Rebuilding the Gates (3)

John Riddle, Cheshunt, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Part 3 of 4 of the series Studies in the book of Nehemiah

‘The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob’, Ps. 87. 2

Like ‘the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God’, Rev. 21. 10, earthly Jerusalem had twelve gates. Ten of them are mentioned in this chapter, the sheep gate, vv. 1, 32; the fish gate, v. 3; the old gate, v. 6; the valley gate, v. 13; the dung gate, v. 14; the fountain gate, v. 15; the water gate, v. 26; the horse gate, v. 28; the east gate, v. 29; and the Miphkad gate, v. 31. The gate of Ephraim is mentioned in chapter 8 verse 16, and the prison gate in chapter 12 verse 39. Whilst we must be careful not to let our imagination run riot, the names of the gates, and the order in which they occur, remind us of important Bible teaching. If ‘I the Lord loveth the gates of Zion’, we ought to reflect on their significance. Boaz was sitting in the gate of Bethlehem when he said, ‘Ho, such an one! Turn aside, sit down here’, Ruth 4. 1. We must now ‘turn aside’ and ‘sit down’ in the gates of Jerusalem.

But we are certainly not going to ‘sit down’ and look at the scenery. The gates were places of praise. David prayed, ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may shew forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion. I will rejoice in thy salvation’, Ps. 9. 13-14. When ‘the Redeemer shall come to Zion’, Isa. 59. 20, the city will be transformed. Isaiah chapter 60 describes its millennial glory. ‘Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee . . . thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise’, vv. 1, 18. Do read the whole chapter. We shall find good cause for praise as we visit these gates!

1 The sheep gate, v. 1

The chapter, and the work, begins and ends with the sheep gate, vv. 1, 32. The whole project was undertaken with reference to this gate. It is mentioned in the New Testament, ‘Now there is in Jerusalem at the sheep gate (AV ‘sheep market’), a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches’, John 5. 2 JND. It was through this gate that the sheep destined for sacrifice were brought. We are immediately reminded that the Lord Jesus was ‘brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth’, Isa. 53. 7. This verse is cited in the New Testament, but the order is reversed, ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth’, Acts 8. 32. It has been pointed out that it would be nothing short of barbaric to shear a lamb, and the words have been reversed to make this very point. The Lord Jesus was treated with the utmost barbarity.

Israel‘s calendar began with the Passover. ‘And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you’, Exod. 12. 1-2. The Passover lamb was to be ‘with-out blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats’, v. 5. We are reminded that ‘Christ our passover is sacrificed for us’, 1 Cor. 5. 7. For Israel, and for us, everything begins with the blood of the Lamb. We cannot proceed with our tour of the gates, unless we have visited the sheep gate as scripture reminds us, ‘And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without the shedding of blood is no remission, Heb. 9. 22. We have good cause to sit in the sheep gate and say with David, ‘I will rejoice in Thy salvation’, Ps. 9. 14.

The blood of Christ,
Thy spotless Lamb,
O God, is all my plea;
Nought else could for my sin atone;
I have no merit of my own
Which I can bring to Thee.
W. S. W. POND

It is most significant that whilst ‘locks’ and ‘bars’ are mentioned in connection with the next five gates, see vv. 3, 6, 13, 14, 15, they are not mentioned in connection with the sheep gate. This reminds us that salvation is free to all; the gospel message proclaims that ‘whosoever will may come’.

We meet the high priest and the priests at the sheep gate. ‘Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it’, v. 1. The word ‘sanctified’ is used only in connection with the sheep gate. The death of Christ is sacred. But like the gate itself, every effort has been made to destroy the significance and value of His death. In Christendom, the ‘sheep gate’ has been ‘burned with fire’, Neh. 1. 3, but His work cannot be overthrown. As our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus has not ‘entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’, Heb. 9. 24. Our great High Priest serves in virtue of His perfect sacrifice. A greater than Eliashib is here! But that is not all. The priests are called Eliashib’s brethren’, and the Lord Jesus is ‘not ashamed to call us brethren’, Heb. 2. 11. As priests, we can stand in the sheep gate and ‘offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name’, Heb. 13. 15.

2 The fish gate, v. 3

If the sheep gate reminds us that the Lord Jesus gave His life for us, then the fish gate reminds us that we should give our lives for Him. He said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’, Matt. 4. 19. It has been observed that the believers at Thessalonica kept their fish gate in good repair. Of them Paul could say, ‘For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad’, 1 Thess. 1. 8. One day, the Saviour will say, ‘Bring of the fish which ye have now caught’, John 21. 10. He still says to us, ‘Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught’, Luke 5. 4-5. Perhaps we feel exactly like Simon and respond, ‘Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing’. But that did not prevent him from continuing, ‘Nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net’, Luke 5. 4-5. Like Peter, we too must be ‘willing in the day of His power’, Ps. 110. 3.

It is significant that between this gate and the next, we encounter the Tekoites whose nobles, ‘put not their necks to the work of their Lord’. See our comments as to this in the previous study.

3 The old gate, v. 6

The Preacher said that there was ‘no new thing under the sun’, Eccles. 1. 9, and we must never forget this in our service for God as ‘fishers of men’. Paul insisted that the Galatians stood in ‘the old gate’ by stating, ‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’, see Gal. 1. 8. We must never forget that original teaching is the right teaching. It is a mark of a false teacher that he goes beyond what is written, ‘Whosoever goes forward and abides not in the doctrine of the Christ has not God’, 2 John 9 JND. The false teacher always knows better than scripture, and always has something new to say. He ignores the solemn teaching of Deuteronomy chapter 4 verse 2, ‘Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you’. It is good to know that ‘every word of God is pure. He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar’, Prov. 30. 5-6; compare also Rev. 22. 18-19. Peter insisted that his readers stood in ‘the old gate’ too, ‘Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them and be established in the present truth’, 2 Pet. 1. 12.

We must stand in ‘the old gate’, and we must walk in ‘the old paths’, as Jeremiah clearly claimed this ground when he said, ‘Thus saith the Lord, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls’”, Jer. 6. 16. Jeremiah also refers to them as ‘the ancient paths’, 18. 15. But there are some ‘old paths’ which we must not take! We must never forget that ‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’, 2 Cor. 5. 17.

To be continued.

AUTHOR PROFILE: John Riddle is an elder in the assembly meeting at Mill Lane Chapel, Cheshunt, and serves the Lord in written and oral ministry throughout the UK where his gifts are much appreciated. He took early retirement from business as a pensions executive.