Monday, October 25, 2010

THE LIFE OF JACOB #2

A Namibian Desert Lion  on the attack
TEXT :  Genesis   32 : 1- 21
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

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