Saying and doing are often two different things: many are ready to say, “Let us rise up and build,’’ who sit and do nothing. Like the man who said this about his gardener, “He knows just when to plant, just when to fertilize, just when to prune and mow, he knows how to do everything right, but he won’t!
Nehemiah has inspected the wall. He has prepared and challenged the people, and they lost no time in getting busy with the enormous task. Matthew Henry says, “Let it never be said that we left that good work to be done tomorrow which we might as well have done today.”
It’s easy to pass by a chapter like this, like the “begats,” it is filled with hard to pronounce names, information that seems almost redundant, and chronology that seems meaningless.
But there are some vital principles to be learned from Nehemiah chapter 3.
I. The principle of first things first.
In this chapter we see the rebuilding of the ten different gates of the city, and the specific builders that repaired them. As we journey around the walls of Jerusalem and observe each gate, each one instructs us of a part of our life which needs to be watched, rebuilt, and repaired. That’s what Nehemiah calls us to do: repair those gates and help ourselves become all that God intends us to be. Please allow me to share some spiritual lessons from these ten gates.
The very first gate mentioned is the sheep gate. It was called the Sheep Gate because this was the gate through which the sheep and lambs that were used in the sacrifice entered. That is the perfect, God-inspired gate with which to begin, because the Sheep Gate looks forward to the sacrifice offering of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Everything begins from the offering of the Lamb! His death burial and resurrection brought to us forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Jesus is the “Door of the sheep.” Through the Lord Jesus we are saved from the power of death, sin and eternal damnation to eternal life. “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the Door of the Sheep…If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’” (John 10:7-11)
The Fish Gate (Verse 3). Fishermen brought fish through this gate to sell in the city. The spiritual meaning of the Fish Gate is, after the Sheep Gate redemption of the Lord Jesus, the fishing begins. We are to begin fishing for men; in other words, sharing the Gospel. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
The Old Gate (Verse 13). This speaks of the truth, the old paths. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls…” (Jeremiah 6:16). God’s Word never changes. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words remain forever” (Matthew 24:35 TLB). Once, having experienced the sheep gate, the new believer sees the need for experiencing truth. It seems that many Christian’s today want something new, the latest teaching, the latest experience...Or they try to change truth to make it acceptable with what the world thinks is right today. But the Ancient of Days calls us back to His long established ways that do not change and remain the same yesterday, today and forever.
The Valley Gate. (3:13). This speaks to us of trials. No one can completely escape all suffering in this life. But as believers in an all-powerful, loving God, we can face difficulties with confidence and assurance. He will protect and watch over us no matter what valleys He allows us to walk through. Valley experiences are used by the Lord for our personal growth, nothing really grows on the mountain tops, but it certainly does down in the valleys. It seems that for believers there are always valleys. I have been through the valley more times than I like to remember. What does God say, when you have reached the Valley Gate? “When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of springs where pools of blessing and refreshment collect after rains! They will grow constantly in strength, and each of them is invited to meet with the Lord in Zion” (Psalm 84:6,7 TLB).
The dung (refuse) Gate (Verse 14). Trash was removed from the city through the Dung Gate and burned in the Valley of Hinnom. The Dung Gate speaks of the uselessness of life when compared to our life in Christ, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8,9 NLT). And the absolute necessity of keeping our life clean of any refuse, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (. 1 John 1:9).
The Fountain Gate (3:15).
The fountain gate is located near the pool of Siloam where water flows and was often used by the people for cleansing before entering the temple. This is the same pool where Jesus said to the blind man, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” So he went and washed, and came back seeing” (John 9:7) This speaks to us of the living water of the Holy Spirit that cleanses our lives and empowers us for the Christian life. Jesus said: “For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in Me.” (He was speaking of the Holy Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in Him; but the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet returned to his glory in heaven)” (John 7:38,39 TLB).
The Water Gate (3:26).
This seventh gate, the water-gate, is mentioned five times: more often than any of the other gates. This gate apparently did not need any repair. In chapter 8 we find the Water Gate closely associated with the Word of God, ii is a picture of the Word of God and its effect in our lives. “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word…” (Ephesians 5:25,26). It is no coincidence that this gate was located next to the fountain gate as the two go together. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes the Word of God alive to us personally, allowing cleansing, encouragement and direction to take place in our life. God’s Word is, “Spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3).
The Horse Gate (3:28).
The horse gate was close to the King’s stables and the men of Jerusalem would ride their horses out of this gate to go to war. The Horse Gate speaks to us of warfare, as horses were used in battle and became a symbol of war. “Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for He judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on His head were many crowns. A name was written on Him that no one understood except Himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed Him on white horses. From His mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress” (Revelation 19:11-15).
