The great preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was once asked: “What does a Christian look like?” Without hesitation, he simply responded: “He walks with a limp.”
Having “wrestled” with the Lord to the point where God had broken his leg, Jacob now bore in his body the mark of God’s touch. It was not just his leg that had been broken, but his own will, his dependence on his own flesh. When many of us first meet the Lord, we suppose that we may accept Him into our lives and partake of his grace and favor, but yet continue to walk in our own strength and confidence. A true surrender to the Lord of Jesus Christ is seldom accomplished until we, like Jacob, have struggled with Him and He has broken our own flesh. Thus the mark of one truly devoted to the Lord is to walk with a limp, a token of God’s own touch upon them showing that He has touched them as He touched Jacob.
The Lord told the Apostle Paul that His strength was made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). Yet, so often we resist the part where we must be made weak. This world abhors and despises weakness, seeing it as a liability. But God declares that the more adept we are at recognizing our own weaknesses, the more apt we are to depend on His strength. Pity the one who says they are trusting in the Lord, yet sees no reason that they need to trust anyone. When we believe that we have the strength and power necessary to overcome the trials and tribulations that we face, then we are not believing that our sufficiency comes from God alone. We simply cannot put our faith in ourselves and God at the same time. Like Jacob, the time will come when we are forced to struggle with God Himself and either let go of Him entirely, or have our own strength “broken.”
There is probably nothing quite so wondrous to behold than to see the way a person begins to behave who has truly trusted the Lord. To witness the power of God at work in the lives of those for whom no other possible explanation for such an abrupt change of temperament could exist is to behold a miracle of the highest order. To safeguard us against falling into the sin of pride, God seldom allows us to accurately measure the changes occurring in our own lives; but if we remain spiritually alert, we can have the inestimable privilege of seeing them in the lives of others. The distinctions between the Jacob of Genesis 32 and the Israel of Genesis 33 are remarkable. Gone is the boasting, the arrogance, the self-interest. In their place is humility, graciousness, and generosity. The man who had risked so much in order to wrest the birthright from his brother is now selflessly heaping lavish gifts on Esau. The man who had gone to such lengths to insure that he would be the exalted and honored son of Isaac is now yielding to the mercy of Esau. Jacob had formerly treated his brother as a buffoon and a fool, and now he calls him “My lord.” Could there be any other satisfactory explanation for this change of heart save that God had gotten a hold of Jacob’s heart?
It is amazing how many things which seemed so crucial before tend to lose any real sense of importance once we have yielded our lives to God. Our hopes, our dreams, our goals; our own desires for wealth, honor, fame, and possessions all seem to fade into the background (or else fade away entirely) once we have a genuine encounter with the majesty of Jesus Christ. All of those pursuits begin to look like little more than a waste of time in light of what we have found in Christ. Like the Apostle Paul, we begin to look at the things of this world as little more than rubbish compared to what we have received from the hand of God (Philippians 3:8). There is no doubt that Jacob’s priorities have changed. He no longer sees Esau as a rival for God’s favor, but as the brother who he is. The wrestling match at Penuel has left Jacob with a greater view of Who God is, and a lesser view of who he himself is. Is this not the same experience which we all eventually go through in our own walk with the Lord?
Personally, I wish that Genesis 33 ended with Verse 16. But it does not. Without any comment or explanation, we find Jacob journeying to Succoth after he has told Esau that they shall soon meet again in Seir. What is going on? As is so often the case in Scripture as well as our daily lives, many great spiritual victories are all too quickly followed up with spiritual defeats. The high places where we tread today stand in stark contrast to the valleys which we shall crawl through tomorrow. Lest we are tempted to conclude that life will be an unbroken parade of victory over our own flesh once we have been broken by the Lord, we see that Jacob has yet to be completely defeated by Israel. Though he now walks with a limp, Jacob is still free to limp away after his own desires. Broken flesh does not guarantee an end to rebellion. Jacob’s spiritual journey is not quite complete at this point; he still has a ways to go.
This chapter does, however, end on a high note. Jacob erects an altar and calls it El-elohe-Israel, or, God, the God of Israel (v. 20). This tells us two very important things: 1.) Jacob appropriates the name that God has given him — God has called me Israel, therefore, I am Israel and, 2.) God is his God. There is no more “Then shall the Lord be my God” (Gen. 28:21), no more “The God of my father hath been with me” (Gen. 31:5). God is now his God. There is a world of difference between declaring that God is God and declaring that God is my God.