After Jacob wrestles with the angel, he names the place Peniel, "because I have seen God face to face." (Gen 32:30).

Why does he say that he has seen God face to face? He has only seen an angel, which, although divine and sent by God, isn't God.

God Himself will later appear to rename him Israel, but this is before that.

  • 3
    Why do you suppose he didn't see God face-to-face (in contradiction to what he literally said)? And also, where is support for your claim that angels are "divine"?
    – user862
    Apr 19, 2014 at 3:36
  • Jacob had at least previously seen God “face-to-face”, back when the Lord stood there as Jacob was traveling and dreaming; he named the place Bethel, or “house of God”. (Gen 28:10-19) biblegateway.com/passage/… As for “divine”, it’s interesting that word is used in certain bibles. E.G. “You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and humans beings and have prevailed” [Gen 32:29 (NAV )] Apr 19, 2014 at 13:50

5 Answers 5


Because Jacob encountered God (YHWH) that Night

The Meaning of Face to Face

The phrase "face to face" in the Hebrew (פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים) uses the plural form of the word פָּנֶה (paneh; "face").1 However, it would not necessarily be proper to translate it then "faces to faces," because the word is always found in the plural form in Hebrew.2 This is because Hebrew uses plurality to express compound objects ("a single object that consists of several parts").3

In the context of personal interaction, while the expression can mean literally facing one another to the face (e.g. Jer 32:4, 34:3), it also has the idea of "appearing before,"3 as when all Israel was "face to face" with God at Sinai (Dt 5:4). But the term "face" more figuratively was simply an expression of the "presence" of a person,4 including God (e.g. Ex 33:14-15).

The expression when used of interacting (seeing, speaking, etc.) with God refers to "a form of the LORD," (תְּמוּנָה; "likeness" or "representation")5 as was the case with Moses' interaction with God "face to face" (Num 12:8; cf. Ex 33:11, Dt 34:10). Such is known as a theophany.

Thus while seeing God's face (as in God's full glory) all men were incapable of doing and surviving (and so Moses did not even see Him so; Ex 33:18-23), God could manifest Himself in His creation in other ways that "localized" His presence, and one could interact with Him in a "face to face" manner, but not be expressing His full glory.

That the one encountered was God (YHWH)

We have seen that Moses interacted "face to face" with God through a "form" in which God appeared to Moses. The same is happening here in Genesis 32:24-30. There it refers to the one Jacob wrestled with as "a man" (v.24).

But in the passage, this "man" Jacob sensed was no mere man, but something more. No doubt it was in part because of the wrestling, but also because Jacob knew God had another base of operations near his own camp here.

So Jacob sought this "man's" blessing, which was granted--his new name, "Israel," which this "man" reveals is given because Jacob had "struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed" (v.28; NKJV). The name is believed to come from the Hebrew root שׂרה (srh), which can mean either (1) "to persist, exert, persevere" the idea being contend or fight, or it can mean (2) "rule",6 and the suffix אֵל (el; "God"). Hence the two common routes it is translated: "fights/contends/prevails with God" or "rules with God/prince of God."

So it is this "man" that reveals Himself as God to Jacob by the activity of the night and the name given. Jacob seeks confirmation of this, but the "man" is elusive (v.29; cf. Jud 13:17-18). This apparently only convinced Jacob more that it was God whom he had wrestled with (v.30).

Hosea 12:3-4 tells us that this "man" was indeed not only a מַלְאָךְ (melek; "angel" or "messenger," v.4), but was "God" (v.3) Himself as the messenger, the very same God (YHWH) that Jacob had met in Bethel (v.4; cf. Gen 28:13).


The "man" Himself cryptically revealed that He was God, Jacob testifies that it was God, Moses records in Scripture for us that it was God, and Hosea confirms it was God.

It is God (YHWH) that Jacob wrested with, in the form God appeared to him as (a man), and that is why Jacob names the place Peniel.


1 Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), s.v. פָּנָה. Hereafter referred to as BDB.

2 R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), #1782.

3 Labeled as a "plural of extension" in Ronald J. Williams, Williams' Hebrew Syntax, 3rd. ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 3.

4 BDB, s.v. פָּנָה.

5 BDB, s.v. תְּמוּנָה.

6 BDB, s.v. שָׂרָה. See also Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), s.v. יִשְׂרָאֵל.

  • Well done, especially "Hosea 12:3-4 tells us that this "man" was indeed not only a מַלְאָךְ (melek; "angel" or "messenger," v.4), but was "God" (v.3) Himself as the messenger, the very same God (YHWH) that Jacob had met in Bethel (v.4; cf. Gen 28:13)."
    – user862
    Apr 19, 2014 at 17:03
  • is right. I've deleted my comment. May 16, 2019 at 0:55

Jesus said that "God is a spirit" so he does not have a physical body, thus he had no "face" in the human sense of the word:-

NWT John 4:24 " . . .God is a Spirit, . . ."

so it must be a metaphor for close contact or relationship with him, like the following:-

NWT Numbers 12:7, 8 "Not so my servant Moses! He is being entrusted with all my house. 8 Mouth to mouth I speak to him, . . ."

God is explaining himself in human terms so we may understand him on our level as he so so transcendent!



