Tradition has it that on this day Jacob, having erected the monument at Gilead that constituted a covenant between him and Lavan, departed for Canaan. According to the Bible, as he did, he met a group of angels. It’s recorded in Genesis 32:
So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp.” And he called the name of that place Mahanaim. (Genesis 32:1-2)
Jacob’s flight from Esau, some 20 years before, resulted in him living in the home of another deceitful person, his uncle Lavan. During his tenure there, Jacob was deceived into marrying Leah, his wages were changed multiple times and, time and again, Lavan took advantage of his nephew. Upon the end of his sojourn in Syria and the subsequent flight from Lavan, his uncle, who pursued and eventually caught up with him, accused him of stealing. And so, this story provides a classic example of how the accuser always accuses others of what he is, in fact, guilty of. Through it all, Jacob maintained his integrity and God rewarded his perseverance.
So what was the reason for the camp of angels? Why did God allow Jacob to see them and why were they there? Perhaps they were sent by God to protect Jacob and his family and them into the land of Canaan. Maybe they were ascending and descending, which is something Jacob would have recognized. Maybe they were sent to encourage Jacob because, even though he had just come through a test, an even greater test was coming. His brother, Esau, was coming with 400 armed men. Perhaps that is the reason and here is what convinces me of that: Scripture records another incident when God sent angels to encourage someone who was about to be subjected to a great test.
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44)
Though the angel was sent to strengthen Messiah, it didn’t mean the test had concluded. It just meant that He had been strengthened to continue in the test. Soon after, Judas came and with him were men carrying staves and torches. With a kiss for his Master, Judas helped to initiate the final part of Messiah’s great test. It is very interesting that when Jacob left the angel’s camp and met Esau and those 400 men, his brother greeted him with a kiss.
God knows us and, thus, realizes there are times when we need encouragement if we’re going to be able to endure the tests we find ourselves in. There’s a rabbinical concept that suggests God’s tests are always calibrated to correspond to the strength of the person who’s being tested. If that’s true, then we can conclude that the tests we have faced, are facing and will face are not impossible to endure. In fact, Paul told us:
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
You and I may not see or recognize the messengers He sends to strengthen us, but they are there. How can we know that? Because He is there!