GENESIS 32 and 33
‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire’, so Jacob must have been thinking after saying relieved ‘goodbyes’ to his father-in-law and now about to face an irate brother! Just then he was met by a large number of God’s angels, the same ones he had seen in that dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:12) twenty years previously on the way to Laban’s territory. At that time God had promised to be with him wherever he went and to stick by him and protect him. At the end of the twenty years, God had told Jacob to go back to Canaan and “I will be with you”. These angels were affirming that God was still with him to guide and protect him.
Angels are both God’s messengers and his forces of protection for the benefit of the saints (i.e. us); sometimes they are invisible, sometimes they are disguised as humans, and sometimes they appear as, well… angels! Looking around, Jacob realised that he could see TWO camps: his own household and God’s household, pitched in the same place. So he named that region “Two Camps” as a reminder to himself of the perpetual presence of the Lord. As we live our visible earthly lives, we must always remind ourselves that we too are living in the presence of the greater invisible and eternal household of God, upon which we can call for guidance and protection at any time.
Jacob sends some conciliatory messages to his brother Esau and receives a rather terse reply that four hundred soldiers would be accompanying him. Even if these forces were friendly, this would place a severe strain upon the catering arrangements – but there was a distinct likelihood that they might be UN-friendly, in which case it would have devastating consequences for the staying-alive arrangements! Jacob was very afraid and now bitterly regretted his escapades with the birth right and the blessing all those years ago. And then he came to his senses and called upon God.
It is a fabulous example of prayer: He begins by reminding God of his command and promise to return Jacob in safety and prosperity to Canaan. He then humbles himself before the Lord and admits that every blessing he has so far has come from God. He asks to be saved – he and his household. And finally, he reminds God of the earlier life-promise (made 20 years previously at Bethel at that stone with oil poured over it – Genesis 28:14) of his descendants being like the sand of the sea. God had remembered HIS promise then to Jacob, and also Jacob’s promise to God. And so God rescued his servant from the anger of his brother Esau. So the only casualty was the catering bill!
The wrestling match in chapter 32 is rather unique; God appears in human form and apparently with human limitations – i.e. he couldn’t even win against a sixty-year-old man! Then God resorted to supernatural methods (surely forbidden by the WWA!) and disabled Jacob, who nevertheless hung on until God blessed him. The blessing was a change of name, representing a change of heart and a change of destiny. Jacob = ‘Deceiver’; Israel = ‘He struggles with God’. What did the wrestling itself signify? I believe that God was showing Jacob that he would not succeed in life by physical force, or his wits, or by deception; rather, God’s Spirit is the key to fulfilling God’s promises. “’Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord.” It was a lesson that Jacob had started to learn well.
We need to heed his lesson and realise that we TOO must live simultaneous lives in ‘two camps’.