Walls and Gates
A.C. Payne, Portsmouth
The days of Nehemiah were days of sadness, for Jerusalem, the City of the Great King, the city where God had chosen to place His name, was in ruins. The wall of the city was broken down and the gate burned with fire. Consequent upon those two calamities the inhabitants had no sense of security. Further, the absence of walls meant that there was no difference between Jerusalem and the surrounding country. There was no line of demarcation.
Nevertheless, they were days of a great God-given opportunity to meet the needs of the city. The greatest need was for a man seeking the welfare of the children of Israel, with a desire to rebuild the walls and to set up the gates. God provided and called the man and, as he was obedient to the heavenly vision, the people nobly rose to the occasion and followed him.
The days in which we live are of a similar, character to those of Nehemiah, in that, spiritually, they are days when there are no walls and no gates. The absence of walls implies a lack of separation from the world around, a lack of distinctive testimony as to the character of the church. The assemblies in which we gather profess to hold those truths revealed by the Risen Head through the apostles; truths, which were departed from soon after apostolic days. We do not believe that, even during Christendom's darkest days, they were wholly lost, although in the very nature of the case the witness to the simplicity that is in Christ receives scant notice in Church History. Nevertheless we must view with deep thanksgiving the remarkable movement of the Spirit of God some 150 years ago, when these truths came out with great distinctness and with much attendant blessing. Sad to say, conditions to day are not what they were not only are these principles loosely held, but there is a dearth of spiritual power and blessing.
How can these conditions be remedied? Some suggest a resort to organisation (despite the fact that it has been tried in certain circles and has failed utterly). Others suggest a resort to more liberal outlook and almost a compromise with the world. Others resort to worldly methods.
These expedients are not God's remedy for a state of ruin. God's remedy is the building of the wall, whereas these are a pulling down rather than a building up. God's method is the establishment of a distinctive testimony, the erection of the wall of separation. First and foremost, the wall of separation from the world must be erected. It is to be feared that sometimes we are so concerned with establishing ecclesiastical separation that we fail to stress sufficiently, separation from the world. It is of no use erecting a wall to keep out the Babylonian if we have no rampart against Egypt. The rallying cry for to-day must be SEPARATION. "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers" is a call that must be sounded out again and again, but we must also emphasize "be not conformed to this world." It is possible to withdraw from active and vital partnership with the world, and yet, at the same time, be manifesting worldliness in our own lives and ways.
But whilst walls maintain distinctive character and establish an effective separation from the surrounding countryside, they may effectively hide the characteristics of the people within the pity. Gates, on the other hand, do not hide; they reveal, A negative testimony is not sufficient, we must give a positive witness. If walls are the negative testimony, then gates will speak of the positive witness. The world is not so concerned with what we don't participate in; it is more concerned with what we do.
Nehemiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem not only rebuilt the walls, they also act up the gates. It is necessary, too, that the assemblies of the saints make known to those around those things for which they stand.
In the third chapter of Nehemiah, some ten gates are mentioned, and it is suggested that a study of the names of these gates will reveal the vital characteristics of the people of God.
The Sheep Gate (v.1). This gate was so-called because the lambs intended for sacrifice would pass through it to the sheep market and from thence to the temple precincts.
The fact that it is mentioned first, would suggest that fundamental characteristic, the foundation of life, should, he the realization of the fact that WE ARE NOT OUR OWN, for we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. Further, that we realize that, we are His sheep and that our lives should reveal those things which mark out His sheep, namely, hearing His voice, following Him and heeding not the voice of strangers.
The second gate in the circle is the Fish Gate (v.3). The fish-market was hard by this gate, and here the men of Tyre sold their fish. Only fish recognized as clean under the law of Moses would be permitted to be sold here; that, is, fish with both fins and scales. It teaches that the people within these walls were DISCRIMINATING people, with the ability and readiness to discern between good and evil. This lesson of discrimination is emphasised by the Lord Jesus in the parable of the drag-net (Matt. 13, 4). Every kind of fish was drawn in, but all were not kept; the good was gathered into vessels but the bad was cast away.
The Old Gate (v.6) is the next to attract the attention. Probably it was given this name because it formed part of the old city, or was a gateway through the original walls of the smaller city. Would it not teach the lesson that with expansion they had not departed from the old paths? The characteristic of the spirit of antichrist is "to go forward and abide not in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 5), J.N.D.), whereas the exhortation to the believer in the same epistle is "as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it" (2 John 6). Isaac is a classic example, for he digged again the wells his father had digged and called their names after the names by which his father had called them (Gen. 26. 18).
