For the week of November 17, 2007 / 7 Kislev 5768
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 28:10 - 32:3 (English: 28:10 - 32:2)
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10

Spiritual Encounters

Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, "This is God's camp!" So he called the name of that place Mahanaim. (Bereshit / Genesis 32: 2,3 [English: 32:1,2]; ESV)

After Jacob's brother, Esau, threatened to kill him, Jacob fled his homeland and lived in Mesopotamia for 21 years. During that time he established a sizable household and became wealthy. Upon his return home he had one of his significant spiritual encounters. We are not given that much detail of this particular encounter, but it is still significant. I will quote it again: "Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, 'This is God's camp!' So he called the name of that place Mahanaim."

This encounter occurs in between two of Jacob's major crises. He had just before resolved a very difficult situation with his father-in-law, Laban. Had not God intervened by speaking to Laban, Jacob most likely would have suffered greatly by Laban's hand (31:24,29). Following the encounter was Jacob's greatest challenge - seeing Esau after all those years. This story is described in next week's portion, but suffice it to say that he was terrified of what might happen.

The spiritual encounter that we are looking at this week is described as "the angels of God met him." Jacob encountered angels. It is interesting that he would meet angels upon his return to the Promised Land, for his first such encounter was in a dream as he was leaving home for Mesopotamia (Bereshit / Genesis 28:10-17). It is possible that God provided the latter experience to encourage him. Seeing the angels would have reminded him of God's promise of protection and provision when he first left home. It would encourage him that he was on the right track returning home at this time in spite of the near disastrous situation with Laban. It would encourage him for his impending meeting with Esau.

What a wonderful experience for Jacob to have! Who wouldn't want to see angels - to have the privilege of witnessing the unveiling of the spiritual realm. So many find it a challenge to believe in God's unseen reality. As we struggle through life's challenges, the world as we know it doesn't always witness to the things of God. How many of us think that if we could have but a brief glimpse of the heavenly world, then our hearts would ever stand secure in God?

Jacob's life demonstrates that it doesn't work that way. The heavenly dream he had when leaving home didn't revolutionize him spiritually. Knowing God is realized by faith and not sight nor dramatic experiences. Visions, dreams, and other spiritual experiences serve their purpose, but they don't automatically make a difference in our lives.

There is something of Jacob's perspective that is expressed in his encounter that is most instructive. Note what he said after meeting the angels. His focus was not on the angels themselves, but on God, when he said, "This is God's camp!" He realized that he was in a place where God's power was established. That angels are God's heavenly messengers to do his bidding is about God being in charge. The presence of the angels was a reminder to Jacob of God's presence. The sighting of the angels was not about the angels. It was about God.

It is far too common to focus on spiritual experiences instead of on God himself. It is too common that when heavenly reality breaks into our lives, whether it is in angel sightings or anything else, we become hooked to those things rather than to the God they are serving.

We would do far better to be like Jacob, who understood that true spiritual encounters are about God and not about the encounters themselves.

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