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.
This passage that relates Jacob’s encounter with the Lord where he wrestles with him and Jacob’s thigh is touched so that he limps for the rest of his life is interesting for a few reasons. One reason is because it is such a clear illustration of our salvation where God comes to us and overcomes our will and we learn who God is and who the creature is. But in the overall context we would ask ourselves why did God give Jacob a limp as he was about to meet Esau?
Jacob’s “besetting” sin seems to have been self-reliance. He was, after all, a deceiver. Whether it was trying to get the blessing over Esau from his Father or figuring out how to build his herds while working for Laban, or dividing his family and possessions up as he tried to manipulate his brother to avoid Esau’s possible wrath, if the Genesis account teaches us anything it is that Jacob relied on his ability to manipulate more than he did the Lord. In fact, I think a case can be made that it was at Penuel that the Lord becomes Jacob’s God.
Key to our text are these two verses: Gen 32:24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 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. It seems to be saying that the wrestling was an argument in which Jacob wasn’t getting the point. And so the Lord weakens his hip and from then on Jacob is reminded of his weakness to the day he dies; he is a changed man from this point on.
Jacob was about to meet his brother and had been preparing for it but mostly by his usual scheming. What the Lord does is force him to meet his brother not in any outward show of human wisdom or strength but by limping weakly up to him. We either express to others that the Lord is our strength or that we are strong but only one way gives God the glory.
Notice that immediately after being “touched” Jacob starts clinging to the Lord and asking for help. Now he is in a position to trust God; after all his strength has been removed. Paul learned the same thing in 2 Cor. 12. After asking God three times to remove the thorn in the flesh that Paul assumed was only hurting his ministry, the Lord tells him that he is looking at his weaknesses in the wrong way; 2Co 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 2Co 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 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.
I think one reason God comes and physically wrestles with Jacob is to impress upon him that Esau and Laban weren’t his enemies; his enemy was his flesh, his wisdom and his pride. As long as he did things his way and not the Lord’s he was doomed for failure. So in a very real sense Jacob’s enemy was the Lord because he was living in rebellion instead of trust and obedience. Once he comes to terms with God and submits to him he can quit trusting in himself and face Esau confidently.
This is important for all of us to understand. Our enemies are not sickness, an ungodly spouse, a lack of money, persecution, etc. Our enemy is this flesh that wants to turn every circumstance into an excuse to sin. This is the opposite of the health and wealth gospel that tells us that God wants us to be happy in the flesh. What I need is not more money or a stronger body but a faith and love for the Lord that enables me to be faithful no matter what the outward circumstances are. Jacob was never stronger than when he limped up to Esau with a limp but also in the power of the Lord.
Gen 32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Now as he goes to face uncertainty he goes in the light and strength of God. In the world’s eyes we are cripples, 1Co 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 1Co 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. But this is the only way we can show Christ’s glory to them. There can be no stronger person than one with a spiritual limp; who understands that the Lord is his only strength. What a wonderful verse, as the light of God now shines in his heart, he walks in humble obedience and faith.