Next they repaired the Valley Gate (v. 13), most probably the modern Jaffa Gate, which, because the main traffic passed through it, became known as "the gate of the city." All who passed through this gate must have had valley experiences. They must have known what it was to go down. Viewing the gate as revealing one of the main, characteristics of the people of God, we would say that all who belong to Him should habitually live in Philippians, chapter 2. They should have the mind of Christ Jesus, namely, a humble mind. In lowliness of mind they should esteem each other better than them selves.
The Dung Gate (v. 14) is the gate through which the refuse of the city was taken. The city was to be clean, and all refuse cast out. This teaches a two-fold lesson. First, the people of God are to be clean, they are to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flash and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7). Second, they are to have no confidence in the flesh and must be prepared to reckon all those things which count in man's eyes as dung, if, by the loss of them, they may win Christ. They must be willing to count them as loss, if, by so doing, they may have "the priceless privilege of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Weymouth, Phil. 3. 8).
The Gate of the Fountain (v. 15) and the Water Gate (v. 26) follow. The former was hard by the Pool of Siloam. It would be through this gate that water from the Pool would be brought into the temple area during the Feast of Tabernacles. The latter is the gate by which the people congregated in order to hear Ezra read the Word of God. In both the third and the ninth chapters of Nehemiah stress is laid upon the Water Gate being toward the east. One cannot be dogmatic with regard to the position of the gates, but it is significant that the water flawing from under the threshold of Ezekiel's Temple Sowed through a gate east of the temple.
The fact that, the Water Gate is next in order to the Gate of the Fountain links up with the order in the Gospel of John. First, a fountain within the person, springing up into ever-lasting life (chap. 4); then, rivers of water flowing out to the blessing of others (chap. 7).
From a spiritual standpoint these two gates speak of the Christian finding satisfaction in Christ through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit and, then, the satisfied soul bringing blessing to others by means of the Word ministered in the power of the Spirit.
The Horse Gate (v. 28) is the one through which the horses would be taken for watering. When it is remembered that, in the main, the people of Palestine were poor and the animal used mostly was the ass; when it is remembered, too, that the amassing of horses (from other lands) seemed to be the prerogative of kings (against which practice they were warned); it would seem that, primarily, this horse Speaks of rank, dignity, foreigner. It also bears the thought of speed (Esther 6; Eccl. 10. 7), strength (Job 39. 19; Psa. 147. 10), warfare (Prov. 21. 31; Jer. 8. 6) and victory (Jer. 12. 5). The people within these walls are to have these characteristics, as well as those already enumerated. They are to comport themselves with dignity, remembering they originate from another land. They are to be speedy messengers, earnestly contending for the faith, strong in the power of His might, overcoming the world.
Reference is made in verse 29 to the keeper of the East Gate. It was through this gate that the Glory of the Lord departed on its course to the Mount of Olives and from this gate to heaven (Ezek. 10). It is from the Mount of Olives and through this gate that the Glory returns (Ezek. 43), It was through this gate that the Lord Jesus departed from the temple (leaving it desolate-empty) for the last time, taking His seat on the Mount at Olives (Matt. 23. 37 to 24. 3), but not before He had made reference to His return (Matt. 23. 39). Zech. 14. 4, together with Psalms 24, would seem to suggest that the triumphant: returning Lord will enter Jerusalem through the East Gate (see also Ezek. 44. 1-3).
It is the gate facing the sunrising. It speaks, surely, of the Hope of the Return of the Lord.
The Gate Miphkad (v.31) is mentioned only here. No other reference is made to it in the whole of the Old Testament. Consequently very little is known of it. The word "miphkad" is translated elsewhere in Scripture as "number", "commandment," "appointed place." It seems also to have the suggestion of mustering and of overseeing. May we not see in it the suggestion that we have to meet out Lord at an appointed place, that we shall gather there a complete company, but that at the appointed place we shall be reviewed by the One who is the "overseer." We shall have to give an account to Him, and from His hand we shall receive the reward. We must remember, too, that if we have not been faithful to Him we shall "suffer loss."
A return is then made to the Sheep Gate (V.32) A reminder, surely, that whilst we commence with this gate we most also end with it; in other words, our conversation should be Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and to-day and for over. May it not also suggest that the Christ of Calvary will be the theme of Heaven's praises as well as of our praises while here on earth. Calvary will never be forgotten. "The Lamb is all the Glory of Emmanuel's Land."