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The City Gates and the Seat of the King

Posted by on Nov 13, 2012 in scripture | 6 comments

The City Gates and the Seat of the King

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?


6 Comments

  1. 11-13-2012

    I’m not sure, but maybe its because people need a king more than the king needs the people – so the king being at the gates would be fulfilling part of his function by being available to them where life is really happening, rather than at a removed place like the palace. He is at the center of daily reality with his subjects, and they can benefit from his wisdom and keep him informed. They will also be encouraged by his presence among them because he represents the glory of their kingdom.

  2. 11-13-2012

    John,

    I dunno. I think they needed each other, since they’re all people, and especially since it doesn’t seem that God didn’t want the people to desire a king like that did. But, that said, yes, the king was definitely seen as an important aspect of the community, and being among the people was important for that as well.

    -Alan

  3. 11-14-2012

    I wonder if it has anything to do with idea of being a Shepherd, with the associated imagery of tending the entrance to the fold. I imagine people would have been familiar with the way shepherds tended their flocks. Maybe it’s a stretch, but the king would have represented the way, the truth, and the life of the people.

  4. 11-14-2012

    That does seem like a stretch to me Tim, but maybe I am not stretchy enough! I would imagine that the reason was less allegorical and more practical. Weren’t most city gates fortified with a gatehouse (including an inner chamber) and often situated near the marketplace which was the legal and commercial focal point of the people? The city gates would thus make an excellent as well as natural gathering place for the community with their king. This is where people would do business, debate issues etc. I can imagine that it would be a good place for a street preacher, or in those days a prophet or rabbi

  5. 11-16-2012

    Could it be that the gates referred to were not the gates of the city but were the gates of the Palace compound. This would then indicate that the king was coming closer to the people. In all liklihood there would then be a special “throne” built into those gates.

  6. 11-17-2012

    Tim,

    The Old Testament does refer to “shepherds” among the people – primarily because they are not actually shepherding the people – but I don’t recall any connections between the kings or the city gates.

    John,

    I think the point that Levine (see the original post) was making was that the city gates were beside the marketplace, and thus where the people gathered regularly. Later, with the influence of Hellenistic culture, the marketplace shifted toward the center of the city.

    Jon,

    I suppose it’s possible that the 2 Samuel 19 passage refers to the gates of the palace. But, the other two passages above specifically refer to the gates of the city.

    -Alan

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