The Building of the Wall and the Gates

In Nehemiah 2, 3 and 12, we read about several gates that have symbolic meaning for the reconstruction of the temple walls as Israel returned from her captivity. Let us look at how this building took place and under what circumstances.  First, in Nehemiah 2:9-20, Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem.  He rests for three days, and while resting physically, he is greatly exercised spiritually.  In other words, “he conferred not with flesh and blood,” rather He only meets with the Lord and is filled by His presence at first.  (See Nehemiah 2:12 and Galatians 1:16)


We see that despite the obvious destruction that has occurred in the city, and the devastating remains, Nehemiah is not deterred in purpose by the ruinous conditions of the city.  Under the cover of darkness he reviews the devastation of the city of God.  Nehemiah, perhaps a lonely man, keeps his midnight vigil, noting with deep sorrow and concern the ruin sin has made.  While Nehemiah is praying and planning, the nobles and rulers are sleeping more or less unconcerned.  Nehemiah’s soul is stirred to its depths as he views the scene, and from the sorrow and concern there arises an overwhelming desire to build up that which carnal ease and spiritual slothfulness has been allowed to remain in ruin.  Nehemiah’s attitude identifies himself fully with the people of the city as he shares his burden with a few godly men, saying, “‘You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’ And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.”  (Nehemiah 2:17-18a)  He is communicating his solidarity with them and proposing partnership this way.  He cannot rebuild the walls alone, rather he is seeking total involvement from them and the others in the city.  The people are clearly aroused and encouraged, telling Nehemiah, “Let us rise up and build.”  (Nehemiah 2:18b) This is a deep spiritual exercise among the people as they join hands with God’s servant to do God’s work. 


Let me apply this passage and make it relevant to us today.  Every man with a shepherd’s heart knows something of Nehemiah’s experience whose heart God has touched with a vision to see the city restored.  In Scripture, Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezra, and Paul are examples of those like Nehemiah who care for their churches very deeply, desiring to rebuild, whether spiritually, or physically, their churches.  In every good assembly there should be a few spiritual leaders like Nehemiah, men who are intimately acquainted with the spiritual needs of the church and who use the gifts God has given them to build up the church.  In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul teaches that “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”  Men who are able to guide, inspire, and encourage others to do God’s work on earth are desperately needed in the church!  Conversely, to make a ministry such as this effective, there must be receptive and responsive hearts among those who hear the instruction, because it produces a deep spiritual exercise and complete abandonment of selfish interests.  At this point a surrendered, captivated soul will cry out, “Not my will but thine be done” or “Here am I, send me” or “Lord, what will you have me to do?”  (See Luke 22:42, Isaiah 6:8, and Acts 22:10)  To arrive at this point is nothing short of a spiritual awakening.  Then as one body, we work and strive, weep and pray, rejoice and worship, build and secure the precious truths of our godly heritage.  Therefore, may our prayer be: “Lord send revival and begin it in me.” 

When the people resolve to build, the opposition begins to stiffen.  For the first time, we hear of Sanballat and Tobiah, who upon hearing of Nehemiah’s mission, are “deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.”  (Nehemiah 2:10)  In Nehemiah 2:19, they are joined by Geshem.  This ungodly trio laughs, ridicules and despises God’s servants, accusing them of a very serious crime of rebelling against the king. (See Nehemiah 2:19)  We should view this as active spiritual resistance to a calling from God.  Often, when a man of God comes with determination to restore God’s principles, immediately there is active opposition.  How does this affect Nehemiah?  He says, “The God of Heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage, or right, or memorial in Jerusalem.”  (Nehemiah 2:20)  Elders should act like Nehemiah here in defending truth and speaking against those “whose mouths must be stopped.”  (See Titus 1:9-11)

Let us move on to look at some of the symbolic meanings of the gates that Nehemiah and his Jewish allies begin to repair. 


