We are notoriously hostile to weakness. This is not a distinct characteristic of an American or Pakistani, male or female, millionaire or beggar – all humans across all cultures in all times recoil at weakness.
How strange it is that we are so opposed to something we all share! Not one of us could claim perfect strength in our emotions, thoughts, or physical stature. Even if we momentarily have strength that surpasses all others, we are sure to face a reckoning of weakening.
In Genesis, we see a man experience such a weakening. We meet Jacob in Genesis 25 as the heel-grasper following his brother out of the womb. Jacob consistently deceives and fights to have his way in life. He swindles a birthright (Genesis 25) and a blessing (Genesis 27) from his brother Esau. He was deceived into working 14 years for his two wives (Genesis 28). He then deceived his father in law, Laban, and made himself wealthy (Genesis 30-31). Now, in Genesis 32, Jacob is about to meet his brother once again. At least 14 years passed since the brothers were together, yet Jacob knows all the ways he has hurt his brother, and Jacob is afraid of what Esau will do (Genesis 32:7-8).
As he heads toward this meeting, Jacob is alone in the dark of night. His life, though not void of difficulty, has still been prosperous. He gained a birthright, a blessing, two wives, many sons, and great wealth. His strong and successful life is visible to all who might see it.
Here in the darkness, Jacob encounters a man and wrestles with him. As daylight approaches, the man injures Jacob and the physical encounter is over. Jacob asks for a blessing from the man who seems to be concerned that he leaves before the sun rises.
The man says, “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
Once the man leaves, Jacob says, “I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.” The sun shone on him as he passed by Penuel—limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:30-31).
Do you see what the light reveals? It is not a strong, unbeaten man with a large family and all the success in the world. It is a man whose life is spared after seeing God and a man who now has a limp.
Light and darkness are key components of the story of the Bible. God starts the earth by telling light and darkness to dance together and create day and night, and for the rest of His story, He uses these elements to describe Himself and His nature.
God is light (1 John 1:5).
God’s word is light (Psalm 119:105).
Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12).
We are called out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2:9).
All that is brought into the light becomes light (Ephesians 5:14).
While in the dark, Jacob was still a fearful man whose strength was uncontested. Now in the light, Jacob sees more clearly than before. He understands that the man he wrestled with in the dark was God! Daybreak did not reveal the face of God, for no one can see His face fully and live to tell the tale (Exodus 33:20).
Here Jacob stands, having seen God face-to-face, yet still living – only now, he limps.
It is his encounter with God that weakens Jacob, and as the sun shines brighter on this newly-named land of Peniel, it is Jacob’s limp that is more visible than anything else. It is not his strength, but his weakness in this moment remembered by the Israelites for generations (Genesis 32:32).
I don’t know what Jacob was thinking as he slowly walked back to his family, but if I were him, I would want to hide my limp so no one could see how weak I have become. If you’re like me, you do this in every area of life and want no one to see a sliver of weakness. We call this being “strong” when really we deceive ourselves and everyone else.
The reality is that you and I are sinful, weak creatures and all our ugly, broken, shallow, fearful, sinful parts stand no chance when brought to light. They are visible whether you hide them or not. Do you know that all hidden things are visible by God and that all your weaknesses will be laid out before His perfect light? (Hebrews 4:13, Luke 8:17)
Like Jacob, our time with God reveals and sometimes even creates our weaknesses. Compared to the Almighty God, we are worms, incapable of anything but drying up in the sun after a rainstorm.
By God’s grace, though, we are not left to our own ways. He comes to us and pursues our weak and wounded hearts. God came down and wrapped Himself up in our weaknesses. Jesus saw that we were dust, worms, unable to contribute anything to earn our standing before God. He emptied Himself and died for us.
Look to the man whose skin was torn, whose body was beaten, whose scalp was pierced, whose hands were scarred and see our God. Does he look strong upon the cross? Does his limp body after His last breath seem like a powerful man to you?
There, in the tomb after all hope seems lost, is your answer. A dead man lives. Our greatest weakness, death, was wrestled to the ground and thrown into the very pits of hell.
It is Jesus who endured all weakness so that all strength in the world could burst forth as God raised him from the dead. The light of the world is now within our reach because He came down to us. And it is in our weakness that God’s strength is revealed.
Yet we must take it one step further. We are not made strong in our weakness just for ourselves. Jacob was not injured just so that his name would be forever changed. No, it was in Jacob’s weakness that others were reminded of God’s power to save.
So it is with our weaknesses as well. We are not transformed by God’s salvific power just for our own benefit. Rather, our weaknesses are now beacons of light, and if we let them shine brightly, we serve our church and those who do not know our God.
When we allow our weaknesses to be visible, we grow in our contentment with being weak. If everyone in your church were to confess their sins and weaknesses more often, how much more would you be encouraged to do the same?
“Take the very hardest thing in your life – the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom… A flower that stops short at its flowering misses its purpose. We were created for more than our spiritual development; reproduction, not mere development, is the goal of matured being – reproduction in other lives.”
May God triumph in our weaknesses, may His strength shine bright, and may we love others enough to let our weaknesses shine bright with the hope that they might come to know our God as the one who makes weakness into strength.