TITLE : Between Faith and Fear
DATE PREACHED : The Lord's day 17/10/2010
In Genesis chapters 27& 28 we had found Jacob fleeing from his brother Esau, who had threatened to kill him ( Gen 27:41) . Last time we considered that pivotal, life changing spiritual experience in which Jacob had met the LORD . Nobody encounters God and is not changed ! Jacob would later call the place of encounter “Bethel” (house of God), for he said “ Surely the LORD is in this place… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:16,17) .
Genesis 28 : 20 -22 are true words of commitment. He is a changed man .
Chapters 29 – 31 records the story in which Jacob serves under his deceptive uncle Laban - perhaps a pertinent reminder to Jacob that you will reap what you have sown .
In Genesis 32 we find him with his family , a large number of servants, and many herds of various domestic animals , making his way back to the land of promise . As he was nearing the land of his father ( where Esau lived) two things dominated his thinking :
(i) He wanted to appease his brother (v.20) for he knew that he had cheated him .
(ii) He feared Esau’s response .
But, before we get to this , we note that the God who had met with him at Bethel , and who had made great promises to him (Gen 28:13-15 ; 31:13) is one step ahead . We observe :
1. Jacob’s protection: 32: 1 & 2 “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!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.”
Here is a remarkable illustration of God’s providential care for his servants. As Jacob was preparing to go back to his country ( having served Laban for 20 years ) he knew that he needed to make right with his brother. That thought however filled him with great fear. Thankfully the God of Jacob had already anticipated that fear and had sent His angels (His ministers) to meet him. When Jacob saw the angels upon his return , he called this place Mahanaim ( “ two camps” - the angels camp ( Ps 34:7 : The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and he delivers them) and his own camp.
Jacob by divine grace was enabled to see something which Elisha’s servant Gehazi was enabled to see (2 Kings 6:16-17) . These presence of these angels would have been a great assurance for Jacob , that God was indeed with him .
2. Jacob’s plans : 32:3-8 : 3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4 instructing them, “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, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”
6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.” .
While he prepares the gift for Esau , and while he knows that the angels of the LORD encamp around him , one can sense his fearful anticipation of this event .
In the message to Esau he submits to his brother Esau as his ‘ lord’ ( Hebr. “adonai” “) .
Wait a minute !
Was not Jacob appointed by God to be the ‘ lord’ of this land ?
Yes indeed , but remember that Jacob did violate a biblical principle! He cheated . He took shortcuts to get the birthright and the promise of the firstborn . To be sure it was his by divine appointment , but he was to do this trusting in God’s work and God’s timing .
Because he has gone about this the wrong way he has made some very tactical errors . They are motivated by fear! Sin easily induces fear. Sin makes us forget our heavenly protection and inheritance , so that we would cower before the intimidating presence of worldly powers.
When Jacob hears that Esau comes to meet him with 400 men , we read in v. 7 : “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” . Forgotten was the ladder to heaven and the promises of God and Bethel ; forgotten was the camp of the angels. Do we never learn ? Our faith so easily gives way to fear . The thoughts of 400 men coming induced fearful thoughts into Jacob’s mind. His confidence in His heavenly Father is quickly diminished . Sin and fear cause us to loose heavenly perspectives very quickly . We must always remember that we can do nothing without God ! Christ has also told us this in Jn 15:5 : “ Without me you can do nothing !”
So, in rationalizing his fear Jacob divides his group into two camps (Mahanaim) – but note (!) the camp of angels don’t feature here now ! In v. 2 Jacob had two camps : his little one and God’s great one. Now in v.7 he only sees his little camp which on account of fear he now divides into two ! This always happens when we trust in our own resources. When we become fearful we become inwardly divided. We actually become weaker. We become man centered . The fear of man becomes greater than the fear of the LORD . Jacob recognizes his weakness before Esau , but not his weakness before God !
Jacob forgot the ancient faith principle , of which the apostle Paul had also had reminded the Corinthians : “My grace is sufficient for you , for my power is made perfect in weakness…. When I am weak , then I am strong ” ( 2 Cor 12:9,10 )
3. Jacob’s Prayer : 32:9-12 9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
Thank God for the gift of prayer by which we may present all our requests to God . It is the true believers instinct . When the Christian is in trouble he prays . It is his native air .
Here we see a biblical form of prayer in which we find :
(i) A reverent approach : O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me …
(ii) A humble approach : I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant.
(iii) A direct request : Please deliver me. The Psalms are full of such cries . No long words are needed . God is not deaf .
(iv) An appeal to God’s promise/ covenant . This is a common feature of biblical prayer.
Note the vacillation between fear and faith . In this prayer , Jacob is filled with faith , and the content of his prayer is truly wonderful and instructive . The confidence of such a prayer lies in the fact that God is true and faithful to all His promises . Such prayer does not fail , and we shall see that it does not fail here !
4. Jacob’s present : 32 :13-21 13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” 17 He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’” 19 He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, 20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” 21 So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.
Again , let me remind you , that two thoughts dominate Jacob’s mind:
(i) He wants to make right for the wrong that he has done to Esau.
(ii) He is not sure that Esau will accept this .
Notice how he moves from prayer back to scheming . George Mueller of Bristol was once asked what the most important part about prayer was . He said :” The 15 minutes after I have said , “Amen” . How easy it is to come from prayer (faith) back to fear . 15 minutes after we have prayed we must leave our Esau’s to God and not return to our plans to bribe our way out of a difficult position .
The camp of angels around him must have begun to wonder whether he would have any need of their protection after all , since he was doing so well scheming his way through this trial , and we ask , was this the man who had just uttered this wonderful prayer of faith – who had stood on the covenant promise ? Who had reminded God that he was acting under divine orders ?
Next time we will consider vv 22-32 ( Jacob wrestling with God) . In preparation for this I remind you that where there is no faith there is little sleep – but thank God that Jacob is ultimately in the hands of a great God.
Conclusion and application:
(i) Jacob’s protection and we are reminded that the presence of the God of Jacob behind and before is our guarantee to persevering in the trials of life .
(ii) Jacob’s plans , and we have seen that our life is so often a curious mixture of part faith , part fear .
(iii) Jacob’s prayer , and we have seen that reverent , humble , direct prayer , based on our confidence in a covenant keeping God strengthens our faith, not by removing all danger and pressure, but by sustaining us through our trials
(iv) Jacob’s present ; we have seen that Jacob operates under mixed motives . Part of his planning for the encounter with Esau is motivated by a genuine desire to restore the relationship , but in that process he finds it difficult to trust God to do the healing work , and so he gives way to a spirit of fear .
We have observed a typical pattern in Jacob's experience : Faith alternating with fear.
This is also typical of our spiritual experience.
How thankful we must be then that we are not keeping our lives. We learn above all that God keeps our lives and that He is indeed the God who is behind us and the God who goes before us.
Next week we shall see how He conquers us. Amen