🔼The name Penuel in the Bible
There are two men and one location named Penuel in the Bible (not counting the Hellenized form Phanuel, which occurs one additional time). The location Penuel is near the Jordanian tributary Jabbok, where Jacob wrestled with the angel of YHWH and obtained the name Israel (Genesis 32:31). Jacob actually calls the place Peniel, because he had looked upon the Lord "פנים אל־פנים; face(s) upon face(s)" (Genesis 32:30). Immediately after Jacob names the place Peniel (פניאל), the author of the story changes it to Penuel (פנואל), but apart from it seeming to be on a par with the name Jacob turning to Israel, the reason for this change is not clear.
In later times, Penuel spawned a city, of which we hear in the story of the judge Gideon. Gideon and his band of men had the Midianites on the run. They'd already captured and executed generals Oreb and Zeeb but the kings Zebah and Zalmunna were still at large; last spotted in Karkor. Exhausted, Gideon asked the men of Succoth for food for his men, but they declined, and Gideon promised them to return and whack them silly with thorns and briers. The men of Penuel refused as well, and Gideon pledged to demolish their tower when were he to return (Judges 8:9).
After Gideon had captured the two kings, he returned to Shechem and trashed the elders with thorny whips. At Penuel he tore down the tower, but also executed the men (Judges 8:17). The last we hear about Penuel is that king Jeroboam of Judah fortified it (1 Kings 12:25).
The men named Penuel are:
- The father (or founder) or Gedor of Judah, which probably denotes a city and not a man (1 Chronicles 4:4).
- A son of Shashak of Benjamin, who was a son of Elpaal, who was a son of Shaharaim and Hushim (1 Chronicles 8:25). Note that even though all modern translations read Penuel here, the original text has Peniel (פניאל). The reason for this is that certain ancient Jewish commentators noted that Peniel is probably wrong and should be Penuel. This is in present times of course entirely debatable.
🔼Etymology of the name Penuel
The name Penuel consists of two (or three) elements, the final one being אל (El), the prominent Canaanite deity, whose name became applied to the God of Israel, or the common abbreviation of Elohim, the genus God:
The first part of our name comes from the verb פנה (pana), meaning to turn:
In between these two elements sits the letter ו (waw), which works here as a vowel, but which could also have the function of particle of conjunction (it means "and"). The section פנו can also be construed as a third person singular: "he turns" or an imperative "turn!"
Because Penuel could also be regarded as a corrupted version of Peniel, most commentators give it the same meaning as Peniel, meaning Face Of God. But Penuel actually means either He Turns To God or Turn To God! Perhaps this is the reason why the Jewish commentators figured that no man could be called Face Of God (Peniel) and was probably called He Turns To God (Penuel).
For a meaning of the name Penuel, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads The Face Of God. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and BDB Theological Dictionary both have Face Of God. BDB and Jones' translation is technically more correct because the name Penuel is not preceded by the definite article. But because in Hebrew the definite article is only used to distinguish one thing from identical others, and there is only one face of God, NOBSE's use of the article is warranted.