This is God’s Camp
Introduction: In today’s story, we’re going to see a brief overview of the nation of Israel and how it was divided into two separate entities, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The wisdom of this occurrence was directed by God for the sake of protecting His people as they led to the Messiah.
Text Verse: Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord brings back the captivity of His people, Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad. Psalm 14:7
We’ll review the verses today where Jacob’s time of exile is ending and he is heading back to the land of promise. On his way there, his time and the events which occurred will be used as a picture of the future of his people and the world which is a threat to them.
We’ll also see the divine protection of him and his group which continues to be realized throughout their time as a people. For almost 4000 years since Jacob, they have endured and been kept. God is amazingly faithful to His promises and so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. The Two Camps
1 So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
Laban departed from Jacob and headed back to Padan Aram. Now that he is gone, Jacob continues his journey toward Canaan. While on his way “the angels of God met him.” The English word for angels comes from the Greek word aggelos.
It signifies a messenger. In Hebrew the word is malach which comes from the root word laakh. This carries the same concept as the Greek – to send, minister, or employ. And so throughout the Bible we find it used to identify both heavenly beings and humans.
Prophets, priests, and spirits have all been described by this word which we translate as “angels.” Therefore, it is more suited to the name of the office, rather than the nature of the being. When Jacob left Canaan 20 years earlier, the last thing recorded was his vision of the ladder and the angels ascending and descending on it.
Now as he’s reentering the land, he again has a vision of angels. The understanding that we can derive from this sighting is that they have been there all along, but he simply didn’t know it. And this is completely in line with a host of other passages in the Bible. One is found in Psalm 34 –
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them. Psalm 34:7
The angels have been with him and kept him and we know it’s so because the Lord promised His protection at the time of the vision of the ladder way back in Genesis 28 –
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you. Genesis 28:15
True to His promise, he has been with Jacob, kept him, and is now returning him to the land of promise. In this, we see the words of Psalm 91:11 perfectly fulfilled –
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways. Psalm 91:11
The Lord gave His angels charge over Jacob and they have certainly kept him in all his ways. Matthew Henry says “When God designs his people for extraordinary trials, he prepares them by extraordinary comforts.”
There is a life lesson for us in this idea of angelic protection and it is one we can hold on to. It comes from the New Testament book of Hebrews which says, when speaking of angels –
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:14
If you’ve ever heard of some miraculous deliverance from an accident or a trial, there is no reason at all to think that it didn’t come about as the result of the divine intervention of angels.
God will call us all home in His good timing, but in the interim, His angels are carefully tending to those who will, in fact, inherit salvation.
2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp.” And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
Jacob sees the angels, knows he is protected, and declares mahaneh elohim zeh – “this is God’s camp.” What’s rather amazing is that before he left Canaan 20 years earlier, when he woke from his sleep after his vision of the ladder he said, “Surely this is God’s house.” So here are bookends – the house and the camp.
The difference between a house and a camp is that a house is permanent and fixed, but a camp is moveable and changing. The house of God is heaven, His permanent dwelling, but the camp of God is where His presence is displayed and revealed among men. It is where His angels congregate to serve His purposes.
Joel 2:11 shows us the display of God’s presence from His camp –
The Lord gives voice before His army,
For His camp is very great;
For strong is the One who executes His word.
For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible;
Who can endure it?
Now on Jacob’s return, he sees the camp of God and says, “This is God’s camp.” His pronouncements concerning the House of God and the Camp of God are these bookends on his 20 years of exile. There is Bethel at the beginning and Mahanaim at the end.
Like so many other names of places and people which come from a spoken word, Jacob names this place based on what he just said – mahaneh elohim zeh. This is God’s camp. “Our camps (plural) are Mahanaim” – and so it becomes the name of the location.
