Nehemiah 3 Bible Study Meaning of the Gates of Jerusalem

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Nehemiah Chapter 3 Bible Study - Gates of Jerusalem

The Meaning of the Gates of Jerusalem: Gates of Spiritual Progression

by I Gordon

Spiritual meaning of the gates of JerusalemNehemiah 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.'

If you have been a Christian long enough you'll know that God likes to hide things. What I mean by that is He likes to hide important gems of truth in places that you wouldn't initially expect to find them... until you start to dig that is! Nehemiah chapter 3 is one of those places. On the surface it is a chapter discussing 10 different gates around Jerusalem and the specific builders that helped rebuild them. But that's just the surface. There is a spiritual meaning in these gates! When you lift the lid and look a little deeper you find that God has hidden within those gates significant spiritual truth for both an individual's Christian life, as well as His prophetic plan for the ages.1 Now that's quite a big call I know but stay with me! The order and position of each gate is also very specific and gives us insight into the journey that God takes each of His children on as well as the journey of the church as a whole until the return of Jesus Christ. So for each gate we will explore it's meaning for both the personal and prophetic significance. So what do the gates of Jerusalem symbolize? Let's have a look. The layout and positioning of these gates can be seen in the picture below.

Jerusalem's wall and gates in Nehemiah 3

The spiritual meaning of the gates of Jerusalem

As mentioned, the gates of Jerusalem have both a personal and prophetic meaning and I'll add comments on both for each gate below. 

Sheep Gate - Neh 3:1,32

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.

  • Personal aspect: 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.
  • Prophetic aspect: This gate points to the first coming of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He is the sacrifice foretold in this sheep gate. He is the door by which everyone must enter to be saved (John 10:7-9).

Fish Gate - Neh 3:3

The Fish gate was mentioned next. It was called the fish gate because the fisherman of Galilee would bring their catch in through this gate to be sold.

  • Personal aspect: For us, it speaks of evangelism as we have been called to be 'fishers of men' (Matt 4:19). 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.' So this is the next step in the Christian life.
  • Prophetic aspect:  This gate speaks of the church in the first century (the apostolic era) where believers on fire for God sacrificed all and went out to turn the world upside down with the message of Jesus Christ! And that is what happened. Starting with the Jews and then travelling out to the Gentiles in the then known world, the Apostles and disciples of the Lord truly were 'fishers of men' and the growth of Christianity spread rapidly during the first century.

Old Gate - Neh 3:6

Following from the Fish gate was the Old gate. Nehemiah is the only book in the Bible where it is called the Old gate and it may have been one of the original gates made.

  • Personal aspect: 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.' Too many Christian's today want something new. The latest teaching, the latest experience... Or they try to change truth to make it acceptable with what the world thinks is right 'today' (which may not be the same as what it thinks 'tomorrow'.) But the Ancient of Days calls us back to His long established ways that do not change and remain the same yesterday, today and forever.
  • Prophetic aspect:  Prophetically this speaks of the period of the Church Fathers around 100-325 AD (sometimes known as the Ante-Nicene era). This was a period where a defense of the faith and the truth of God were further established to counter attacks and persecution from unbelievers.

Valley Gate - Neh 3:13

Several valleys surround Jerusalem and this gate apparently opened out to the valley of Hinnom.

  • Personal aspect: 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.
  • Prophetic aspect:  In the history of the church the valley gate would speak of the humbling and suppression of the true church following on from when 'Christianity' was made a state religion under Constantine (~390AD). Pagan rituals were adapted and brought into the 'church' and spiritual regression ensued. This long period continued with the 'dark ages' and the further establishment of Roman Catholicism as the face of 'Christianity' to the world.

Dung (Refuse) Gate - Neh 3:14

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.

  • Personal aspect: 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 where the rubbish is removed and 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.
  • Prophetic aspect: The dung gate speaks of the rubbish that became established within the 'church' during the dark and medieval ages leading up to the reformation. Some of doctrinal 'rubbish' that needed removing included the teachings of indulgences, purgatory, salvation by various sacraments and works, exaltation of Mary as the 'Mother of God' and the man-made church hierarchy and papal authority. There was a lot to be removed!

