Genesis 32:25

ESV When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
NIV When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.
NASB When the man saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was dislocated while he wrestled with him.
CSB When the man saw that he could not defeat him, he struck Jacob's hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip.
NLT When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.
KJV And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

What does Genesis 32:25 mean?

Jacob has remained alone in the night on one side of the Jabbok River after his family and all he owns has crossed over to the other side, headed toward a reunion with his estranged brother Esau. Without explanation, Jacob finds himself grappling with an unidentified man. The two have engaged in real, physical combat, wrestling with each other until daybreak. We will learn in the following verses that this mysterious man is somehow God Himself in physical form.

The symbolism of this event is deep, and better understood in the context of the Hebrew words used, as well as Jacob's own history. The nearby stream is named Yab'bōq, meaning "emptying." Jacob's name in Hebrew is Ya'aqōb, which means "heel-grabber." And the combat described here is yē'ābēq, meaning "grappling, wrestling." Jacob's past is one of "wrestling" with the will of God, always seeming to have a scheme or a plot prepared to get him his way. Crucially, Jacob has also been on both sides of impersonation—lying about one's identity.

In wounding Jacob's hip, the man takes a decided advantage. When that injury occurs, Jacob finds himself in a place of total helplessness; he cannot hope to win, from that point forward. And yet, he does not seem to give up, insisting on a blessing. This insistence all but proves that Jacob knows he is not struggling against a normal mortal.

There is some controversy over the use of the phrase "could not" or "was not able" when it comes to God's contest here with Jacob. Some object to the idea that God "can't" out-grapple a human being. However, the language used is relatively clear. The phrase lō yā'kōl is also used in verses such as Genesis 13:6, Exodus 40:35, and 1 Kings 5:3, where it means "was unable."

Key to this misunderstanding is the context of intent. Those who instruct students in the martial arts deliberately hold back when sparring. That is, they restrict their techniques and limit their force. This allows the student to continue competing, rather than being quickly and pointlessly defeated. In the case of a more skilled student, the instructor is "unable" to defeat that opponent using a limited approach. At that point, if they choose to, the instructor can stop holding back and end the fight. Which, in fact, seems to be exactly what this mysterious opponent chose to do with Jacob, delivering a sudden and crippling attack.

Some assume that the man's "touch" of Jacob implies a miraculous act. However, grappling techniques often involve wrenching or dislocating the joints. It's entirely feasible for Jacob's opponent to have simply maneuvered him in the right way to deliver a devastating injury, one which could have permanently affected Jacob's ability to walk (Genesis 32:31).

The purpose behind this injury, along with Jacob's response to it, are explained in the next few verses.
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