Gates are mentioned often in Scripture, and gatekeepers were an important part of maintaining order in ancient societies. Gatekeepers were guards stationed for protection at various kinds of gates, which could be city gates, palace gates, or temple gates. Ancient cities had high, thick walls around them to keep out wild beasts and invading armies (Joshua 7:5; Judges 5:8; Nehemiah 12:30). Heavy gates were set within those walls to allow entrance and exit. A gatekeeper had to be trustworthy and alert for any signs of trouble. A gatekeeper lax in his duties could bring ruin upon an entire civilization, so the idea of gatekeeping implies alertness and security. The keeper of the gates in Psalm 141:3 is none other than the Lord Himself, as He guards our mouths, preventing us from unwise speech.
David and Samuel appointed 212 gatekeepers for “positions of trust” in guarding the temple of the Lord (1 Chronicles 9:22), and those so appointed rotated through week-long assignments (verse 25). Verses 26–29 speak of the four principal gatekeepers, “who . . . were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning. Some of them were in charge of the articles used in the temple service; they counted them when they were brought in and when they were taken out. Others were assigned to take care of the furnishings and all the other articles of the sanctuary, as well as the special flour and wine, and the olive oil, incense and spices.” Temple gatekeepers were in charge of who went in and who went out. They ensured order and reverence for God’s house.
Ezra records that 139 gatekeepers made the trip from Babylon to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:42). When Nehemiah had finished the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem, gatekeepers were some of the first positions he appointed (Nehemiah 7:1). This is significant because, before a city can conduct business, it must be protected from outside invaders. The Lord’s house required gatekeepers for the same reason. Before God’s business could be conducted properly, only the prescribed priests and other designated servants could be allowed through the gates. God had given clear commands about temple business (Exodus 25:8–9; cf. Hebrews 9:1–7). Gatekeepers were part of that holy business, and their positions were considered sacred (1 Chronicles 9:26; Nehemiah 12:47).
We can easily see the parallel for our own lives. Our conscience, the fear of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit are “gatekeepers” for our hearts. “Through the fear of the LORD evil is avoided” (Proverbs 16:6). The Spirit desires our sanctification, giving us the power to repel sin. When temptation comes knocking at our gate, the Holy Spirit nudges our Scripture-informed conscience: “That’s dangerous. Don’t go there.” The divine Gatekeeper acts on our behalf to keep invaders from destroying us.
John Bunyan illustrates the need for a spiritual “gatekeeper” in his book The Holy War. In this allegory, Bunyan likens humanity to a city: “This famous town of Mansoul had five gates, in at which to come, out of which to go; and these were . . . impregnable, and such as could never be opened nor forced but by the will and leave of those within. The names of the gates were these: Ear-gate, Eye-gate, Mouth-gate, Nose-gate, and Feel-gate” (chapter 1, p. 62–63). In other words, the five senses are the “gates” by which the human soul interacts with the world through the physical body. These gates must be guarded, and, in Bunyan’s allegory, Mr. Godly-Fear is just the man to do it. Godly-Fear was a trustworthy man of “courage, conduct, and valour,” and the enemy attacked Mansoul in vain, as long as Godly-Fear was the gatekeeper (chapter 15, p. 285).
When we ignore our Gatekeeper, we put ourselves and those we love in jeopardy. But when we, in godly fear, heed the warnings of the Word and the Holy Spirit, we are safe. Our hearts and lives are protected from Satan’s invasive schemes (Ephesians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 2:11).