Figuratively, gates refer to the glory of a city (Isa.3.26; Isa.14.31; Jer.14.2) or to the city itself (Ps.87.2; Ps.122.2). In Matt.16.18 the statement that the “gates of Hades” will not overcome the church is a reference either to the failure of the infernal powers to defeat the church or to the church’s greater power to retain her members than the grave has over its victims.——AMR
They were the civic centers of the city. Since the city dwellers worked on farms outside the city walls, everyone passed through the gates every day. It was there, in an open square by the gate, that people met their friends or discussed news (Gen 19:1; 23:10; 34:20; 2 Sam 15:2; Neh 8:1; Ps 69:12).
It was at the gate that the elders of the city sat for the administration of justice. The Mosaic law directed that rebellious sons be brought before the elders of the city at the gate (Deut 21:19). The manslayer had an opportunity to present his cause before the elders of the city of refuge at the entering in of the gate (Josh 20:4). Boaz consulted the elders of Bethlehem at the gate concerning Ruth’s property (Ruth 4:1).
It was at the gate that kings sat to meet with their subjects and made legal decisions. When David heard of the death of Absalom, he sat at the gate and the people came before him to express their sympathy (2 Sam 19:8). The king of Israel joined by the king of Judah sat at the entrance of the gate of Samaria and had the prophets prophesy before them (1 Kings 22:10). Zedekiah sat at the Benjamin gate when he was told that Jeremiah had been dropped into a cistern by his enemies (Jer 38:7). When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, all the princes of Babylon came and sat in the middle gate (39:3). Hezekiah brought his military commanders together in the square at the gate of the city and told them not to despair over the threatened siege of Jerusalem (2 Chron 32:6).
The priests and prophets sometimes delivered their discourses, admonitions, and prophecies at the gate (2 Kings 7:1; Neh 8:1, 3; Jer 17:19, 20; 36:10).
The first legal transaction on record in the Bible, that of Abraham’s purchase of the cave of Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah, was completed at the gate of the city of Hebron (Gen 23:10, 18). The gate was the market place of the town (2 Kings 7:1).
Criminals condemned to death were punished outside the gates of the city (1 Kings 22:10; Acts 7:58). Assyrian sculptures give numerous examples of execution by impalement outside the city walls and of burying outside the city gates. The dead were buried beyond the gates (Luke 7:12; Heb 13:12).
The town good-for-nothings resorted to the gate (Ps 69:12).
Gates consisted of two halves (Isa 45:1), and were made of wood, perhaps studded with nails, or of wood covered with sheets of copper or iron, or of metal (1 Kings 4:13; Ps 107:16; Isa 45:2; Acts 12:10). Occasionally gates were made of a single slab of stone, like the doors leading into the tombs of the kings near Jerusalem, which consisted of a single stone seven inches thick.
Gates were secured by strong locks of brass, iron, or wood (Deut 3:5; 1 Sam 23:7; 1 Kings 4:13; 2 Chron 8:5; Ps 147:13). The keys for gates were large, sometimes more than two feet in length (Isa 22:22).
In the Bronze Age, the city walls had only one or two gates, seldom more. In the Iron Age the gates were more numerous. A number of Bronze Age and Iron Age gates have been preserved, notably at Gezer and Megiddo. The city of Babylon, which was forty m. in circuit, had one hundred bronze doors. Jerusalem had fifteen, each with a different name. The great wall surrounding the Temple at Jerusalem had nine gateways, with a massive two-storied gate-house over each one. One of the gates, called “Beautiful,” was built entirely of Corinthian brass (Acts 3:2, 10).
M. Avi-Yonah, Views of the Biblical World (1960), II 94, 107, 221, 262; III 137, 151; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 152 153, 155, 166, 167, 233, 234; G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1962), 74, 129, 132, 133, 135, 156, 163.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(Hebrew normally (over 300 times) sha`ar; occasionally deleth, properly, "gateway" (but compare De 3:5); elsewhere the gateway is pethach (compare especially Ge 19:6); Aramaic tera`; Greek pulon, pule; the English Revised Version and the King James Version add caph, "threshold," in 1Ch 9:19,22; and the King James Version adds delathayim, "double-door," in Isa 45:1; thura, "door," Ac 3:2):
(3) "Gates" can be used figuratively for the glory of a city (Isa 3:26; 14:31; Jer 14:2; La 1:4; contrast Ps 87:2), but whether the military force, the rulers or the people is in mind cannot be determined. In Mt 16:18 "gates of Hades" (not "hell") may refer to the hosts (or princes) of Satan, but a more likely translation is `the gates of the grave (which keep the dead from returning) shall not be stronger than it.’ The meaning in Jud 5:8,11 is very uncertain, and the text may be corrupt.