Then as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him [to reassure and protect him]. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim ([a]double camps). – Genesis 32:1-2
God expects His children to gain knowledge from His word, and when we are given that knowledge through His Word, and with the help of His Spirit, He expects us to fight many of our own battles. When the need arises though, He is ready to help.
Jacob, instructed by God to return to his own country, still feared how he might be received by his brother Esau whom he had cheated. For us to do as God has instructed, both in the general principles laid out for our behaviour and in the specific things revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, takes a trust in the God who leads and provides for us.
Going ahead of his family to meet Esau, Jacob shows the new Israel overcoming the fear that had formerly dominated the old Jacob. A remarkable and important transition is taking place here. Jacob—the self-serving, greedy, self-promoting, self-protective heal-catcher is transformed by his relationship with God. He is beginning to take responsibility for the consequences of his own sinful past. After all, it wasn’t his wives or children who had cheated Esau out of his birthright and inheritance. It was Jacob.
If ever there was a man who illustrated in his own person that God has chosen the “the insignificant (base) things of the world, and the things that are despised and treated with contempt” (1 Corinthians 1:28), it was Jacob. According to the flesh there was nothing winsome or attractive about him. Selfish, scheming, deceitful, treacherous, untruthful, he was a most unlovely character. What was there in him to attract the love of God? Absolutely nothing. We should have thought that Esau was a fitter subject for God’s favors. But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. Spiritual things are hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to babes. Self-righteous Pharisees passed by, while publicans and harlots invited to take part of the Gospel banquet. The rich ignored, while to the poor the Gospel is preached. Esau hated while the “worm” Jacob is loved with an everlasting and unfathomable love.
All through the Scriptures we have example after example of people who went out alone to come face to face with God. Abraham spent nights alone in the desert with God. Moses went out to the desert to learn how God wanted him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. David, both as a shepherd boy and later as a fugitive, spent years of nights in the desert. That is where he wrote many of his beautiful psalms in praise of God. Elijah ran to the mountain in the desert and saw the earth quake and heard the still small voice of God. Jesus himself went into the desert to do spiritual battle with the forces of evil and thus qualify for his ministry. The apostle Paul spent three years in the Arabian Desert learning from the Lord in preparation for his ministry to the Gentiles. Each of these men learned tremendous lessons during his time alone with God.
Our spirit requires us to pray like everything depends on God; our human nature requires us to work like everything depends on us.