Summary: Third in a series on Jacob which deals with his encounter with the angel at the brook Jabbok.
A Bible Study by
Charles W. Holt
The Story of Jacob:
Contradictions, confrontations and conflicts
This chapter will emphasize two intense events that ultimately result in a profound change in Jacob’s character. In both instances prayer plays a key role. These prayer encounters provide us with an opportunity to listen and learn principles that may strengthen our own personal prayer life. Take careful notice that I’ve said it is about our personal prayer life. Everything that happens in this chapter centers upon Jacob and no one else. Some are inclined to use Jacob’s encounter with the angel as an example of the intense wrestling aspect of intercessory prayer, a kind of dogged persistence that Jesus does encourage in Luke 11:8 and 18:1-8. That is not what Jacob’s story in Genesis 32 is all about. What happens here is not an example of intercessory prayer issues. Matters of far greater consequence are under consideration.
My reason for thinking there is nothing in this chapter that relates to intercessory prayer is simple. By definition, intercession is: entreaty in favor of another, especially a prayer or petition to God in behalf of another (American Heritage Dictionary). In the entire Bible, the nine Scriptures where the word "intercession" (KJV) is found, the entreaty is on behalf of another. Intercessory prayer is other centered. Jacob’s prayers are "Jacob centered." For a very good reason everything he asks for relates to his personal need. His prayer, however, is not the self-centered, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (Ja. 4:3 KJV) kind of prayer. Quite the opposite, as we will see. Never were the words of the old spiritual more true than here. "Not my sister, not my brother, but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer." We will now pick up our story from the last lesson.
Having settled the very volatile differences between himself and Laban, Jacob is ready to move on toward home. Each of these powerful figures sealed their commitment to peace between them with a covenant (see 31:44-52) followed by a covenant meal. "And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place" (Gen. 31:55 KJV). It is a fitting end to what has been a tumultuous 20-year’s chapter in Jacob’s life. He stands now at the threshold of a new beginning. He can look back and take pride in the fact that he has handled himself and his affairs quite well. He is blessed with two wives, 11 children, innumerable servants and countless numbers of livestock. In the language of the Old West, he is a very rich "Cattle Baron." As far as he knows the journey home will consist of only the routine stuff that would comprise any cattle drive without the worrisome bother of hostile Indians or cattle rustlers. The only uncertainty was how his brother Esau might react when they ultimately meet. This meeting was unavoidable. And Jacob is worried.
Chapter 32 opens with these intriguing words: "And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim [May-hah-NAY-im]" (32:1,2 KJV). Mahanaim means "Two Camps." It refers to his camp and the nearby camp of angels. One would think that the sight of a band of angels--God’s host--camped nearby would provide an absolute sense of peace and the assurance that nothing harmful would happen. The term God’s host has a military implication in it. We are not told the effect it had on Jacob. He merely observed it. He could have said, "Wow! Look at that. There’s a band of warrior angels over there. I wonder what they are doing here." Whatever his thoughts were he went on about the business of facing what he considered to be his next challenge.
I don’t want to accuse Jacob of making light of this camp of angels nearby. I don’t want to accuse him of sloughing it off as if it were of little matter. He may have done neither of these things. It just appears to me, based upon what we will see in a moment, that he didn’t take seriously this angelic escort. He had seen angels before, you know. They seemed to be some sort of heavenly escort and heightens the drama of everything that is unfolding at this time and place. The least that can be said is that there appears to be a convergence of natural and supernatural forces that ultimately will issue in an epic event.
Angelology is a legitimate theological doctrine. The appearance of angels here offers us an opportunity to launch into a study but I will dismiss it with only a brief comment. One of the most favorite verses is: "The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Ps. 34:7 KJV). Fifty-eight times the phrase, "the angel of the Lord" appears in the Old and New Testaments. Almost without exception each details an active involvement with God’s people for their deliverance or guidance. More is happening in the unseen realm than we are aware. Satan attempted to involve Jesus in a reckless act by quoting, "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Mt. 4:6). It is a promise of God from Psalm 91:11. I find it interesting that Satan believed God would keep His promise to Jesus else he would not have ventured to say it. Jesus was wise in seeing the trap that lay behind Satan’s confession of faith. It is another illustration of the need for balance in all interpretation and use of Scripture. It should, however, be a source of comfort to us knowing that there is angelic activity on our behalf today.