In The Gate

By Rev. Jack Barr

There are 29 places in the Bible where the term "in the gate" is used. What does it mean? To understand, perhaps we should first look at the Gate itself.

The cities were first surrounded by a wall. The first walls were little more than earth and rocks. Israel's camp at Mt. Sinai probably had this type of wall around it for Exodus. 32:26 speaks of an opening (Gate) where Moses stands when he returns from the mountain.

More permanent towns or cities usually had walls of stone or bricks to withstand the attacks of their enemies. The walls were built with positions on top of the walls for men to defend against the enemy climbing over the walls. The weakest places in the wall were the doors or gates where people and things passed into or out of the city.

The first doors, or gates, were made of very thick wood, but this kind of door could be set on fire by an attacking foe to gain entry to the city. To overcome this the door would be covered with metal (Psalm 107:16) and the doors would be held in place with iron bars (1 Samuel 23:7; Isaiah 45:2). Some early doors were made of stone slabs several inches thick which were set in stone sockets above and below. These doors could be broken with battering rams.

The gate was so important that "To Possess the Gate " was to possess the city (Genesis 22:17). Because of this it was a common practice for the Canaanites to offer a human sacrifice when setting up a gate to a city. There is a reference to this in 1 Kings 16:24 when Hiel's son Segub died when his father rebuilt Jericho. God had said that anyone who rebuilt the city would lose his son.

The Gate

To overcome the weakness of the gates, they started building overlapping walls with two gates, forming a courtyard between them. This made it harder for an enemy to break through because he now had to break through two gates while the defenders shot down on them from all sides of the courtyard.

To make it even more difficult for the attacker, some cities set up the first gate at right angles to the second gate with overlapping walls, again forming a courtyard. The gates were so set that anyone entering had to turn to their left in order to enter through the second gate. This served to force the attackers to turn left exposing their right side (the side without their shield) to the arrows and spears of the defenders as well as pouring down liquids upon them..

In time, watch towers were added to the gates to serve as lookout posts. In 2 Samuel 18:24-26 David is sitting between the two gates at Mahanaim, and the watchman in the tower above is able to see a runner coming with news of the battle with Absalom's forces.

The market normally opened off the gate and was usually associated with it. (Acts 16:19). This was the area where the villagers brought in their produce to sell and where traders from other parts of the country brought their wares. It was normally open every weekday (Nehemiah 10:31) because without refrigeration, the people had to buy their food every day. Because of this, it was a place where public speaking and teaching could be done (Acts 17:17), a place where children played games of "weddings" and "funerals" (Matthew 11:16-17), and where the unemployed would go in hope that someone would give them work (Matthew 20:3). The craftsmen set up their shops here where they could work and sell what they made.

The main items sold at each gate gave its name to that gate ("sheep gate", Nehemiah 3:1; "fish gate", Nehemiah 3:3; "horse gate", Nehemiah 3:28). Rooms were provided in the walls for merchants to stay, and the shade provided by the high walls made it a good place for meetings.

The space between the gates became a place for public speaking with the listeners sitting on stone benches (Proverbs 1:21; 2 Chronicles 32:6; Jeremiah 17:19). Men would gather there for conversation (Psalm 69:12) and many would rest there (Esther 2:21). It was in this area between the gates that the people would gather to hear important announcements (2 Chronicles. 32:6; Jer 7:2; 17:19-27) or the reading of the law (Nehemiah 8:1,3) or where the elders transacted legal business (Deut 16:18; 21:18-20; Josh 20:4; Ruth 4:1,2,11). And because of the security of the location and the gathering of many men on any day, it became the place where local justice was dispensed (Ruth 4:1-2).

Kings and judges would sit here holding "court" to hear complaints and to give judgments. This is where the term "courtyard" came from.

Moses stood in the gate (Exodus 32:26).

Daniel sat in the gate of King Nebuchadnezzar as "ruler over the whole province of Babylon" (Daniel 2:48-49).`

The Elders (rulers or judges) of the city would sit in the gate (Deuteronomy 22:15; Ruth 4:11; Isaiah 29:21; Amos 5:10,15) to give judgments.

Kings sat in the gate (2 Samuel 19:8; 1 Samuel 9:18; Jeremiah 38:7).

Angels stand in the gate (Ezekiel 40:3)

Servants of the King sit in the gate of the king's palace to control entry onto the king (2 Kings 7:17; Jeremiah 37:13,18; 38:7; Daniel 2:49; Jeremiah 7:2; Esther 2:21; 3:2) and to give service to the king.

We now see that when a person sits or is referred to as in the gate, it means that this person has a position of authority . The Elders of a city were older men who were respected for their wisdom and honesty. The Kings gave judgments on large matters and some of the Elders would be appointed to give judgments on the smaller matters brought before them. Most legal business was witnessed by the entire body of Elders as witnesses of the truth and legality of the business, making it binding.

Can you find the other verses that refers to being in the gate or in the kings gate or to possess the gate? Remember that we said that to possess the gate was to possess the city, that means that whoever controls the gate of the city also rules the city.

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