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Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekly Snippet: the City Gates

In ancient times, cities and towns were walled communities with gates and a public square at those gates.  It was a crossroads for the whole town, so the whole town saw, heard, or at least knew about what had happened at the city gate. The place became symbolic of public discourse, governance, legal contracts, hospitality, and morality.

So, what went on at the city gates, happened in the sight of the whole town; therefore, what was publicly approved at the city gates was done with the approval of the town.  The "gates" became symbolic of the morality of the community.  The Bible includes dozens of examples of judgment on an entire town, specifically including the gates, because of what happened in the public square at the gate--I cite Sodom and Gibeah, to name a couple.

This symbol has powerful implications.  What happened at the city gates and in the public squares was parallel to the condition of the individual hearts in the community.  So the city gates, and the outside perception of the community, were the responsibility of the individual.  Disgrace on a town started with one person deciding to sin, and the rest of the town either joining in or trying to appease that person.  Honor for a town began when one person, followed by others, chose to do what is honorable and punish the wicked.  And it all played out at the city gate in the public square.

So when we read Proverbs 8, we should keep all of this in mind.  What is the voice of Wisdom, personified as a woman, doing at the city gate?  She is trying to turn hearts to follow her, so that she can rescue the whole city from destruction.  There is a condition to that salvation; the individual must hate evil and fear the Lord like she does (v. 7, 13).  But those who cannot submit to the counsel of Wisdom are like the people of Sodom and Gibeah, who wouldn't listen to the ones who tried to stop them from their sin--they hated wisdom and loved death (Genesis 19: 9; Judges 19: 25; Proverbs 8: 32-36).  That is what they chose, and that is what came to them.

Nowadays, most towns don't have a public square, or a city gate, but just about everyone is part of a group that is judged in just the same way--what happens in the sight of all, and how it is received (or tolerated) reflects the condition of the hearts in that group.  So my thought for today is this: When we Christians are gathered at our "city gate," can we hear the voice of Wisdom?  Are we listening to her? Do we take her more seriously than any other concern?  Are we drawing near to Wisdom's gate, or one of our own preference?

Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.  For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord.  But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8: 34-36 NIV 2010)

1 comments:

Kamal said...

Rachel -

Loved the post. You have brought good insight into the eight chapter of Proverbs. Here are few lines from your post that I think are conveying the message.

"What happened at the city gates and in the public squares was parallel to the condition of the individual hearts in the community. So the city gates, and the outside perception of the community, were the responsibility of the individual." &

"what happens in the sight of all, and how it is received (or tolerated) reflects the condition of the hearts in that group."

Now that we dont have a public place like city gates but we do have places which are public. Like stadiums, cinemas, universities, for that matter blogs and community sites. Our morality is seen at all these places and the degradation of our very hearts and our toleration towards sin is evident as well. Thank you for writing to us.

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