Editor's note: Join us for the God Never Gives Up on You Online Bible Study starting 10/23!
You’ve had, or will have, moments of deep despair. You’ve had, or will have, hours in which your eyes weep a river, and your heart breaks into a thousand pieces. You’ve had, or will have, journeys through dry, barren stretches that will leave you exhausted and isolated.
You will feel stripped of all you cherish. You will look around and see no one to comfort you. You will search for strength, but you will search in vain, for strength will not come.
Yet in that desolate moment as you sit near the headstone and cry, on the barstool and drink, or in your bedroom and sigh, God will meet you. You will sense and see Him as never before.
Do not begrudge the barren stretches, for in the barrenness we encounter God.
We find the presence of God. Jacob did. And no one was more surprised than he.
In one fell swoop he’d tricked his brother and aging father. Rebekah, the mom of the twins, saw Esau’s rage and raced to warn Jacob. “He’s got that look in his eyes. Don’t pack a bag. Don’t grab a cloak. Don’t stop running and don’t look back.” She told him to hightail it to the land of her brother Laban and to stay there while Esau cooled down.
Jacob did exactly that. He grabbed a waterskin and filled a sack with figs and fruit and, with one final glance at his mother, mounted a camel and left. He set out from Beersheba to go to Mesopotamia (modern-day Turkey): 550 miles.1
Life was in free fall. Jacob left behind a weeping mother, a seething brother, and an aging, angry father. He had no herds. No servants to serve him. No guards to protect him. No cooks to prepare food for him. No companions. No resources.
Jacob was raised in Fortune 500 wealth, surrounded by servants, shepherds, and slaves. His grandfather was “rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2). Abraham and his nephew Lot were so blessed that “the land was not able to support them... their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together” (Genesis 13:6). This affluence was passed down to Abraham’s son.
[Isaac] began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. — Genesis 26:13–14
Jacob was the grandson of a baron. The son of an aristocrat. Had he lived today, he would have been raised in a mansion, pampered by servants, and educated in the finest schools. He had everything he needed. And then, from one moment to the next, he had nothing. He ran for his life, suddenly and utterly alone.
In the first two days he traveled forty-three miles from Beersheba to Bethel, a barren moorland that lay about eleven miles north of Jerusalem.2 The land through which he hiked was scorched and strewn with rocks, bleak like wasteland.
On the evening of the second day, as the sun set over a village called Luz, he stopped for the night. He did not enter the city. Perhaps its occupants were dangerous people. Perhaps Jacob was insecure. Why he stopped short of Luz is not revealed. What we are told is this:
He took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. — Genesis 28:11
Without so much as a bedroll for his head, he was the Bronze Age version of the prodigal son. The desert was his pigpen. But the prodigal in the parable did something Jacob did not do. “[He] came to himself” (Luke 15:17). He snapped to his senses. He looked at the pigs he was feeding, considered the life he was leading, and determined, “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18).
Jacob showed no such initiative. He made no resolve, displayed no conviction of sin, showed no remorse. Jacob did not pray, as did Jonah, or weep, as did Peter. In fact, Jacob’s lack of repentance is what makes the next scene one of the great stories of grace in the Bible.
Daylight dulled to gold. The sun slid low like a half-lidded eye. Orange gave way to ebony. Stars began to flicker. Jacob dozed, and in a dream he saw:
A ladder resting on the earth and reaching up into Heaven, and he saw angels of God going up and coming down the ladder. Then Jacob saw the Lord standing above the ladder. — Genesis 28:12–13 NCV
A ziggurat spanned the distance between Jacob’s barren, borrowed bed of dirt and Heaven’s highest, holiest dwelling. The stairway was aflurry with activity: angels ascending, angels descending. Their moving was a rush of lights, back and forth, up and down. The Hebrew wording of Jacob’s response implies raised arms and open mouth. A direct translation would be
There, a ladder! Oh, angels! And look, the Lord Himself! — Genesis 28:16, emphasis added3
When Jacob awoke, he realized that he was not alone. He’d felt alone. He’d assumed he was alone. He appeared to be alone. But he was surrounded by august citizens of heaven!
So are we.
Millions of mighty spiritual beings walk on earth around us. More than eighty thousand angels stood ready to come to the aid of Christ.4 Scripture speaks of “countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering” (Hebrews 12:22 NLT). When John, the apostle, caught a glimpse of Heaven, he saw “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11). Can you do the math on that statement? Nor can I.
- Angels are to Heaven what stars are to the night sky. Too many to count!
