In consideration of this passage of Scripture, Beza, with no particular explanation, simply states that the identity of the man with whom Jacob wrestled was God, “That is, God in the form of a man.” Gill, on the other hand, notes various interpretations of this man’s identity, listing them as follows: “not a phantasm or spectre, as Josephus calls him; nor was this a mere visionary representation of a man, to the imagination of Jacob; or done in the vision of prophecy, as Maimonides; but it was something real, corporeal, and visible: the Targum of Jonathan says, it was an angel in the likeness of a man, and calls him Michael, which is not amiss, since he is expressly called an angel, (Hosea 12:4); and if Michael the uncreated angel is meant, it is most true; for not a created angel is designed, but a divine Person, as appears from Jacob's desiring to be blessed by him; and besides, being expressly called God, (Genesis 32:28,30); and was, no doubt, the Son of God in an human form.” While Gill demonstrates that some have commented that this was either a vision or interaction with simply an angelic being, he comes to the same conclusion as Beza in that this “man” is God, yet more specifically identifies Him as the Son of God.
Henry, as Gill, observes more than one possible answer to the question of the identity of this “man,” however, he does not indicate which of these possibilities he believes. He states, “Some think this was a created angel, the angel of his presence (Isa. 63:9), one of those that always behold the face of our Father and attend on the shechinah, or the divine Majesty, which probably Jacob had also in view. Others think it was Michael our prince, the eternal Word, the angel of the covenant, who is indeed the Lord of the angels, who often appeared in a human shape before he assumed the human nature for a perpetuity; whichsoever it was, we are sure God’s name was in him, Ex. 23:21.” While Henry seems to make a distinction between these two possibilities, being either an angel in the order of cherubim, a protector of the Glory of God (e.g. consider the cover of the Ark of the Covenant), or the Son of God (as Henry calls Him, the eternal Word and the Lord of the Angels), MacArthur points out that these are likely one in the same individual. He comments that, “The angel, who delivered the Israelites from Egypt, was none other than the Lord Himself (Ex 14:19; 23:20-23; 33:12,14,15; Nu 20:16). He is sometimes identified as the Angel of the Lord.” As stated earlier, Gill indicates that this was not merely a vision. Henry elaborates on this point by commenting that, “It was not only a corporal [sic], but a spiritual, wrestling, by the vigorous actings of faith and holy desire; and thus all the spiritual seed of Jacob, that pray in praying, still wrestle with God.”
As a final commentator, MacArthur, like Beza, has short and direct comments to the identity of the “man” with whom Jacob wrestled. Unlike Beza, MacArthur uses two specific evidences to support his conclusion, one from the text and one from a later reference to the event: “The site name, Peniel, or ‘face of God’ given by Jacob (v. 30) and the commentary given by Hosea (Hos 12:4) identifies this man with whom Jacob wrestled as the Angel of the Lord who is also identified as God, a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.” With this statement, MacArthur leaves no ambiguity to his conclusion of the man’s identity.
Considering the various points of these commentators, it is my conclusion that this is a theophany, or more specifically a Christophany, that is, that the “man” with whom Jacob wrestled was the preincarnate Christ. Several evidences point me to this conclusion (some of which have already been raised). First, the context of Hosea 12:4 shows that God is sometimes referred to as an angel, not that it was merely an angel that wrestled with Jacob. Second, the “man” had the supernatural power to alter Jacob’s anatomy so as to cause a permanent limp with a simple touch. Third, the “man” exercised divine authority in renaming Jacob as God had done earlier with Abram and Sarai. Fourth, the meaning of this new name given Jacob (“Israel”: he who strives with God; or God strives) shows that his wrestling and striving was with God Himself. Fifth, the name of the place given by Jacob where these events occurred (“Peniel”: the face of God) affirms this “man” was God Whom Jacob saw face to face. Sixth, the sons of Israel no longer eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh as a sort of holy reverence for this event, further supporting that God is the reason this touch merited such reverence, not that it was merely the touch of a man. Finally, the characteristics given in this passage are descriptive of only one other individual in Scripture: The Angel of the Lord, or the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, an identification confirmed by the evident deity, character, deeds, and power of this “man.”
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible".
Gill, John. "Commentary on Genesis 32:24". "The New John Gill Exposition of the
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Genesis 32". "Matthew Henry Complete
Commentary on the Whole Bible".
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.