Spiritual warfare is a requirement for every Christian because we are all in a battle whether we know it or not. It is also interesting that the Horse Gate follows the Water Gate (The Word) for as the Word goes forth the spiritual warfare is sure to increase! “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 5:12).
The East Gate (3:29).
“Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. And the Lord said to me, ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut’” (Ezekiel 44:1-3). The East Gate faces the Mount of Olives and we know that when Jesus returns He will return to this mount. “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:4). The East Gate then speaks of the return of Jesus Christ. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
The Miphkad (inspection) Gate (3:31).
This final gate opened to a road that led to the Miphkad, or “appointed place.” Here, people were numbered or registered for the temple tax. For Christians, it points to the “Bema,” a Greek word meaning “judgment seat,” which is a raised seat on which an official would sit as he decided on legal matters. Scripture tells of a time for believers only, where their works will be evaluated and rewards handed out. (No one is punished at the Bema). As we walk with the Lord, we are to keep our focus on our heavenly rewards rather than our earthly ones. This final gate also speaks to us of the examination of our lives by the Lord. “My conscience is clear, but even that isn’t final proof, it is the Lord Himself who must examine me and decide” (1 Corinthians 4:4 TLB). “Let a man examine himself: (1 Corinthians 11:28). “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Nehemiah’s account in chapter three ends with a second reference to the Sheep Gate (Nehemiah 3:32). As we’ve come full-circle around the city, we should remember that our Christian walk begins and ends with Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. The second mention also promises that Christ’s second coming will be to reign here on earth.
II. The principle of cooperation.
The job is so big and the conditions so adverse that it calls for a perfect organizational plan on the part of Nehemiah. He not only knew how to plan his work, he knew how to work his plan.
It was a coordinated effort. Every person must be in his place. For teamwork to work efficiently, each person needs to put aside their own individual needs so as to achieve the objective of the group.
“Aboard the Enterprise Spock was doing a very dangerous task to save the Enterprise and the lives of the crew, but it took his life (He would later come back). His famous line was, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Nehemiah’s team included people from all walks of life, and all age groups. There were priests, goldsmiths, perfumers, temple servants and merchants all working in unity on the wall.
Nehemiah thought it was important to include Shallum, who worked side by with his daughter, showing it was indeed a family affair.
•Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
•“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). •“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
•“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
•“Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building” (1 Corinthians 3:9).
III. The principle of commendation.
Everyone enjoys being recognized for the good they have accomplished even if they say, “Oh, you don’t have to thank me.” People enjoy being thanked and acknowledged for what they’ve done, maybe not publically but people want to know they have made a difference in their world. This is just a picture of Jesus welcoming us into heaven saying, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Nehemiah was an encourager! He mentions 75 people by name in this chapter, and in some cases he mentions their accomplishments. He also mentions 15 other groups, temple workers, and those from other cities.
There was Baruch, who “carefully repaired the other section” (3:20). He stood out among all the others, maybe he was a faster worker, or didn’t take lunch breaks, or came early and stayed late. Nehemiah singles him out as doing something special.
Conclusion: One commentator has said, “God is a great believer in putting names down.” That’s true. There are many chapters like this in the Scriptures. But that should really encourage us. It means that God has not forgotten our names either. He loves to record the names of obscure people. He may be writing your name down in some great book right now that others will read in times to come.
Ray Stedman wrote, “In the summoning of the people of Jerusalem to rebuild their walls and their gates, we learn that all the people were involved in the project. That portrays for us an important principle of the New Testament: that the ministry of the church belongs to everyone in the congregation. Often people think that only the pastor and the hired staff are to do the work of evangelizing, teaching, counseling, healing the hurts of others, and serving the needy. Because we have followed that practice far too long, the church is in trouble all over the world. But the ministry belongs to the whole congregation. I do not know any truth more important for the accomplishing of God's work than that. Yet in church after church, it is difficult to get people to understand that. You have the great privilege of reaching out in your own neighborhood and doing the work of the ministry there. Where churches do not understand that, one finds a very distorted condition. People have no ministry of their own and, therefore, little excitement or interest in life.”
The central teaching of this chapter is that, in putting lives back together, we need and must seek help from each other. We cannot do it alone. This chapter illustrates the New Testament truth, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5). We belong to each other and so we are to help one another and bear one another's burdens.
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also the New Living Translation (NLT); The Message (MSG); The Amplified Bible (AMP); and The Living Bible TLB).