Jacob calls the place where he wrestled a man, Peniel, because he says that I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved (spared). Who is this man and why is Jacob referring to him as God?
The man who wrestled with Jacob refers to himself as God (Genesis 32:28) and Jacob affirms that he has seen God face to face (Genesis 32:30). The prophet Hosea refers to this mysterious man as an angel and reveals to us that he is the Lord of heaven’s armies and the Lord is his name (Hosea 2:4-5). The man who wrestled with Jacob was the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ (Theophany to Jacob) who had also appeared as the angel of the Lord to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-13).
So though Jacob is correct in his expression that he has seen God face to face and his life was spared to give us this account, this may seem to contradict other portions of the scripture for the Bible teaches us that one cannot see God’s face, for anyone who does will not live (Exodus 33:20). Additionally the book of John asserts that no one has ever seen God except the Lord Jesus (John 1:18). This is the Peniel problem and how is this solved?
The answer is the book of Exodus where it is recorded that the LORD spoke with Moses, face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11). The latter part of this verse “as a man speaks with his friend” is crucial. God appeared to Jacob as a man, for Jacob wrestled a man (Genesis 32:24). Therefore, Jacob and Moses’ seeing of God face to face is to state that they saw him as a man sees another – in close relationship – as a friend would commune with another.
Points to ponder:
For fallen man to see the one and only Holy God in his fullness and glory, would consume man, for God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29), but man has seen God veiled in the flesh – in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). The fullness of God is in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9), and Jesus affirms that he and the Father (God) are one (John 10:30) and whoever has seen him have seen God the father (John 14:9). The full glory of God is in the face of the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
The Bible teaches us that “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). It also asserts that there is no one righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10), and the eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him (2 Chronicles 16:9). A fully committed heart is a heart that loves God over everyone and everything else and one that loves others. The heart has to be purified of all of the evil things that come from it, which defile a man (Matthew 15:19-20). Only by believing in Jesus Christ, can the heart be purified for believing in Jesus Christ imputes the righteousness of God in us (Romans 4:19-25). As David prayed, let us also pray “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right Spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10).
In Jesus Christ alone, is the Peniel problem solved.
Points to ponder:
Jesus is the face of God. He who has seen me has seen God.
Genesis 32:30-32 (KJV)
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.