The Dung Gate

(presented at a men's breakfast, March, 2012 - click here to download this as a Word document)

This Bible study is not suited as a sermon for Sunday morning worship. And it is good that we all ate before I came to speak, because some of what I have to say could spoil your appetite. Since this Saturday morning prayer breakfast is for men, I think it is okay to share this with you. I want to take you to Jerusalem and the Dung Gate.

The Dung Gate from the Second Temple period (538 BCE - 70 CE) was on or near the south-eastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys converge. The present Dung Gate, constructed by the Ottoman Turks, is located near the southern wall, and is the main entrance to the Wailing Wall.

The Hinnom Valley received its name from Hinnom who made his children walk through fire in the worship of Moloch. Solomon built altars to Moloch here for his wives, and after him, Ahaz and Manasseh made their children "pass through the fire" in the Valley of Hinnom. Josiah rendered it ceremonially unclean by spreading human bones and other corruptions (2 Kings 23:10,13-14; 2 Chron 34:3-5). From that time forward, it became the garbage dump and cesspool of the city. There was constant fire and smoke here from burning refuse at the time of Christ. Hinnom, or Gehenna became a symbol of hell where the fire was never extinguished and where there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, perhaps reflecting on the cries of children passing through the fires. This valley became a cremation place and burial ground for criminals and the common people.

The Kidron Valley is where idols were ground to powder and burned in the Old Testament. This valley became a burial place as well, but the tombs and caves indicate that more distinguished persons were buried here. The Kidron Valley lies between the temple mount and the Mount of Olives and continues southward.

On the inside of the city wall, the Pool of Siloam and the fresh water supply for Jerusalem was located near the Dung Gate. Hezekiah constructed an elaborate system of shafts and tunnels to channel water into the city here. After disposing of garbage and dung, the people washed here before returning to their homes.

About Gates
The gates of Jerusalem were places of entrance and exit into and out of the city, but they were also places of authoritative decisions. The elders sat in the gates and made decisions that affected the city (Proverbs 31:23). Important agreements and commercial transactions were also made in the gates.

Our bodies also have gates through which truth and error, good and evil, enter into and exit our lives. We too are "elders" at our own gates and must make wise and responsible decisions for our lives.

We have the ear gate, an eye gate, a mind gate, a feelings gate, a memory gate, a relationship gate and a spirit gate. The enemy is to be kept out and only that which has been carefully screened and deemed safe or good is permitted to enter. We must guard these gates, lest an enemy try to penetrate our defenses. We must monitor our gates diligently to allow only that which is edifying into our lives.

As with national borders, people show less concern for that which exits than for that which enters, but both are important. Missionaries from America have carried the gospel far and wide, but much of America's influence on the rest of the world has not been positive. That which passes through our gates in either direction should be important to us.

New Jersey was once a great place to live and to do business, but greed, crime, legal hurdles and high taxation have crept in, resulting in a mass exodus of people, business and industry. New Jersey charges bridge tolls for cars leaving the state and it imposes an exit tax on those who sell their homes and move to friendlier states. These measures, however, have not prevented many from leaving.

The Bible has much to say about that which exits man, through his mouth in particular. It can be both good and bad.

Matthew 15:11-20 "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man... whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man…"

In Revelation 3, the Lord speaks to the church in Laodicea. He wishes the church was either cold or hot, but it was luke warm and became vomit. Those are not my words; Jesus said it! Laodicea was not healthy, but sick and dying. There are other passages which refer to spiritually sick people.

James 3:10 "Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing."
Luke 6:45 "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh."
Ephesians 4:29 "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."

Healthy, good-functioning bodies produce waste material that must be disposed of. We are wonderfully made and most of us manage to get through our lives paying little attention to the body's exit strategy. We don't talk about it much but the Bible does.

The Dung Gate
As with any thriving city, Jerusalem was constantly producing dung and garbage. In order to remain healthy and clean, the people had to properly dispose of their refuse. That is why there was a Dung Gate. It was not the place where visitors entered the city or where important decisions and agreements were made. No one wanted to live by the Dung Gate or open a restaurant there, but it was nonetheless very important to the city.

