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Is this a contradiction? Or am I missing something. It seems strange to think one can "wrestle" with God.

Genesis 32:30 (NIV):

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Exodus 33:18-20 (NIV):

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

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He also later said "I have seen God face to face" Gen 32:30 –  JustinY Oct 16 '11 at 22:34
There is a question in here, but as it's written, it is rather lacking. Check out What makes a good focused question? and Writing the Perfect Question for tips on writing a great question. –  Ray Oct 17 '11 at 0:49
I'm guessing that anywhere you see something about someone "wrestling" with God that the "wrestling" is metaphorical. –  compman Oct 26 '11 at 2:43
Moses and all the prophets came to give account of themselves those who died natural death and those who left this world without dieing confirming the superiority of the face of God, all about God and what he has written in the scriptures. Be blessed if you have seen my face on earth you have seen my father in heaven –  user4125 Mar 11 '13 at 13:08
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6 Answers

So first off, this story of Jacob "struggling with God" (in Hebrew Isra - el) is one that has puzzled people for years. There is little agreement amongst scholars about what this means. Some interpret this is a vision, others as a theophany, and still others suggest that it was simply a metaphor for the striving and struggling that Jacob had been doing all along.

Beyond that, however, the exact question is, 'Why didn't Jacob die after seeing the face of God (the Pen - el)?' After all, as you pointed out, when Moses asked to see God's face 430 years later, he was told that if he did, he would die.

Two theories:

  1. God was disguised

    What is different, however, is that Moses wanted to see God's full Shekinah Glory. He wanted the unmediated experience of seeing God in his fullness.

    In contrast, here God is clearly not revealed in his full glory. Remember that when the three visitors came to see Abraham, they were disguised. When the angel came to visit Samson's father, he was disguised. When there was the fourth in the furnace, shining brightly as a 'son of God,' he too could have been considered to be disguised.

    For a trickster who had disguised himself once to fool his own father, Jacob would have understood a disguise. There's nothing supernatural here in being able to realize that someone is way more than he looks like on the surface.

  2. It was a miracle.

    Jacob himself is shocked that he saw God and lived. He was in fact, left crippled by the experience, it was that powerful. Remember, he was blessed, though its hard to understand how being crippled is a "blessing," unless if compared to the certainty of death for seeing God face to face. That his life was preserved and he still got to be with God in the same way Adam once talked to him is an amazing gift.

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Moses asked to see God's glory. That is when God said that no-one can see God's face and live. Surely "God's face" is referring to God's glory: God's essence. Nothing prevents God from speaking through a burning bush, a cloud, or collection of dust (aka a human figure).

Abraham talked with God "face to face" when God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Enoch walked with God. Jesus walked the earth for 33 years and it wasn't His fellow humans that died.

God is a spirit and His face, which no man can see and live, is not merely physical.

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The same thing could be asked about Moses being in God's presence and talking with Him face to face. What you need to understand is that Jacob was wrestling with Jesus, not with God the Father.

Nobody has ever seen God the Father in His spiritual Beauty. Nobody, Ever. But many people have and will continue to see Jesus.

Colossians 1:15-17

The Supremacy of the Son of God

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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That doesn't make much sense. Jesus was pre-mortal at that time and didn't have a physical body yet, so how could he wrestle with someone? –  Mason Wheeler Oct 17 '11 at 16:27
There's nothing to suggest that Jesus could not have given Himself a body without having to have been born. There are many suggestions of angels walking this earth. There is also Abraham who fed God and two others dinner. This was also the night that God told Abraham that He would give him many descendants. –  Jonathon Byrd Oct 17 '11 at 16:46
The point being that Jesus, being immortal could have easily visited the earth to wrestle with Jacob, talk with Moses and have dinner with Abraham. –  Jonathon Byrd Oct 17 '11 at 16:47
All these metaphysical replies are strange, is it fair to say a commentary is metaphysical if it makes no sense if taken to be a real comment. Maybe the ressurrection was meta and not real... –  clicker Oct 31 '11 at 21:39
"What you need to understand is that Jacob was wrestling with Jesus, not with God the Father." Jesus is God... Duh? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1 End of argument. –  user1276 Feb 7 '12 at 9:19
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I don't have a high enough rep to comment, but I'd like to back up @Heath Hunnicutt's answer.

In some cultures it was common to not differentiate between messengers and those they spoke for, especially in retrospect, as they were considered "the voice of" their masters. As most western cultures don't take this initiative, it can be confusing. A clear example of this happening elsewhere in scripture is in the story of Jesus interacting with the centurion in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Matthew 8:5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Luke 7:2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.

These descriptions of the same event have been widely used as an argument for the bible being self-contradictory, but the truth was that the person who physically spoke the words didn't matter as much to the writer as with whom the words originated. It would be like us saying someone said something based on a book we read that they authored. Did they speak the words to us directly? No, but we still say that the book contains, or "is a messenger for" their words, and we can safely attribute those words to the author.

Anyway, this explains why Jacob could have referred to the entity which he was wrestling with as God while in fact it was an angel or something of that sort. I'm not entirely sure either way, just thought I'd support that possibility a bit more.

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According to the account of Jacob's wrestling match, he wrestled a mortal man:

Genesis 32:24 - And he is being left, Jacob, to be alone. And he is wrestling with a man (Hb. אֱנוֹשׁ "enosh") until the ascent of the dawn.

