GATE: shaar. Masculine Noun. (Strong’s 8179).
Sounds like: sha’ahr
When I was a student at the University of York I fondly recall walking through the iron gates towards the Centre for Medieval Studies, housed in the King’s Manor, York, England. The building received its name because it housed British Kings while they stayed in York. King Henry VIII stayed there for 12 days in 1541 with his wife Catherine Howard, before she was accused of adultery and executed the following year. King Charles I used King’s Manor as his residence when he came to stay in York in 1633 and 1639. The main stone gate into the building was decorated with King Charles I Coat of Arms and it remains there today.
I loved walking through the iron gates and into the stone gate of King’s Manor. As I strolled through I felt like I was entering into the place where I belonged… where I could be exactly who I was: The Historian, diving into the past and researching my passion for the early medieval age. The gates were a passage-way into my happy place.
There’s this curious passage in the Psalms about God loving the gates of Zion:
His [God’s] foundation is in the holy mountains. YHWH loves the gates of Zion [ohev YHWH sha’areh Zion] more than all the other dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O City of God.
YHWH loved the gates of Zion because it was the entrance into the place He loved most on earth. The Temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion was the earthly happy place for God.
The Gates of Jerusalem were like connected links in a chain that surrounded the city. So much happened from the many gates of the city… locals and foreigners moved continually in and out of the vicinity, the needy begged by the gates (Acts 3:2), the military defended the gates (Isaiah 28:6) and watched daily events unfold. In many ways these gates reflected the health and well-being of Jerusalem city life. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians the status of the gates represented the status of the people that once lived inside the walls of the city:
Judah has gone into exile under affliction and under harsh servitude; She dwells among the nations, but she has found no rest; all her pursuers have overtaken her in the midst of distress.
The roads of Zion are in mourning because no one comes to the appointed feasts. All her gates [sh’areh’ha] are desolate; her priests are groaning, her virgins are afflicted, and she herself is bitter.
Nehemiah, who was raised in captivity, was one of those who mourned the fall of Jerusalem. At one point he reconnected with his brother and inquired about the Jews who had escaped the punishment of exile:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah: Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates [ush’a’rey’ha] are burned with fire.”
When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days…
The thought of the gates having been burned and the walls crumbled, consumed Nehemiah with grief. In his distress Nehemiah prayed to YHWH:
Nehemiah 1:5-6a, 8-9
I said, “I beseech You, O YHWH God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants…
…Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My Name to dwell.’”
This promise was the one thing the people could place their hope upon. It was the thought of coming back to Zion (Jerusalem) that sustained them. Nehemiah, cupbearer to Persian King Artaxerxes was, remarkably, given permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall and gates that surrounded the city.
In the 3rd chapter of Nehemiah, he named ten Gates in the reconstructed city:
- Sheep Gate
- Fish Gate
- Old Gate
- Valley Gate
- Refuse (Dung) Gate
- Fountain Gate
- Water Gate
- Horse Gate
- East Gate
- Inspection Gate
The gates that had once been burned to the ground were now open once again!
Open to me the gates of righteousness [sha’areh tsedeq]; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to YHWH. This is the gate of YHWH [ha-sha’ar la-YHWH]; the righteous will enter through it.
I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, and You have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is YHWH’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which YHWH has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This image of walls and gates volleyballs throughout scripture. We know that this reconstructed Jerusalem would have been the Jerusalem that Jesus would have experienced when he walked through the gates. Nehemiah’s Jerusalem was Jesus’ Jerusalem. But about 40 years after Jesus’ death those walls came tumbling down once again, this time at the hands of the Romans. Just after Yeshua’s triumphal entry, He foretold of the event:
When He [Jesus] approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
And so the walls and gates came tumbling down. Rome levelled Jerusalem and the Temple was never rebuilt. But the walls and gates were rebuilt. In the 1500’s Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire rebuilt the city walls with many gates, including the East Gate placed over top of the original East Gate. Isaiah spoke of a future time when the gates of Jerusalem, built by foreigners, would be open continually.
Isaiah 60:10-11,14-15; 18-19
“Foreigners will build up your walls, and their kings will minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, and in My favour I have had compassion on you. Your gates [sh’ara’ik] will be open continually; they will not be closed day or night, so that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession…
…The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, and all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of YHWH, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel…
…Violence will not be heard again in your land, nor devastation or destruction within your borders; But you will call your walls salvation, and your gates [u-sh’ara’ik] praise. No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have YHWH for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory.
After David and Solomon, history has recorded that it was foreigners who built up the city walls and gates of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was allowed to rebuild under the watchful eye of the Persian king… and after Rome levelled Jerusalem in 70 CE, it was the Ottoman Empire that rebuilt Jerusalem into what it resembles today.