Mahanaim is mentioned 13 times in the Bible. And for the ever-so short time of two years, it became the capital of Israel at the same time that David was ruling in Hebron. We see this in 2 Samuel 2 –
But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ishbosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim; 9 and he made him king over Gilead, over the Ashurites, over Jezreel, over Ephraim, over Benjamin, and over all Israel. (8, 9)
To help you remember this place, I want you to understand where the name is derived from. It comes from a verb, hana, which means to bend down or settle. The word is used when speaking of evening time in Judges 19:9. A camps settles as the day settles – so you can see the comparison between the two.
A derivative of the word hana which will give you a mental picture of this is the word hanit which means “spear.” When a spear is thrown, it leaves the hand, arcs upward, and then back down, like the shape of a tent or the setting of the sun.
Jacob sees the camp of God and the tents next to his and he calls the place “two camps” or Mahanaim. There is his camp and there is God’s camp. Two camps. Again, as we’ve seen in the past, two signifies that which contrasts and yet that which confirms.
The two testaments contrast and yet they confirm. The second Person of the Trinity has two natures – God and Man. They contrast and yet confirm. The two witnesses of Revelation contrast – one a gentile and one a Hebrew – and yet they confirm.
In this case, there is a contrast between the two camps. One is physical, one is spiritual. One is earthly, one is divine. One is mortal, one is eternal. They contrast and yet they confirm – they are the two camps of God’s dealings. They are God’s tools in His plan of redemption – here you see the importance of Israel.
This will not be the only time these camps will be seen. Both in the Bible and in recorded history, they are noted. In the Bible, God’s angelic protection is seen, for example, in 2 Kings 6 –
13 So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.” And it was told him, saying, “Surely he is in Dothan.” 14 Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 15 And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.
Extra-biblically, in AD70 at the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people of Israel, the camp of God’s angels departed. The almost surreal account is recorded by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus –
…a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.” The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 5:3
Israel rejected the Lord and for their disobedience, the curses of Deuteronomy 28 were, for a second time in their history, executed upon them. The camp of God was removed and the angels departed hence.
However, numerous accounts of Israel’s renewed protection have been given in the past 50 years. Here is one of them –
During the Yom Kippur War, a lone Israeli soldier in the Sinai led a captured Egyptian column back to Israeli lines. When the Egyptian officer was asked why he surrendered an entire tank column to a single Israeli soldier, the Egyptian officer replied, “One soldier? There were thousands of them. The officer said the rest of the ‘soldiers’ had melted away as they approached the Israeli lines. The Israeli soldier reported that he was alone when the Egyptian commander surrendered to him. He didn’t see the army of angelic warriors. The Egyptians did. (Angels on the Battlefield)
This account reflects the words found Psalm 68:17 –
The chariots of God are twenty thousand, Even thousands of thousands; The Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place.
Once again, God’s camp is surrounding His people as they are being prepared for the return of Christ and the establishment of His millennial reign. This is great stuff and it echoes the words of today’s verses. Before we go on, let me give you a little instruction on angels.
I want to do this because people all around the world, and Christians especially it seems, far too often misuse the intent and purpose of angels. As Hebrews noted, angels are ministering spirits of God, not self-determining agents.
In the Bible, they do what they are appointed to do, not what they want to do. Therefore, praying to them or relying on them to help us make decisions is completely misguided. God gives us all manners of help.
He gives us His word to guide us, brains to think with, muscles to work with, food to keep us going, the sun to shine on the day, and angels to minister as He directs.
Our devotion, our attention, and our prayers are to be directed to God alone and never, never toward angels. And to help us understand this, we’ll see this very premise in next week’s sermon where Jacob makes his great prayer to God. Pay attention to how Jacob acts in those verses and you’ll see this.
What he does is right in line with the account I read from 2 Kings 6. The prophet Elisha was protected by a whole host of angels, but he prayed to the Lord, not to the angels. It is the Lord who directs the angels, not Elisha, and not the angels… and not us.
