This morning's second lesson from St John's Gospel brought this image to mind, taken at Pembrokeshire sheep dog trials a couple of summers ago.
'Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.' (John 10:7)
"I came that they may have life, and have it in abundance"(John 10:10)
Here it's just a test of skill for shepherd and dog to persuade timid creatures to enter and stay in a small enclosure. It's one aspect of what's needed to care for domestic animals and protect them from predators throughout the world.
From early times larger human settlements were built inside protective enclosures with a gate to control comings and goings. The Promised Land was seen by nomadic tent dwelling Israelite herders looking in from the outside like this
"All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages." (Deut 3:5)
In blessing Abraham for his fidelity and obedience, God declares
"In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen 22:17)
The gate is synonymous with the city it protects. Whoever possessed the gate controlled the city.
The gate, or the open area outside it, is a place where citizens gather to socialise, hear public announcements, administer justice, do deals. It is a public court where the king can meet both inhabitants and visitors.
"Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment." (Deut 16:18)
Traders gather here and markets take place. Elisha prophesies the resumption of economic activity after a famine in these words
"This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria." (2 Kings 7:1)
For the safety of inhabitatants gates were closed and guarded between dusk and dawn, as the Israelite spies discovered when visiting Jericho, one of the most ancient cities of the Mediterranean world, already established over 3,000 years earlier.
"At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left." (Josh 2:5)
When a city was sacked in battle, or died from economic and social decline, its gates and walls were the casualty, as the returning exiles from Babylon discovered.
"They said to me, (Nehemiah) "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." " (Neh 1:3)
The returnees, under Nehemiah's leadership rebuilt Jerusalem's walls and gates, and also restored regulated trade, closing the gates at night and on the Sabbath day of rest.
"After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do. I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them.” "(Neh 7:1-3)
The status of a gateway and gate was enhanced by carvings in bronze or precious metals. Jerusalem before the destruction of the Temple in AD70 had a Golden Gate and 'gate called Beautiful'. Gates and doors within the Temple precinct were ornately decorated, objects of great value in their own right. The ultimate expression of urban value and status is given to the heavenly Jerusalem that descends to earth, where God and his people will dwell together eternally.
Its walls are made of a rare and costly building stone, its foundations embedded with precious gems. and it has a dozen gates.
"The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone.... The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass." (Rev 21:17,-18,21)
It's a far as one can get from a simple shepherd's rustic enclosure. It's an outward sign of the infinite value of the creator's love for his children, restored from the ruinous effect of sin by the self-sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. He who is 'The Gate', the means by which we meet the Father, was taken outside the gate, beyond the city wall in suffering and death, before life in all its fullness could be restored.
"The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we have no enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come." (Heb 13:11-14)