Nehemiah tells us of a difficult time in Israel’s history when the Children of Israel from the Southern Kingdom had been in captivity in Babylon for a good part of 70 years.
Nehemiah was one of the exiled Jews that had been taken to Babylon. Babylon was later captured by Persia and he became the cup bearer for the Persian king, Darius. He was the most trusted of the king’s servants and the text indicates that he was an advisor to the king.
King Darius of Persia, also known as Artaxerxes and as Ahasuerus, discovered a document left by a former king that authorized and supported rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem, so he sent Neheniah there to do that. This king even sent material, financial, and military help with Nehemiah and chapter 3 tells the story of the repairing of the gates and walls of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah’s first job was to inspect the city to see what repairs were needed and this he did secretly at night. The Jewish remnant in Jerusalem did the work and this chapter tells how the work of rebuilding was actually accomplished.
Ezra and Nehemiah are one book in the Hebrew Bible and are part of the same story. In fact, the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther basically all cover the same general time period in Israel's history. In our Bible they appear in reverse order time wise and overlap somewhat.
God had raised Esther, a Jewish maiden, to the throne of Persia as queen. It was her husband, King Ahasuerus of Persia, who is the Artaxerxes of the opening chapters of Nehemiah. This was the Gentile king who gave the command for Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to build up the wall and the gates of the city. That may account for a very interesting comment that appears when Nehemiah went to the king: Nehemiah 2:6 “Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), "How long will your journey be? And when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” That queen, I believe, was Queen Esther, the Jewish girl who had been raised to this influential position by the grace of God.
This is Jewish history so I don’t believe a Gentile queen in attendance would have been mentioned during the discussion of a matter concerning the Jews only.
Neither Artaxerxes nor Ahasuerus are the name of this king. That is what is so confusing. These are titles. Artaxerxes means "the great king" and Ahasuerus means "the venerable father." These were not the king's given name. And then, to add to the confusion, Artaxerxes in the book of Nehemiah is not the same Artaxerxes as the one in the book of Ezra. Now do I have you thoroughly confused?
At any rate, Esther, in the history of these people, was very likely the instrument God sent to the throne of Persia to move the heart of her husband, the king, to allow his Jewish cupbearer to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.
I want to make a comparison between repairing these gates and this wall to the life of the believer in Christ today. There are parallels here to situations we often face in our own lives and in the lives of other believers. Many situations arise where we are wise to seek help from other believers in Christ because there are times when we just can’t face the task alone.
This chapter illustrates the New Testament truth about fellowship in the body of Christ.
For example, I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and several other chapters teach that believers in Christ are part of a worldwide body made up of all true believers in Christ. We are at our best when we help one another and share each other's burdens. This is brought out in a very dramatic way in this chapter. Everyone in the body of Christ needs everyone else and new souls are only added to this body of Christ when we tell people the way of salvation and they accept Christ.
Gates in Scripture present ways of entering into other people's lives and of reaching out to others. Each gate in Jerusalem suggests a particular quality of life that we need. They are good points to remember when we attempt to repair the gates of our lives in order to be more fruitful and productive for the Lord, and the book of Nehemiah is a picture in Old Testament terms of someone restoring the walls and gates of their own life.
Nehemiah asked the people of Jerusalem to help each other rebuild the wall and the gates and many of them became involved in the project. Nehamiah 6:15 "So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days." Most of the population had committed to building the walls and the gates of their city and, amazingly, the job was done in an incredible time of 52 days. What a work ethic they displayed!
This brings out an important principle found in the New Testament: the work of the church in the world today is to tell people how to be saved from the wrath to come, and it is the responsibility of everyone in the congregation.
Nehemiah 3:1-2 “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel. Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.”
If we read the full text we see that everyone was involved. The priests began the work and the Levites joined them. Two men, each a ruler of half the city of Jerusalem, also worked on the walls. Even the ladies were directly involved, as Nehemiah 3:12 points out: “Shallum, son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.”
There were gate keepers, guards, farmers, even perfume makers involved in the work. I don't know what the perfume makers did. Their hands were probably pretty soft, but nevertheless they worked on the walls as did jewelers, pharmacists, merchants and temple servants. All of them, by the way, were volunteers. Nobody was conscripted to do this and no one was paid for his work. They were serving God out of sincere personal desire.
The list of volunteers is a long one. Some were residents of Jerusalem and some came from the surrounding cities of Jericho, Tekoa, Mizpah, and other outlying villages.