II. The Messenger’s Message
3 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
The word used for Jacob’s messengers is malakhim – angels. In other words, his servants are being sent by his direction just as angels are sent by God’s direction. He had sent these guys earlier to go to his brother and notify him that he was coming.
Here in this verse, we return to a concept we saw many sermons ago when Esau was picturing fallen man. Esau’s name is linked to the word asah – “made.’ It is the word used to describe the making of man in Genesis 1. Edom is linked to the word Adam. Adam the man was made from the red soil of the earth.
And then God includes the other name of the land, Seir – which means “hairy.” If you missed the sermons on Esau, it would be good to go back and watch them. Esau was born hairy, like a garment, as if he were fully developed at birth. He pictures Adam made as an whole man.
The name of the land, Seir, meaning “hairy.” Hair in the Bible denotes awareness. It is tied directly to his Esau’s hairy body. It is the Lord who forms us in the womb and as cognizant, sentient beings.
This is all explained in detail in those sermons and we should try to remember these things as we continue on. God is including all of these names and places to show us pictures of what is going on in His plan of redemption.
The messengers, the malakhim, that Jacob is sending out picture the prophets of the people of Israel whose words were sent out to the people of the world, pictured by Esau. The people of the world now have a spiritual awareness and are being given the word of the Lord. I hope you’re seeing the comparison that’s being made.
4 And he commanded them, saying, “Speak thus to my lord Esau, ‘Thus your servant Jacob says: “I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now.
The messengers of Jacob are commanded to speak to Esau using the term adoni, my lord. Jacob, despite having both the birthright and the blessing is deferring the honor to Esau. He additionally calls himself “your servant.” It’s the same term Isaac used to explain to Esau that he was made Jacob’s servant in chapter 27 –
Then Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Indeed I have made him your master, and all his brethren I have given to him as servants; (37)
Jacob is subordinating himself in order to gain Esau’s favor, and hopefully temper anger he may still feel, and to restore a right relationship between them. Jacob probably already has an idea about how Esau feels because he knows where Esau is living, even though it’s not the same place as when he left twenty years earlier.
In other words, they probably have from time to time been in communication with each other, but any letters or messages may not tell Jacob the true condition of Esau’s heart and so he’s being prudent in his dealings with his estranged brother.
What this verse is picturing is as clear as it could be. If Esau is picturing fallen humanity and Jacob is picturing Jesus, then the messengers Jacob sends before his arrival picture the prophets who have proclaimed the message of Jesus’ coming.
“Your servant is coming.” Time and time again that thought is seen in the Old Testament prophets. One who would be King of Israel, the Messiah of the world, and yet a Servant to the world’s people. Isaiah 49 shows us this as clearly as crystal –
“And now the Lord says,
Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant,
To bring Jacob back to Him,
So that Israel is gathered to Him
(For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord,
And My God shall be My strength),
6 Indeed He says,
‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (5, 6)
Finally in this verse, Jacob reminds Esau that he has been gone and has lived with Laban twenty years building a flock which represents the church, but now he is coming home.
The number 20 is 1 short of 21. Twenty one is the three-fold 7. Three is divine completion. Seven is spiritual perfection. So 21 is the number of divine completion of spiritual perfection. As 20 is one less than 21 then it signifies, “divine expectancy.”
Some sermons ago it was noted that this 20-year period represents the full time of Israel’s waiting to go from their establishment as a people, through the time of the law to the kingdom age. The time of divine spiritual perfection.
Jacob has been established as a people, he has a family who will become the tribes of Israel, he has a flock which is the church, and he is heading back to the land of Canaan to continue this journey of expectancy there. And so he continues…
5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”
This verse shows that he obtained great wealth in his time away. He won’t be any burden on Esau. But it’s also to keep Esau from feeling any threat. Esau would know of the large camp heading back and might think Jacob is coming to wipe him out.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, he again calls him “lord.” He’s showing that despite all he has, he is subjecting himself to Esau. He will be no threat to him. Instead he is looking to find favor in his sight. We can see this thought reflected in Ecclesiastes –
If the spirit of the ruler rises against you,
Do not leave your post;
For conciliation pacifies great offenses. Ecclesiastes 10:4
Matthew Henry notes it this way, “It is no disparagement to those that have the better cause to become petitioners for reconciliation, and to sue for peace as well as right.”