Hypothesis 1: Jacob was not in a trance but in his physical body when he had that fight.

Argument. The physicality of the wrestling could be inferred from the dislocation of Jacob's thigh which was out of joint, a scar that he carried for a long time (see Gen Gen 32: 24-25)

Hypothesis 2: Jacob fought with the "son of man", second person in the Trinity and not with 'God the father' in his physical form.

Argument. Gen 32:24 agrees that Jacob fought with 'man'. Hosea 12:4 sees this person to be an angel. But Jacob count him to be God in Gen 32:30. When these Hebrew words are taken within the context of their usage, they allude to the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) who has appeared at different times to different people in different places. King Nebuchadnezzar, who in Daniel 3:25 identified the Son of God in the fiery furnace later called him an angel of God in Dan 3:38.

Hypothesis 3: Jacob saw God ‘face to face’ and did not die because he actually saw the “Son of Man” and lived.

Argument. Exo 33:11 recorded that Moses saw “face to face” with God as one speaks to his friend. Caution must be applied in taking these words as they are because in (verse 20 of Exo 33) God said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”

This line of argument is evident in the following scenes:

  1. Adam did not see God’s but heard the sound of God’s physical movement in the Garden. Gen 3:8-10

  2. Moses did not see God’s face but saw His back view. Ex 33:23

  3. The Seventy Elders with Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu all saw God and declared that under His feet was like a paved work of sapphire stone. Ex 24:10

Hence, taking Jacob’e statement verbatim is contradictory to God’s stand in Exo 33:20. The true meaning of Jacob’s words could be found in Exo 33:11 where Moses was said to have seen God face to face even though this was not the original meaning.

Hypothesis 4: Jacob, much like John, saw Jesus in His physical form but cannot behold Jesus in His true state

Argument. John the beloved, in 1 John 1:1 wrote that he not only saw Jesus, but communed with Him, and touched Him. This same John could not look at Jesus face in His true state as evidenced in Revelation 1:10-19. The same thing applies to Jacob who could have seen Jesus’ physical state but not in His divine state.

Read Revelation 1: 10-19

  1. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
  2. Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
  3. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
  4. And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
  5. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
  6. And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
  7. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
  8. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
  9. I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
  10. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter (Rev 1:10-19)



  • Doesn't Jesus tell John to look at him in verse 18? ("Behold")? And by KGV did you mean KJV?
    – user10231
    Apr 21, 2016 at 1:46

OMG...Jacob simply saw God. That's all. A form of God. God reached out to him supernaturally. He has done this to me ;) God actually can and does appear to some people in various forms. When it happens, you are changed forever. Before He showed Himself, I read the bible & knew "of God"...After I came "face to face" with him, I knew my life was changed forever. That's not something you can get from a book although there are MANY instances in your books of God revealing Himself to people :)

  • 1
    Welcome to Stack Exchange. We are glad you stopped by and hope you stay. I noticed you've offered a lot of answers in rapid fashion. There is, of course, nothing wrong with answering a lot of questions - it is very much encouraged. However, we are looking for in depth answers that explain how they are arrived at (by citing sources or thoroughly explaining how they derive form the text itself), not just opinions. Please note that "showing your work" is required around here.
    – ThaddeusB
    Oct 29, 2015 at 4:14

I'm going to go out on a limb here, because for most readers this is unfamiliar territory. Archaelogists and scholars have long realised that the ancient Israelites were polytheistic - not just occasionally and in rebellion, but systemically. Mark S. Smith says in The Early History of God(p52-53) that a tenth-century cultic stand from the site of Taanach in north-eastern Israel attests to polytheism in this area. Later, the conquering Assyrians boasted of the religious idols ('gods') they took as booty from Samaria. Lester L Grabbe says in Ancient Israel (p120) that Israelite society was long polytheistic, but YHWH (Yahweh - often translated into English as Jehovah) did function in some way as a national god and seems to have been the most widely honoured deity. In Gods, Goddesses and Images of God, Keel and Uehlinger describe hundreds of Israelite and Judahite artefacts that attest to polytheism, including evidence of sun god and moon god worship. I suggest that the story of Jacob originated in this polytheistic milieu but as Judah moved towards monolatry and then monotheism, his story was imperfectly adapted to these new beliefs.

Isaac's son, Jacob was left alone and wrestled with an opponent all night until the break of day, when the man said he must leave (Genesis 32:24ff). Even though his leg was dislocated, Jacob refused to let his opponent go unless he blessed Jacob. That the 'man' was a god is amply demonstrated - Jacob asked for his blessing, he had the prerogative of changing Jacob's name, Jacob's new name was Israel (generally assumed to mean 'wrestled with God') and Jacob called the place Peniel ('the face of God') because he had seen God face to face. If the man who wrestled with Jacob was a god, then Jacob was also a god in a much earlier tradition behind this passage, as demonstrated by the fact that he was such an even match for his opponent. And if the opponent was a god, he was also a sun god - daybreak signalled the end of the contest, he had to leave Jacob before the sun could rise, then the sun rose upon Jacob. This is consistent with the ancient daily struggle in which the sun god defeats the moon god at dawn.

Jacob did see God face to face, not just an angel. The God he saw was the sun god.

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