Genesis 32:1-12 Faith is knowing God’s will while taking authority over our circumstances
Genesis 32:1-12 Faith is knowing God’s will while taking authority over our circumstances
1 Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. 2 Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.
3 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He also commanded them saying, “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 and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”
6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; 8 for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”
9 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 relatives, and I will prosper you,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. 12 For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”
20 years on, Jacob returned from Paddan Aram having achieved closure through a peace treaty with Laban. At that time, Esau has already dispossessed the Horites at Seir (see Deuteronomy 2:12) which suggest his military might. For Jacob, facing his brother Esau at the back of a longstanding feud is a terrifying matter. Despite the angelic encounter at Mahanaim, Jacob could not find it within him to take authority over the circumstances. Today’s devotion teaches us to exercise faith by knowing God’s will and taking authority over our circumstances.
Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him.
As soon as Jacob left Haran and closed the chapter behind him, the angels of God met him. Having seen them, Jacob used the words “This God’s camp” to describe them. “Camp” depicts armies, or in this case: God’s armies of angels. Jacob also named that place Mahanaim, which means dual or two armies of angels. The angelic encounter at Mahanaim differs from that of Bethel by virtue of the nature of the angels as they were presented. These were warring angels divided into two companies similar to what Elisha’s servant had seen which emboldened him (2 Kings 6:17). The appearance of angels were meant firstly, to impress upon Jacob that the ones for him were far greater than the ones against him. Secondly, to confer upon Jacob a divine authority to wage war with the enemies of the land. Thus, the angels were sent from God, not to possess the land, but to help Jacob possess it.
Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir.
The encounter with the warring angels has perhaps emboldened Jacob to initiate contact with Esau. However, Jacob seemed to go against convention when he prioritised the meeting of his brother Esau before his father. However, in view of the unresolved feud he had with Esau, it made good sense to suss him out before meeting the rest of the family. Jacob sent out his messengers with detailed instructions as to how they should present themselves before Esau. The words (“your servant Jacob… I have oxen and donkeys and flocks… tell my lord, that I may find favour in your sight”) were well chosen to appease, not to impress or to announce his return. Nevertheless, Jacob’s posture in making peace at this juncture may be driven more by pragmatism than by virtue.
We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.
Not only did the returning messengers bring no hint of peace, they left Jacob reeling with fear and distress. Whatever notions of divine favour and authority he gathered at Mahanaim quickly vanished as Esau approached with 400 men. Obviously, Jacob lack the mettle to reign over his circumstances. The brevity of the report heightened the uncertainty: Was Esau coming to wage war or to grace Jacob’s return with pageantry. It is obvious that Jacob leaned towards the former as he intended on doing all that he can to appease Esau and avert a catastrophe. Jacob might have contemplated turning back but could he outrun an army of 400 men? Nevertheless, he took defensive measures and prayed.
Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau.
Jacob’s prayer is a mixed bag, it revealed the following:
- The authenticity and fidelity of his relationship with God: O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord.
- His obedience to God’s directives: O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you.’
- His humility and unworthiness of God’s provision and protection: I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become (been allocated) two companies.
- His doubts concerning God’s attentiveness to his predicament: Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children.
- His faith in God’s promises: For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.
In view of Jacob’s prayer, one cannot help but question whatever had become of his angelic encounter at Mahanaim. For there is an obvious gap between the display of angelic power (at Mahanaim) and the actual implementation of it. Nevertheless, he contrasted what he had 20 years ago; a staff, and what he possessed now; two companies of angels. Jacob, in making the association likened the function of the two companies to a shepherd’s staff, a tool for personal support, as well as a weapon. The bible uses the word “staff” in many places to denote power:
- Isaiah 10:24: O My people who dwell in Zion, do not fear the Assyrian who strikes you with the rod and lifts up his staff against you, the way Egypt did.
- Isaiah 14:5: “The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, The scepter staff of rulers”
- Jeremiah 48:17b: Say, ‘How has the mighty scepter staff been broken, a staff of splendor!’
- Psalm 23:4: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
No doubt, Jacob was visibly awed by God’s favour as he recalled of what little power he had then: a staff and what great powers he had now: two companies of angels. But like all human beings, he did not know how to put into operation what heavenly powers he had acquired at Mahanaim except to cry out to God.
Faith is knowing God’s will while taking authority over our circumstances
One pertinent question that arises from Jacob’s encounter at Mahanaim: what does God intends for Jacob to do in the aftermath of the angelic encounter? There are three possible intentions at Mahanaim:
1. To instil within Jacob faith and loyalty towards God despite the challenges. Here, the angelic appearance have no purpose other than to instil confidence by showcasing their grandeur. Just like the independence day celebrations where nations show off their military hardware to their citizens to instil a sense of security and patriotism. Here, the angelic appearance does nothing apart from inspiring peace and assurance within Jacob. A working relationship with the angels is not on the cards, for God Himself will take charge over the angels. And nothing is required of Jacob except to keep to the divine directives: Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you. (Genesis 32:9). Here, Jacob becomes a passive participant oblivious to the spiritual warfare that rages around him.
