Prior to the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land, we read this promise of God to Abraham in Genesis 22:17, “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” (cf. Gen. 24:60) This is a promise of nothing less than tremendous physical numbers and corporeal and/or economic world domination, yet is downplayed or virtually ignored by most mainstream biblical expositors. However, the Biblical Background Commentary affirms that Abraham’s “descendants would occupy the place of authority over those who would oppose them.” The fulfillment of this promise provided the basis of the tension over “Imperialism” a century ago, and “Critical Race Theory” today.
The word “gate” here is singular in the King James Version, which might lead some to suggest that only one limited gate or conquest is in view. Yet “enemies” is plural, which would suggest that “gate” should be a multiple number also. One gate would not represent all of the enemy cities; in fact, virtually all ancient cities each possessed more than one gate. The singular “gate” here in the King James thus appears to be a generic term for all of the gates.
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (ii:945) tells us that there are three Hebrew words translated “gate” in our English Bibles: sha’ar, meaning an ‘opening’; “petah” meaning ‘entrance,’ and “delet” meaning the ‘door leaves’ making up part of the gate.
The word “gate” in this verse is translated from the above Hebrew word, “sha’ar” (Strong’s #8179). The same reference work further informs us that, “The root idea is ‘to split open’ (so the verb in Ethiopic), or ‘to break through’ (so the Arabic).” The Pulpit Commentary explains, “the special amplification following—and thy seed shall possess (i.e. occupy by force) the gate of his enemies; shall conquer their armies and capture their cities.” A warlike subjugation is indicated. The martial aspect of the word corresponds to the Israelite battles of conquest, not only in early Canaan after the Exodus, but in later history.
Scripture prophecies given during and after the Assyrian exile of 721 B.C. foretold that Israel was to become a divinely appointed conquering race. Isaiah (circa 739-700 B.C.) promised in chapter 41:15, “Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.” The prophet Micah (circa 737-696 B.C.) proclaimed (4:13), “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.” Similar prophecies are found in Deuteronomy 33:16-17, Isaiah 14:2 and Jeremiah 51:20. What people answer to these prophecies?
In the classic book by Philo-Israel (Judge Edward Bird), “The Geography of the Gates,” first published in 1880, he gives 40 “gates” throughout the world controlled by Great Britain. No other nation in the earth’s history can even remotely compare to this fulfillment. This direct British rule has ripened and transformed into an even more beneficent and paternalistic relationship in the present British Commonwealth, currently composed of 54 member states. The London Pall Mall Gazette in an editorial in 1914 commented, “The British have never laid a yoke upon the neck of a subject people. They have given, not taken, and given freely, the good gifts of law and liberty.” (BOI 38:378)
British rule was trusted and at times solicited, such as when implored to step in to suppress the brutal regime ruling early 19th century Burma. The Right Reverend Bishop J.C. Ryle of Liverpool noted at the dawn of the twentieth century, “England is today the first of nations, no nation on earth having such power and such wealth, such dominions and such greatness, such revenues and such commerce, having colonies in every climate, ships on every sea, and influence with every government under the sun. England is the heart of the world.” (BOI 37:407)
Biblical commentaries often limit the Abrahamic covenant to a short period following the Exodus from Egypt. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “God then added another element: Abraham’s descendants would be victorious over the cities of their Canaanite enemies. This was done by Joshua in the Conquest.” Yet the prophecy was never limited to the Canaanites in either time or place; the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional and is still in effect today. The Pulpit Commentary agrees that it was “originally unconditional in its grant.” The Abrahamic Covenant being unconditional, its fulfillment would still be in force and not limited to the pre-exilic era of early Israel.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, the King James Version translates the word “sha’ar” both in the singular (207 verses) and plural (123 verses). In Genesis 22:17, Rotherham, the King James, and some others translate it as singular. However, it is instead given as the plural “gates” in translations by Wycliffe 1394, Tyndale 1534, Bishops Bible 1568, Douay-Rheims 1749, International Standard, and at least several others. In addition, it is translated “cities” in the Septuagint, Complete Jewish Bible, and Easy Read Version. The Companion Bible translates, “the gate [cities].” The Good News Bible says, “the gates [i.e. the centers of power in their cities].”
Eighteenth-century expositor, John Gill, stated that the King James translation used “’gate’ for ‘gates’, where courts of judicature were held, and which are the security of cities and put for them, and which also include the whole country round about: so that this phrase is expressive of an entire jurisdiction and dominion over them.” It was, in plain language, an imperialistic promise that was divinely prearranged for Abraham’s descendants throughout their later history.
In a majority of sources, I checked it is given a plural connotation. Reformation scholar Matthew Poole explained that the term represented, “The city, by a usual synecdoche [“a part is made to represent the whole”], as Deut. 12:15, 18:6, all the cities, and consequently the country adjacent; gate for gates. The sense is, they shall subdue their enemies.” The late British Premier Joseph Chamberlain affirmed in 1906, “The British are the greatest Empire the world had ever seen. I humbly believe we were destined by Providence to be a great governing race.” (BOI 37:407)
In addition to the Abrahamic literal physical fulfillment, there is a corresponding Spiritual fulfillment. The Pulpit Commentary says, “that the spiritual sense of entering in through the doorway of their susceptibilities in conversion is not to be overlooked may be inferred from the appended prediction—and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (vide Gen. 12:3, where ‘families of the ground’ occurs as the equivalent of ‘nations of the earth’).” Thus, the world-wide colonies of Abraham’s descendants under the Old Covenant also prefigured Christ’s world-wide reign under the New Covenant in the future millennial kingdom. To limit the type is to limit the anti-type; the domination of Abraham’s descendants is the basis of Christ’s dominance of His own enemies, for “He shall put all enemies under His feet.” (1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 2:8)
The Methodist Times, Nov. 5, 1891, published this revealing testimony: “If England is Ephraim [the House of Israel], then I can see this whole book of prophecies living today and being fulfilled in our midst. If England is not Ephraim, there is no such nation answering to the description, nor as yet has there been one, nor is there at present any promise of such a nation appearing.”
Finally, listen to one of the greatest British military leaders of the early twentieth century, Admiral Lord John Fisher. He pointed out, “…that the five keys of the world—the Straits of Dover, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, the Straits of Malacca, and the Cape of Good Hope—are held by the British…Are we not the lost tribes?” (BOI 37:93). The biblical prophecy of the gates of Israel is one of the great proofs that we are indeed the people of the Book.