31 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” 2 And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. 3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” Genesis 31:1-3
The Lord enriched Jacob with many sheep and with a large family through the daughters of Laban. He had spent twenty years serving his father-in-law Laban after fleeing brother Esau, and had come away with many blessings, though Laban had treated him deceitfully. Jacob married his true love, Laban’s daughter Rachel, but through trickery Laban forced Jacob to marry her older sister, Leah, first.
As an overflow of God’s many blessings toward Jacob, father-in-law Laban was also enriched, but Laban spent the riches and wanted more. As Jacob was beginning to think about returning home, Laban made clear that he had no intention of letting him go. Laban viewed his daughters, grand-children and Jacob’s vast flocks as his own to keep, and Jacob found himself in a precarious position.
God warned Jacob about the bad blood that was rising between him and Laban and told him to return to the land of his father Isaac. But it was also the land of Esau, his twin, who had promised to kill Jacob twenty years earlier, so there was plenty of anxiety on both ends. But God’s voice was clear, as it had been to Abram those many years earlier – it was time to go. Like Abram before him, Jacob did honor God and go, but he did so by sneaking out. He packed up his family and possessions and left while his Laban was away shearing his sheep.
Sometimes in our lives, we need to a make decision about whether to stay or leave a situation. Unlike Jacob, we do not always get a clear word from God about it. Rarely is the decision an easy one. There is often a list of pros and cons to analyze before prayerfully choosing the right course of action. We pray and analyze, and with God’s help, we step out in faith, believing that the hand of God is guiding us and will gently lead us as we seek to do the right thing. The Lord is with us, and as we lean on Him, He will safely bring us to the right place where we belong, consistent with His will for us. We later look back in the rear-view mirror of life to find that things did indeed work out well with our decision. If we sought the Lord’s guidance, we will see that we were the beneficiaries of His many blessings, with new friendships, wonderful experiences and opportunities for spiritual growth and service along the way.
32 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” Genesis 32:1-3
Jacob had a unique experience in that he caught a rare glimpse of the angels of God who were watching out for him. Angels are not God, but they are messengers from God, sent by Him to do His work. There are countless stories of people in modern times who have narrowly avoided death by the intervention of these heavenly beings. The book of Hebrews mentions that some of us have entertained angels unaware of who they were. I have had one or two encounters in my life that I believe were possibly angelic beings in human form. But there have been many other “angelic” types in my life, some human, some animal, who have bestowed countless blessings and enrichments along life’s journey. I know that God put these many blessings in my path. Two of my earthly angels have been my wife and my (late) dog. Both have been countless sources of joy and encouragement.
Of the two suspected heavenly beings I think I have seen, the first was a man carrying a gas can on the other side of a four-lane, nearly empty highway. When I finally convinced myself to turn around to help him, he was nowhere to be found, but a woman and child who needed roadside assistance had now appeared. I stopped to help them change a flat tire but couldn’t get the lug nuts to budge. I remember standing there, thinking, “Lord, you wanted me to stop and now I can’t even help.” Then the young boy, probably five years old, said, “try jumping on it.” I looked at him, then realized that I could stand on the lug wrench, of course, it budged, allowing me to change the tire. Out of the mouths of babes!
The other angelic incident involved a traveler named Jerry, who stopped in at our church’s Wednesday night dinner before we held spiritual classes. He was selling pencil drawings of Jesus for $1 each, and I purchased one (which I still have). After dinner, Jerry attended our small class and had some interesting insights on the meaning of certain scriptural passages. After class ended, he gave the co-instructor and I some insight about a woman attendee who had left the room. He said she was having a secret emotional crisis and needed prayer and support. Then Jerry went on his way, never to be seen at the church again.
Over the coming weeks, we were able to pray for and gently encourage the woman through her difficult time without ever knowing what the crisis was. She attended our class and then another class for several weeks afterwards, and was smiling and joyful.
A few days after our encounter with Jerry, my co-instructor and I reluctantly admitted to each other that we had both independently thought that Jerry might have been an angel, “visiting unawares”. But we will not know for sure until we are with the Lord in eternity.
Meanwhile, Jacob was in his own crisis, caught between Laban and Esau, when he had an encounter with another heavenly being, God himself:
24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Genesis 32:24-31 ESV
Here is one of the more interesting passages in the Old Testament. Jacob had been richly blessed by God these twenty years since he had fled his brother Esau after deceptively stealing Isaac’s blessing. Yet Jacob had been a repeat victim of Laban’s deceptions for all of this time. If God had permitted it, Laban would have even taken back everything that Jacob had – his wives, children, wealth and maybe even his life. But God intervened and prevented Laban from acting upon his evil intentions toward Jacob.
But Jacob had another problem ahead of him. Brother Esau, who had threatened to kill him twenty years earlier, was on his way to meet Jacob along with 400 of his men. What type of greeting would this be, violent of friendly? Like all of us, Jacob feared the worst.
At the climax of this crisis, Jacob spent the entire night wrestling with God. This heavenly wrestling match, perhaps with the pre-incarnate Christ Himself, seems to be the moment when Jacob finally surrenders to God. He was desperate, realizing his great dependence upon Him, and how much he needed God’s presence with him from this day forward. Jacob held on tight and refused to let go. He finally meant business and was serious with God.
At this critical moment of dependence, God gave Jacob a new name, “Israel”, which means “governed by God”. May we all be governed by His love for us today.
What difficult decisions have you had to make? How did you involve God? How did He respond? What decisions are before you today? Now is always a good time to pray about them.
Has there been a time where you have seen angels in your life? Why might God have put them there? Who have been earthly variety “angels” for you?
Can you think of a time when you “wrestled” with God? What were the circumstances that brought you to that point? What was the result of? Is there still some more wrestling to do?
After wrestling with Jacob, God touched him on the hip, creating an infirmity that increased his dependence upon God. What infirmities or difficulties have caused you to depend more upon God?
The Lord named Jacob “Israel”. If God gave you a name or a nickname, what might it to be? Remember that He loves you deeply.