Week Two Nehemiah 2:9-3:32
Last week, we met Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer; a position of high-rank and trustworthiness. Nehemiah’s brother came from Judah to visit and the first thing Nehemiah asked was how the Jews that had returned to Jerusalem were doing. His brother tells him that they are greatly distressed and that the walls surrounding Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates were still destroyed since they had been burned with fire during the invasion. Upon hearing this news, Nehemiah was grieved. He spent the next four months praying, weeping, fasting over the condition of his ancestral home even though it’s likely he had never been there. What was important to him was that his ancestors were buried there and that would have made it sacred land to him; therefore, the walls lying in rubble surrounding the city concerned him. The non-existence of city walls left its people vulnerable to not only danger and threats but also shame. The reconstruction of the city’s wall also symbolized God’s blessing on His chosen people, as well as providing protection from their enemies and attackers.
There’s great symbolism in walls.
-The Berlin Wall is one that we recognize as a symbol of the Cold War because it literally divided the East and the West. One sided was controlled by the United States and the other fell under the power of the Soviet Union.
– The Great Wall of China is another example. It represents not only the unification of China but at the same time, signifies their separation from the rest of the world.
-The Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall as we tend to know it, is considered to be a holy place by the Jews. Many Orthodox Jews write out their prayers on slips of paper and insert them into cracks in the wall; others visit to mourn the loss of their temple
Three walls of which there is great symbolism to those with a tie to them. So for us, it’s becoming clearer why the walls being in ruins is affecting Nehemiah the way it did. Although the city had been re-established, the temple had been built at the direction of Zerubbabel and the law had been re-introduced to the Jews by Ezra, the Jews had not taken the time or the resources to protect themselves from enemies. Nehemiah likely was seeing that God’s chosen people were very vulnerable to infiltration from those who wished to do them harm. And as a result, he sets off on his God-directed journey.
Nehemiah 2:9 “S-10 So I went to the governors of the area west of the Euphrates River and gave them the letters from the king. The king had also sent army officers and soldiers on horses with me. Sanballat from Horon and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about what I was doing. They were very upset and angry that someone had come to help the Israelites.” (These two were from neighboring areas and likely were frequent bullies to the Jews who lived in the unprotected area.)
Nehemiah 2:9-20 “I went to Jerusalem and stayed there three days. Then at night I started out with a few men. I had not said anything to anyone about what my God had put on my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no horses with me except the horse I was riding. While it was dark I went out through the Valley Gate. I rode toward the Dragon Well and the Gate of the Ash Piles. I was inspecting the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down and the gates in the wall that had been burned with fire. Then I rode on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool. As I got close, I could see there was not enough room for my horse to get through. So I went up the valley in the dark, inspecting the wall. Finally, I turned back and went back in through the Valley Gate. The officials and important Israelites didn’t know where I had gone. They didn’t know what I was doing. I had not yet said anything to the Jews, the priests, the king’s family, the officials, or any of the other people who would be doing the work.
Then I said to them, ‘You can see the trouble we have here: Jerusalem is a pile of ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let’s rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Then we will not be ashamed anymore.’
I also told them that my God had been kind to me. I told them what the king had said to me. Then they answered, ‘Let’s start to work, now!’ So we began this good work. But Sanballat from Horon, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard that we were building again. They made fun of us in a very ugly way. They said, ‘What are you doing? Are you turning against the king?’
But this is what I said to them: ‘The God of heaven will help us succeed. We are God’s servants and we will rebuild this city. You cannot help us in this work because none of your family lived here in Jerusalem. You don’t own any of this land, and you have no right to be in this place.’ “
When Nehemiah arrives, he doesn’t share his mission with anyone. He inspects the ruins at night and makes plans. He assesses the situation then he addresses the people. It’s critical to Nehemiah that this building not only get started, but also that it is completed. We’ve all seen houses, or commercial buildings or even entire subdivisions or strip malls that are started, but then something happens and the project is abandoned. It becomes an eye sore because no one cuts the grass or keeps us the property. How often do we have the best of intentions but we’re not prepared or passionate enough to finish what we started? We do it all the time, even without realizing it. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Luke 14:28-30
If you know people who always have a new hobby, it’s almost humorous. They invest in golf clubs and golf attire and that passion lasts for a month or so. They buy up candle making supplies and that year everybody gets a candle for Christmas! They “burn out” on the candle idea and take up tennis. So they go out and buy the necessary equipment. When their love for tennis fades, their new passion is cross-stitch, bike riding, gardening, whatever. They never fully invest in one thing for too long because they aren’t truly passionate about it. But that’s not the case with Nehemiah. Remember he’s walked away from his comfortable life. He’s put his safety on the line. He’s poking the bee’s nest all for the sake of fortifying God’s people.
Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is a list of who did what. It’s full of names and gate names and honestly, to read it out loud would probably cause the majority of you to either doze off and start compiling a grocery list or a to-do list in your head all while nodding like you’re really listening. So, I’m just going to give a summation of what happens and throw in a few notable verses.
In chapter 3, there are dozens of people named who take part in this building of the wall. There were 10 gates, each for a different purpose. This chapter reads a lot like the genealogy chapters. The text seems a bit monotonous and except for a few exceptions, doesn’t seem to be rich in illustration for our purposes today. But I do want to cover the different gates.
- Sheep Gate – People would bring their lambs and sheep to the Temple for the sacrifices through this gate.
- Fish Gate – It was the closest gate to the fish market, and it is believed that fishermen from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, Jewish and Syrian alike, used this gate to bring fish to market.