It’s like that in the body of Christ. We are all engaged in the ministry. I don’t know any truth more important for the accomplishing of God's work than that. We all have the privilege of reaching out in our own area and doing the work of the ministry there.
It seems unusual how these all worked together. All through this account we find the phrase, "next to him" worked so and so, and others worked "next to them."
Nehemiah wrote about both the workers and the shirkers. There were some shirkers but they were not from the city of Jerusalem! Verse 5 tells about the men of Tekoa: "their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of the Lord.”
But the rest all worked and worked together. Nehemiah had organized this so that each one had a section of the wall or a gate assigned to him. And many of them went beyond the work assigned them. For instance, look at Verse 13: “Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Refuse Gate.”
Another thing, they cooperated in this as they worked to improve their home neighborhood. Look at Verse 10: “Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs in front of his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabniah made repairs. Verse 23 tells of certain men who "made repairs in front of their house," and Azariah "made repairs beside his house." Verse 30 says “After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah made repairs in front of his dwelling.”
This is also God's design for His people. He has placed each one of us where he wants us to be. Our neighborhood, our job, or our home is where our ministry should be. That’s why God put us there. In John 15, Jesus told his disciples that He had appointed them to the place where He wanted them to be. It’s neat how beautifully this is brought out when we read how these people were repairing not just their house but also their neighborhood.
Another principle found here is that each one finished his assigned task. No one failed, except the "nobles" who were not from Jerusalem. They were from the city of Tekoa and didn’t want to get their hands dirty. Sorry to say, we have all known people of that description.
I want to look a little more in detail at the work they were doing, stressing that building a wall and restoring gates can be seen as pictures of lives that are being rebuilt from ruin.
Each of these gates has a particular meaning and it is found in the name of the gate. I know some people have trouble with this kind of an approach that a Biblical name has a special meaning but the Apostle Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 10:11. “Now all these things happened to them as examples.”
The primary law of Scripture is that Scripture interprets itself. Symbols and word pictures have been used extensively elsewhere in Scripture and I believe that applies here.
What does it mean, then, to rebuild the walls of your life? Well, Nehemiah is the account of the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is a symbol of the city of God, God's dwelling place and the center of life for the world. In the life of an individual, rebuilding the walls would be a picture of re-establishing the spiritual strength of that life. We have all met people whose defenses have crumbled away. They have become human derelicts, drifting up and down the streets of our cities and towns, absolutely hopeless and helpless. But God in His grace frequently reaches down to some of those people and brings them out to rebuild their walls. What we see here is a picture of the way the walls of any life, of any local church, of any community, of any nation, can be rebuilt to strength and power and purpose again.
The book of Nehemiah really is divided into two sections. The first six chapters cover the reconstruction of the wall and gates while chapters 7 through 13 deal with the re-instruction of the people. Let’s go back to the beginning again and look at the gates.
First of all is the Sheep Gate.
Nehemiah 3:1 "Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel."
The sheep were brought into the city to be sacrificed at the altar through this gate. The Sheep Gate, of course, speaks of the Lamb of God whose blood was shed on the cross for us, and it reveals the principle of the cross. That’s the starting place for spiritual strength in our life. We have to recognize the principle of the cross -- the fact that God will be moving in our life to utterly cancel out our own ego, our own plans, and our own self-interest. The cross is that instrument in God's program that puts our ego to death and it’s where we begin building the strength of our faith.
The next gate is the Fish Gate.
Verses 2-5 "Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built. 3. Also the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. 4. And next to them Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, made repairs. Next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs. Next to them Zadok the son of Baana made repairs. 5. Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord."
The name "Fish Gate" makes me think of what the Lord said to his disciples. “And Jesus said unto them, Come after me, and I will make you to fishers of men.”(Mark 1:17)
The Lord Jesus also stated that every Christian is to be a witness for him. I think this fish gate represents the witness of every Christian.
If this gate is broken down, we’ll find Satan entering through this gate again and again. If we don’t witness for Christ, if we never tell our loved ones and our friends how to be saved, this gate is broken down and our Fish Gate needs to be rebuilt.
The next gate is the Old Gate.
Verse 6 "Moreover Jehoiada 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 bars."
This gate symbolizes and represents truth. Truth is always old, and everything new rests on old things. It has often been said concerning the Scriptures, “If it’s true it’s not new, and if it’s new it’s not true.” And that’s true!
