Besides being part of a city’s protection against invaders, city gates were places of central activity in biblical times. It was at the city gates that important business transactions were made, court was convened, and public announcements were heralded. Accordingly, it is natural that the Bible frequently speaks of “sitting in the gate” or of the activities that took place at the gate. In Proverbs 1, wisdom is personified: “At the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech” (verse 21). To spread her words to the maximum number of people, Wisdom took to the gates.
The first mention of a city gate is found in Genesis 19:1. It was at the gate of Sodom that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, greeted the angelic visitors to his city. Lot was there with other leading men of the city, either discussing the day’s issues or engaging in important civic business.
In the Law of Moses, parents of a rebellious son were told to bring him to the city gate, where the elders would examine the evidence and pass judgment (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). This affirms that the city gate was central to community action.
Another important example is found in the book of Ruth. In Ruth 4:1-11, Boaz officially claimed the position of kinsman-redeemer by meeting with the city elders at the gate of Bethlehem. There, the legal matters related to his marriage to Ruth were settled.
As Israel combatted the Philistines, the priest Eli waited at the city gate for news regarding the ark and to hear how his sons fared in the battle (1 Samuel 4:18).
When King David ruled Israel, he stood before his troops to give instructions from the city gate (2 Samuel 18:1-5). After his son Absalom died, David mourned but eventually returned to the city gate along with his people (2 Samuel 19:1-8). The king’s appearance at the gate signaled that the mourning was over, and the king was once again attending to the business of governing.
The city gate was important in other ancient cultures, as well. Esther 2:5-8 records that some of the king’s servants plotted at the king’s gate to murder him. Mordecai, a leading Jew in Persia, heard the plot and reported it to Esther, who gave the news to the king (Esther 2:19-23). The Persian court officials were identified as being “at the king’s gate” (3:3).
To control the gates of one’s enemies was to conquer their city. Part of Abraham’s blessing from the Lord was the promise that “your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17).
When Jesus promised to build His Church, He said, “The gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). An understanding of the biblical implications of “gates” helps us interpret Jesus’ words. Since a gate was a place where rulers met and counsel was given, Jesus was saying that all the evil plans of Satan himself would never defeat the Church.