Where Israel Began
Penuel, or Peniel, from the Hebrew (pronounced) pen-ee-ale, meaning the face of God, or to face God, was a place a few miles east of The Jordan River, near a ford of the Jabbok River. It was given its name by Jacob who was at that time and place renamed Israel by The Lord - a key event of Bible History. In later years, a town was built there, but was destroyed by Gideon during the wars in the time of the Judges. It was subsequently rebuilt by Jeroboam at the time, ironically, considering how and why it got its name, of the division of Israel into two kingdoms.
"Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel"
While on the return journey from his years spent with Laban (see the Fact Finder question below), during the night Jacob had a strange encounter:
"And he rose up that night, and took his two wives [see Leah and Rachel], and his two womenservants [see Bilhah], and his eleven sons [see Children of Jacob], and passed over the ford Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had."
"And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh."
"And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
"And he said unto him, What is thy name?"
"And he said, Jacob."
"And he 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."
"And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name."
"And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there."
"And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." (Genesis 32:22-30 KJV)
By the time of The Judges, the town that then existed at Penuel was destroyed by Gideon after they, along with another town, Succoth, refused to give food to Gideon's troops while they were in a hot pursuit battle with a large force of Midianites:
"And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them. And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian."
"And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?"
"And Gideon said, Therefore when The Lord hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers."
"And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him. And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower." (Judges 8:4-9 KJV)
"And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up, And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men. And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary? And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth. And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city." (Judges 8:13-17 KJV)
After the death of King Solomon, when Israel split into two independent kingdoms, Israel and Judah (see When Israel Became "Israel" and "Judah"), Penuel was rebuilt by King Jeroboam of Israel (see Kings of Israel and Judah) who founded his kingdom on idolatrous substitutes for the God-commanded observances that had been given to all of Israel - the reason that the northern kingdom was later the first to be conquered (see The Galilee Captivity):
"Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and went out from thence, and built Penuel."
"And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David [see Israelite Dynasties]: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of The Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah."
"Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold [see also The Golden Calf], and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan."
"And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi [i.e. Levites]. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah [i.e. Jeroboam created his own substitute for The Lord's Feast Of Tabernacles that is held in the seventh month], and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense" (1 Kings 12:25-33 KJV)
Fact Finder: Why did Jacob live with his uncle Laban for about 20 years before returning home to, and as, "Israel"?
See Jacob and Laban