A Spiritual Journey Through Life
Don Roberts, Cardiff
The rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 3, and the order in which the gates are mentioned represent a beautiful spiritual order for the Christian life. These gates repay careful study in their practical implications.
The first gate, mentioned in verse 1, is the sheep gate; it derives its name from the close proximity of the sheep market, John 5. 2. Ai the sheep market, lambs would be sold to those Jews in exile who had travelled many miles to celebrate the feast of the Passover. It would be pointless such people bringing their lambs with them, and so they would exchange their foreign currency for the requisite currency at rates of exchange that were grossly unjust. This was the background to the commotion in the precincts of the temple which the Lord denounced when he charged the authorities with turning the house of prayer into a den of thieves, Matt. 21. 13.
Another important feature of this gate is the fact that the road from Jericho to Jerusalem passed through it. The road led upward both geographically and spiritually for the Lord, for it was the last stage of the final journey to Jerusalem before He was taken and crucified. All this took place at the same time as the Passover in keeping with the type; "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us", 1 Cor. 5. 7. The gate was repaired by the priests, and Christ is our great high priest. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and therefore the sheep gate reminds us of
The next gate to be mentioned in our anticlockwise tour of the walls of ancient Jerusalem is the fish gate, Neh. 3. 3. Once again, near this gate was the fish market, and the road that led to the gate was the road from Galilee where there was a great fishing industry. "I will make you fishers of men" was the call that the Lord gave to His early disciples. Luke's Gospel renders it, "Fear not; from henceforth thou shall catch men", Luke 5. 10. This gate speaks of service, and the reference in Luke's Gospel promises to make us successful men and women in the Lord's service if we are prepared to follow Him in every sense of the word. It is quite amazing that at least 25 per cent of those early disciples were fishermen by profession. We suggest that the Lord saw in those rugged fishermen qualities that they themselves could not see but that He could use. The fishermen of that day worked together as teams. Some directed from the shore, some pulled in the nets, some rowed the boats, some handled the nets, some carried the torches, and some beat the water with sticks to frighten the fish towards the nets. Teamwork, cooperation and contribution are often essential ingredients in service for the Lord today. Other qualities that were inherent in a fisherman were skill, patience, alertness and quickness, as well as keeping out of sight so that his reflection should not be spotted in the water. What a lesson to learn there! "He must increase, but I must decrease", John 3. 30; no flesh must glory in His presence, 1 Cor. 1. 29.
Moving around the walls, we now come to the old gate. Was this gate called the "old gate" simply because it was old? Old names and old habits die hard, and we are reminded "that our old man is crucified with him", Rom. 6. 6, "that ye have put off the old man with his deeds", Col. 3. 9, and that "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new", 2 Cor. 5. 17. When we discover that this gale leads to Golgotha, the lesson becomes clear. It is that of self assessment. We borrow the words of Ruth, "Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried", Ruth 1. 17.
The spiritual order is still maintained as we come to the valley gate which derives its name from the neighbouring valley of Hinnom. The "valley" experience in the Christian life may not be very pleasant, but it is very necessary. One of the most appropriate epistles on this point is that to the Philippians. There we read "but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves", 2. 3. Verse 7 presents the example of Christ, "But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men". Philippians 4. 17 is often misused, misrepresented and misunderstood, particularly when it is wrested from its context; "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me". What things are these? If we look back a few verses, we will find the answer. Am I content with my state? Do I know how to be abased? Do I know how to be hungry? Do I know how to suffer need? The Lord taught that it is better to beg for bread on earth than to beg for water in hell, Luke 16. 19-24. The lesson from this gate is submission.
Not surprisingly the next gate, the dung gate, also leads out into the valley of Hinnom where was situated the refuse tip — hence the name of the gate. Such a refuse tip would support spontaneous combustion, and would constantly burn. The Hebrew for the valley was Ge-Hinnom; hence the Greek Gehenna which is often translated "hell" in the A.V. of the New Testament. Paul wrote of "Christ Jesus, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ", Phil. 3.8. This gate speaks of self-rejection and is the prelude to the all important practical process of santification.
That last remark brings us to the fountain gate, hard by the pool of Siloam and the Kidron Valley. A fountain suggests a constant supply of fresh water. Water is one of the elements which signifies the work of the Holy Spirit. The fountain gate represents sanctification. The use of the present tense of the verb "to fill" in the Greek text of Ephesians 5.18 implies that the operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer is a continuous process.
With the idea of water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, we now come to the water gate, which features also in Nehemiah 8 where the book of the law of God was read. This gate speaks of the scriptures, and the details given in Nehemiah 8 raise some interesting points. Verse 1 states that the people were gathered together as one man; the recognition therefore of the Word of God brought unity. Secondly, the reading was from the morning until midday, and the people were attentive unto the book of the law, v. 3. If these people were so dedicated under the law, what should our attitude be under grace? Note what is said in verse 5, "and when he opened it, all the people stood up". What reverence for the Word of God! Today we are in danger of losing this quality. There is a desperate need of reverence and obedience to the Word. Today we stand up for the hymns and sit down for the reading of the Word of God. Perhaps we have it the wrong way round! Verse 8 states, '"So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading". We see here, not only the necessity of publicly reading the Word of God correctly and clearly, but the necessity of expositional preaching, putting verses in their context, thereby adding the full weight of their meaning.
Coming now to the horse gate, we know that the horse is used in battle, and therefore we think here of strife. Ephesians 6 calls us to arms, and explains that we are fighting against unseen forces that require spiritual defences and spiritual weapons. The shield of faith can move and waver in the heat of the battle, but underneath we are well protected by truth and righteousness. Our only weapon for attack is the Word of God, v. 17. The Greek word used for "word" signifies the spoken word of God. How important it is to know the Scriptures, and to learn them by heart. "The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even lo the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart", Heb. 4. 12.
As the sun rises in the east, so the east gate points to the second coming of Christ. The Lord will come into the air for His heavenly bride, and then subsequently to the earth in connection with God's earthly wife, Israel. Zechariah 14. 4 states, "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east" and in Ezekiel 44. 1-3 we read, "Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the Lord unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same". This may well refer to the existing Golden Gate on the east side of Jerusalem, now bricked up, and standing as a silent witness to the promise of His return.
Our journey is almost complete and now we approach the Miphkad gate or judgment gate. This comes under the heading of sifting and the ultimate separation of the hay, wood and stubble from the silver, gold and the precious stones at the judgment seat (bema) of Christ, 1 Cor. 3. 10-15. The bema was the seat employed at the ancient Olympic games to assess the athletes. We are not asked to win the race, but to run the race and to finish the course. The gruelling marathon race was 26 miles long. The true sportsman is the man who knows that he has not won, hut still continues to run to finish the course. Reward enough it will be if the Lord says "He did what he could".
And so at the end of chapter 3 we return to the sheep gate, having gone a full circle. The sheep gate reminds us of our salvation. In the last book of the Bible, we read of the Lamb as it had been slain, Rev. 5.6. May we always stay near to Him.
Although our journey around Jerusalem has been peripheral, the truths are not for they are fundamental. We should search our hearts and discover how far round the wall we have travelled in our spiritual journey.