A Sermon on Genesis 32:1-7
I preached this yesterday:
1: And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
2: And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
3: And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
4: And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now:
5: And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.
6: And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
7: Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
This short incident occurs to Jacob at a crucial point in his life. He has just left his uncle Laban who shamelessly exploited him and is now heading back to the land of promise, with some trepidation knowing that his brother is waiting there for him, possibly intent on killing him.
Yet at this rather stressful moment, he meets a host of angels. We are not given any details about this encounter. We are not told what they look like. We are not told how many angels he met. We are not told if they spoke to him. Yet he met them. He did not just see them, but they came very close to him.
I would say a word on angels. As Christians we believe in angels. A lot of unbelievers scoff at the idea of angels. They say you cannot believe in things like that. Yet the Bible tells us that there are angels. Perhaps you are here tonight and you don’t believe the Bible. I am sure that there are people here who would be happy to talk to you afterwards about some of the reasons why we believe that the Bible is reliable.
There are other people who get obsessed with angels. If you go to most bookshops you will find lots of crazy books about angels. Those things are of the Occult. They are of Satan and they will mess you up. The Bible warns us not to worship angels. The Bible says nothing about everybody having a guardian angel. If you try talking to your 'guardian angel' you don't know who you might be speaking to.
Sadly there are some Christians who have no interest in angels. They believe in them, but they don’t think it is a very important subject. If you are one of those Christians, I would really encourage you to do a study of the Scriptures on the subject of angels. The Bible might not tell us everything we might like to know about angels, but it does tell us quite a lot. We can learn a lot about God by reading what the Bible says about angels.
Let me tell you a fact about angels in the Bible. Which two books of the Bible feature angels the most? Genesis and Revelation. The beginning and the end.
When God made the world, the angels sang out in praise. When God pours His judgment out upon this sinful world, angels will be involved. We read in Revelation about the angels who bear the seals, trumpets and bowls.
The angels are celestial witnesses of God’s dealings with this world. God rules a vast kingdom of angels in the heavens. Glorious beings of enormous power. Yet these beings are interested in us. We are told in 1 Peter that the Gospel is about things that the angels desire to look into.
Our Lord said that there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. If you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him, angels will rejoice at your conversion. There will be rejoicing in heaven if you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is another reason why the angels have an interest in the salvation of men and women. The apostle Paul says ‘Know ye not that we shall judge angels?’ It is God’s purpose to put mankind in charge of both heaven and earth. This is realised in Christ and those who are in Him. Those Christians who have faithfully served their saviour will constitute a kind of heavenly aristocracy that will govern the angels. The angels look forward to the establishment of this new government in heaven. If you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, you have the opportunity to be among those who will govern heaven and earth. It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. God will do wonderful things for those who turn to Him and to the Saviour Jesus Christ.
Knowing about angels should be an encouragement to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jacob was a man who was particularly prone to fear and doubt. Therefore God gave him three angelic appearances to encourage him. The first was at Bethel, when he left his parents to go to live with Laban. There he saw a stairway to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. The second was this one. And the third was at Peniel, before he met Esau again. At Peniel he wrestled with a man who was in fact the Angel of the Lord.
There is another incident in the Bible where a vision of angels is given as an encouragement. It occurs in 2 Kings. Elisha and his servant are surrounded by an army of Assyrians. The servant is in a terrible panic and he cries “O Man of God, what are we going to do?” But Elisha is perfectly calm. “Calm down, my son. For those that are for us are more than those that are against him.” I imagine he gives a weary sigh before praying “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” And then the servant sees that they are surrounded by many chariots and fire. It is an amazing incident. What is amazing about it is not so much the vision of angels that the servant was given, but that Elisha did not need a vision to know that he was under the protection of angels. He had great faith.
You might think that like Elisha’s servant, Jacob would have been re-assured by his encounter with the angels. You might expect that he would think to himself “Okay, it is possible that Esau might still be planning on killing me, but I will be fine because God is on my side. His angels are there to protect me and they are more than those that are against me.”
Sadly, that is not the case. Despite being encouraged by seeing the angels of God, Jacob immediately starts scheming about how he is going to protect his family and himself from Esau. He puts his trust in his own cleverness and not in God. And then he finds out that Esau is on his way with four hundred men. This puts Jacob in a real panic. When he finally meets Esau he grovels before him in a quite unbecoming manner.
It is understandable that the thought of meeting four hundred men lead by a man with a grudge against him must have been a little worrying. But he had just met a host of angels. We are not told how many angels he met, but there may well have been four hundred of them. Even if there were not, angels are greater in might and power. Therefore Jacob should not have been afraid and distressed as it said he was here.
God’s people mess up. Christians fail sometimes. Christians get anxious and distressed about things. Christians can forget to do things that they ought to do. Christians can struggle with addictive habits like smoking.
Maybe you are not a Christian. Maybe you think that Christians are hypocritical. Maybe you have been disappointed by how some Christians live.
Christians are sinners. They need God’s forgiveness just like everybody else. The difference is that they have come to find that forgiveness.
You can know that forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He shed his blood for sinners that they might be cleansed from their sins and He rose from the dead that they might be justified and accepted in the sight of God.
Maybe you are a Christian who is troubled by your own lack of faith. You worry about things. You feel such fear. Perhaps you wonder if you are really born-again. Perhaps you think to yourself “If I am really saved I would have a stronger faith.”
If that is you, look at the life of Jacob. His life was marked by failure and a lack of faith. Yet God did not give up on him. God gave him no less that three appearances of angels to encourage him and yet he still kept displaying a lack of faith. Yet God continued to work through Jacob. God’s promises to Jacob were unconditional. He was to be the father of the nation of Israel. He was to be the ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. At his deathbed, we find him prophesying, speaking the Words of God.
Do not be fear that you are not a true believer because you fail sometimes. We have a sinful nature that tries to resist God’s working in our lives. It should not be a surprise that sometimes we fail to live the victorious life to which we are called to.
If you have turned to the Lord Jesus Christ you are eternally secure in Him. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal life, you possess eternal life. You shall never be lost. Do not be fearful.
Jacob named the place Mahanaim. This means two camps. The one camp was Jacob’s camp, with all his family and servants. The other camp was God’s. God’s angels had left heaven and dwelt temporarily on earth.
A camp is made up of tents or tabernacles. There is a lot of significance to tabernacles in the Bible. The Israelites celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. They celebrated the time when their people dwelt in tents. In one of those tents dwelt the Ark of the Covenant. The very presence of God was manifested in that tabernacle. The glory of God was made known in the tabernacle and later in the temple.
Later in history, God became man. The Son came from heaven to earth and dwelt in flesh. At the Transfiguration, God’s glory was displayed in the person of Christ. Peter spoke about building three tabernacles. He did not know what he was saying, but he showed that the feast of tabernacles was being fulfilled in Christ. That God was dwelling in a tabernacle of flesh.
We read in Revelation that in the end, God will make His tabernacle with man. In the New Heavens and the New Earth, the whole universe will be filled with the glory of God. Jacob saw two camps, his camp and God’s camp. Yet in the end there will be only one camp. God will dwell with man. Heaven and Earth shall be brought together.
If you are in Christ you will see the establishment of this heavenly kingdom. If you have eternal life through Jesus Christ, you will dwell forever in the presence of God.
Turn unto the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in Him and you will be with Him forever. You can forever know His love and His goodness.