The Sheep Gate

This gate, mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1, speaks of atonement.  On this gate, there were no locks or bars.  This gate also both begins and ends the cycle in this chapter.  (See Nehemiah 3:1 and 3:32)  This gate was built for thousands of sheep, intended for sacrifice and offerings to the Lord, to enter through to the rebuilt city.  This instantly should remind us of the Lamb of God, which John the Baptist labels Jesus in John 1:29 as the ultimate sin offering for the people of God.  Isaiah also mentions this sacrificial lamb, saying, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”  (Isaiah 53:7)  During the days of the Old Testament, before Christ had come to Earth, tens of thousands of sacrifices were required to atone for Israel’s sins.  The Lord Jesus, in contrast, “made one sacrifice for sin” for all of the world, making “perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  (See Hebrews 1:3 and 10:14)  The Sheep Gate clearly symbolizes the Lamb of God, who was better than the angels, Moses, the High Priest, and was a better sacrifice than all the accumulated sacrifices from Adam to the Cross.


The Fish Gate 

This gate is described in Nehemiah 3:3-5, and brings to mind “the call to service” of Jesus’ disciples. (See Matthew 4:18-20)  Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the sea, fishing, and James and John were mending their nets.  Jesus called to them, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”  (Matthew 4:19)  Jesus was essentially saying to them, “I will teach you to catch men alive.”  These disciples left everything to become fishers of men, yet we should not forget that this is the obligation and mission of every believer to become fishers of men.  Each believer should be a fisher of men, striving to win others to Christ.  Unfortunately, this is often not so, and consequently most assemblies have become aquariums where life is easy and demands are few.  Do not be content to fish in the bath tub while all around us are men and women crushed and ruined by sin, waiting for someone to tell them of Jesus. We have seen the God’s mission, Christ’s passion, and should understand our part in this!


The Horse Gate

In Nehemiah 3:28 we learn about the Horse Gate, which speaks of soldiers’ service.  In Nehemiah’s day, the horse is an animal of war.  The believer is constantly at war with the world and all its factions.  Jesus says, “In me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)  But our warfare is also in the moral, ethical, spiritual sphere, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  In Jude 1:3, we are exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith which was delivered to all the saints.”   Paul also encourages believers to “fight the good fight of faith” and tells us he has “fought the good fight.”  (1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7)  We should always be aware of the armor at our disposal that is mentioned in Ephesians 6.  Most of all, however, it is important to recognize the different kinds of warfare very much present in our lives.  First, there is the inward battle of the flesh and the Spirit, and secondly, there is doctrinal warfare for which we should “earnestly contend.”  Thirdly, we see spiritual warfare that manifests itself in many ways, for example, against principalities.  Lastly, there is external warfare, like suffering that exists with believers when they are persecuted as followers of Christ.  The building of this gate should represent the presence of these types of warfare among us even now.


The East Gate

The mention of the East Gate in Nehemiah 3:29 should remind us of the coming of the Lord because of the symbolism of the Messiah to come.  In Scripture, Jews know of a Messiah to come by way of the east.  In Ezekiel’s temple vision, we learn that the east ate is reserved for the Lord.  The Lord says, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.”  (See Ezekiel 44:1-3)  We also see that in Zechariah 14:4, Zechariah predicts the Day of the Lord, describing the Mount of Olives that He will go upon when He comes to Earth.  He says, “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east.”  Beloved, this gate should remind us to live our lives as if Christ has been crucified yesterday and is coming tomorrow.  Scripture tells us that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)


The Gate of Judgment

This gate, mentioned in Nehemiah 2:31, speaks to us of the judgment seat of Christ, where deeds are judged and we are held accountable for our actions.  Many places in Scripture speak of this judgment before Christ in the final days.  Paul tells us in Romans 14:10-12, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”  Paul also teaches, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  (2 Corinthians 5:10) Even unbelievers will appear before the great white throne of Christ.  (See Revelation 20:11-15)  Therefore, beloved, let us live our lives with an eternal perspective, according to this knowledge we have of the final judgment.