When Jacob prevails, he asks the man for a blessing, and this is what he is given:

Genesis 32:28 - Not Jacob shall be said further the name of you, but rather Israel, that you are upright with Elohim and with mortals (anashim), and you are prevailing.

The word for "man" from 32:24 is related to the Hebrew word אָנַשׁ ('anash) meaning mortal. This implies that the word used in 32:24 refers to a mortal. The word used in 32:28 is the plural of this root word, anashim or "mortals."

The wrestling match is referred to later, in Hosea:

Hosea 12:3-4 - ... [Jacob] was upright with Elohim, and he is controlling to messenger, and he is prevailing ...

The view of Hosea seems to be that the man in Gen 32:24 is a messenger (angel) of Elohim.

Now let's look at a different encounter with God, that between Ezekiel and Elohim:

Ezekiel 1:1 - ... they are opened, the heavens, and I am seeing appearances of Elohim.
Ezekiel 1:4 - And I am seeing and beholding wind of tempest coming from the North, cloud great and fire taking itself, and brightness to him round about, and from the midst of her, as sparkle of the amber from midst of fire.
Ezekiel 1:5 - And from midst of her, likeness of four animals. And the appearance of them, resembling of human (אָדָ֖ם "Adam") they.

The descriptions in Ezekiel go on for quite a bit and are themselves very interesting, but already we can understand that Elohim travels with angel heralds who appear like men.

It would seem that Elohim sent a messenger, in the appearance of a man, to wrestle with Jacob. That would also explain why the messenger, upon blessing Jacob, first has to inquire as to what Jacob's name is. (Gen 32:28)

Jacob, however, might not have realized that he encountered a messenger rather than God himself. It's plausible that the appearance of the messenger was so supernatural as to be the most amazing thing Jacob had ever seen. This may explain Jacob's statements, which otherwise are incongruous with the story as it is given to us.

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Hosea does identify the one whom Ya'akov struggled with as a מלאך, but you're assuming that מלאך wasn't God. Why? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Mar 31 '13 at 1:45
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I don't see what the issue is; God was in the form of a man when Jacob wrestled Him. Therefore, Jacob didn't see the face of God. Rather, he saw the face of a man.

In many places of Scripture, God shows Himself disguised by physical, created things (often referred to, in scripture, as the "Angel of the LORD). There was Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3). There was the "man of God" who came before Manoah and his wife in Judges 13. As you recall, when He left, He jumped onto the burnt sacrifice they had made for the LORD, and in the flames ascended to Heaven. Interestingly (in one of the reversing of gender stereotype incidents that the Bible is known for among those who actually read it), Manoah panics, thinking they will die for having seen Him, but his wife is the voice of spiritual reason and reassures him. Similarly, in Judges 6, we have Gideon being visited by the "Angel of the LORD" as well. Here, though, it doesn't describe the angel's appearance, but we know that Gideon didn't find anything all that strange about seeing Him until He realized it was the angel of the LORD, and then feared that he would die.

In all of these cases, people see manifestations of God Himself (as evident by the Angel's speaking of God in the first person), yet do not die. Nevertheless, when they know it is God they are all frightened, and those who came after Moses usually fear that they will die, given what the LORD told Moses. But they don't die, because they don't see God's actual face. Instead, they see an angel, or a plant, or a man, or whatever else. They see God, but in a way that they can see Him without dying, without actually seeing Him (just as you might see a man in a chicken suit, but although it is a man that you are looking at, you aren't really seeing the man, but rather, the chicken suit).

This fact, that God would show Himself in created things even prior to the incarnation is actually really useful information. It helps make the incarnation make so much more sense. There is a precedent in it that comes long before New Testament times. Jews may ask us how God can be in Heaven, ruling over every subatomic particle in the universe, and yet at the same time be a man on earth (Jesus)? Well, how can God be in Heaven ruling over every subatomic particle in the universe and at the same time, take the form of a man or a plant or an angel on earth? They say that God is too great to become flesh. An yet, the Old Testament teaches He had no problem at least manifesting Himself temporarily in creation. Obviously there are important differences. The incarnation was permanent and entailed more than veiling God in created things. And yet, a lot of what seems outlandish about it already pops up in the Old Testament as well.

But Moses, in Exodus 33, is not conversing with the Angel of the LORD. He is asking to see the face of of Himself, the fullness of His shekinah glory (insofar as it can be localized). God graciously gives a glimpse of Himself as He runs by, but of courses tells Moses that nobody can see His face and live. In the future, in the new heavens and earth, this will not be the case (Revelation 22:4).

This, I believe, comes into play in explaining why the Bible in many places says that nobody has ever seen God (John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12), yet we have many people seeing God. Notice in Exodus 33:20 that God equates seeing Him and seeing His face. He says “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” No one can see Him and live? But, a few verses later, He tells Moses that He can see His back as He runs by...Contradiction! (Just kidding). It's clear from this passage that, as far as God is concerned, to "see" Him means to see His face, not just any part of Him (insofar as one could say God has parts). Well, the others, including Jacob, didn't see God's face. They saw a man, or a plant, or an angel. Moses, when speaking "face to face" (in that same chapter) clearly was not seeing God's face. If he was, why would he have then asked God to show him His face (and why did he not burst into flames)? My guess: Moses was looking heavenward, talking back and forth with God, with God responding vocally and immediately (like when talking to a person).

Whatever the case, it is as the Bible says, none of them (including Jacob) have ever "seen" God.

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protected by Community May 14 '13 at 12:36

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