2. The meeting at Mahanaim seeks to establish a working relationship within the angelic order that offers an active role for Jacob as heir of the land. In this arrangement, Jacob must actively work with the angels to possess the land. However, with respect to working with the angels, again there are two possible arrangements:
2a. Jacob is given an indirect mandate over the angels. Here, he cannot move the angels directly but only by calling on God. On closer examination, this does not make sense, for it would have been better for God to dispense of superfluous Jacob by directing the angels Himself.
2b. Jacob is given direct authority over the angels but under God’s supervision. In other words, Jacob will discharge his authority directly but within the scope of God’s will. Therefore, a man of God must understand God’s will so that he may discharge his commission through the angels. This idea is exemplified by Joshua, where he was tasked to lead a charge against Jericho but under strict instructions given by God. In the same token, the angels would bring down the wall only upon Joshua’s expressed directive with the shouts of the people.
The first intention (1) is suited to those of elementary faith, who are not mature to take up higher order of things. However, it is also not likely that God will use that to encourage Jacob. In biblical history, God has never intended man to put his trust in armies but in God. In the second intention (2a), God remains in absolute control of every detail and man does not add real value in the spiritual economy. The third intention (2b), is what God is looking to implement in the lives of His children. For each, God invests an appropriate level authority according to the individual’s maturity and wisdom. However, God reserves the right to intervene, to promote and debase as He will.
When do believers cry out to God and when to take authority over their circumstances?
Jacob cried out to God in prayer because he could not find it within him to take authority over the angels and the circumstances. The purpose of crying out to God is so that believers may receive clarity concerning God’s will and take authority over their circumstances.
It is important to understand that crying out to God alone does not alleviate one’s predicament. Moses faced a classic situation when Pharaoh sent his army to pursue and destroy the people (see Exodus 14:15). Moses stood tall and assured the fleeing Israelites, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord… The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” Then Moses cried out to God only to have the Lord say, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it,…” Here lies a very important lesson: believers must ultimately come to understand what God’s will is, so that they may take charge! Until Moses take up the authority given to him, there will be no salvation for the people.
Many believers misunderstood what Jesus meant when He said, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:14. They interpret Jesus’s words as to keep on asking Him about something until He gives it. Such treat Jesus’s name as an incantation that evokes the power of God to grant them their requests. Many go into long prayers explaining why their requests should be answered and by reminding God of His promises. God needs no reminders, but He needs believers to take authority over the angels and the elements of the earth.
However, we see the apostle Peter using the name of Jesus very differently. Peter, when faced with a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazarene – walk!” Peter held him up by his right hand, and he stood upright and walked (see Acts 3:1-8). Notice that Peter did not cry out to Jesus for the man’s healing. Instead, Peter fixed his gaze on him and commanded him to walk by the power that comes through Jesus’s name. Peter gave an explanation of how the miracle came about,
“Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? … God has glorified His servant Jesus… And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.” Acts 3:12,13,16.
No doubt, the lame man was healed because of the power that came through the exalted name of Jesus. However, that power must come by the act of faith, which is to command healing into the man’s lame body. As faith without works is dead, and that work begins with the resolve to take authority by the declaration of our mouth. In another passage, Jesus further explains the works of faith by declaration of our mouth,
“Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”
In conclusion, our breakthrough does not come from unceasing petition in Jesus’s name per se. But from taking authority over our circumstances through the declaration of faith.
Why do some believers lack the confidence to exercise authority and take charge of their circumstances? How does a believer increase in the area of authority? Jesus taught the disciples the secrets to an effective prayer life, which is trust and obedience. Jesus said, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:14-15. Many could not exercise authority over the angels or the elements of the earth because their spirit have not been truly submitted under God’s teachings and order of things. They doubt if man can ever really be lose from the bondage of sins. They cannot accept that followers of Christ be given authority over all things. However, those who believe His every word and live under God’s authority (If you love Me, you will keep My commandments) will at the same time inherit His authority over all things.
Here are some sample declarations of faith:
In Jesus’s name, I command the hindrances surrounding my work to be removed.
In Jesus’s name, I command vengeance, distrust, unforgiveness and quarrels to be removed from my family.
In Jesus’s name, I send the angels to project notions of love, hope and obedience into my children. I send the angels to destroy the works of strife in my department.
Dear Lord, I thank you for making me your son and calling me to greater and higher order of things. Sanctify and mould me so that I may take up the authority to establish your kingdom. In my current circumstances, grant me to understand your will and the authority to preside over them. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.