On Dislocated Hips and Blessings
Genesis 32 tells the intriguing account of Jacob wrestling with a character who, at first, seems quite mysterious. The text says, “a man wrestled him until daybreak” (vs. 24). Hosea 12:4 calls him an angel (or messenger). But when this man saw that he had not prevailed against Jacob, “he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him” (vs. 25).
Adding to the mystery, we further learn that when this wrestling match was over, the “man” was more than a man. What Jacob realized was that he had in fact, somehow, been striving with God, and that's where this can really get confusing. How can Jacob strive against God, and yet prevail? After all, he was told, “you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (vs. 28). How can that happen? Does this, in some way, diminish the power of God? Did Jacob really beat God in a wrestling match? Did God really not know the name of Jacob (vs. 26)?
One of the keys in this text is that Jacob asks for a blessing from his opponent. Jacob held onto the “man” insisting on a blessing: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (vs. 26). This tells us something important because we know that the lesser is blessed by the greater (cf. Heb. 7:7). This means that Jacob himself recognized that the one with whom he was striving was greater than he was and had the power to bless him. Notice also how Jacob responds to the entire situation: “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (vs. 30). In other words, Jacob knew that he was really dealing with God, and that the only reason he prevailed was because God let him prevail. As a testimony to the occasion, the dislocated hip, along with a pronounced limp, reminded Jacob of this occasion for the rest of his life. No one prevails against God unless God permits it, and God allowing this to happen was itself a tremendous blessing.
Yet even that sounds odd to say that God would allow someone to prevail against Him. Why would God allow anyone to so “prevail” against Him? It would seem that we need to understand the idea of “prevailing” in somewhat of an accommodative way because, as we know, no one actually defeats God in any permanent or absolute sense. Why then do we see Jacob winning here? The answer that would suffice is that God was teaching Jacob some significant life lessons here. After all, God isn't the one who left this event with a limp, and surely He could have dislocated much more of Jacob’s body if He so willed it. As the day was dawning while these events were taking place, God wanted something more important to finally dawn in Jacob’s mind. Isn’t it interesting that the timing of the events coincide with the rising sun? “Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh” (vs. 31). Now he’s coming back to the land and remembering the covenant he had made with God all those years before (Gen. 28:20-22).
The point here is that Jacob prevailed because he finally “got it.” After about 20 years outside of the promised land, he came back and finally began to realize what the promise to Abraham was about (32:9-12). He finally prevailed because he quit fighting against God's promises and accepted what God had in mind for him all along. Really, his victory was not over God, but with God. Jacob's tenacity in pursuing the blessing from God would finally come to fruition. Jacob prevailed when he gave himself over to the blessings of God.
What about us? Do we ever find ourselves essentially “wrestling” with God? There are a couple ways to take this. We might be wrestling with God without really seeking His favor. Our fighting against God, in that sense, would be like what Jesus said to Saul (Paul): “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). For Saul to be blessed, he had to give up his former ways and turn to the Lord. He had to quit fighting against God. If we find ourselves fighting against God in this sense, we’ll never be blessed until we are willing to give up the struggle.
However, we can also see this in the sense of persistence. There will be times when, due to our persistence, God will give us the desires of our prayers (see Luke 18:1-8). We recognize that what we pray for needs to be according to His will (1 John 5:14) and with the right motives (Jas. 4:3).
As we seek the Lord, perhaps the sun will rise with us as we learn even more what it means to serve Him and to receive His blessings in our lives. There may be painful reminders of our struggles, but the blessings will always be greater and more enduring. Seek the Lord with all diligence and know that He is God.