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Gatekeeping 守门

Sermon passage: (Psalm 87:1-7) Spoken on: October 18, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms

Tags: Korah

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: Gatekeeping
Date: 18th Oct 2020
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Let’s start with a thought experiment. Imagine that you went to a new place you have never been to before. You are walking in a park, enjoying the beautiful sights and scenery. Then you see a gate right in front of you. Now, what is the first thought that comes to your mind? When you see the gate, is your thought “Oh this place is blocked by the gate. I guess I’ll go elsewhere.”? Or is your thought “Oh there’s more to this park I can discover. There’s a gate here for me to enter.”? Through this thought experiment, we can see if you think of a gate as rejecting, or as inviting. Do you see a barrier or an entrance? Do you see an opening for exploration or do you see a roadblock? I thought this would be an intriguing question for you to reflect on, because the description in verse 2 is: 2 the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. That’s the first highlight of this psalm, and the theme I’ve chosen for my sermon: gates and gatekeeping.

Why were the gates so special and so beloved by God? It makes you wonder: were those gates made of gold, and encrusted with diamonds? The gates were special not because they were made of special materials, but because of what lay beyond the gates when you entered them. These gates were beloved by God because they were the gates of Zion. They were the gates of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was the city of God. Jerusalem was where God was. The significance of Jerusalem first started when David made it the capital of his kingdom. And its importance was secured when the Temple was built there, making it the true legitimate place of worship. From then on, all other high places were rejected by God. A covenant was made with David and Solomon, that even though God cannot be limited by time and space into a house on Earth, the Jerusalem Temple would be the house of God. It would be the place where God would listen to the prayers of his people. And that was the true value of those gates: they were the gates through which you entered into the presence of God. The sons of Korah declared proudly that these gates were especially loved by God, because God had chosen Jerusalem to be his dwelling place.

This is where the role of the sons of Korah in the Israelite community, the writers of our Psalm series, really matters. The sons of Korah, also called the Korahites, were the official gatekeepers of the Jerusalem Temple. Their names are recorded in the Scriptures.
1 Chronicles 9: 18 These were the gatekeepers belonging to the camp of the Levites. 19 Shallum son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, and his fellow gatekeepers from his family (the Korahites) were responsible for guarding the thresholds of the tent just as their ancestors had been responsible for guarding the entrance to the dwelling of the Lord.
22 Altogether, those chosen to be gatekeepers at the thresholds numbered 212. They were registered by genealogy in their villages. The gatekeepers had been assigned to their positions of trust by David and Samuel the seer. 23 They and their descendants were in charge of guarding the gates of the house of the Lord—the house called the tent of meeting. 24 The gatekeepers were on the four sides: east, west, north and south. 25 Their fellow Levites in their villages had to come from time to time and share their duties for seven-day periods. 26 But the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. 27 They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning. 【1】

The sons of Korah were specially chosen from within the tribe of Levi for the task of gatekeeping. This was an appointment not for anybody, but only those whose names were recorded in the family records and rostered accordingly to be on duty throughout the entire year. From the list of names found in Chronicles, the writer(s) had ingeniously included Korahites from the times of Exodus when they were wandering the wilderness, and then centuries later, the names of Korahites from the times of monarchy under king David, and again centuries later, after the people of God scattered after the fall of Judah and returned from the Exile, the names of Korahites from the people led by Nehemiah to restore the Temple services (See Nehemiah 11:19). This meant that these sons of Korah, the gatekeepers, were faithfully serving in their roles for generations, for more than a thousand years, guarding the gates when the house of God was just a moving tent, till it became a grand temple built by Solomon, till it became a reconstructed one when Solomon’s was destroyed. If anyone knew and appreciated the sacred value of this task of gatekeeping for the house of God, it would be the sons of Korah.

As gatekeepers, their job description might make them seem like janitors, porters, or security guards at the Temple gates. They were in charge of the key and responsible for locking up at night and opening up first thing in the morning (v. 27). But the safeguarding of the holiness of the Temple also lay within the gatekeepers' responsibility: to restrict access to the different areas of the Temple to those with the requisite degree of sanctification and purity (cf. 2 Chron. 23.19b: to ensure 'that nothing impure as regards any matter should gain entry'). They also had to ensure the correctness of their observance of the sacred rites once they had gained entry (cf. 2 Kgs 23.4, where the function of the 'keepers of the threshold' is to purge the cult of everything associated with false practice). They were responsible for the reception and storage of all the offerings in kind of the people, their first fruits and tithes, the tokens of their sanctification. 【2】The way I see it, as gatekeepers, they were the first line of defense against those who might unwittingly be judged by God, and also the first line of ushers to those who sought to come before God.

This is the main point I want to make about gatekeepers: they must have the right vision for the place they represent. When I think about gatekeeping, I am reminded of those who work in the customs and border control of a country. Very often, how they behave will give me the first impression of a country, on my first visit. I’m sure many of you must feel the same way. And if I were to ask you for your ideal image of a customs officer, we might have similar expectations. We would wish that they are professional and efficient, as they have a serious job in upholding the dignity and pride of the country in their gatekeeping. The manner in which they work and present themselves should repel anyone with ill-intentions and contraband items, while assuring others that this country aims to be safe and secure. At the same time, we would also wish that these people guarding the gates of their country are not just serious, but also friendly and inviting. Visitors should feel welcome at the checkpoints, while citizens should feel the warmth of coming home.

