The gates of spiritual progression
3:1-8: ‘Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors… Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah the son of Hakkoz made repairs. And next to him Meshullam the son of Berechiah the son of Meshezabel made repairs… And Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors, with its bolts and its bars… And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.’
Chapter three concerns itself with the rebuilding of the walls and specifically the ten gates that separated each section. What also stands out is the people that God has recorded as doing the work. So what can we take from a chapter such as this? Well, quite a lot actually. I believe that each of the gates speak of different experiences in our Christian life that we need to come into. Their order and position is very specific and give us insight into the journey that God takes each of His children on. The layout and positioning of these gates can be seen in the picture below.
The meaning of the ten gates of Jerusalem.
Sheep Gate (vs 1,32) – The very first gate mentioned is the sheep gate. It was called the sheep gate because this was the gate which the sheep and lambs used in the sacrifice were bought through. No prizes for knowing that this speaks of the very first experience we come into in our Christian life – that is, a realisation that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. The sheep gate then speaks to us of the cross and the sacrifice that was made for our sins. It is the starting point of everything but you will also notice if you read the entire chapter that the sheep gate is also mentioned at the very end once we have come full circle. That is because everything starts and ends with Jesus’ death on the cross.
Fish Gate (vs 3) – The Fish gate was next to be mentioned. It was called the fish gate because the fisherman of Galilee would bring their catch in through this gate to be sold. For us, it speaks of evangelism as we have been called to be ‘fishers of men’. It is a natural progression in our Christian life that after seeing that Jesus died for our sins, we would then want to tell others about it. Surveys have shown that believers who have been saved less than two years win the most people to the Lord. Their simple testimony of what Jesus has done in their lives qualifies them to be great ‘fishers of men.’
Old Gate (vs 6) – The Old gate was next and this speaks to us of the old ways of truth. A young Christian having experienced the sheep gate, then the fish gate soon sees the need for experiencing the old gate. This means learning the old ways of truth that never change. Jeremiah 6:16 states ‘Thus says the Lord, Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.’
Valley Gate (vs 13) – Examining the picture above you notice that there is a long distance before you come to the next gate, which is the valley gate. For a new Christian the Lord allows a ‘honeymoon’ type period where He teaches you and His presence is strong in your life. This can go on for some time as indicated by the positioning of the old and valley gates. But sooner or later the valley gate must come. The valley gate speaks to us of humbling and trials – valley type experiences used by the Lord for our personal growth. Never easy but the Christian needs to remember that in the natural nothing really grows on the mountain tops, but it certainly does down in the valleys. So it is in the spiritual. Never a nice experience but it always produces fruit.
Dung (Refuse) Gate (vs 14) – Again there is quite a distance to the next gate indicating that, unfortunately, the valley experience can carry on for some time. But the result of that experience is clearly seen in this next gate – the dung gate. This is the gate that they would take all the refuse and rubbish out of Jerusalem, down to the valley of Hinnom to be burned. This is what happens in our own life. Valley experiences are used by the Lord to clear away the rubbish so that true faith, refined by the fire, can come forth and produce fruit. Clearing away the rubbish in our lives is never easy but the benefits of this experience can be seen in the next gate. You will notice also that at this point of your Christian life there is a dramatic ‘turning of the corner’ that takes place. From the diagram above, up until this point we have been moving downward and the experiences have been hard, but having come to this point there is a sharp turn in the road and we begin to move upward again.
Fountain Gate (vs 15) – You will notice from the picture that the fountain gate is located extremely close to the dung gate. In other words, after a valley type experience where rubbish in our lives is cleared out and true faith comes forth, then the fountains begin to flow and it doesn’t take long! This speaks to us of the living waters of the Holy Spirit that cleanse our lives and empower us for our Christian life.
Water Gate (vs 26) - The next gate we arrive at is the water gate. The water gate is a picture I believe of the word of God and it’s effect in our life. Eph 5:26 states ‘… having washed her by the water of the word.’ It is no coincidence that this gate was located next to the fountain gate as the two often go together. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes the word of God alive to us personally, allowing cleansing, encouragement and direction to take place in our life.
Horse Gate (vs 28) - The horse gate speaks to us of warfare as horses were used in battle and became a symbol of war. Revelation 19:11 ‘I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness does He judge and make war.’ Spiritual warfare, as we will see in this entire study on Nehemiah, is a requirement of every Christian because we are all in a battle whether we know it or not. The last three gates are also prophetic I believe of the end times return of Jesus Christ. You will notice that all three gates are very close together and so are the events which they symbolise. Prophetically, the horse gate speaks of the day of the Lord and the end time judgement as recorded in the book of Revelation chapters 6-19.
