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Jacob At The Gate of Heaven

The Hebrew word pronounced shaw-ar means gate or city. It is variously translated as such, sometimes even within the same verse e.g.

"Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate [shaw-ar] of his city [shaw-ar]" (Genesis 23:10 RSV).

Jacob spoke the same Hebrew word, shaw-ar, when he used the (translated into English) term "gate of heaven," meaning a city, which is the reason that he renamed the city (formerly known as Luz) as Bethel, which means House of The Lord.

"How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven."

While fleeing north to his uncle Laban (see Jacob and Laban), Jacob stopped for the night and had a dream.

Map of Bethel

"Jacob left Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!

And behold, The Lord stood above it and said, "I am The Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you." (Genesis 28:10-15 RSV)

Jacob awoke and realized that it was no ordinary dream; he described the place in two ways, "the house of God ... the gate of heaven," both of which meant the same thing - they were the definition of the name that the place became known as thereafter, Bethel.

"Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely The Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:16-17 RSV)

At first light in the morning, Jacob gave that place, on this earth, the new name Bethel which means, according to the literal meaning of the Hebrew word that he spoke, gate (meaning a city) of God.

"So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then The Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that thou givest me I will give the tenth to thee." (Genesis 28:18-22 RSV)

Fact Finder: What are some of the events of Bible History that happened at Bethel?
See Bethel


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