- Old Gate – an original gate that may have had a specific purpose at one time, but was eventually replaced
- Valley Gate – There were several valleys surrounding Jerusalem and this gate apparently opened out to the valley of Hinnom.
- Refuse or Dung Gate – All of Jerusalem’s refuse and rubbish was taken out through the dung gate, down to the valley of Hinnom, where it would be burned.
- Fountain Gate -The fountain gate is located near the pool of Siloam and was often used by the people for cleaning before proceeding on to the temple.
- Water Gate – The Water Gate led down to the Gihon Spring which was located adjacent to the Kidron Valley.
- Horse Gate – The horse gate was close to the King’s stables and the men of Jerusalem would ride their horses out of this gate to war.
- East Gate – The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem is also called the Golden Gate or the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:2). In Hebrew, it is Sha’ar Harahamim, the “Gate of Mercy.
- Miphkad or Inspection Gate – The word in Hebrew has a military connection and according to tradition it was at this gate that David would meet his troops to inspect them.
But I want to go over the gates again, but this time, let’s examine their symbolism.
- Sheep Gate – The Sheep Gate represents the starting point for every Believer. Everything in our spiritual life begins with the offering of the Lamb of God who is Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, this is also the only gate that is consecrated which signifies that it is holy.
- Fish Gate – The spiritual meaning of the Fish Gate is that after our redemption we begin to follow Jesus, making us, his disciples, ‘fishers of men’.
- Old Gate – The old Gate speaks to us of the old ways of truth. As new Christians, we begin to see the need to change from our old ways to our new ways. Jeremiah 6:16 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. ‘ “
- Valley Gate – The valley gate speaks to us of humbling and trials – valley type experiences used by the Lord for our personal growth. There are the tough times we experience but also the times in which we grow and mature the most.
- Refuge or Dung Gate – This is where the rubbish, the trash, the filth is removed from our lives. 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.
- Fountain Gate – 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 through the dung gate, true faith comes forth and the fountains begin to flow quite quickly! 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 – The water gate is a picture of the Word of God and its effect in our life. 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. Interestingly, the water gate is the only gate that no repairs are mentioned. It seems as if the water gate didn’t need any repairs. The word of God never breaks down. It doesn’t need to be repaired. It simply needs to be reinhabited.
- Horse Gate – The horse gate speaks to us of warfare as horses were used in battle and became a symbol of war.
- East Gate – The Eastern Gate was sealed shut in AD 1540–41 by order of Suleiman the Magnificent, a sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Ezekiel 44:1-2 says this: “The man then brought me back toward the sanctuary’s outer gate that faced east, and it was closed. The Lord said to me, ‘This gate will remain closed. It will not be opened, and no one will enter through it, because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. Therefore it will remain closed.’ “
Later in Ezekiel 46:12 there is reference to the “prince” and we are told that the gate will be opened. This is seen as Christ Himself at the second coming—the Prince of Peace will return to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4) and enter Jerusalem by way of the re-opened Eastern Gate. For the Christian life today, the Eastern Gate shows us of our need to live with this hope and to long for His return.
10. Miphkad or Inspection Gate – This gate speaks to us of the examination of our lives by the Lord. 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.
An interesting note about the gates: The first gate mentioned is the Sheep Gate. 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 in verse 32 completing the full circle. That is because everything in our spiritual journey begins and ends with Jesus’ death on the cross.
It’s clever how these gates symbolize the life of a Christian, our lives. But what does this necessarily mean for us? All along the way of these gates that have been burned and torn down is a wall that is in ruins. A non-existent wall that allows enemies to come in and destroy. Although these dozens of people worked together, most of them started rebuilding the wall outside their own home first. Their goal was to protect their city, but they wanted to make sure that their own home had a solid wall of protection around it. I remember the first time I heard that flight attendants will tell people to put their own oxygen mask on first before trying to help others. My immediate thought was “how selfish!” But it makes perfectly good sense. Before we can assist others, we’ve got to take care of ourselves and our own life. 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 need to make sure that who were are at home, at church, at work, at the gym, at the grocery store is one in the same. If we have a different persona based on our surroundings, then perhaps we’ve not fully invested in protecting ourselves from the world.
I think all of us would agree that we live in a broken world. The world’s walls of protection from the enemy lie in ruins. They’re simply rubble. There’s no need to use a gate when there are no walls. Individually, we need to work together rebuilding those walls in our own life and then corporately, we need to fortify our protection against the evil one. A wall is only as strong as its weakest point.
So ask yourself. Is there a wall in your life that’s not sturdy or maybe it’s no longer even standing? Perhaps that wall was knocked down and trampled on so many times by the enemy that it’s merely pebbles. Maybe it’s a wall of caring. Maybe you see others suffering, going through difficult times or wrestling with life itself, but you do nothing because either they deserve what is happening or you’re just too busy with your own life to care. Maybe it’s a wall of humility. We come to church each week, we do our Bible study, we say our prayers, we live a clean and respectable life and we use others as a measuring tool to determine just how good and righteous we are. And, as a result, we fail to notice the log in our own eye. Maybe it’s a wall of obedience and dedication. We start each day with the best of intentions to make God smile, to apply His Word to our life and to dedicate ourselves to be a light in this dark world. But then we get out of bed, encounter our first grumpy person of the day and it all goes downhill from there. I can’t imagine that any of us can’t identify a wall in our life that needs repairing.
Proverbs 25:28 “A person who does not control himself is like a city whose walls have been broken down.”