The Limp Of Jacob
Jacob, in the face of a great trouble looming up in the near future, had met God on the side of the brook Peniel. The prayer of that night in its length, agony, wrestling spirit and great triumph has swept up to a first place among all victorious supplications.
At daybreak the man of God crossed the brook as a conqueror in the spiritual realm, and called by the Lord himself a prince. As he left the place of his triumph and went on his way, the effect of a touch given him by the Almighty became manifest. A conqueror went forth, but he was lame. He was a prince, but he had a limp.
The Bible says he halted upon his thigh. This statement, quietly made in Holy Writ, is to the mind of the writer full of significance. It arouses one to observe the curious fact, that all of God’s princes on earth have limps. They are, however, far from being the same. There are several classes of them.
One is God-given.
This was the case with Jacob. The same fact is seen in the slow or stammering speech of Moses and the thorn in the flesh sent to Paul. It is a rare thing to meet a man much used of God, one who is evidently a prince and prevailer in the spiritual life, without being impressed with the fact of the limp. We do not mean sin, or even weakness of character. We refer to something that is God-given or God-permitted.
These things appear very plainly in the biographies of men who were great in goodness. Sometimes it was a physical blemish, or a delicate constitution, or a domestic trial or sorrow. It was certainly melancholy to see a man who had been aflame for an hour or more in the pulpit, swaying the crowd as God willed, suddenly sink down on the floor with face white as death with acute suffering, or lip and handkerchief crimsoned with blood streaming from the lungs. It was sadder still to see a man towering like an intellectual and spiritual giant before a spell-bound audience, and an hour afterwards behold him in the privacy of a friend’s home with his head bowed dejectedly on his breast, crushed and heartbroken over a history of shame and sorrow in his own family.
A gifted speaker we recall who would be afflicted at times with inability to connect his thoughts. He would be irresistible on a number of occasions and then at some important hour would be profoundly humiliated before a great audience through confusion of ideas, loss of memory and lack of command of language. The prince had been seen, but just as unmistakable was the limp.
We cannot give in this chapter a full enumeration, much less a description of these various “limps.” When we add to what already has been mentioned, the lack of eloquence, logical power, offhand speech and mental concentration, we have only made a beginning of the list.
The question at once arises as to why God permits all this; and the answer is readily given now, and has been given long before by one who was thus afflicted. He said, “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.”
This covers the ground. The prince is in danger. He might be puffed up by his own gifts and with the earthly and heavenly honor he receives. So the laming touch is given him as a kind of anchor to hold him down, or ballast to keep him steady, or a rope to prevent the balloon from flying away.
The reader will remember the story of the eastern king who had a man to follow him about and remind him again and again that he was mortal and would soon be in the grave. So this messenger of pain and humiliation has a language and message of its own. Remember who you are, it says. Do you observe your limp?
Moreover, the limp is given or permitted to show the people that the man is not divine. There is such a tendency to hero-worship in the human breast. Such a disposition to bow down to gifts in others with almost the first appearance of superiority, genius, or success the cry is made the gods are come down to us, and straightway the garlands and oxen are brought out for gifts and sacrifices.
Not all humanly applauded men will do like the apostle and cry out: “Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you.” The trouble is that many individuals love to sniff such incense and will not correct the people in their unwise and wrong adulation. So God gives a limp to the prince.
A second class of limps is recognized in character weakness.
Such lameness, of course, God is not responsible for. The man himself is alone to blame.
We have all seen this person. He has a royal mind and a gifted tongue. He is heaven-honored again and again in his work, and yet is observed afterwards doing and saying things which puzzle, humble and distress the church of God, and cause the tongues of worldly people to go at a great and mortifying rate.
Such limps are beheld in foolish speech, giddy actions, buffoonery, imprudent conduct and a score of similar things. The limp is also seen in untidy dress, a slovenly kept house, a disposition to borrow money and an indisposition to pay debts.
The people saw him do well in the pulpit. He prayed powerfully in the meeting. He talked well, convincingly and convictingly at church, when, lo! the next hour or day as he went forth and crossed the brook everybody saw him limp. We recall such a preacher of whom we heard much as a boy. Every one spoke of his great gifts in the pulpit. The people were proud of him on Sunday, but during the balance of the week he was a mortification to them. One of his weaknesses was a continual hinting for gifts. One of his members, a most excellent man, in speaking of him uttered these remarkable words:
“When I see him in the pulpit I think he ought never to come out of it; and when I see him out of it I feel he ought never to go back into it.”
In a word, the prince limped.
A third class of limps consists of conditions for which the man is not responsible.
He never had the benefit of an education, and is made keenly to feel it in the midst of his useful and successful life. At times, just the memory would bring embarrassment and create a sense of mental halting in him. He felt as he spoke his burning words that he occasionally limped. He knew also that scholarly men in the audience saw that he halted. This, of course, deepened the pain of his heart.
A fourth class of limps seen in princes is a certain lack of refinement of manners.
The style of eating is coarse, the speech blunt and rude. The finger nails are cleaned in public, often during divine service; the hand is sometimes manipulated as a napkin, sometimes as a handkerchief, and the fork used as a toothpick.
No one thinks of calling these practices sins. They simply jar and grate on certain sensibilities. They act as a sudden letting-down of exalted conceptions. The man who looked like a prince in the pulpit, as he crosses the brook into social everyday life, is seen to halt upon his thigh. He is a limper as well as a prince.
The shock is so great to some people that previous good done is neutralized, while others, who feel the grandeur of the man in spite of his limp, can but wish that the lameness could be cured. As we meditate upon these phenomena in the pew and pulpit we draw some conclusions.
First, a prince who has a limp given by the Lord will likely never be delivered from it in this world. Paul prayed fervently in this regard, but the Lord would not remove the thorn, while at the same time he assured his servant that his grace would be sufficient for him.
Second, when men possess only the limp and have not the prince nature as a kind of compensation for the lack of the spiritually great and good in them, the case is simply intolerable.
Third, much of the human limp we can be delivered from, and so we should strive to correct ourselves at those points where we offend good taste and shock a true culture.
Fourth, if the choice has to be made, we would far rather be a prince with a limp, than no prince at all.
Fifth, whatever else happens, let us all see to it that we are princes. Through grace any one can be a prince in the kingdom of God who will.
Sixth, if we have to carry a limp, let us see to it that it shall not be one of our making, but of divine manufacture.
Seventh, meantime let us exercise the greatest of charity toward all limpers when the lameness has no moral or rather immoral root. Perhaps, if we could see how little we look to others towering above us; if we knew what intellectual pygmies we were beside the angels; if we realized how little we knew, we would be glad to take a lowly place among the band of halting ones we have mentioned and adopt as our escutcheon and coat of arms a couple of broken thigh bones.