There is a certain story in the book of Genesis that fascinates me. I have read it numerous times, but recently it has been pulling at me and I can’t get it out of my head. Let’s look at Genesis 32:22-32 (NKJV).
And [Jacob] arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”
But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
So He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob.”
And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”
And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.
Here is a little backstory. After many years, Jacob is about to be reunited with his brother, Esau. Jacob is scared because when they parted ways, it was not on good terms. He spends the night wrestling with “a Man.” Some scholars believe he was wrestling with Jesus. Others say it was an angel. Generically, you might hear he wrestled with God. He was definitely wrestling with someone sent by God.
I have been pondering this story and asking God why it has gripped me so much. One aspect has to do with prayer. Many commentaries point to the thought that we may wrestle with God in prayer. I don’t know that I wrestle in prayer. But I would say I struggle with prayer. I do pray daily and often. But I admit that at times I feel defeat in prayer. I allow doubt to creep in. Of course, this comes from the enemy. He knows how powerful prayer is and he will try to stop us from connecting with our Father. But Jesus reminds us in Luke 18 that we “should always pray and not give up.” Even when we feel like our prayers aren’t being answered, God always hears us. E.M. Bounds said, “Prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them.” So, this story about Jacob wrestling does nudge me to cling to God in prayer and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Also, in the book of Hosea, this story is touched on. In Hosea 12:4, it says that “[Jacob] struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him.” This illustrates that Jacob truly poured his heart out to God that evening. When we meet with God, do we pour our hearts out to Him? Or do we rush through this precious time so that we can get on with our day? Even though Jacob had important matters to tend to that day, he wasn’t eager to let God go. Do we cling to the Lord this tightly?
Another aspect that grabs my attention is the broken hip. It is believed that Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Of course, this not something we would ask for. But it still intrigues me, nonetheless. Every single day, Jacob could not forget this encounter with God. He had a tangible, constant reminder. I think this pulls at me because much of our faith is not tangible. That is why it is called faith. According to Oxford, faith can be defined as, “Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” This goes hand in hand with what I mentioned about prayer. Sometimes things will not go the way we like. Sometimes the unexpected with smack us in the face. When we do not see tangible results of our prayers or our efforts, or when life throws us a curve ball, the enemy will sneak in and plant seeds of doubt. That is why we must stand strong against the enemy’s schemes. We must remind ourselves who our God is. We must remind ourselves of His promises found in the Bible. We must remind ourselves that God is in control, no matter what.
Another viewpoint regarding Jacob’s hip that speaks to me has to do with the breaking in general. Sometimes God has to break us down to get us to a point where we finally depend on Him. All of Jacob’s life he struggled to make things work out the way he wanted, and he struggled in his own strength. I believe this was a turning point in Jacob’s life to finally lean on God’s strength. What does it take for us to finally lean on God? In the words of Tony Evans, “Sometimes God lets you hit rock bottom so that you will discover He is the Rock at the bottom.” And as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In case you were wondering what happened with Jacob and his brother, Esau – they did reunite on good terms. Did the praying, wrestling, and blessing from this encounter help? Perhaps they did. After all, Esau was headed towards Jacob with four hundred men, which could mean that he originally meant to harm Jacob. Overall, while this encounter did leave Jacob with a limp, he walked away with a better relationship with God and a renewed relationship with his brother. And there are deeper meanings with his new name, as his descendants would form the tribes of Israel.
And what can we take away from this story? This story nudges us to pursue a deeper prayer life. It reminds us to stand strong against the enemy and to hold tightly to our faith. And this story also helps us to turn to the Lord and to full rely on Him and His strength. May we walk with a strong faith all of our days, as we remember we have our Almighty God by our side.
© 2021 Bridget A. Thomas