“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:30) “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20)
Apparent contradictions like the scriptures listed above are not really contradictions if you’ve studied the Bible. There are many parts of scripture that on the surface may seem to be paradoxes, but with Biblical research and the leadership of the Holy Spirit you find these supposed inconsistencies disappear. The Bible is true and accurate.
In the first verse above, Jacob had just met with his brother Esau and sent all of his belongings and people on before him. He was alone, but then a man arrived and they wrestled until dawn. The man could have easily won after he dislocated Jacob’s hip, but Jacob would not release the man until he blessed him. So the man Jacob wrestled with said, “…Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The man declared Jacob the winner and then Jacob realized who he was wrestling with, saying, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
So, how did Jacob see the face of God and live, when Exodus 33:20 clearly states that no one can look into the face of God and live. Some theologians believe the wrestling match was metaphoric and not a real occurrence, but the Bible states it as a historical event, not a metaphor. The details of the wrestling match in verse 25 would be irrelevant if it weren’t a genuine incident. So what’s the answer? Jacob was wrestling with the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus. In all the incidents in scripture of someone literally seeing God, they are referring to Jesus. God the Son wrestled with Jacob and even dislocated Jacob’s hip, but Jacob would not let go until God blessed him. This is where God the Son changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and Israel became the father of a nation.
Jacob literally wrestled with Jesus and the contest lasted for several hours. Jesus granted mercy and grace to Jacob, by conceding the match to Jacob and blessing him and all of his decedents (the nation of Israel). This was a picture and demonstration of God’s grace.
I can visualize Jacob limping away in humility and triumph, for he had been defeated, but declared the winner, received the blessing of God and, “…seen God face to face…” and lived.