Two Camps

by Impact Church

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)

Everyone loves a good story with lots of plot twists and turns. And in all of literature, it’s hard to find a better narrative than the story of twin brothers that begins in the middle of Genesis, the book of beginnings.

We won’t recount the early years of Jacob and Esau, but undoubtedly you will recall how the younger Jacob (whose name literally means “trickster” or “deceiver”) took advantage of his more brutish brother in securing the elder’s birthright for a song (actually a bowl of soup). Then the scheming younger brother stole the firstborn’s blessing — even a bigger deal in patriarchal days than the material double portion of the birthright — by actually deceiving his aging, blind father, Isaac.

Here’s the 60-second version of how the next 20 years played out… The revenge-minded Esau wanted to kill his brother, causing Jacob to flee to his mother’s family in Paddan-aram, where the trickster met his match in his Uncle Laban, who hired him for seven years in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. (It was not uncommon in those days for your uncle to also be your father-in-law!) But the wily Laban pulled a fast one and sent his veiled, facially challenged daughter into the marriage bed,…forcing Jacob to work seven more years for the fairer Rachel. Then, in six more years of shepherding livestock, Laban changed Jacob’s wages 10 times, always seeking to have the upper hand in the business transaction.

But God graciously had his hand on Jacob, the promised seed of Abraham and Isaac through whom the Messiah would ultimately come. By the time God told Jacob to return to Canaan, he was a wealthy man with a large family, hordes of servants and enough animals to fill a dozen zoos!

Now we come to Chapter 32 and the place called Mahanaim, which literally means “Two Camps” (or Two Hosts, Companies, Bands or Armies, depending on your translation). In this famous chapter where God wrestles with Jacob and gives him a new name and identity, let’s look at five different scenarios involving “two camps” that could represent seasons in our lives. (NOTE: It helps make the story more personal if you substitute your name for Jacob’s!)

  1. The two camps of Jacob & God… When our protagonist first encounters the heavenly messengers, he must have felt quite secure after God had promised to be with him if he returned home. “Oh, hey God,… You’ve sent Your angels here to bless me and protect me? Great!” But Jacob had not surrendered his heart fully to the Lord by this time.

You can almost see him compartmentalizing his life,… “This is my camp over here,… and God, Your camp is over there.” Ever been there? “God, I’ll give you one day a week, but the other six belong to me, OK?” We probably wouldn’t say it that way, but actions speak rather loudly, don’t they?

In this division of camps, we acknowledge God. But it’s on our terms.

  1. The two camps of Jacob & Esau… Jacob realizes he must deal with his past sins, and much of the chapter is devoted to his fearful yet shrewd plans to face the brother whom he had cheated 20 years earlier.

Many believers continue to let the enemy of their souls fill them with fear and doubt by constantly reminding them of their past mistakes. Dear friend, hear and believe the words of the Apostle Paul today: If you are in Christ, you are a new creation! Old things have passed away, and all things have become new! (2 Cor. 5:17)

Your past did need to be dealt with,…and Christ did that at Calvary! Through faith in His accomplished work of redemption, you stand complete and forgiven in Him! You are a victor, not a victim! Now forgive yourself, and move on in Jesus’ name!

  1. The two camps of Jacob & Jacob… In his own wisdom and clever thinking process, the trickster who is finding his way back to God divides his own large camp in two and separates them, thinking if Esau attacks one company the other will be able to escape (vv. 7-8).

“I’ve got this, God. I’ve got a Plan A and a Plan B. In fact, I’ve got a five-year plan already figured out. Life is good.”

Can you hear the haunting words of Jesus in Luke 12? “Thou fool, this night your soul is required of you.” It’s a great-sounding poem, but you are NOT the master of your fate, and you are NOT the captain of your soul. (“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley)

  1. The two camps of God & Jacob… Now in their proper order, Jacob finally surrenders himself (not just his animals and material possessions) to the Lord after wrestling alone with a man he ultimately recognizes as God Himself (probably the Pre-Incarnate Christ).

Here he gets a new name and identity (“Israel” probably means “one who strives with God” or “a prince with God”). He also gets a new walk, courtesy of a permanent limp inflicted upon his hip. Similarly, when we surrender our all to Jesus Christ, we are given a new heart,…and our lives are never the same again!

  1. The two camps of God & God… What can be better than putting “God’s camp” in front of our own? Realizing that it’s really not about us at all!

God gave Jacob an assurance that he didn’t have to worry about his past any longer or about what lay ahead in his future. Listen to the words of Isaiah 52:12 …”the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”

David came to an incredible conclusion: “The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalms 34:7).

Believe it, dear Christian! God loves you and is for you! He’s already taken care of your past, He walks alongside you now and He’s leading you into your destiny! He’s got you surrounded! Hallelujah!