III. Esau’s Response
6 Then the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
It’s been 20 years since Jacob left. In that time, Esau has become a prominent chieftain of the people he is with. He had married daughters of the Hittites and also of Ishmael and he had consolidated power among them. This is evident by the large force he’s bringing along.
It’s debated why he’s bringing all the people with him. Some scholars look at him coming to avenge himself on Jacob, others feel he was going to defend himself from Jacob if necessary, and some are sure that he intended to honor Jacob.
Considering that he is bringing 400 people along, it’s probably the that he wanted to give Jacob a negative impression, but ultimately to honor him. Otherwise, he would have either told him he was coming on friendly terms, or he would have carried through with unfriendly ones.
No matter what Esau was thinking, Jacob will take it in a negative context as we’ll see in the next verse. Regardless of this, the number 400 is given and it is precise. God could have simply stated that Esau came with a large army of his people, but instead the number 400 is given.
Therefore, He wants us to explore why the number is used. The number 400 is the product of two other numbers – 8 and 50. Eight is the Hebrew word sh’moneh, which comes from the root shah’meyn which means to “make fat” or “cover with fat.” This gives the impression of superabundance.
When shah’meyn is used as a participle it means “one who abounds in strength.” As a noun it is “superabundant fertility” or “oil.” So that as a numeral it is the superabundant number.
Fifty is the number of jubilee or deliverance. It points to deliverance and rest following on as the result of the perfect consummation of time. And so 400 is the product of 8 and 50. It is a divinely perfect period resulting in rest.
It is the timeframe used by God to indicate the bondage of the people from Abraham until the Exodus which is recorded in both Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6. All of this might seem like over- analyzing a bunch of Edomites riding across the land on camels, but it’s not.
The number 400 here is pointing to the entire time of man’s history as a people, from their time in Eden, all the way through the kingdom age, the millennial reign which is still future to us now. As noted, it is a divinely perfect period resulting in rest.
This is how numbers work in the Bible, lesser numbers are used in a consistent manner to come to a greater result. And this is the reason for God’s inclusion of this number. Jacob is interacting with Esau just as Jesus interacts with humanity through His plan of redmption in order to bring about this divinely perfect period which will result in rest.
In the next verse we will see one way in which God accomplished that –
7 So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies.
Jacob has no idea what Esau’s intentions truly are. And with the coming of him with 400 people, he becomes afraid and distressed. If there were nothing to fear, he wouldn’t have done this. But it was Jacob who left 20 years earlier at the threats of Esau.
Adam Clarke explains Jacobs feelings this way, “He that has a good conscience has a brazen wall for his defense; for a guilty conscience needs no accuser; sooner or later it will tell the truth, and not only make the man turn pale who has it, but also cause him to tremble even while his guilt is known only to himself and God.”
Jacob’s conscience tells the truth of his past actions and now they lay open before the future and the meeting with Esau. And his fear and distress is now starting to show a lack of trust in the very promises of God which he had been given. His worry is the weakness of his soul as he struggles with what lies ahead.
The Geneva Bible says about this verse – “Though he was comforted by the angels, yet the infirmity of the flesh appears.”
And so, in order to protect at least a portion of his people Jacob divides them into two separate camps. If one camp is attacked, maybe the other will be safe. This division of Jacob into two camps pictures, or is realized in the division of the people of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms.
This was an action directed by God in the book of 1 Kings. God, knowing the future, knew that this was the right and appropriate action to preserve His people. However, in the chapters ahead, the camps will reunite under Jacob.
