Ancient gates in biblical days played a very important role. While most ancient cities were walled (some even had a double wall – e.g. Jericho, Lachish), special attention was paid to the gate structure. After all, with how fortified ancient walls were built, usually the most vulnerable part of any city was the gate area. This is one reason why gates were eventually built with six chambers!
Prior to the invention of the chariot (the “tank” of those days), gates were typically narrow. The Middle Bronze/Canaanite gate at Megiddo, for instance, was not only narrow but also had a zig-zag or turned entrance. This allowed for soldiers to position themselves at the high corners of the gates to defend an advancing enemy. The narrowness of the gate also restricted how many enemy soldiers could attack the gate at one time.
However with the advancement of a more sophisticated and wider 6-chamber gate, an advancing enemy now faced a new challenge. This challenge included facing numerous defenders strategically positioned both in and on the chambers of the gate. This meant that if the enemy penetrated the outer portion of the gate, he would face additional defense positions (sometimes even an inner set of gates), exposing him to crossfire from two, three or more positions. In other words, these chambers served as quarters for the regular garrisons dwelling in the towns as well as arsenals of weapons for the population in times of war.
Archaeologists have found such 6-chambered gates at cities such as Gezer, Lachish, Kh.Qeiyafa, Megiddo, Hazor, Samaria, and Dan. As we match the biblical record with what has been found archaeologically, it is interesting that when we are told that Solomon re-fortified the three cities of Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor (all located at strategic crossroads, see 1 Kings 9:15), 6-chamber gates have been found dating to His time. It is quite impressive to see these actual gates built by Solomon!
During peaceful times, gates were used as a place of community gathering. It was where judges and kings made decisions on behalf of the people (see Ruth 4 where Boaz met with the city elders at the gates of Bethlehem). It was a place of commerce and trading. It was where court was convened, and public announcements made. If you recall, it was also at the gate at Shiloh that the priest Eli waited for news regarding the ark and to hear how his sons fared in the battle (1 Samuel 4:18).
In Proverbs 1, wisdom is personified and the gate is mentioned: “At the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech” (verse 21). Words of wisdom were shared at the gate.
On every Israel tour, we see at least a few of these 6-chambered gates. At some cities these gates have been reconstructed, while at other cities only the bottom few levels of stones remain. At two cities that we’ll see on this upcoming tour next week (Gezer and Qeiyafa), a drainage channel was even built below the gate.
Seeing these gates helps us to re-live the Bible!