One of the most fascinating prophecies in the Tanakh is about the East Gate (also known as the Golden Gate or Mercy Gate) in Jerusalem. Today the gate is sealed shut. It was bricked up by Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman, in 1541. At the time rumours were circling that the Jewish saviour called the Messiah, or “the Anointed One”, would return to Jerusalem and enter into the city by way of the East Gate. But Suleiman figured that if the Gate was sealed shut, this Messiah would not be able to enter. To really seal the deal an Islamic cemetery was placed in front of the Gate. For a Jew to walk through a cemetery it would make them unclean and a Jewish Messiah would certainly not enter triumphantly into the city in an unclean state. These things, surely, would stop the prophecy from coming to fulfillment.
The gate remains shut today, and the cemetery still stands. But what is incredibly ironic is that by trying to stop a Jewish Messiah, Suleiman actually helped fulfill the prophecy of the shut Gate. Where did this rumour of a Messiah through the East Gate come from?… It was from the Book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was given a vision by YHWH where he was taken to Jerusalem, accompanied by a man with the appearance of bronze (Ezekiel 40:3). This man, alongside Ezekiel, measured the gates of Jerusalem and the inner walls of Jerusalem; he measured the Temple and the inner sanctuary, and the alter; he measured the chambers on the temple mount and then led Ezekiel out of the city by way of the East Gate. At that point they measured the outer walls. After all the measuring was done, Ezekiel relayed the following incredible story:
Then he led me to the gate, the gate [ha-sha’ar, sha’ar] facing toward the east; and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. And it was like the appearance of the vision which I saw, like the vision which I saw when He came to destroy the city. And the visions were like the vision which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. And the glory of YHWH came into the house by the way of the gate [derek sha’ar] facing toward the east. And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of YHWH filled the house.
Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me. He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their harlotry and by the corpses of their kings when they die, by setting their threshold by My threshold and their door post beside My door post, with only the wall between Me and them. And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger. “Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever.”
This is quite the vision Ezekiel had. YHWH clearly stated His intention… within the walls of Jerusalem, behind the East Gate, YHWH would plant His feet and dwell there, amongst the people, forever. But the time for that had not yet come.
Then He brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces the east; and it was shut. YHWH said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for YHWH God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut. As for the prince, he shall sit in it as prince to eat bread before YHWH; he shall enter by way of the porch of the gate and shall go out by the same way.”
This was the prophecy Suleiman was concerned about. The East Gate at the time of Ezekiel’s vision was damaged by the Babylonian destruction. Ezekiel had been in exile for 25 years. To have a vision of the home he remembered would have been an emotional experience. This bronzed man had taken him to a rebuilt version of his old home, measured in its completeness. This beautiful city, divinely architected was to be the final home for YHWH on earth. But until He came to reign again, once and for all, the gate was to be shut. However, at Nehemiah’s instruction the gates were rebuilt and the East Gate was open.
When Yeshua (Jesus) came to Jerusalem for his final celebration of Passover most Biblical scholars believe he entered the East Gate in his triumphal entry. Why do they make that assumption?… because Jesus came from the place of Bethany and Bethphage (where the donkey was acquired) and down the Mount of Olives towards the Temple. The Gate directly across from these places was the East Gate, also known as the Golden Gate, or the Mercy Gate. This gate was also the one closest to the front of the Temple. When Jesus entered through this gate he would be immediately faced with the grandeur of the Temple of Jerusalem. Here is how the Gospel writer Mark described the event commonly referred to as the Triumphal Entry:
They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting:
“Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.
Jesus came through the gate, into the city, looked around the Temple, and then went back to Bethany. The most direct path back to Bethany was through the East Gate, recalling Ezekiel’s words: “…he shall enter by way of the porch of the gate and shall go out by the same way.”
The Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the descendant of King David, would enter through the East Gate and dwell there and “eat bread before YHWH”. That’s a powerful image and brings to mind all sorts of stories surrounding Jesus (such as the Bread of Life metaphor and the Last Supper). But what about the gate being shut? It was certainly open when Jesus was walking the planet.
Ezekiel’s prophecy wasn’t about the time of Jesus, it was about the final end to the story. This would be the Messiah’s return! This was the happy ending to the grand epic story of human redemption. Anybody living today knows that there is no happy ending… yet. We’re still in the midst of the story.
This is what Suleiman was concerned with… Jesus had long since passed into history, in his mind. The Jewish Messiah he was trying to stop was one yet to come. For many Messianic Jews and Christians, Ezekiel 44 refers to the Prince, the son of King YHWH, the Messiah Jesus who would come in the final days to restore Earth as God’s heavenly Kingdom.
