There's one more of these pictures in this rare old gallery of honest portraits, the picture of Jacob at Jabbok (Gen_32:24-32).
In that strange night struggle between the sturdy Hebrew herdsman and an unrecognized Assailant, Jacob fully holds his own. Then toward dawn the strange Assailant does a strange thing.
Jacob is startled to feel a slight touch on the inner side of his thigh, and at once the thigh bone goes out of joint.
Instantly Jacob knows that this is no mere man. No man could have done that. And two things at least crowd in faster than he can think.
His power as a wrestler is clean gone, at once. His native shrewdness makes him think of that. But, far deeper, comes the recognition of who this unrecognized Stranger of the dark is.
He's been fighting against God! And then, all these years he had been fighting against God! and against God's plans for his life! Unconsciously fighting? Half consciously fighting?
At least this much can be said for Jacob, not recognizing how much it meant that he had been insistently stubbornly fighting against God, and God's plan. (But then, is that so unusual? and among good people?)
It's the one instance in Scripture of God's own direct touch on a man's body, injuring, laming him. And mark keenly that it was not a disease.
It was a slowing down of the man's gait. He had been so sure of himself. Now he must go through life halting, limping.
Well, there's a purpose under this exceptional act of God's. There's always a purpose where He is concerned. And it is always a purpose of love.
This man Jacob was hindering, actually holding back, and threatening to block completely, God 's world plan. It wasn't merely Jacob 's own life that was concerned. God 's plan for the race hinges on this man.
A man may hinder or break God's plan for his own life, if he will. All God's plans wait on our consent. The sovereign God waits on the sovereignty of man's choice.
But no man can break God's broad plan for the world. He may slow it up. He does that so much. God 's sovereignty simply means that, ultimately, through the intricate network of human wills, His great plan will work out, and always in some way through man's choice, freely given.
Even now, Jacob could have balked still further. It wasn't merely the touch of power on his thigh that won. It was that, plus something more, far deeper and tenderer, the touch of love upon his heart.
Jacob could have fought against the power. But the love, the patient waiting, and putting up with his wayward conduct, all these long years, the gracious wooing, in so many ways—!
He could see it all now. It was this that bent his will at last, from within, to this strong, waiting, loving will of his great God.
Note keenly, that this is a crisis. Most reverently it can be said it was God's crisis. God's plan was in danger. A world's salvation hung in the balance, hung on this one man's consent to be used, in God's way, in God's plan.
It is a threefold crisis. It was a crisis of available material. Jacob was the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham, through whom the world plan must be worked out.
He was the twin son, it is true. But the other, Esau, was plainly disqualified by temperament. Impulsive, hot-headed, wholly unreliable, bartering his most sacred possession for something to eat, as unstable as water; he was wholly unfitted for leadership in carrying forward God's plan. God was narrowed down to Jacob.
Jacob was a cool, steady, calculating man of method and habit. He was a thinker and a hard worker. He was a man to do things. But he had the mean moral strain in him. He was intensely selfish. He was forever grasping, cunningly taking advantage of the other fellow. He was unscrupulous. He never hesitated at the most underhanded move to gain his point. Jacob was morally contemptible.
But his failings were moral. Esau's were mental. The moral could be changed by grace, if once Jacob's consent could be gotten.
It was not really that Jacob was the better man, he was the less-poor of the two. It was a crisis of available material. God needs the best. Jacob must be used, but first he must be changed. So the exceptional thing was done.
It was a crisis of time. Long years Abraham and Sarah had been wooed, graciously wooed, patiently put up with Isaac was the child of the changed Abraham and Sarah. He took on their later traits.
And now, for many long years, a full quarter of a century at least, God had been calling Jacob up to the higher level. But Jacob's firmness and strength teetered over into stubbornness. He gets more set.
And he grows more stubborn, more uglily obstinate, more set than ever. Time pressed. It grew less. The stubbornness grew more, and then yet more. In a crisis of time God did the exceptional thing.
It was a world crisis. God's plan concerned a world. A Babel, a Flood, a Sodom-and-Gomorrah, tremendous moral catastrophes, these told plainly the moral outcome threatening.
Through Jacob and Jacob's line was to come the little messenger-nation, the Saviour-nation, the Saviour Himself. All unknown, unsuspected by any but God, it was the world crisis. For the sake of the race, to save His great plan for saving a world, God did the exceptional thing.
And, so, by the fords of the Jabbok, under that gentle touch of supernatural power, at the break of a new day, Jacob surrendered his proud stubborn will.
The touch on Jacob's thigh was meant for his heart, like the later touch on the disciples' feet. Jacob felt it there. His heart broke. He had actually been fighting God! He never really meant that.
That heart-breaking touch on the thigh reached into the will, the citadel. The will bent. With all its disciplined strength it bent, and bent clean over.
He quit wrestling. He had to. The disabled thigh settled the wrestling. He took to clinging. And he became the prince, the Israel, prince with God, pleading for forgiveness and blessing, and prevailing.
And God yielded to that penitent clinging plea. God had saved two, the man and the world-plan. So only could it be. The world plan was saved through the man. No one ever knows how much hangs on his saying "yes" to God.
Jacob learned to walk with God, by limping. God tried to get him to walk without the limp. He preferred that. He still does.
Jacob got along faster now because he's been slowed down. He never walked so fast in his life in the true path as now when he goes slowly limping, limping along in his body.
One can well understand that God did what He did reluctantly. It was an emergency transaction. And all the world is in an emergency just now. And God is still needing men.
These are the three pictures in this old gallery, Job's ulcerous boils and the ash heap schoolhouse, Paul's needle-pointed thorn, and Jacob's halting limp.
These are three scholars in God's school of suffering. Job graduated early. He learned quickly. It was an intense session but a short one, intensive school work.
Paul's graduation came later, as did Jacob's. Have they had a reunion up there, these three, in the Teacher's own presence, and praised Him out of full hearts? I think likely. But I am quite sure it pleases the Teacher most when we work for early graduation.
One notes keenly that in each case the man concerned was a leader. That makes a great difference. The Devil lays special siege to the leaders. Leaders need more schooling because they touch the lives of so many.
Yet no one lives to himself. None of us can tell what plan of service of Christ's may centre in our glad consent to His personal plan for the life.
In each case it was a crisis, the meeting place of dismal failure and glorious victory. And the man was always the decisive factor.
One recognizes crises best backwards. We are so much wiser, afterwards. If only we might be quick and true to obey, for Christ's sake, before we know it may be a crisis for some one or some plan.
For service' sake, in a crisis, the leader may find things happening. Because so much is hinging, of which he is unaware. If, ah! yes, if, one might only obey gladly and fully and quickly, what Christ asks, because He asks, regardless of all else.