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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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Sha‛ar (שַׁעַר, Strong's #8179), “gate.” This word has cognates in Ugaritic, Arabic, Moabite, Aramaic, and Phoenician. Biblical Hebrew attests it about 370 times and in all periods.

Basically, this word represents a structure closing and enclosing a large opening through a wall, or a barrier through which people and things pass to an enclosed area. The “gate” of a city often was a fortified structure deeper than the wall. This is especially true of strong, wellfortified cities, as in the case of the first biblical appearance of the word: “And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom …” (Gen. 19:1). Within major cities there were usually strongly fortified citadels with “gates” (Neh. 2:8). Certain “gates” were only the thickness of a curtain: “And for the gate of the court [of the tabernacle] shall be a hanging of twenty cubits …” (Exod. 27:16). Later, the temple had large openings between its various courts: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord” (Jer. 7:2).

Exod. 32:26 speaks of an opening (“gate”) in the barrier surrounding Israel’s temporary camp at the foot of Sinai. Such camps often were enclosed with barriers of earth and/or rock. Ancient fortified cities had to find a source of water for periods of siege, and sometimes dams were built. Nah. 2:6 apparently refers to such a dam when it says: “The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved” (i.e., swept away). Both the underworld (Job 38:17) and heaven, the domain of God (Gen. 28:17), are pictured as cities with “gates.”

The “gates” of ancient cities sometimes enclosed city squares or were immediately in front of squares (2 Chron. 32:6). The entry way (2 Chron. 23:15) could be secured with heavy doors that were attached to firmly embedded pillars and reinforced by bars (Judg. 16:3; cf. Ps. 147:13; Neh. 3:3). Palaces could be citadels with strongly fortified “gates” large enough to have rooms over them. During siege, such rooms housed warriors. It was such a room into which David climbed and wept over the death of his son Absalom (2 Sam. 18:33). “Gates” had rooms to house guards (Ezek. 40:7). The rooms bordering the “gates” could also be used to store siege supplies (Neh. 12:25).

The “gates” were the place where local courts convened: “And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuseth …” (Deut. 25:7). The sentence sometimes was executed at the city “gates”: “And I will fan them with a fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy my people …” (Jer. 15:7). In this passage, all of the land of Israel is envisioned as a city at whose “gates” God gathers the offenders for trial, judgment, sentence, and punishment.

The phrase, “within the gates,” means “within the area enclosed.” Thus the sojourner who is “in your gates” is the foreigner who permanently lives in one of Israel’s towns (Exod. 20:10). In passages such as Deut. 12:15, this phrase means “wherever you live”: “Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates.…”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Gate'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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