In our modern world with its modern thinking, truth is being forsaken. What the church has stood for, men are rapidly throwing away. They say we don't need these things anymore. But if the old truth goes, walls crumble and the enemy gains access to our soul.
God’s truth will never change. It was true when it was uttered.
It was true a hundred thousand years before it was uttered. And it will be true a hundred thousand years from now. It never changes. We need to rebuild the old gates of truth.
The next gate is the Valley Gate.
Verse 13. Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Refuse Gate."
You can see what it suggests. It’s in a valley and that portrays lowliness. Lowliness of mind and humbleness of heart go along with humility. God has said that He is against the pride of men. He looks for the lowly, the humble, the contrite, and those who have learned that they are not indispensable. Only those who have learned to have an honest opinion of themselves are able to have a high opinion of their God.
There are also valleys in our lives when we need comfort and consolation for the low times we all experience. That’s another reason this Valley Gate often needs repairs.
Next was the Refuse gate. (Dung Gate)
Verse 14 "Malchijah the son of Rechab, leader of the district of Beth Haccerem, repaired the Refuse Gate; he built it and hung its doors with its bolts and bars."
The Refuse Gate led to the Hinnom Valley where all sorts of garbage, refuse, and filth were taken and burned. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul warned; "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
When we recognize our sins and confess them to God, that honest confession gets rid of the garbage we seem to pick up from the world daily. Our body and mind alike are to be preserved in purity for the glory of God.
The Fountain Gate is next.
Verse 15 "Shallun the son of Col-Hozeh, leader of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate; he built it, covered it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired the wall of the Pool of Shelah by the King's Garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the City of David."
That name “Fountain Gate” brings to mind the words of the Lord Jesus to the woman at the well, “the water that I shall give (you) shall be a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14) The Holy Spirit is the well within the believer and the Holy Spirit of God in our lives enables us to obey His will and His word.
The next gate is the Water Gate.
Verse 26 "Moreover the Nethinim who dwelt in Ophel made repairs as far as the place in front of the Water Gate toward the east, and on the projecting tower."
Water is a symbol of the word of God. The interesting thing about this Water Gate is that it didn’t need to be repaired! Evidently it was in the only part of the wall that was still standing. The Nethinim were servants entrusted to maintain the Water Gate and they evidently had done so.
It mentions the people who lived by it, but it doesn't mention it needing repair.
Those who live by the Word of God find it never breaks down or needs repair. The word of God is everlasting. It doesn't need to be repaired. It simply needs regular use.
Next is the Horse Gate.
Verse 28 "Beyond the Horse Gate the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house." The horse in scripture is a symbol of battle, or in this case, the need to join the battle against the forces of darkness. Ephesians 6:12 "We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers...the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." This is the battle we are in as Christians. We face the forces of Satan in this world every hour of every day.
Then comes the East Gate.
Verse 29 "After him Shemaiah the son of Shechaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, made repairs." The Eastern Gate has a long history in Israel. Ezekiel records the Spirit of God departing from Israel by way of the Eastern Gate and that the Messiah will return through that same gate for His 1000 year reign. Sadly, that gate is closed today. It’s a solid wall called the "Wailing Wall."
This gate faced the rising sun and reminds the believer in Christ that Jesus is the Sun of Righteousness.
Jesus will not come for His bride, the church, through a gate. He will meet her in the air. What a comforting thought for the believer when we fall under the pessimistic spirit of this age and are faced by the otherwise hopelessness of our time.
The 10th gate is called the Gate Miphkad.
This is in the King James translation and also many others.
Verse 31 "After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the Nethinim and of the merchants, in front of the Miphkad Gate, and as far as the upper room at the corner."
“Miphkad” is also translated as the Gate of Judgment. It’s likely that disputes were tried and judgment declared here.
When the Lord comes for the Church, all believers will appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account of our service for Him.
Our salvation is secure but our works will be judged. The works done in sincere service for Him will be rewarded and those done for reward here on earth will be burned up. We need to evaluate our service for Christ regularly and our motives for what we do.
The final judgment for the unsaved will come at the Great White Throne judgment where all verdicts will be guilty and eternal hell is the reward.
This brings us full circle back to the Sheep Gate,
the gate of the cross.
It seems God would not end this chapter
without reminding us of the cross.
The cross is before us for all eternity.
Christ’s atoning death on that cross
will be the theme of our praises to God throughout all eternity.
God is teaching the believer in Jesus Christ
through the book of Nehemiah
what we need to strengthen the walls and gates of our lives
and to enable us to serve Him more fully.