Gen 32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Gen 32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
We know that Jacob in the first part of his life was a deceiver and a conniver. He got along in life by trying to take advantage of people, con them, get along by his wits and so on. What he did not do was to seek the will of God and depend on him. It is something that we all struggle with - listening to our hearts or this world and living in light of natural wisdom that puts me at the center of everything or listening to the revealed will of God found only in his Word.
I think the main lesson in Jacob’s encounter with God at Penuel was that God is teaching Jacob that he cannot find God’s blessings if he is going to live by his own strength primarily seen in his constant scheming. Jacob, and we, must learn that we are weak and unwise and need the power of God and his wisdom to live life properly. So in the account we read of God coming and wrestling with Jacob, the result is that Jacob’s hip is purposefully displaced so that he must walk in a weakened state.
I believe this is a picture of how God works in every saint’s life. He moves us from dependence on our own strength and wisdom to relying on him for all that we need. God has ways of pulling the rug out from under us so that we have no other option than to trust him to take care of us.
Jacob was about to meet Esau who was coming with 400 men and Jacob assumes Esau is still angry with him and has come to do him harm. Even though the Lord has shown him that an army of angels are with him, Jacob still schemes by dividing up his family with the hopes that Esau will attack some but spare others. He has little confidence in the Lord’s promises and protection. So what does the Lord do? Instead of allowing Jacob to run the show by his cunning, he gives Jacob a limp so that when he meets Esau he will look weak and vulnerable.
There is a parallel passage to Jacob’s account that helps explain what is going on with Jacob. It is found in 2 Cor. 12 where Paul goes through the same lesson that Jacob did but in a context that we can more easily relate to.
2Co 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 2Co 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. Here we see the same wrestling match or struggle with the Lord. The Lord has sent something to Paul that makes him appear weak and Paul assumes that this will hinder his ministry. And so three times he prays that the Lord will remove it but the Lord does not. Like us, Paul is wrestling with God’s providence that often makes no sense to us; we assume we can do a better job if we had more money or better health or if our church was bigger or if we had talents that someone else has, etc. And although we ask God to give these things to us, quite often he does not.
Next we see the Lord “dislocating” Paul’s hip; in other words he is explaining why he wants Paul to walk with a limp; to appear weak in front of the world. 2Co 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…“ Paul had to learn that it is the Lord’s power that is going to make Paul successful, not how well he speaks or what he looks like, etc.
Finally, in vs. 31 above we see the sun coming up and Jacob walking off with a limp. The same thing must happen with Paul and us, …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Co 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. God gives Paul light by explaining that when we are weak and God’s work is done through us, then God gets the glory. If by our talents, looks and money we build a ministry then we will name it after ourselves and God’s glory isn’t seen. When God makes us weak then we depend on him and whatever we do can only be attributed to the Lord. So 2 Cor. 12:9-10 is Paul living or “limping” in the light of God’s revelation and the rest is history as we consider what Paul and all God’s people have accomplished throughout church history as they followed the Word of God and lived for the Lord’s glory and not for ourselves.
It is tremendously freeing to know that I don’t have to appear like I have it all together in front of the world or in front of the church. I just need to do my best to honor the Lord in whatever condition he has put me in and he will be served and pleased with me. This brings contentment and joy and eliminates envy because I don’t need what someone else has to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”!