And the same promise was given to Israel. The Bible foretold that there would no longer be a division between the two kingdoms. Guess what, that time is now. There is one united Israel coming to the end of its divinely perfect period.
8 And he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.”
In the camp’s division, comes the wisdom of many battlefields. While the enemy is engaged with a portion of the force, the others can either rally to them, flank them, or escape alive. Jacob is so unsure of the outcome that he takes this course of action. (Mention MacArthur’s use of this tactic in Korea).
This battle technique is noted several times in the Bible. One great example comes from the time of King David in 2 Samuel 10 –
9 When Joab saw that the battle line was against him before and behind, he chose some of Israel’s best and put them in battle array against the Syrians. 10 And the rest of the people he put under the command of Abishai his brother, that he might set them in battle array against the people of Ammon. 11 Then he said, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the people of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. 12 Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the Lord do what is good in His sight.”
In Jacob dividing his camp, he may actually consider that this is a part of God’s promise to keep him alive. All he can do is trust that God is in control of the situation and his actions are the correct course of what to do.
Jacob’s dividing of his camp was to avoid the possibility of annihilation. God’s division of Israel served this same purpose. When the northern kingdom was destroyed and carried away captive, the southern kingdom remained.
A remnant of all of the tribes of Israel remained in Judah after the exile of the northern kingdom, and Israel as a people has been protected by God since then, despite two exiles. There are no lost tribes of Israel as lots of people claim.
Both testaments of the Bible confirm this. God’s camp has faithfully watched over Israel throughout the ages. In just 8 verses, we’ve seen the wisdom of God reflected in Jacob’s decision to divide his camp. One action picturing another as God unfolds His word before us.
Now that Jacob has made the division, He will take the wisest course of action of all and it is where we will turn next week for four verses of instruction that can guide all of us all the days of our own troubled lives.
Before we read our closing verse, please give me a couple minutes to explain the cross of Jesus and its importance to you. All of these stories, all of these pictures in God’s word are leading to one ultimate goal – the revealing of Jesus and His work on our behalf. Let me explain that most important point to you…
Closing Verse: As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.’ 17 Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand. Ezekiel 37:16, 17
Next Week: Genesis 32:9-12 (Jacob’s Prayer)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.
So Jacob went on his way
And the angels of God met him as he went along
When Jacob saw them, he did say
“This is God’s camp, look at the angelic throng
And he called the name of that place Mahanaim
Because there were two camps as it would seem
Then Jacob sent messengers before him
To Esau his brother in the land of Seir
The country of Edom, a land somewhat grim
His older brother had left Canaan and moved to there
And he commanded them saying
Speak thus to my lord Esau these words I allow
Thus your servant says, as he was praying
I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now
I have oxen, donkeys, and flocks too
And male and female servants as well
And I have sent to tell my lord, yes to you
That I may find favor in your sight and my worries dispel
Then the messengers returned to Jacob saying
We came to your brother Esau alright
And he is also coming to meet where you are staying
And four hundred men are with him so sit tight
So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed
And he divided the people that were with him
And the flocks and the herds and camels at his behest
Into two companies because things looked quite grim
And he said, “If Esau comes to the one company
And attacks it, then the other company which is left
Will escape destruction and flee to safety
And of all that I have I won’t be bereft
Just as Jacob separated his company into two
God divided Israel in a similar way
And though the northern tribes were exiled in BC722
Some of all 12 tribes have endured to this day
They are a people set apart by Him for His glory
Both to usher in the Messiah and receive Him again someday
This is the marvel of Israel as told in God’s story
And so for this group of people, let us remember to pray
But we in the church are God’s people too
United to Him in a glorious way
We are sealed with His Spirit and born anew
Promised eternal life because Jesus our debt did pay
What a glorious God You are to look upon us so
What a wonderful plan You have revealed to us
In Your awesome presence we shall walk forever we know
All because of the giving of Your Son, our Lord Jesus
Hallelujah and Amen…