The Gates of Jerusalem

In an earlier study it was suggested that we might regard the gates of Jerusalem as representing a controlled means of access to, and exit from, the assembly of God’s people, the local church. We shall now consider twelve of those gates from that viewpoint, and seek to derive some spiritual lessons from their names and/or functions.

In the record of the rebuilding operations (chapter 3) ten gates are mentioned — the sheep, fish, old, valley, dung, fountain, water, horse, east and Miphkad gates. A further two important gates occurred in the part of the wall where it was recorded that “they left Jerusalem”, 3. 8, marg., possibly indicating that the walls required no repair at this point — the corner, and the Ephraim gates, 2 Kings 14. 13; 2 Chron. 26. 9; Zech. 14. 10; Neh. 8. 16; 12. 39. The prison gate, mentioned only once in Scripture, is a little obscure, and we shall omit it for the purpose of this study. It appears that some of the gates were to the temple only, while others formed part of the main city-wall structure. Iri certain cases it is not readily apparent which was which, but this nepd not concern us in our present consideration.

A sketch plan of Jerusalem showing the gates at this period would be useful in following our journey. We commence at the north-east corner of the city and move in an anti-clockwise direction.

The Sheep Gate

There are some delightful thoughts here at this first stop in our tour. The Lord Jesus, who, like a sheep dumb before her shearers opened not His mouth, Isa. 53. 7, is of course the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, John 10. 11. We are the sheep who had gone astray, Isa. 53. 6, but have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, 1 Pet. 2. 25, and are now the sheep of His pasture, Psa. 100. 3. We have entered this gate, the door of the sheepfold, for safety, security and salvation, and can go in and out to find pasture, John 10. 9. In turn, we too receive saints into the local church as Christ has received us into His universal Church.

The Fish Gate

This gate firstly reminds us that the Lord provides for material needs —

  1. He can meet our civil obligations, sometimes by unusual methods, Matt. 17. 27, and
  2. can supply a meal when we are tired and hungry, John 21. 9.

On two occasions obedience to the instructions of Jesus resulted in a huge haul of fishes — His knowledge and power in the realm of nature and daily occupations are far greater than ours! An insignificant gift of five loaves and two small fishes meant that Jesus could feed over five thousand people — what potential there must be in a life consecrated to His service! Spiritually, this must be an “exit” gate — we are sent out to catch men, Luke 5. 10.

The Old Gate

In addition to its description of age and condition, the word has acquired emotive overtones — something cherished by elderly folk and perhaps misunderstood by some of the younger generation. The old gate surely needs to be regarded in true scriptural balance. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new”, 2 Cor. 5. 17. We must “purge out, therefore, the old leaven”, 1 Cor. 5. 7-8. Conversely, we should “ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein”, Jer. 6. 16, and “remove not the old landmark”, Prov. 23. 10. In assembly life and testimony we must avoid extremism, both “no change” and “all change”. Divine principles never change, but a changing world often requires a change in emphasis and the method of presenting the gospel. We should beware of the “traditions of men”, but at the same time, “hold the (scriptural) traditions which ye have been taught”, 2 Thess. 2. 15.

The Ephraim Gate

The history of Ephraim makes a fascinating study in itself. Joshua and Jeroboam were Ephraimites, and included in their territory in the Promised Land were Jericho, Bethel, Shechem (first capital of the northern kingdom), and Kirjath-Jearim (where the ark of the covenant was kept for a long time). The name means fruitfulness, or double fruitfulness. God’s grace and sovereignty are demonstrated here, for Ephraim was Joseph’s second son, born in Egypt, yet he received precedence over his elder brother Manasseh in obtaining the firstborn’s blessing from his grandfather Israel, Gen. 48. 13-20. Israel treated them as if they were his own sons, 48. 5. God undoubtedly had a special love for Ephraim, Hos. 11. 3-4. How beautifully suggestive are these thoughts when we consider our experience of divine favour, 1 John 3. 1-2!

The Corner Gate

This gate, occupying a key position at the north-west corner of the city, reminds us of the precious truth concerning the Lord, “the chief corner stone”, Eph. 2. 20. Running as a victorious theme through Old and New Testaments, Psa. 118. 22; Isa. 28. 16; Matt. 21. 42; 1 Pet. 2. 4-8, it tells of His rejection by men, His exaltation by God, and His eternal preeminence. Is He supreme in our assembly and private lives? We must surely subscribe to Peter’s glorious exclamation, “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious”, 1 Pet. 2. 7.

