Scripture Text – Genesis 32-34
It’s strange how we convince ourselves that we can escape the past and not reap what we’ve sown. We try to forget our sins, but our sins don’t forget us. What Jacob did to his father and brother was forgiven by God, but neither time nor geography could change the consequences of Jacob’s actions. Two decades before, Jacob had fled from Esau to Laban; and now he was fleeing Laban only to be confronted by Esau! After twenty years, Jacob’s past was catching up with him; and he was afraid.
As we study Jacob’s actions during this crisis time in his life, we’ll see illustrated the conflicts all of us occasionally experience between faith and fear, trusting God and scheming, asking God for help and then acting as though we don’t even know God. The lessons that Jacob learned are going to demonstrate to us that a crisis doesn’t make a man; it shows what a man is made of.
Please read Genesis 32:1-8 for the background to this section.
Greatly relieved that Laban had left him and that “Mizpah” stood between them, Jacob headed toward Bethel, the destination God had appointed for him. But Jacob knew that eventually he had to meet Esau because, in traveling to Bethel, he would come near Mt. Seir, where Esau lived (Genesis 33:16).
Preparation. “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city.” – Proverbs 18:19. Anticipating a difficult reunion with Esau, Jacob took the wise approach and sent messengers ahead to inform his brother that he was coming. But instead of committing the whole matter to the Lord, who had protected him from Laban, Jacob adopted a condescending attitude that wasn’t befitting to the man God had chosen to carry on the Abrahamic covenant. Sending the messengers was a good idea, but calling Esau “my lord” and himself “your servant,” and trying to impress Esau with his wealth, was only evidence that Jacob wasn’t trusting God to care for him.
Protection. Imagine Jacob’s surprise when he saw an army of angels before him! “This is God’s camp [army]!” he exclaimed, and he called the place “Mahanaim,” which means “the two camps,” Jacob’s camp and God’s camp. Twenty years before, Jacob had seen the angels at Bethel and learned that God was with Him (Genesis 28:10–12). But now he discovered that God’s angelic troops were there to protect him and fight for him. So there was no reason for him to be afraid. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31.
Angelology is a popular subject today, and secular stores display dozens of books about angels, not all of them biblical in content. You can even attend seminars to essentially learn how to contact angels and get their assistance in solving your problems. However, angels are real beings, and they do minister to God’s people (Psalms 34:7; 46:7, 11; Hebrews 1:13–14), but it’s God who commands them, not mere humans. One day in heaven we’ll find out how much they’ve helped the family of God in times of difficulty and danger. Meanwhile, however, we’ll have to rely on God to tell His heavenly hosts what He wants them to do.
Plotting. As Jacob and his family, servants, flocks, and herds traveled slowly southwest toward Bethel, the messengers were moving rapidly to Mount Seir. By the time Jacob reached the Jabbock, a tributary of the Jordan, the messengers had returned with an ominous message: Esau and four hundred men were coming to meet Jacob. Expecting the worst, Jacob jumped to the conclusion that his brother had come to take vengeance on him and his family. A guilty conscience often makes us see the darkest possible picture.
When faith is crowded out by fear, we’re prone to start scheming and trusting our own resources. A lady once said to evangelist D.L. Moody, “I’ve found a wonderful verse to help me overcome fear”; and she quoted Psalm 56:3: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.”
Moody replied, “I can give you a better promise,” and he quoted Isaiah 12:2: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid.”
Believers who are walking by faith need not fear the enemy or whatever bad news may come their way. “He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.” – Psalm 112:7. But Jacob was “greatly afraid and distressed,” and therefore reverted to his old policy of scheming.
Instead of remembering the encouraging vision of God’s angelic army, Jacob divided his camp into two bands so that if one group was attacked, the other group could escape. It was a poor strategy against four hundred men, and Jacob would have been better off to maintain the original two bands—his company and God’s army of angels—and trust the Lord to see him through.
To Be Continued