The Gate of Ephraim/Fruit-bearing

Now let us move ahead to Nehemiah 8 and 12 where the Gate of Ephraim is first mentioned.  The naming of this gate is purposeful, for it means, “fruitful” or “doubly fruitful.”  Let us consider the great principle of fruit-bearing that we learn of in Scripture.  Jesus teaches a parable about a vine and branches bearing fruit in John 15 in order to illustrate this principle, because here the true source of fruitfulness is made known.  We are introduced to the “branch” in John 15:2.  A vine needs branches, because without branches it cannot bear any fruit.  The “branch” is simply a piece of wood brought forth by the vine for the main purpose of bearing fruit.  What is this fruit then?  First, fruit is something which the branch bears not for itself, but for its owner.  Secondly, fruit-bearing is one thing for which we have been saved.  Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you.”  Thirdly, the fruit the branch bears is the fruit of the vine.  This means that in a Christian it is the fruit of Christ Himself, or Christ-likeness that illustrates fruit-bearing.  There are many other kinds of fruit mentioned in Scripture that the Gate of Ephraim can represent.  For example, there is the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23.  There is also the fruit of winning souls, which Paul speaks of in Romans 1:13.  Thirdly, scripture speaks of the fruit of Christian character in Romans 6:21-22.  Lastly, Paul teaches about the fruit of Christian conduct in Philippians 1:11.   However, we should also note that if branches do not bear fruit, they are removed, purged, or pruned so that they may fulfill their purpose in fruit-bearing.  (See John 15:2)  This purging, pruning or cleansing of a child of God is the result of sin.  The precious fruit that come from the vine must be used to produce more fruit, not to produce larger or stronger branches.  The Lord may use various methods to cleanse or purge us, as branches.  First, He may use Scripture to do so.  (See John 15:3)  Secondly, He may use specific circumstances to grow us in fruit-bearing capability.  Thirdly, He will employ His servants to help each other bear fruit, and lastly, He helps us to see how to “abide” in Him in order to bear fruit.  (See John 15:7-8)  The secret of fruit-bearing is that the branch abides in the vine; this is the closest of all unions.  If the branch is not in the vine then the sap of the vine does not circulate in the branch, and there can be no fruit.  If this condition continues, the branch withers and dies.  The secret then of fruit-bearing is to “abide in Him,” and “He in us…For without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5-6)  As we reflect upon what the Gate of Ephraim represents in our own lives, let us remember our call to bear fruit and reflect the Lord in all that we do!


The Prison Gate

Another gate mentioned in Nehemiah 12:39 is that named the Prison Gate.  This gate specifically depicts those who are under the power of Satan, imprisoned by Him.  In 1 John 5:19, we are told that “we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”  The devil has power to convince people that they can have everything if they worship him and are pulled into his influence, as we see with the devil tempting Jesus Himself in Luke 4:1-13.  Paul tells us, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded.”  (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)  This gate reminds us that as believers we must keep watch for Satan working in and around us.  In the holy city of Jerusalem, however, Christ reigns, and will protect his daughters and sons from the wicked influence of Satan.


Thank God many are hearing the Gospel from many other sources and are believing and living according to their knowledge and faith.  Works and ministries are thriving numerically and God is being honored while young people are active in Gospel outreach.  Many believers are gainfully employed as well.  In Jerusalem, “daily in the temple and in every house” the believers in the early church “did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”  (See Acts 5:42)  Thereby, the church grew and opposition arose.  The church in Antioch preached the Lord Jesus to all, and the result was that “the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.  (Acts 11:21)  They have a giving missionary church.  Returning to the description of the Fish Gate in Nehemiah 3:3-5, let us consider each men and their gifts in constructing this gate.  When we examine the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4, we see that there are often evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  We should ask ourselves, where are the evangelists among us today?  These fisherman in the rebuilt city left the city each day to go fishing through the Fish Gate and toiled into the black depth of the sea. As we consider what it means to be fisherman called to service as the first disciples were, let us be urged to be “fishers of men.”