Summary: Who is it that actually touched Jacob's thigh?
The Angel’s Touch: An Exposition of Genesis 32:22-32
In the previous passage, we saw that Jacob dreaded meeting his twin brother, Esau. He should have been afraid, for Esau felt cheated out of the patriarchal blessing of the firstborn. The LORD had assured him that al would turn out well. Yet Jacob must have thought that he had to devise the way the LORD would work. Esau was coming to meet him in battle with hundreds of armed men. There is no way Jacob could have prevailed. Jacob’s cunning would not be the way out either.
Jacob sent everyone and everything he had over the stream called Jabbok. In doing so, he exposed his wives, his children and his servants to danger. For some reason Jacob stayed behind. On the appearance of it, it shows that Jacob was the ultimate coward. Not only this, but Jacob showed how selfish he really was. He could lose it all, but he himself would be spared the carnage. But the LORD had other plans. That night, Jacob was assailed by what the Scripture here calls a man. Hosea says it was an angel. But we must realize that angels do not necessarily have wings and could appear quite human. Jacob was a herder, so he had to have some physical strength. This wrestling match lasted for some time, and Jacob must have been quite tired. But he did not give up.
At some point, Jacob must have realized that this was no mere man. We know this because at the break of day, the man he was wrestling with asked to end the contest as daylight was breaking. Why daylight is mentioned is somewhat of a mystery, unless this was the LORD wrestling with him, and no one can see the LORD and live. Jacob refused to let him go unless this man blessed him. As the greater blesses the lesser, Jacob must have known it was the LORD.
So the man responds by asking for the man’s name. Jacob replied with his name which means “usurper” or “deceiver.” He had lived up to his name at this point. But from now on, he would be known by a different name. His name would be named Israel, which is roughly translated, “A prince who prevails with God.” The man who blesses Jacob makes this connection by saying the reason he would bear this new name is that Israel had prevailed with both God and man. The strange thing is that he would revert to form the next day. He would put his concubines and their children up front, then Leah and her children, then Rachel and Joseph. But there was a change also. Instead of staying in the rear, he came to the front to meet Esau. This is much like our struggle as well. God has transformed us by his grace though faith in Jesus Christ. We should be totally fearless, yet we see the old man still at work in us. In fact, it seems odd how we can be called “saints” and yet act in such an unsaintly manner.
The LORD did one more thing to Jacob. He touched the hollow of his thigh which resulted in Jacob becoming permanently lame. In truth, the reason Jacob had prevailed with the LORD was because the LORD had let him prevail. At any time, a simple tough of the LORD could have hobbled him. In fact, the LORD could have killed him on the spot without even laying His hand on Jacob. Now this “touch” of an angel would hardly seem a blessing. Most of us would have asked for the two armies of the LORD which had come to Jacob the day before to fight for him against Esau. Or Jacob would have thought that the LORD would have given him superhuman strength to overcome Esau in a matter lie He would later give Samson. But the last thing that would seem a blessing is that Jacob be hobbled. He would be in no condition to have taken Esau on in single combat. This and the fact that he was exhausted by the all night wrestling match would have made him weary as well.
However, the hobbling of Jacob would become a great blessing indeed. The next day, Jacob would come hobbling to meet Esau. God would change Esau’s heart from rage to love. The pitiful condition of Jacob may have contributed to this. Jacob in all his strength could not have prevailed against Esau. But he did not have to. It must also be observed that God had mercy on Esau as well. He could have easily disposed of Esau. The LORD could have hobbled Esau rather than Jacob. But Esau was also a descendant of Abraham and Isaac. The descendants of Esau would be a snare to the people of Israel for centuries, even to the days of Jesus as Herod the Great was a descendant of Esau. We see even here that God is not willing anyone should perish, not even the hated Esau. God is also the great reconciler, and instead of meeting in battle, they would embrace each other in love. How much better an outcome was this? The angel’s touch went farther than Jacob.