To do their job well, gatekeepers need to have the right vision for the place they serve, because they are at the frontlines. They control who should be in, and who should be out. In Parliament in September, there was a debate on how Singapore should handle our immigration policy and our dependence on foreign labour. It is a tough balance to preserve jobs for Singaporeans, as well as keep our economy open to the global workforce. Ultimately, this balance will rest on our vision for Singapore. I am reminded of a story reported in the year Mr. Lee Kuan Yew passed away. Apparently many towns in India planned to build memorial halls and museums to remember and honor him. Why? “Many families, who once considered three meals a day a luxury, now live comfortably on money sent back by family members working in Singapore. All of them credit the change in their fortunes to Mr Lee.” 【3】 My point is this: in the best of times, Singapore is a place of blessing to many beyond our shores. Is your vision wide enough to see Singapore as a blessing to all nations? This mindset is critical as we debate on the extent of our own gatekeeping.

I will say this again: The key to a good gatekeeper lies in the vision they have for their role. Let’s go back to the context of the sons of Korah. If they were too permissible in their gatekeeping, then they would corrupt the holiness of the place they were guarding. However, if they were overly restrictive and exclusive, then they would hinder the work of grace that the place should do. In Psalm 87, the sons of Korah revealed the true vision of their gatekeeping. In the times of the tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple, they helped to ensure that their brothers from the 12 twelve tribes who came before God could fulfill their obligations according to the laws in Leviticus. Their work in those times was mainly focused on the internal needs of the community. But after the people were scattered by the exile and settled in foreign lands, their vision must be widened to embrace an extended family beyond the usual bloodlines. Today, we shall see in Isaiah 【4】and Psalm 87, the vision went even further than the dispersed people of God, to even include Gentiles who would count Jerusalem as their new motherland.

Isaiah 49: 6 he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

In Isaiah’s prophecy, the scattered people of God would be restored from the different lands. But that was only the first phase. Eventually, this restoration would include Gentiles from the ends of the earth. Foreigners would proclaim: Isaiah 45: 14 ‘Surely God is with you, and there is no other; there is no other god.’” The prophecy of Isaiah was totally congruent with the vision of the gatekeepers of Jerusalem in our passage today in verses 4 to 5, told to all the neighbouring countries “This one and that one were born in Zion”.

I wish to highlight just how revolutionary such an idea from the sons of Korah was. We should be thankful that the gatekeepers of Jerusalem had a vision that included the world. The Jews had always emphasized their covenant with God. Many of the laws of Moses were meant to preserve their unique identity so that they would not be assimilated in the Promised Land. Yet, with the vision of the sons of Korah in Psalm 87, the privilege of being children of God could now be claimed by people from all the surrounding nations. In short: the gates of Jerusalem are now open to you and I. We are the new citizens of Jerusalem.

Brothers and sisters, I wish to share with you the good news, the gospel that was brought to us by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4: 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 【5】 In Psalm 87, any of those nations listed earlier, that were proclaimed to be born in Jerusalem, could now call Zion “mother.” And In Galatians 4, Paul declared this grace was to be offered to all Gentiles, referencing also from Isaiah 54:1. This is why Psalm 87 is also read in church traditionally as a baptismal psalm. 【6】As Gentiles, we are adopted into God’s family, born again in the Jerusalem from above. Furthermore, verse 7 declares, “All my springs are in you” which means that my salvation (springs) comes from you, our mother, the Jerusalem from above. Come on in, the gates have been opened by the sons of Korah, the official gatekeepers.

This is our last sharing of the psalms of the sons of Korah for the year. We have scheduled to share the remaining ones hopefully in 2022. Today, I’ve placed the emphasis on the Korahites as gatekeepers of Jerusalem. The purpose of gates is to allow the right people to enter. In John 10, 7 Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 9 whoever enters through me will be saved. 【7】 If Jesus is the gate, then we are the new gatekeepers. What kind of gatekeeper are we? That depends on our vision. Like the analogy of customs officers, I can think of 3 kinds. We might be so repulsive that people are turned away from approaching the gate when they see us. Or, we might be such lazy gatekeepers that we are always off duty when people are locked outside. We have all encountered customs officers who are so unfriendly or barely operating that we swear we will never visit the place again. But I hope we can be the third kind of gatekeeper, the kind with the vision of the sons of Korah in Psalm 87. We take our responsibility as gatekeepers seriously, but more importantly, we are inviting and welcoming to all who wish to enter the Jesus Gate into God’s salvation for them. Let this be your vision: that when people come to the gate and see you, they say “I wish I’ve come sooner”, or “I wish I can join you”, or even better, “I wish I was born here.”

[2] Johnstone, W. (1998). 1 and 2 Chronicles: Volume 1: 1 Chronicles 1-2 Chronicles 9: Israel's Place among Nations. Bloomsbury Publishing.
[4] Gordon, A. R. (1909). Psalm 87. The Biblical World, 33(2), 102-106.
[5] Maier, C. M. (2007). Psalm 87 as a reappraisal of the Zion tradition and its reception in Galatians 4: 26. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 69(3), 473-486.
[6] Bos, J. W. (1993). Psalm 87. Interpretation, 47(3), 281-285.

Psalm 87 (Listen)

A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. A Song.

87:1   On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
    the LORD loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
  Glorious things of you are spoken,
    O city of God. Selah
  Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
    behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
    “This one was born there,” they say.
  And of Zion it shall be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her”;
    for the Most High himself will establish her.
  The LORD records as he registers the peoples,
    “This one was born there.” Selah
  Singers and dancers alike say,
    “All my springs are in you.”