East Gate (vs 29) – The east gate has been set-aside especially by God and was known by Jews for one particular event – the coming of the Messiah! Ezekiel 44:1-3 ‘… the gate that looked toward the east, and it was shut. The Lord said to me, ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord God of Israel has entered by it.’ The east gate opens and looks toward the Mount of Olives and we know that when Jesus returns He will return to this mount. (Zech 14:4). He will then enter Jerusalem by the east gate. The east gate then speaks of the return of Jesus Christ. For our Christian life it shows us of our need to live with this hope and to long for His return. A specific crown is even given to those who do this (2 Tim 4:8). Prophetically this gate is very close to the horse gate because the day of God’s wrath ends with the coming of the Lord Jesus as described in Revelation 19.
Inspection Gate (vs 31) - The final gate is the inspection gate. This gate speaks to us of the bema seat of Christ where our lives are inspected and rewarded appropriately. In our Christian experience we should be living with this in mind. We are called to live our lives with eternity in view, caring more for the things of eternity than the temporal that we see around us. Prophetically this gate also speaks of the judgement of the nations that takes place when Jesus returns. This is recorded in the sheep and the goats judgement in Mathew 25:31-46.
The lives and attitudes of the workers.
There are a few more important points that can come out of a chapter like this, which should be stated. So far we have looked at the gates and their spiritual meaning, but there are other points from the lives of the workers that we can learn from.
Reading through the chapter one of the first things that we see is that the whole process was a team effort. If the walls and gates were going to be rebuilt then everyone would have to play their part. Now this is but a picture of how the church is meant to operate. No, the pastor is not meant to be a one man band that does everything while the others rest and sit in their padded pews. We all have different giftings but it is for the edification of all.
Eph 4:11-13 ‘And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.’
You will notice that the giftings that people have are for the equipping of the saints in their works of service. This is what we learn from Nehemiah. Some may have been gifted in particular areas and they were to work in those areas, but all helped in whatever way they could.
‘And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.’
Maybe you are unsure of your gifting and what God is calling you to do with your life. Maybe you don’t think you have anything to offer. If that is you then remember Hananiah! You see, he was a perfumer by trade and yet he was still willing to get in there, get his hands dirty and help do his part by repairing part of the wall. Now if a perfumer can build a wall then you also can help in someway in the building of the church!
Rebuilding often began at home
Vs 10,23,30 ‘Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house… After them Benjamin and Hasshub carried out repairs in front of their house… After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah carried out repairs in front of his own quarters.’
One of the things this chapter reveals is that often the workers began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem outside their own home first. They did think of others and knew that collectively they would contribute to the wall as a whole; yet individually they still wanted to make sure their own home had a solid wall of protection surrounding it. The principle for us is to make sure we have taken care of our lives at home first before we are used to help others. We have to make sure that we are not different people in and outside of church, nor are we any different when we are at home alone when no-one can see us. One of the things that Jesus hated the most was the play-acting of the Pharisees. They liked to be seen as ‘spiritual’ among the people while in reality they were actually white washed tombs Jesus said. Let us all mimic Nehemiah’s men and make sure that our home life is taken care of first before any ministering or service to others is under taken.
Yep! No one got paid or were even coerced into rebuilding the walls. They all volunteered knowing that the glory of God’s name was at stake. And what’s more they didn’t expect to be rewarded for their work! I heard Charles Swindol speak on the radio recently and he mentioned that ‘one of the biggest areas of discouragement comes when Christians think that they get their rewards in this life.’ I would have to agree with that. We should check our motives in the work that we do to ensure we are not doing it to receive temporal rewards here and now. We should all live with eternity in view. This brings me to the last but very encouraging point.
What else can we get when we read a chapter such as this? Well, we can be encouraged that God takes the time to record names. He’s a recorder! The Bible doesn’t just say ‘and lots of people made repairs to the wall.’ No, it specifically names each person that made repairs and that has been recorded for all of eternity! I love the verse in Malachi that says
‘Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. “And they will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” Mal 3:16,17
Our lives and actions are recorded by the Lord for our rewards in the life to come. Nothing is done for the Lord in vain on this earth, even if no one else sees it. So don’t lose heart in your work for the Lord knowing that ‘God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.’
|Bible Studies in the Nehemiah Series|
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 1 - Understanding the nature of the fall
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 2 - The reproach, the rock and the rubble
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 3 - The gates of spiritual progression
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 4 pt 1 - Sanballat's initial attack on the mind
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 4 pt 2 - Sanballat's physical persecution
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 4 pt 3 - Our stand: The armor of God
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 6 pt 1 - Geshem's worldly compromise
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 6 pt 2 - Our Defense: The Heavenly call
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 6 pt 3 - Sanballat and the angel of light
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 7 - Tobiah that 'good' man (not!)
Nehemiah Bible Study Chapter 13 - Tobiah in the temple!