries in the past when He punished nations like Assyria and Edom for their cruelty against the natural descendants of Jacob, never has God executed judgement on the adversaries of His people on such a massive scale before. All who do not turn to God and receive His Holy Spirit will be part of the adversaries on whom God will pour out His wrath! The Day of the Lord will be unprecedented!
The great tribulation and the Day of the Lord are not the same event, but each will be unprecedented in its own right.
The time of great tribulation will take place before a display of heavenly signs that signal the inevitable return of Christ, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:29-30).
Whereas the Day of the Lord will occur after the signs in the heavens, “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).
The prophet Joel confirmed that the Day of the Lord occurs after the heavenly signs, “And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.” (Joel 2:29-31). The great tribulation and the Day of the Lord are two different events. One occurs before the heavenly signs, the other after them. Both of these separate events can be described as unprecedented either in the past, or in the future.
Having identified Jacob and his association with both the Great Tribulation and the Dayof the Lord, two separate and distinct events both of which can be described as unequalled either in the past or future, we can now determine which of these events the prophet was talking about when Jeremiah said, “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” (Jeremiah 30:7).
Saved Out of it
According to the commentator Robert P Carroll the Masoretic Text says Jacob is to be saved ‘from it’ rather than ‘out of it’ as translated in the KJV. There is a significant difference that cannot be ignored. One implies being spared of having to suffer the event at all, whereas the other implies being plucked from the midst of suffering the event. We know that Jacob is to be saved ‘out of’ the great tribulation, (i.e. out of the midst of that event), but he will be saved ‘from’ the Day of the Lord, (i.e. spared from having to endure any part of it) because he will already be protected from what takes place on the Day of The Lord.
Therefore, if the Masoretic text is correct in saying that Jacob is saved from that great day that Jeremiah is talking about, it can safely be concluded that he is talking about the Day of the Lord rather than the great tribulation.
Trouble for Whom?
That conclusion is confirmed when the word ‘trouble’ used by Jeremiah in association with the event is examined more closely. According to Strongs, the word ‘trouble’ has been is translated from the Hebrew word ‘tsarah’ (06869), which can mean either adversary, or adversity. It is the feminine form of the word ‘tsar’ (06862), which means enemy, adversary, narrow, distress or a pebble. While most translators have used the word trouble (adversity) there is enough evidence to suggest that it is more appropriate to be translated as ‘adversary’
The word ‘tsar’ is translated as ‘adversaries’ elsewhere in the same chapter, “Therefore all they that devour thee shall be devoured; and all thine adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity, and they that spoil thee shall be a spoil, and all that prey upon thee will I give for a prey.” (Jeremiah 30:16). We know this translation fits the overall context of the chapter, which is clearly about the punishment that will come upon Jacob’s adversaries, “For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee,” (Jeremiah 30:11). This is a common theme with a number of the prophets of the old Testament.
Therefore a free rendering of Jeremiah 30:7 would read as follows: ‘Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s adversaries; but he shall be saved from it.’
By the time the Day of the Lord begins, which is after the heavenly signs, Jacob will already be protected. The Day of the Lord is a time for Jacob’s adversaries to be punished not Jacob.
Putting it Into Context
Jeremiah was speaking directly to the remnant of Jacob in Jerusalem, on whom God was about to execute judgment for their sins, immediately before the Babylonians destroyed the city. They had every reason to be fearful because God was not with them. They where about to be ‘wounded’, or punished, for their sins, “...though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished. For thus saith the LORD, Thy bruise is incurable, and thy wound is grievous. There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines. All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased.” (Jeremiah 30:11-14). The punishment for their sins was about to occur and their ‘bruise’ would be incurable because at that time Christ had not died to open the way for sins to be forgiven.
However, amid the doom and gloom of what was imminent, Jeremiah gave a message of hope for the future. He spoke of a time when Jacob will be restored in the far distant future, “For behold, days are coming, says the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land which I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” (Jeremiah 30:3 RSV).
It will be time of great hope and reassurance for the people of Jacob in the end-time because God will save them, “Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee:” (Jeremiah 30:10-11). At that time Christ will return to rescue Abraham’s spiritual seed - Jacob of today – the church, from their enemies.
It will not be Jacob who will be fearful, but his adversaries who need to be terrified when they are confronted by Christ. Their panic, terror and fear is expressed in the verses immediately preceding Jeremiah 30:7, “And these are the words that the LORD spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah. For thus saith the LORD; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him:” (Jeremiah 30:4-8).
Jeremiah 30 clearly indicates that Jacob of this age - the elect - will have no reason to fear the Day of the Lord because they will be spared from harm. It is a time when they will have been freed from their adversaries and it is those adversaries who will be the recipients of God’s wrath, not Jacob.
Conclusions concerning the context of Jeremiah 30 are not made in isolation. Further research on the part of the reader will show that the portrayal of Jacob’s rescue and the punishment of his adversaries when Christ returns is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament and aligns with the end-time events as described in the book of Revelation.
If the context in which Jeremiah 30:7 sits is used to determine the correct interpretation of the word ‘trouble’ and the Masoretic text can be seen as confirming the event to be one that Jacob is saved, or spared, ‘from’ rather than saved ‘out of’, then the correct rendition of Jeremiah 30:7 should be, ‘Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s adversaries; but he shall be saved from it.’
There is no doubt that there will be a time of trouble for Jacob - the church - who will suffer along with others in the end-time tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24, but they will be rescued out of it when Christ returns and spared from the Day of the Lord when their adversaries receive God’s wrath.
However, it must be pointed out that the term ‘Jacob’s trouble’ as appropriated from Jeremiah 30:7 has been taken out of context and commonly misapplied by many including those in the Churches of God to fit a personal perspective with regard to prophecy. Misinterpreting this verse has given rise to a great deal of confusion as can be witnessed by the wide variety of misleading conclusions reached by many Bible commentators.
When Jeremiah used the term ‘Jacob’s Trouble’ he was not referring to the tribulation of Matthew 24, he was talking about the time of ‘Jacob’s Adversaries’, which is the Day of the Lord when God’s judgement is executed on the adversaries. Jacob will be spared from it!