As I explained in my post “The Church, the Synagogue, and the City Gates,” at least one scholar has concluded that the Jewish synagogue finds its origin in the community activities related to the “city gates” instead of the worship activities related to the temple. Since the early followers of Jesus Christ were greatly influenced by their experiences as part of the first century synagogue, understanding how the synagogue began and what types of activities happened as part of the synagogue can help us also understand the early church.
The gates of various cities are mentioned many times in Scripture. Often, people are said to pass into or out of the gates. Thus, the gates simply represent access to a city. In other passages, gates are said to be barred or fortified, representing the protection or defense of the city.
In this post, I want to point out several Old Testament passages in which the city gates are places where the king sat and ruled the people. Now, after David, there was a palace (house) in Jerusalem which also included a throne. However, the kings of Israel and Judah occasionally spent time seated on their thrones at the gates of the city. This is seen both literally and figuratively in the Old Testament.
Here are a few passages:
Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king. (2 Samuel 19:8 ESV)
Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and all the prophets were prophesying before them. (1 Kings 22:10 ESV)
For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. (Jeremiah 1:15 ESV)
While there is not much information given in those passages about the purpose of the king sitting on his throne in the gate, at least one of the passages (2 Samuel 19:8) indicates that the people had direct access to the king while he was seated in the gate. This was apparently so that the king could rule the people directly (by solving problems or answering questions).
In the Jeremiah prophesy, it also looks like a king sitting in the gates indicates control of the city. Of course, this was not a positive prophecy for the Jews, since he was prophesying that foreign kings would set up thrones in the gates of their cities.
By the way, the city gates were important in the life of the community before first king of Israel. It’s interesting that we see the kings continue to use the importance of the city gates in their rule. I suppose it would be easy for the kings to say that they people must always come to the palace. Instead, they decided that the city gates were important enough to the people and to the community that they (at times) spent time among the people at the city gates.
Why do you think the kings would continue to sit on their throne at the city gates? Why do you think this would be important for the community?