If you permit me to take a nerdy foray into the world of literature, it seems to me that writer J.R.R. Tolkien was keenly aware of Biblical gate imagery. A more contemporary writer of epic adventures, Tolkien, weaved in the concept of a New Heaven/New Earth through the words of Tom Bombadil, from the Lord of the Rings. In facing a nefarious spiritual being he said:
Get out you old wight!… Come here never again! Leave your barrow empty! Lost and forgotten be, darker than darkness, where the gate stands forever shut until the world is mended.
The gate that stands shut until the world is mended aptly describes what the Ezekiel vision was trying to say. That final victory, when the new Heaven and the new Earth came to fruition, the very damaged world we know today would be healed. It would be mended and made new.
In another Tolkien legend embedded in the Lord of the Rings, an old man guarded the door at the end of the Path of the Dead and spoke curious words to Baldor, heir to the kingdom of Rohan. Immediately after he spoke the words the old man died. A year later, after traveling the Path of the Dead, Baldor disappeared. His skeleton was found, clawing at the doorway, by Aragorn before he faced the army of the dead.
What were these curious words? (For those only familiar with the movies, Legolas said the line at the gate before facing the cursed men of the White Mountains, leaving out the words “until the time comes”). Here is what the old man said to Baldor:
The way is shut. It was made by those who are dead and the dead keep it. Until the time comes, the way is shut.
This passage is very reminiscent of Ezekiel 44:2:
“This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for YHWH God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.”
Tolkien may have had the Islamic cemetery in mind when he said that the dead were the keepers of the way. And Aragorn, as the anointed archetype, was the one to open the way. The time had come for victory over evil! The king was to take the throne in the gated city of Gondor and rule in peace over all. But I nerdily digress, and am possibly wandering dangerously close to the World of Perhapses. Here’s what I do know: the Tanakh (Old Testament) puts hopeful emphasis on the gate being opened for all:
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
“We have a strong city; He sets up walls and ramparts for security. Open the gates [sh’arim], that the righteous nation may enter, the one that remains faithful. The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace ,because he trusts in You. Trust in YHWH forever, for in God [Yah] YHWH, we have an everlasting Rock.”
Thus says YHWH to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates [u-sh’arim] will not be shut:
“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, YHWH, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honour though you have not known Me.
I am YHWH, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am YHWH, and there is no other.”
The opened gates is a portent of great joy. It is a sign of YHWH’s everlasting love and devotion to humans in all moments of history:
Know that YHWH Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving [sh’arah b’towdah] and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For YHWH is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.
One of the gates of the city of Jerusalem was the Sheep Gate. Traditionally it is thought of as the gate that the sheep would travel through to become sacrificial offerings at the Temple, for Passover. The High Priest would stand at the door of the gate and usher in the sacrificial lambs. The prophet Micah compared the exiled Israelites to the sheep in God’s fold, going in and out of the gate:
“I will surely assemble all of you, Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel. I will put them together like sheep in the fold; like a flock in the midst of its pasture they will be noisy with men.
The breaker goes up before them; they break out, pass through the gate [sha’ar] and go out by it. So their king goes on before them, and YHWH [is] at their head.”
Jesus, like the High Priest at the Sheep Gate, said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Many translations use gate here, instead of door, but the point is the same. Jesus is the gate to Salvation! Enter through his gate and life will be abundant. Jesus was slaughtered like a Passover lamb. He died outside the gates of Jerusalem so that one day the righteous followers of YHWH could joyously and freely walk through the gates of Zion.
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
In his own revealed vision John wrote of the city which is to come:
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”
The 16th century gates of Jerusalem today stand proudly around the city, but archaeological digs are working around the clock to reveal the city beneath. The stones of Jerusalem are being removed and slowly Zion, of Biblical history, is being revealed.
Go through, go through the gates [ba-sh’arim], clear the way for the people; Build up, build up the highway, remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples.
Behold, YHWH has proclaimed to the end of the earth, say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your salvation comes; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.”
And they will call them, “The holy people, the redeemed of YHWH”; And you [Jerusalem] will be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”
We put our hope in Yeshua, whose name literally means salvation, that one day He will come through the East Gate of Jerusalem with the reward of abundant life. Jerusalem stands as the, not forsaken, home of YHWH, and one day we will enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Amen!
Next week: Vine
2 thoughts on “Shaar: The GATE is shut… until the time comes.”
Thanks for this – and for letting your nerdy side express itself. The Tolkien references were surprising and interesting.
I’ve come down the Mount of Olives, seen the cemetery to which you refer, and looked beyond the walls to where the temple once stood. Thanks for putting the varied pieces together for us. Great post.
Thanks Shayne… what an amazing experience it must have been to be in the Holy Land! It’s my dream to one day be able to afford to go to Israel!… Someday! 🙂