Jerusalem has historically been cleaner than most cities. Conditions were probably worst in Europe during the middle ages. We have sewers today, but in past centuries much of the sewage from homes ran into gutters along the sides of the street. Animals fed or drank from this filthy brew and it eventually ran unfiltered into a brook or river. These conditions led to the terrible bubonic plague which took the lives of a third of all Europeans. In Austria, Catholics blamed the plague on the protestants, leading to the 30 Years War or Counter Reformation in which tens of thousands of Christians were martyred. Incidentally, cities are much healthier today because of cars -- they don't make manure!

Paul speaks of many kinds of vessels in a household (II Timothy 2:20-21). There are vessels of gold and silver, but also of clay. There are vessels of honor -- reserved for drinking water or food. And there are vessels of dishonor. Some are to feed the dog, or for garbage disposal. Homes today have toilets, but in Bible times there were containers reserved for dung. All vessels were useful to the master of the house, but it was imperative that they be kept clean or “purged”. Your garbage can may not be the first thing you show your guests, but you wouldn’t want to do without it - provided it is frequently emptied and cleaned.

Our physical bodies constantly produce waste. These waste products are the result of a healthy functioning body. Every moment we are alive, each of our cells is metabolizing nutrients and excreting poisonous waste materials. We are in fact constantly poisoning ourselves. If we don’t get rid of these poisons, we will get sick and die. It is as simple as that. This is why we need organs in our bodies that filter out and expel waste.

When the Body of Christ is functioning normally, it also produces waste. None of us is perfect and even when we are trying hard to please God and serve each other selflessly, we make mistakes and cause offenses. Proverbs 14:4 says, "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox." There will be misunderstandings and if not handled wisely, these can become poisonous.

The main difference between Christianity and all other religions is forgiveness. Salvation through forgiveness is the most important doctrine of the church. In the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-15), we are told to pray, “Forgive us our sins just like we forgive each other” (my paraphrase). In fact, Jesus mentioned forgiveness no less than 9 times in this brief passage! Many who repeat this prayer harbor an unforgiving spirit and are thus unwittingly asking God NOT to forgive their own sins!

Just as the city of Jerusalem had a Dung Gate, so does the Body of Christ. Our “dung gate” is the cross of Jesus. Forgiveness of sin was the reason Jesus came into this world and the reason he suffered and died. If someone has wronged you and you cannot forgive them, you too are committing a very serious sin, and unless you repent, your own sins cannot be forgiven.

Forgiveness includes forgiving yourself. This is very important and sometimes easily overlooked. Some people find it easy to forgive others but hard to forgive themselves for their own failings. Christians must not fall prey to this devilish trick!

As we sit here, we are physically poisoning one another. We are breathing the same air and exhaling poisonous carbon dioxide. If air was not being replenished, we would ultimately kill each other. The same is true in our spiritual relationships, and that is why forgiveness is so important. I repeat: Christianity is the only religion that is built on the foundation of God’s forgiveness and church growth depends greatly on our readiness to forgive one another.

Peter asked, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:21-22)

Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)

We all love newborn infants, but they produce dung that does not smell good. Parents proudly show off their baby to friends, they dress it up and hope it smiles, but they don't show them the dirty diapers! But if the baby kicks an admirer in the face, poops its pants or screams loud enough to pierce people’s ears, we are always quick to forgive. It is just a baby.

Remember when Christian youth wore bracelets or buttons with the initials PBPWMGINFWMY (Please be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet)? You didn’t see many older Christians wearing those buttons or bracelets. We are quick to forgive a newborn child of God, but older believers can be very unforgiving when they feel that someone else has wronged or offended them. I know a sweet older sister who knows her Bible well and attends every service, but she can be very critical of a man whose tie doesn’t match his sportjacket or a young mother who “can’t control her toddler.” Such criticisms can be dismissed as senior idiosyncresies, but there are very ugly kinds of unforgiveness in many churches.

