When was the last time that life left you frightened? You had made a pact with yourself to place complete trust in the Lord in the past… but then “this thing” happened. And it stopped your heart like an intruder having just leapt from your closet. Do you have the strength to face this latest fear?
Jacob resolved in Chapter 31 to return home. Waiting there is a brother that had threatened to take his life. Jacob has resolved to face his fear… but is still scared out of his mind. God sends him a little encouragement.
32 Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. 2 Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.
I take this verse to mean that God’s Plan is that He himself would fight for Jacob. This is a small encampment of God’s choice angel warriors. And I believe that this heavenly army is surrounding us just hidden from our mortal eyes. Here in Genesis 32, God’s invisible world is suddenly made visible to Jacob’s very human eyes.
It reminds me of the story about Elisha in 2 Kings. He and his servant were surrounded by an army of soldiers and the servant was frightened until Elisha prayed and said: “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17
They were surrounded by an unseen army sent to protect and fight for his prophet.
That’s what God lets Jacob see here. He reminds him that he will not be alone in facing his brother. You think this would be a great plan and that it would bring comfort to Jacob in a trying circumstance.
But Jacob has already drawn up some plans of his own.
- He put out feelers. (How bad is it?) v. 3-5
3 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; 5 I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”
6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
Okay, it’s bad.
- He Strategizes. v. 7-8
7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; 8 for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”
Jacob fears the worst and strategizes to protect his bottom line.
- He Prays. v. 9-12
This is not prayer in the best sense. While all prayer has value, this is a prayer that serves to make sure he “covers all his bases.” This is a Hail Mary pass in the 4th Quarter kind of prayer.
- He Prepares a Bribe. V. 13-21
He offers his brother everything and the kitchen sink. “Better broke than dead” might be Jacob’s thinking here.
Schemes or Trust?
Jacob might think that he is being prudent here. But he puts up all these defenses after becoming acquainted with God’s superior fighting force. What gives?
This startling contrast is displayed in verse 21: “So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.”
There is some major Hebrew word play going on here. Gifts (Jacob’s scheme) and Camp (God’s promise of protection.) are similar in sound. This is a deliberate way to get us to look at two options: Schemes or Trust.
Which do you rely on to get yourself out of your jams?
Recently I read in a pastor’s wife’s blog: “I was so intrigued when I saw this photo BELOW (and similar ones) going around facebook. I thought, “Wow! How awesome is that!”
After a few months of thinking about this from time to time, I had a great idea to do a printable using all 365 scripture references that deal with “fear not”. I went to my concordance to get the scripture references, and do you know what I found?
- The phrase in the intended context is only used 80+ times
- The phrase “fear not” in used in other contexts, but you wouldn’t want them to apply to you
- Other word pairings that would be equal to “fear not” (“do not be afraid”, “do not fear”, “be not afraid”) is used 30+ times
While it’s a great idea to think that God comforted us with “Fear not” 365 times, it’s simply just not true.
However, hopefully we are at that point in our Christian walk that we don’t need to hear God say something 365 times. Once should be enough.”
Have you learned to stop scheming and to start trusting? What is one thing you can do today to display your trust in the Lord even in the face of great fear?