This blessing is used more than once in Genesis, e.g. 22:17 to Abraham about his descendants:

וְיִרַ֣שׁ זַרְעֲךָ֔ אֵ֖ת שַׁ֥עַר אֹיְבָֽיו

Your offspring shall take possession of the gate of their enemies

Rebekah's family offers her a similar blessing (interestingly, with a synonym) in 24:60:

וְיִירַ֣שׁ זַרְעֵ֔ךְ אֵ֖ת שַׁ֥עַר שֹׂנְאָֽיו

May your offspring take possession of the gate of those who hate them

Now I know the significance of the gate of the city as the place where administrative and judicial gatherings happen, hence some translations' use of "cities".

But can I get some context on this formula? Is it attested in other languages or cultures in the region? Does it presume conflict and victory or has it generalized to simply "be successful"?


2 Answers 2


The first time this expression was used was in Genesis 22:17.

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies

The significance of gate of a city is the place where administrative and judicial gatherings happen, hence some translations' use of "cities". The gate of a city represented the point of power as it regulates access to the city. It controls what goes into the city and what comes out of it.

What does it mean to take possession of the gate of the enemy? Taking possession of the gate of the enemy implies exercising control over that city. It implies taking over a colony. It implies having a city, a colony or an empire yielding to the control of a colonizing external force.

The gates to a city, then, represented a point of power, a place to exercise control over that city. A military conqueror would try to get control of the gate in order to enter the city most easily. A king who had the hearts of the elders who sat in the gate would politically control the city. A person who organized and ran the commercial market and storehouses at the gate would control the economic life of the city—and its surrounding villages. At the gate ideas and policies flowed along with the commerce. These ideas could result in the rising or falling of rulers and even nations. And that brings us to the modern day in which we live. In our lives—in our cities, states, nations—it often seems like an enemy of the Kingdom of God has possessed our “gates.” This enemy represents ideals and principals contrary to that of Heaven’s Kingdom. Yet it influences our business life, our cultural life, our social life, our political life—even our church life.

Source: https://sidroth.org/articles/possessing-gates/

Is it attested in other languages or cultures in the region? This has a deep spiritual essence in the languages or cultures in the religion of the city in question. When an external force assumes control over the city of the enemy they stand a great chance of determining the languages and what the religious culture of the target city will look like. It is worthy of not here to state that the enemies being conquered would simply have no form of influence as to what happens to them afterwards. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans.

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey . . . (Romans 6:16 ESV)

Does it presume conflict and victory or has it generalized to simply "be successful"? No! The process cannot be generalized to simply “be successful” because the conquering forces must expect some degree of resistance from the enemies they expect to conquer. Taking the gate of the enemies may begin with conflict. But one thing is certain -- the conflict can only end in the defeat of the enemies.

  • I marked this as correct even though it does not seem to me as though your last line is a certainty, at least the way I understand "defeat". What was said throughout about governance, "having the hearts of the elders" and so on, seems to me the most interesting aspect. Thank you! Oct 1, 2018 at 0:01

According to Zondervan's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (thanks, Bach,for the link) the gates of a city were the "Achilles Heel" of a city because they were the most vulnerable part of the wall system and was the point at which an invader would stage an attack. They were also the "downtown" of the city in that the markets were located there and it was the place where the city elders would make legal decisions.

The LORD was promising Abraham that the defenses of the cities of his enemies would not stand against his military attacks.

This appears to be alluded to in the NT in Matthew where Jesus says that the gates of HADES would not be able to keep his people from escaping death:

Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

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