Just as the inhabitants of Jerusalem knew what to do with their dung, so must the Body of Christ learn to get rid of garbage. In far too many churches, relationships have been poisoned because people neglected or refused to dispose of dung in a biblical manner! How many churches have been split, ministries destroyed and lives ruined because believers have not learned or didn’t observe this simple rule of life! Everyone in Jerusalem knew where the Dung Gate was and what it was used for. Everyone who used it simply dumped their dung and returned to life in the city. No one stayed in the dung pile, no one brought dung back into the city, or allowed it to pile up within the city walls. No one talked about the dung, or kept photo albums of it. The dung was a natural, normal part of a healthy existence and people knew what to do with it.

Why is it that so many members of the Body of Christ don’t know what to do with "dung"? Many believers collect "dung!" They harbor bitterness, resentment, and offences and share them periodically with anyone who will give a minute of their time. Disappointments and hurts become the topic of conversation. They call people on the phone and share with anyone who will listen. Even more amazing is the fact that many people actually like the stench, always on the lookout for more "dung." Some collect other people's dung because they think it makes them look (smell) good in comparison. Or they use it as a weapon or ammunition.

Christians should pray for those who hurt them (Matthew 5:44) and receive grace, healing and mercy. Instead some choose to meditate on the "dung," filling their hearts with bitterness and resentment. People who spend time thinking about the Lord and positive things, talk about the Lord and positive things. Their conversation is edifying. Those who dwell on dung are despicable! Such individuals refuse to accept apologies; do not forgive or forget. If the other person apologizes, they go out to the "dung pile" and bring it back into the church. They memorialize the "dung," and talk about it at every opportunity. They delight in sharing "dung" at every opportunity. Some people have had serious poison in their hearts for a very long time, and their lives show it.

One of the names of Satan is "Beelzebub" (Luke 11:18). This comes from a Hebrew word that means "lord of the flies." Flies love "dung." If you harbor it, you are inviting the devil to dinner. Cleanliness and purity don’t smell good to demons!

Someone who traveled to Romania with a mission team told me the following story:
“Our group of Christian nurses had to wait several hours in a railway station for a connection. Several had to use the restroom and came back complaining about the horrific unsanitary conditions inside. After repeatedly hearing such reports, one of the tour group returned and said, "I don't understand you people. Certainly some of the fixtures are badly in need of repairs, but the restroom is otherwise clean." The next visitor verified the report, so others went to investigate. The room was spotless! Only later did they discover that the tour group leader had heard the complaints and given the restroom a thorough cleaning!”

Some believers are adept at finding fault in others, but have difficulty forgiving them. Like Adam and Eve, they play the blame game and retreat from fellowship. Satan rejoices. Or like some of those nurses, it never occurs to them that they could clean up after someone else. Take the dung to the dung gate. In some cases you should perhaps go to the person who offended you, or whom you may have offended, or who thinks that you wronged him, and suggest going to the dung gate together. As the hymn goes, "Take your burden to the cross and leave it there."

Some continue to attend church yet harbor a grudge and avoid fellowship with an individual whom they believe has done wrong. This is a major mistake--and a victory for the enemy. When we allow evil of any kind to accumulate inside us, we become constipated and are robbed of joy and peace. Our unspiritual condition can poison us! We need to ask God's forgiveness and allow his blessings to flow through us again.

Nehemiah wrote, "And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire"

Nehemiah 2, 13 He later reported on the repairs to the walls around the city: "But the dung gate repaired Malchiah the son of Rechab, the ruler of part of Bethhaccerem; he built it, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof". Nehemiah 3, 14 That was not a prestige job, but a very humble one, yet it was vitally important for the health of the city.

The dedication of the wall is described in Nehemiah 12:27-47 (two companies were sent out to make music and give thanks. One group went to the right (v.31) and the other went to the left (v. 38). The two groups met at the Dung Gate to praise God and give thanks!

Ralph V Harvey
Father & Son Breakfast, 2012