Summary: We must learn to depend upon God and not ourselves.
He’s Coming to Meet You: An Exposition of Genesis 32:1-23
Jacob was a man of many faults. He had connived to take away Esau’s birthright. His very name, Jacob, means “deceiver” or “supplanter.” He and his mother tricked Isaac to give Jacob the Patriarchal blessing. For this, his brother was looking for an opportunity to kill him. So Rebecca sent Jacob to his uncle Laban in Syria. He must have gotten the deceptive nature from that side of the family, as Jacob more than met his match in Laban. Laban tricked him into marrying the sister of the woman he loved. He had been used by Laban for more than twenty years. But Jacob got the better of Laban, not because of his trickery, but because the LORD blessed Jacob. Jacob had agreed with Laban to work the last six years for a herd. As goats and lambs with solid color coats were much more valuable for wool, as it did not have to be separated. But Jacob ended up with a vast herd of goats of many colors. Laban no longer looked upon Jacob. Jacob now showed another one of his many faults, fear.
The LORD intervened and called him to return home, to his father Isaac. Having told his wives and children, but not Laban, he left secretly with all that he had. But the herds had to be fed, watered, and rested, so Jacob’s progress was slow. Laban, his sons, and his armed servants overtook Jacob. The LORD intervened and told Laban directly, and told him not to harm Jacob. After sharing their complaints, they made a covenant and parted company.
But even a greater fear awaited. He would have to deal with the brother whom he had deceived. Before Jacob tried to use his skills at deception and diplomacy, the LORD sent a host of angels to meet him. The angels serve as the LORD’s army, as one of the LORD’s titles is the Yahweh Sabaoth, or “The LORD of Armies.” Whatever opposition Esau and his armed servants could muster was no match for the One who defended Jacob. It would not be the LORD’s armies who would rescue Jacob, no more Jacob’s natural strength and abilities. We shall see the LORD had another idea. It should stand as a comfort to us that by whatever means the LORD chooses, the Lord will take care of us and allay our fears.
Jacob saw two armies of angels as indicated by the use of the Hebrew dual. So, he named the place Mahanaim. One wonders if he got the message right as he might have understood this as he should find rescue by dividing his family and possessions into two camps. If one got slain, at least the other might survive. But this is worldly thinking. God does not halfway save.
Jacob then sent messengers to Esau who was living in Mt. Seir. The messengers were to tell him that he was returning from their uncle Laban’s house. There he had been blessed with wives, children and great possessions. Whatever Jacob was trying to achieve by this action backfired. He got a message back that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. The “meet” we see in the King James Version is not benign or friendly. The context was that Esau was coming with an army to do harm or kill them. Jacob’s message as we know it did not mention that Jacob had anyone trained for war.
Jacob was terrified at the news. At the very least, he and his family would be made slaves and his possessions confiscated. Or Esau might have challenged Jacob to single combat, such as we see in David and Goliath. Even though they were twins, the description of Esau in the Bible tells us that Jacob was no match for Esau. Or, he could kill Jacob, and possibly his family and seize the herds. None of these options seemed very savory. So this is when Jacob devised to divide all he had into two camps.
Then Jacob did what he should have done first. He prayed. He reminded the LORD of all the promises He had made to the ancestors, and to him personally. It is always good to remind the LORD of these things in prayer because it also reminds us of the goodness of the LORD. What He has promised, he will surely deliver. He then did what we so often do. Jacob mentions what he had dome. He had divided into two camps. He was trying to get God to rubber stamp his solution. His grandfather, Abraham, when he was told that Sarah would have a child, laughed. He laughed at God’s decision, and told the LORD that he was satisfied with His solution to God’s promise, that Ishmael was good enough. But God is not the God of halfway deliverance as we have noted. Neither does He let us define how His promises are to be fulfilled. God intended that both camps would be delivered.