Fountain Gate - Neh 3:15

The fountain gate is located near the pool of Siloah and was often used by the people for cleaning before proceeding on to the temple.

  • Personal aspect:  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 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. Jesus said: 'Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:38)
  • Prophetic aspect:  In church history, this speaks of the period beginning with the reformation (1517-1600). It was a time when the truth of God's word was established again as Bibles were printed for the common man to read and the key truth of salvation by grace through faith opened the fountains of salvation to flow again.

Water Gate - Neh 3:26

The Water Gate led down to the Gihon Spring which was located adjacent to the Kidron Valley

  • Personal aspect:  The next gate we arrive at is the water gate. The water gate is a picture of the word of God and its effect in our life. Eph 5:26 states '... having washed her by the water of the word.' Psalm 119:9 states that it is only through God's word that we can be clean. 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.
  • Prophetic aspect:  From 1600-1900 the word of God made a dramatic impact in the lives of many around the world. Some of the great men of God preached the word including John Bunyan in the time of the Puritans, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, D.L Moody among others. The preaching and cleansing of the word went forth into countries and continents previously starved of the word through men such as Hudson Taylor, Adoraim Judson and William Carey.

Horse Gate - Neh 3:28

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.

  • Personal aspect:  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. It is also interesting that the horse gate follows the water (word) gate for as the word goes forth the spiritual warfare is sure to increase!
  • Prophetic aspect:  Horses speak of speed and war. From the 1900's onwards both of these certainly apply! The speed of medical, technological, industrial and scientific advancements was beyond comparison. And yet with it came two world wars, countless wars between nations and constant ethnic unrest. For the church it has been one battle after another with the rise of the cults, Biblical criticism. Modernism and liberalism leading to an increasing apostasy within the church. The ultimate fulfilment prophetically of the horse gate will be in the Tribulation - the Day of the Lord as described in Revelation 6-19.

East Gate - Neh 3:29

The East gate is located on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives.

  • Personal aspect:  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).
  • Prophetic aspect:  Please take note how the last three gates (Horse, East and Inspection gate) in the picture are very close together because so are the events which they symbolise. Prophetically the east gate is very close to the horse gate because the day of God's wrath ends with the coming of the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem on earth. (See Zech chapter 14).

Inspection Gate - Neh 3:31

Also known as the Miphkad 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.

  • Personal aspect:  The final gate is the inspection gate. This gate speaks to us of the examination of our lives by the Lord. This occurs in this life as indicated by Paul in 1 Cor 4:4: 'For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.' The ultimate fulfilment is at the Bema seat of Christ (as spoken of in 1 Cor 3:10-15, 2 Cor 5:10) 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.
  • Prophetic aspect:  Following the return of the Lord there is a judgement of the nations that will occur as well. This is recorded in the sheep and the goats judgement in Mathew 25:31-46. From here he will separate all the people who survived the tribulation into those that can enter into His kingdom on earth (sheep) and those that are to go into everlasting destruction (the goats). And then the Lion of Judah shall reign in His Messianic Kingdom!

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.

Team Effort

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.

Everyone had something to offer

'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.

The work was voluntary

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.

God is a recorder of names

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.'


[1] I first wrote this study in 1998 (or thereabouts). When I studied this chapter I could see that there were personal and prophetic aspects to the gates and noted what I saw. What I didn't realize however is that all of the gates have both a prophetic and personal significance. Specifically, I didn't realize that in the gates there is a progression throughout church history from the first coming of the Lord to His return at the end of the age! Pretty cool stuff! So now (2014) I thought I'd update this study with the new insight that I have. A book that helped me see that all of the gates have prophetic significance in the plan of God for the ages was 'Messianic Psalms' by Norbert Lieth. This book (which I recommend) is not on this topic specifically but has a page or two about the gates of Jerusalem which helped extend my understanding on what God was prophetically showing and motivated me to 'dig' a little deeper in this chapter once again.


Image designed by Tim Shirey/Suzanne Peavy and used under the Creative Commons International License. © Child Evangelism Fellowship Europe