A few months ago, I was about to pray for a man for healing when he tried to talk me out of it! “Well,” he chimed in, “You know Jacob limped for the rest of his life, so maybe this is the same sort of thing.” It sounded like a holy and biblical argument, but was it? Did Jacob limp for the rest of his life?
You might be surprised at the answer! But first, I have a little news…
In healing ministry, I hear all kinds of excuses like this one. Perhaps the most infamous is that “Paul had a physical problem that God wouldn’t heal.” This is based on 2 Corinthians 12, in which Paul states that he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited.
I recently sat down to write an article about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and it ended up becoming far too long. Instead, it became a book (UPDATE: Now in its second edition):
The result is a short book that I’m releasing TODAY: Spiritual Tweezers: Removing Paul’s Thorn and Other False Objections to God’s Will for Healing. Right now, I’d like to offer you an exclusive preview that will answer the question posed by this article.
Did Jacob Limp for the Rest of His Life?
Back to Jacob’s limp. Did Jacob limp for the rest of his life? I’d like to share with you an excerpt from my new book that raises some interesting points. Here’s the section on Jacob’s limp:
I can’t tell you how many people I have heard argue that Jacob’s limp justifies their sickness or disease. “Well,” they say, “Jacob did limp for the rest of his life, and it was a good thing that God did. So maybe this is something like that.”
I sharply disagree; and in a moment, you’ll see why.
In Genesis 32:22-32, we read the account of the patriarch, Jacob as he wrestled with God in a human form. Jacob insisted on receiving a blessing, and he received one; but not until “the man” (actually God) somehow touched the tendon in the socket of his hip, causing Jacob to limp. (See Genesis 32:25 and 31-32.)
Our pulpits, our bookstores, and the Internet are full of teachings, books, and articles that mention Jacob’s limp. And—in my experience—the most common statement about that limp that you’ll hear and read is that “Jacob limped for the rest of his life.”
Strangely, that’s not found anywhere in the Bible.
The closest thing we have to it is a single moment when Jacob (a.k.a. “Israel”) “leaned on his staff.” Here are the two accounts:
Hebrews 11:21 – By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. (NIV) Genesis 47:28-31 – Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.” “I will do as you say,” he said. “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. (NIV)
Some have assumed that the detail of Jacob “leaning on his staff” implies that he still had a limp. In context, though, he was an old man at this time (a hundred and forty-seven years old), he was near to death, and he may have only leaned on his staff because he was so frail.
When we read about Moses, Aaron, Elisha, and others carrying a staff, we never draw the assumption that they needed such a tool due to having a limp. We only draw that conclusion about Jacob because of the experience he had when he wrestled with God.
If you were to remove the story of Jacob wrestling with God, no one would think twice about a one hundred and forty-seven year old man leaning on a staff while he worshipped God. No one would assume that it was because he had a limp; rather, they would be perfectly comfortable acknowledging that he was an elderly man who was close to death. It probably took a lot for him to stand at that point!
Actually, we see Jacob being very physically active—even immediately following his divine encounter. He bowed seven times before Esau—something that would be difficult for someone whose hip was dislocated; and it says that he did this “on the way” to his brother, which implies that he may have stood back up to his feet, walked a bit, and bowed again each time. (See Genesis 33:3.) He built a house for himself and shelters for his animals. (See Genesis 33:17.) He camped. (See Genesis 33:18-19.) He traveled. (See Genesis 35:1-7; 46:1-7.) He also built a few altars and stone memorials in the years following his encounter. (See Genesis 33:20; 35:7,14, and 20.) That’s a lot of strenuous physical activity for someone whose hip is out of socket!
So to say that “Jacob limped for the rest of his life (and therefore I should have my sickness or disease for the rest of my life)” is a very weak argument and impossible to prove. The Bible doesn’t actually say any such thing. All it says is that Jacob limped when the sun was rising above him immediately after his encounter with God. (See Genesis 32:31.) That’s a very specific, time-sensitive verse; and we never hear the word “limp” associated with Jacob ever again.
In fact, as if to challenge the traditional view even further, it’s interesting to note that the Hebrew word translated “limp” (in the NIV and other versions) is only used seven times in the Bible (tsela‛). One of those times refers to Jacob. Three of those times could arguably be translated to imply “a lame person” or “one who stumbles.” And the other three times, it is very clearly used to refer to a one-time “stumble” rather than an ongoing limp. Here are those three cases:
Psalm 35:15 – But when I stumbled [tsela‛], they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge… (NIV) Psalm 38:17 – For I am about to fall [tsela‛], and my pain is ever with me. (NIV) Jeremiah 20:10 – …All my friends are waiting for me to slip [tsela‛]… (NIV)
In all three cases, the word “limp” would not make any sense. Instead, the word is translated as “stumble,” “fall,” or “slip.” It would therefore be perfectly sensible to translate Genesis 32:31 to say, “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he [stumbled] because of his hip.” (See NIV, alternate translation mine.)
The other three Scriptures that use the word “tsela‛” use it to describe a person rather than referring to an action. When the word is used to describe a person, it is translated in the NIV as “lame.” (See Micah 4:6, 4:7, and Zephaniah 3:19.) In context, this translation fits. But whenever the word is used to define an action rather than a person, it usually refers to a single act of stumbling rather than an ongoing condition. In the case of Jacob’s so-called “limp,” the word is used to describe an action rather than a person. It is used as a verb rather than as an adjective.
It therefore becomes entirely plausible that Jacob didn’t limp at all but rather only stumbled once because of his hip. Whatever the case, whether he limped or stumbled while the sun rose on him at Peniel, we have already seen that it is highly unlikely that this was a life-long condition.
All this aside, what if Jacob did indeed limp for the rest of his life? Does that validate chronic illness?
I like to say, “If you can honestly tell me that you received your cancer (or whatever disease) while physically wrestling God in human form, then feel free to stay sick. If not, then why are you trying so hard to remain sick and keep Jesus from receiving what He paid for?”
If Jacob limped for the rest of his life, it would not validate someone else having a sickness or disease for the rest of their lives. For one thing, his limp was not a sickness or disease; it was an injury. It could possibly, then, validate physical injury, except that this injury was specifically received from a physical confrontation with God in bodily form. If your injury came any other way, then don’t apply this scripture to your condition.
Saul (later Paul) was left blind after his own encounter with Jesus, but it only lasted three days before he was healed. (See Acts 9:9.) The fact that Paul was blinded after an encounter with God doesn’t mean he was blinded for the rest of his life. And the fact that Jacob limped (or, more likely, stumbled) after an encounter with God doesn’t mean that he limped or stumbled for the rest of his life.
“Jacob’s limp” (or “stumble”) is a weak argument against healing, and it simply doesn’t apply when you study the Scriptures.
If you’re interested in checking out the entire book, it is available now in the store.