The Valley Gate

We now move to the south-west corner of the city, to the gate which overlooked the Valley of Hinnom. In the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah this valley was an evil place associated with bestial, idolatrous practices. At its head was Tophet, the high place where parents made their children pass through fire to Molech. Jeremiah foretold divine judgment to the extent that it would become known as the “valley of slaughter”, Jer. 7. 32. Josiah polluted the high place to render it unfit even for idolatrous rites, 2 Kings 23. 10. It became a symbol of sin and woe; the Hebrew name Geben-Hinnom was corrupted to Gehenna and became a designation for the place of eternal punishment. Was this the valley to which David alluded symbolically, Psa. 23. 4? How comforting is the Lord’s presence in even the most unpleasant “valley” experiences!

The Dung Gate

At the eastern end of the Valley of Hinnom, this gate probably acquired its name as the refuse disposal centre for Jerusalem. “Dung” represented anything nauseous or loathsome, such as the carcase of the dead, Jer. 8. 2; 9. 22. Offal and all kinds of refuse were burnt there, causing an obnoxious pall of smoke to hang about in the vicinity. How we rejoice that we have been lifted up like the “beggar from the dunghill” and set among princes, 1 Sam. 2. 8! But can we aspire to the spiritual heights of the apostle Paul, “I count all things but loss … and do count them but dung (or refuse), that I may win (or gain) Christ”, Phil. 3. 8.

The Fountain Gate

What a beautiful gate this is in contrast to the preceding one. In Scripture a fountain is the source or spring-head of waters, God is metaphorically called the “fountain of living waters”, Jer. 2. 13. His ancient people had forsaken Him for human sources of supply that could never bring satisfaction. The secret of all true life is the “fear of the Lord”, Prov. 14. 27. A fountain has a further lesson for believers in respect of consistent communication — how can we possibly bless God and curse men alternately?, James 3. 8-12.

The Water Gate

If the fountain gate speaks to us of God as the source and satisfaction of life, then the water gate suggests the substance which His people are intended to enjoy. Divinely-given water is distinctive from earthly supplies in its duration of satisfaction, and its superlative quality, John 4. 13-14. Water is cooling, refreshing and fructifying, able to make barren places fruitful — the desert area of the Negeb today, for example, is blossoming like a rose because of irrigation. How significant then are the words of the Lord Jesus, “He that believeth on me, … out of his belly (his innermost being) shall flow rivers of living water”, John 7. 38. The Spirit-filled believer can thus be a channel through which God blesses others.

The Horse Gate

The judges and princes of Israel generally rode on mules or donkeys, and God forbade the kings of Israel to keep many horses, Deut. 17. 16. Why? Was it because Egypt was famous for its horses and they were associated with idolatry? — (a horse was depicted as pulling a chariot for the sun daily from east to west). Josiah took away those horses which his predecessors had given to the sun, 2 Kings 23. 11 .“Horse-power” thus has fleshly symbolism, and has its modern connotations of course! We need to beware of “horse-power” both in individual and assembly life today. May we be able to say, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God”, Psa. 20. 7.

The East Gate

Nearing the end of our journey we reach this gate which, metaphorically, suggests a pivotal point in time. From here the nation looked towards Babylon where once they had been captive, and where their forefather Abraham had come from in earlier years. But also, as they looked forward toward the sunrise, they would be reminded of a glorious future when “the Sun of righteousness (shall) arise with healing in his wings”, Mai. 4. 2. We are exhorted to look back and remember that from which we have been delivered, Eph. 2. 1-3, 11-13, and we can rejoice in the immeasurable distance brought about by sin’s forgiveness, Psa. 103. 12. The wise men saw His star in the east and came to worship, Matt. 2. 2; we anticipate with heavenly joy that “bright and morning star”, Rev. 22. 16; cf. 2 Pet. 1. 19.

The Miphkad Gate

This final gate has precious significance for us, as individuals and as companies of the Lord’s people. It was probably a gate of the temple where the sin offering was burned — Miphkad means “the appointed place”. How we exult to sing:

My soul looks back to see,
The burden Thou didst bear,
When hanging on the accursed tree,
And knows its guilt was there.

But more than that, it was also known as the muster gate, or the gate of the guard. This was the rallying point, to await the final trumpet sounding marching orders. Surely our hearts leap every time we are gathered together and read 1 Thessalonians 4. 16-17. Ours is indeed a bright tomorrow!

With such lessons as we have learnt from these gates, may we, as individuals and as assemblies, treasure the blessings and heed the warnings. May we use the gates wisely and well for His glory, for the prosperity of the assembly and for the ingathering of the lost.

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