Genesis 28:17
And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
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(17) How dreadful.—The manifestation of God must always inspire awe and dread, but not fear: for where He reveals Himself, there is “the gate of heaven”—the appointed entrance for prayer now, and for admission to the glorified life hereafter.

Genesis 28:17. He was afraid — So far was he from being puffed up with this divine vision. The more we see of God, the more cause we see for holy fear and blushing before him. Those to whom God is pleased to manifest himself, are laid and kept very low in their own eyes, and see cause to fear even “the Lord and his goodness,” Hosea 3:5. And said, How dreadful is this place! — That is, the appearance of God in this place is never to be thought of but with a holy awe and reverence; I shall have a respect for this place, and remember it by this token as long as I live. Not that he thought the place itself any nearer the divine visions than any other place; but what he saw there at this time was, as it were, “the house of God,” the residence of the Divine Majesty, and “the gate of heaven,” that is, the general rendezvous of the inhabitants of the upper world, as the meetings of a city were in their gates; or, the angels ascending and descending, were like travellers passing and repassing through the gates of a city.

28:16-19 God manifested himself and his favour, to Jacob, when he was asleep. The Spirit, like the wind, blows when and where it listeth, and God's grace, like the dew, tarrieth not for the sons of men. Jacob sought to improve the visit God had made him. Wherever we are, in the city or in the desert, in the house or in the field, in the shop or in the street, we may keep up our intercourse with Heaven, if it is not our own fault. But the more we see of God, the more cause we see for holy trembling before him.Jacob awakes, and exclaims, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not." He knew his omnipresence; but he did not expect a special manifestation of the Lord in this place, far from the sanctuaries of his father. He is filled with solemn awe, when he finds himself in the house of God and at the gate of heaven. The pillar is the monument of the event. The pouring of oil upon it is an act of consecration to God who has there appeared to him Numbers 7:1. He calls the name of the place Bethel, "the house of God." This is not the first time it received the name. Abraham also worshipped God here, and met with the name already existing (see on Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3; Genesis 25:30.)16. Jacob awaked out of his sleep—His language and his conduct were alike that of a man whose mind was pervaded by sentiments of solemn awe, of fervent piety, and lively gratitude (Jer 31:36). How dreadful is this place, or venerable, both for the majesty of the Person present, and for the glorious manner of his discovery of himself!

The house of God; the habitation of God and of his holy angels.

And he was afraid,.... Not with a servile but filial fear; not with a fear of the wrath and displeasure of God, but with a fear of his grace and goodness; not with a fear of distrust of it, of which he had just had such a comfortable assurance; but with an awe of the greatness and glory of God, being conscious of his own unworthiness to receive such favours from him:

and said, how dreadful is this place! not terrible and horrible, being not like Mount Sinai, but like Sion; not as the suburbs of hell, but as the gate of heaven majestic and venerable, because of the glory of God that appeared in it, whose name is holy and reverend and because of the holy angels here present: and so the church, of which this was an emblem, is a solemn assembly, awful and venerable; a city of solemnities, because of the worship of God in it, and his presence there; who is to be feared in the assembly of his saints, and to be had in reverence of all that are about him; and where persons should behave in a serious and solemn manner. The Targum of Jonathan is,"how tremendous and praiseworthy is this place! this is not a common place:"

this is none other but the house of God; wherefore he afterwards called it Bethel, which signifies the house of God; and so the church of God is often called, Psalm 23:6; which is of God's building, where he dwells, and his family is, of which he is the master and governor; which he beautifies and adorns, fills, repairs, and defends:

and this is the gate of heaven: Mr. Mede renders it "the court of heaven", because of the angels; since in gates justice was administered by kings, attended with their retinue; but royal courts were not kept there, only courts of judicature: this place seems to be so called, because the heavens were opened and the glory of God was seen, attended by his angels, who were passing and repassing, as people through the streets of a city; and was an emblem of the church of Christ, who is figured by the ladder set on earth, whose top reached to heaven, the door, the gate, the way of ascent to it; here he is preached in the word as the way of salvation, the way to heaven and eternal happiness; here he is held forth in the ordinances; here he grants his presence to his people, and indulges them with communion with him, which makes it like and next to heaven unto them: and, generally speaking, though not always, God brings his people to heaven this way, through a Gospel church state, and by means of the word and ordinances; and here angels also attend, 1 Corinthians 11:10.

And he was {f} afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

(f) He was touched with a godly fear and reverence.

17. How dreadful] This adjective is rendered unsuitable by colloquial usage. The sense would be better given by “awesome” or “terrible.” Jacob believes that he has been in the presence of Jehovah and of the heavenly host. The belief that those who saw “the angel of the Lord” face to face would die is expressed in the terror of Jacob. Cf. Jdg 6:22-23; Jdg 13:21-22.

the house of God] Heb. bêth Elohim, i.e. “a dwelling-place of the Divine Being.” This clause contains the popular etymology of the name Bethel.

Verse 17. - And he was afraid, - so were Moses (Exodus 20:18, 19), Job (Genesis 42:5, 6), Isaiah (Genesis 6:5), Peter (Luke 5:8), John (Revelation 1:17, 18), at similar discoveries of the Divine presence - and said, How dreadful is this place! - i.e. how to be feared! how awe-inspiring! φοβερὸς (LXX.), terribilis (Vulgate) - this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Not literally, but figuratively, the place where God dwells, and the entrance to his glorious abode (Keil); the idea that Jacob was "made aware by the dream that he had slept on one of those favored spots singled out for a future sanctuary, and was fearful that he had sinned by employing it for a profane purpose" (Kalisch), being fanciful. Genesis 28:17Jacob gave utterance to the impression made by this vision as soon as he awoke from sleep, in the words, "Surely Jehovah is in this place, and I knew it not." Not that the omnipresence of God was unknown to him; but that Jehovah in His condescending mercy should be near to him even here, far away from his father's house and from the places consecrated to His worship-it was this which he did not know or imagine. The revelation was intended not only to stamp the blessing, with which Isaac had dismissed him from his home, with the seal of divine approval, but also to impress upon Jacob's mind the fact, that although Jehovah would be near to protect and guide him even in a foreign land, the land of promise was the holy ground on which the God of his fathers would set up the covenant of His grace. On his departure from that land, he was to carry with him a sacred awe of the gracious presence of Jehovah there. To that end the Lord proved to him that He was near, in such a way that the place appeared "dreadful," inasmuch as the nearness of the holy God makes an alarming impression upon unholy man, and the consciousness of sin grows into the fear of death. But in spite of this alarm, the place was none other than "the house of God and the gate of heaven," i.e., a place where God dwelt, and a way that opened to Him in heaven.
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