“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.”
At the most crucial moment!
Just when this friend of God had been delivered out of one crucible, and was on his way to be cast into another—
That is when the angels of God met him!
For Jacob was returning from his uncle Laban, where he had fled some twenty years before to escape the wrath of a raging brother according to the flesh; where he had labored hard for his wives and substance; where he had been tried by the cruel machinations of a father-in-law, whose every move toward Jacob was motivated by selfish and materialistic ends; where nevertheless the God of Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob had blessd him exceedingly—the God Who had now commanded him to leave the country of Laban and to return to his own promised land. Indeed, a great relief it was to escape the miserly fingers of Laban, which for some twenty years had threatened Jacob’s throat.
But alas he was at the moment on the way to even a much greater trial!
He must face his brother Esau!
Would Esau deal kindly with him? Or, was Esau the same ruthless, cruel, vindictive monster Jacob had escaped from long ago? Jacob had no way of knowing that when he would actually see his brother again his face would appear to him as “the face of God.” Gen. 33:10). All he could remember was the wrath of a brother that threatened to kill him; and during the twenty years of absence he no doubt heard of the marauding exploits of his brother, who was bent on living by the power of his sword.
What now was to become of him? Of his wives and little ones?
Crucial indeed was the moment in which this child of God finds himself!
When suddenly there appeared to him an army of brightly harnessed angels!
“And when he saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.”
The two camps!
On the one hand, the poor, defenseless Jacob leading as well a defenseless host. On the other, there was the impregnable body guard which God had caused to light upon him and which now stood between him and his foe.
So there is one camp down here which included his helpless wives and children as well as his own frightful self. And the other camp up there, seen no doubt only by Jacob, servants of the Most High, sent forth for the service of God’s elect. At the sight of it there must have come over the soul of this child of God the glow of confident joy, which causes him to exclaim:
Observe, first of all, these two camps!
The one camp represents the meek of’ the earth. Jacob was no soldier, nor were his servants prepared to take up arms for defense. Jacob did not live by the sword as did his brother according to the flesh. Indeed, he belonged to those whom the Scriptures designate as the meek of the earth. Jacob had learned, and he would live to learn again and again, that he cannot stand in his own strength. How often he had tried it, and would try it again. But how miserably he had failed. As to being able to withstand physical combat, and to bring an offensive against brute strength, he was harmless and defenseless. There was no man, nor an arm of strength that is human to whom Jacob could appeal for defense, were he to be brought into physical confrontation by Esau. In the rugged terrain of his now approaching homeland Jacob and company appeared not as the vanquishing but the vanquished.
But this is not all!
What we have said so far only describes the camp of Jacob as one might see it there, encamped as they were on the rugged terrain of northern Palestine. What one could not see, but which was just as really there, was the forlorn and fearful spirit of the leader of this host. There is where one is helpless most. Meekness is not brought on first of all by the taking inventory of one’s physical resources which are of little account, but by the spiritual knowledge of one’s smallness, his little self-worth. Jacob expresses this sense of meekness only a little while later when he prays: “O God of my father, Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant. . . .” When one stands in the presence of God, this is the only true estimate one can make of himself. And when one takes a proper inventory of all of Jehovah’s mercies, the littleness of self-worth becomes most apparent and humbling. And when Jehovah providentially drives Jacob into this confrontation with his adversary, He also brings out of Jacob this true assessment of himself as the fruit of His everlasting mercy.
But notice, too, that other camp!
They are described as the angels of God!
As Jacob saw them, they constituted the camp of God, symbolizing the protective power of the Almighty, sent forth to guard His humbled servant and his camp.
Angels—those ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them who shall be heirs of salvation! So the writer to the Hebrews describes them in Hebrews 1:14. Such is also the significance of the angels as expressed by the psalmist (Ps. 91:11) “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Daniel also exclaims from the bottom of the lion’s den, “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me.” And were not the apostles, Peter and John, let out of the prison where they had been held because of their preaching? And was not Peter again let out of prison when his very life was about to be taken from him by Herod the king, who, after he had killed James, sought to please the Jews by also taking Peter’s life? (Acts 5:19; Acts 12:7).
