Monday, January 31, 2011

Genesis 32:1-6 Heavenly Campers

"Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him." (Genesis 32:1 NIV)

I love how the writer of this verse mentions Jacob's heavenly visitors so casually, as though all of us were used to having angels accompany us on our journeys!  In fact, angels may be there far more often than we realize, but in this instance, Jacob is able to see them.  Previously, in Genesis 28:12, Jacob had seen these angels in his dream, but now they seem to be right before him.  No wonder Jacob cries out in wonder and delight, "...'This is the camp of God!' So he named that place Mahanaim." (Genesis 32:1-2 NIV)  Mahanaim means "two camps" -- I suppose referring to his own group and the group of angels.

Jacob had just settled things with a somewhat hostile Laban, and now he contemplates facing his twin brother Esau after twenty years.  As you may remember, Jacob had fled his homeland after deceiving their father Isaac and stealing his brother's blessing by pretending to be Esau.

Esau had always been an outdoor type of guy, but Jacob used to enjoy remaining around the tents.  However, the past twenty years or so, Jacob probably spent most of his time outdoors tending Laban's flocks.  This no doubt had strengthened him physically, but he probably still dreaded meeting Esau.  After all, before Jacob had fled to Laban's homeland, Esau had been comforting himself by planning how he would kill him!  Also, now it was not just his own life that he was responsible to protect, but also the lives of his wives and children.  Jacob was probably very worried about the outcome of this reunion.  God sent His angels to reassure him that this situation, too, was under His control.  After all, God had told  him to return to Canaan.

Of course, Jacob cannot help but make some preparations of his own, too:

"Jacob sent messengers ahead of  him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.  He instructed them:  'This is what you are to say to my master Esau: "Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now.  I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants.  Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes."
(Genesis 32:3-5 NIV)

  When these messengers return from Esau, they have disturbing news of their own:  "...'We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him' " (Genesis 32:6 NIV)

I wonder if Jacob started anxiously looking around and counting angels!  Actually, by now the heavenly visitors were probably no longer visible to his sight, although they were still nearby and ready to do God's bidding at a moment's notice.  Usually when God gives these types of appearances, it is only to comfort or strengthen us, and then things go back to 'normal'.  Hopefully, Jacob took comfort knowing that God had already known about the welcome committee from Esau which awaited him.

Let me just pause a second and remind myself to trust in this God who knows the future way before I do, and whose marvelous wisdom is orchestrating all the details, even when things happen which look bad or impossible to me.  I guess that is what walking by faith is all about.

Although Jacob was "in great fear and distress", as the following verse indicates (v.7), he kept making preparations to continue towards Canaan.

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