In Genesis 32 we find a strange story that involves a man named Jacob wrestling a real live angel. Jacob was returning to his boyhood home to face his brother Esau, from whom he had been estranged for many years. An angel appeared and wrestled him to the ground. Surprisingly, Jacob held his own in the match as the two wrestled through the night. Somewhere toward morning, the angel “saw that he could not overpower him, [and] he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled” (v. 25).
In other words, the angel, God’s representative, wounded him. But Jacob didn’t allow the wound to cause him to question God’s goodness. Instead, his response allowed him to experience a “steady surge of life.” We’re told that this experience so profoundly changed Jacob that he coined a new name for the exact location of the fight: “Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face’” (v. 30).
I wonder if Jacob thought, I never want people to forget this place. Not me, my children, or their children’s children. What I learned here this day is too important to forget. What did he learn? He learned that God’s presence becomes a reality through our wounds. The name Peniel comes from the combination of two Hebrew words: panim, the Hebrew word for “face,” and El, the Hebrew name for God. Panim was used in two ways—to describe someone’s literal face, or to describe someone’s physical presence. That’s why many times the Bible uses the phrase “face of God” to describe God’s presence. His “face” becomes clear to us during painful moments.
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