What is their task?
All the angels are spirits who serve God and are sent to help those who will receive salvation. — Hebrews 1:14 NCV
There is never an airplane on which you travel or a classroom into which you enter that you are not preceded and surrounded by God’s mighty servants.
He has put His angels in charge of you to watch over you wherever you go. — Psalm 91:11 NCV
Sheila Walsh experienced the promise of the passage. At the age of thirty-four she admitted herself into a psychiatric hospital. One would not have suspected any cause for concern. Just the day prior she had cohosted a well-watched national television broadcast. Yet a storm raged within.
Eventually Sheila would be diagnosed as a victim of depression and PTSD. But on the first night no one knew what was wrong. The hospital staff placed her on suicide watch. Sheila had every reason to feel all alone. But she wasn’t.
In the early-morning hours of day two, Sheila noticed that another person had entered her room. She had been sitting for hours with her head buried in her lap. Upon sensing the presence of the visitor, she lifted her gaze. The visitor was part of the suicide watch, she assumed. But something was different. He was a strong man with tender eyes. As her mind tried to process who he might be, the man placed something in her hands — a small stuffed toy: a lamb. He told her, “Sheila, the Shepherd knows where to find you.” And with that her guest was gone.
- God had sent an angel to her.
Around six that morning Sheila awoke to the sound of orderlies entering her room. She had fallen asleep on the floor. There at the foot of her folding chair was the lamb the man had delivered hours before.5
Jacob was not given a lamb, but he was given Heaven’s comfort. The message of the vision could not be clearer: when we are at our lowest, God is watching over us from the highest. Between us stretches a conduit of grace upon which messengers carry out His will.
These angels convey our prayers into God’s presence. In the apostle John’s vision, he saw an
Angel, carrying a gold censer, [who] came and stood at the Altar. He was given a great quantity of incense so that he could offer up the prayers of all the holy people of God on the Golden Altar before the Throne. — Revelation 8:3–4 The Message
As God hears our petitions, He responds with thunder!
Then the Angel filled the censer with fire from the Altar and heaved it to earth. It set off thunders, voices, lightnings, and an earthquake. — Revelation 8:5 The Message
- Our prayers have a thermostatic impact upon the actions of Heaven.
Mothers, when you pray for your child...
Husbands, when you ask for healing in your marriage...
Children, when you kneel at your bed before going to sleep...
Citizens, when you pray for your country...
Pastors, when you pray for the members of your church...
Your prayers trigger the ascension of angels and the downpour of power!
Jacob saw heavenly activity. One might well wonder why God would pull back the veil and show Jacob the hosts that surrounded him. After all, Jacob had not sought God. Yet what Jacob saw scarcely compares with what Jacob heard. You’d expect a lecture, a holy scolding. But God gave Jacob something altogether different. God told Jacob that he would make him and his descendants a great people who would cover the earth. Despite Jacob’s deception and shortcuts, God repeated to him the blessing he gave Abraham and Isaac:
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you. — Genesis 28:15 NIV
The fugitive had not been abandoned. The trickster had not been cast aside. God committed Himself to the lifelong care of Jacob.
Again we might wonder why. Had Jacob done anything to show he was worthy of the blessing? No. Jacob had done nothing but slimy stuff thus far. He leaked integrity like a sieve. He played his brother like a two-dollar fiddle. He worked the system like a riverboat gambler. There is, thus far, not one mention of Jacob in prayer, Jacob in faith, or Jacob in earnest pursuit of God.
Even so, God drenched His undeserving fugitive with a Niagara of unexpected kindness.
God did not turn away from one who had turned away from Him. He was faithful. He still is.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful. — 2 Timothy 2:13 NIV
- John H. Walton, Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 570.
- Donald Grey Barnhouse, Genesis: A Devotional Exposition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 2:83.
- Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 359.
- “Do you suppose that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will immediately provide Me with more than twelve legions [more than 80,000] of angels?” (Matt. 26:53 ampc).
- Adapted from Jack Graham, Angels: Who They Are, What They Do, and Why It Matters (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2016), 111–12.
Excerpted with permission from God Never Gives Up on You by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.
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Have you ever had an encounter with an angel? No doubt, they are all around us. Scripture tells us so. Without us even being aware, they protect us and carry out God’s will for us. Isn’t that amazing? They precede us wherever we go and surround us when we feel utterly alone. The truth is that we are not alone! Join us for the God Never Gives up on You OBS starting 10/23! ~ Devotionals Daily