Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Camp of Angels - Part One

We are pleased to announce Real Mercy (volume 3) has a scheduled release date of August 2015.  Wesleyan Publishing House has contracted Thad for 2 more books. In these current blogs, we’d like to share sneak peaks from volume 4. We hope you enjoy it.

Please note: Part One will be a devotion from scripture. Part Two will be a journal entry based on that scripture.

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Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named the place, Mahanaim (Two Camps).”

---Genesis 32:1-2

Jacob’s Story

But why was he “greatly afraid and distressed”? It makes no sense.

Before the news ever hit his ear about Esau and the 400, Jacob was given everything he needed. Nothing held back. If we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7) then Jacob was given something more than faith – much more. For he saw it with his own eyes. He saw “by sight” the spectacular, the magnificent.

Heaven broke through and touched his soul.

Here at the beginning of the story, as Jacob enters the Promised Land, “the angels of God” meet him. There is no mention that it was a dream. That happened 20 years back when he was running from Esau. There, at Bethel, he fell asleep and, in his dream, he saw the “angels of God” (28:12). But that’s not the story now.

The writer tells us the “angels of God met him” and Jacob “saw them.” They were real, physical, face to face. How close were they? What distinguished them? Did they look the same as they did in his dream? All we’re told is that Jacob knew they were angels, something different than him. Last time, he reacted. He was “afraid” (28:17). This time, he simply exclaimed: “This is God’s camp” or “This is God’s army!” (32:2 RSV). Which means it wasn’t just one angel – wouldn’t that be enough? – or even a dozen.

Jacob had an army on his side. He had military escort.

And he knows it. Immediately, he names the place (as he did at Bethel – 28:19). He calls it, “Two Camps.” And why? Does one belong to Jacob and the other to angels? Or had the angels assembled in two camps, one in front and one in back, as a theologian once suggested: Jacob was “everywhere surrounded and fortified by celestial troops”? 1

Either way, Jacob was given an extraordinary gift.

He knew – he saw – what a prophet would later put in words, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kgs 6:17) And again, an apostle would say, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31) So why, I ask, didn’t Jacob laugh at the news that Esau was coming with an army of only 400? Why did he care? How could fear capture his soul and rob him of any remembrance that “legions of angels” (Matt 26:53) were at his side? Since when did fear have that kind of power?

Fear bigger than faith. Fear bigger than sight.

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            It’s almost unthinkable this angelic meeting is recorded in two brief verses. Shouldn’t it occupy an entire chapter? Or at least the length of the Bethel story? But no, the news of Esau dominates here. Taking the space. Stealing Jacob’s heart. Making him forget the angels ever came. Making us wonder how they could be so easily forgotten. 

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1 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Genesis, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005. p. 185 (in volume 2 of Genesis). He writes, “much more probable, that angels were distributed in two camps on different sides of Jacob.”

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?