O, indeed, God has many angels. Not all have the same tasks, nor do all fulfill the same purpose of God. He has His Michaels and His Gabriels. He has His cherubim and His seraphim. He has His angels which with flaming swords guard the gate to Paradise and the tree of life so that the banished may not return. He has His angel that stands in the way on which rode disobedient Balaam to threaten him for his disobedience. But He also has His angels which must bring good tidings of salvation, and bring comfort and relief to His distressed people. Witness the heavenly host which appears over the shepherds at Bethlehem, and the ministry of these heavenly servants as they appear with their comforting strength to the Man of Sorrows as He crawled on the ground in Gethsemane, where He appeared as a worm and no man.
In this time of Jacob’s distress they appear as a well harnessed and shining host of armored beings, as a protective wall above and around him, no doubt reminding this saint of God of that experience he had with them when he left his father’s house, taking flight from the wrath of his brother Esau. Then at Bethel they appeared unto him in a dream as ascending and descending from heaven on a ladder, which experience Jacob then interpreted as dwelling in the very presence, in the house of God. Therefore he called the place Bethel, meaning: House of God. Reminding him too of what the Lord told him on that occasion: “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 28:13, 14). Here, however, it is Mahanaim, the two camps. But there is evidently a connection between these two visions of angels, between Bethel and Mahanaim. For when the Lord gave commandment to Jacob to return He said, “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out of this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.” (Gen. 31:13). At Mahanaim, therefore, the Lord was showing Jacob that He will see to it that nothing, not even a raging and threatening Esau, shall intervene and spoil His purpose to realize His covenant with Jacob, or to stop Jacob from keeping his vow.
As always, so now, these two camps meet at the most opportune time and place!
As to the place, we read that Jacob was on his way when the angels of God met him. The way was that which His God had bidden him to walk. O, it is also true that the way was Jacob’s It formed a part of his life. And it is also certainly true that the angels of God meet God’s saints on the dusty road of common life. If we do not recognize their presence in the common place, we need not look for them in some special place. And it is in the path of duty that those occasions arise where the appearance of the Lord’s host is necessary. If, however, we walk that way by our own devising, we had better look for that angel with a sword, as he appeared unto Balaam. Jacob, on the other hand, was walking the way God had ordained, and commanded him to walk in it. It is in this area, when we walk according to the counsel and commandment of God, that becomes also the occasion for the appearance of His angels.
At the most critical moment, that is when the two camps meet! Many years later David, a man after God’s own heart, experienced this also, and, by the way, in this same place, when he was fleeing from his son Absalom. (II Samuel 17). When he despaired of his life, when he who ate bread with him had lifted up his heel against him, then God turned the evil counsel of Ahithophel, that Judas of the Old Testament, to nought, and delivered His servant back to his throne. Do you not think that this saint of God as he lay there on the ground of Mahanaim reminisced, calling to memory the story as it had been handed down, how that his father Jacob had seen a vision of angels in this very place? O, indeed, he did! Listen to him as he penned his Psalms recalling this occasion. “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” And again, “I will both lay me down in peace and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety.” (Ps. 3, 4). And again, “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thy in all thy ways.” (Ps. 91). O, indeed, the Lord knows just the right moment to sent His host. And these angels know exactly in what form they shall appear to fit exactly the need of Jehovah’s saints.
What cause is there to fear then, O Jacob, so long as you know you are walking in God’s way? The heavenly protectors hover round thee, and therefore no harm can come to thee!
Why then fear, O child of God, often cast into despair as you walk the dusty road of obedience, and are confronted with many foes, often much more imposing than Esau? Not only do you have the comforting assurance of Jehovah’s guardian angels, who, when you are cast down, will not allow your feet to touch the stones, but Who Himself has said: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? And who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Be persuaded that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!