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All the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May Yahweh make the woman who has come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and treat you worthily in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Bible

“at the gate, and the elders.” In the biblical culture of the Old Testament it was the custom that the elders of a city would sit at the city gate (Gen. 19:1, 9; Deut. 21:19; 22:15; 25:7; Josh. 20:4; Ruth 4:11; 1 Sam. 4:18; Esther 2:19, 21; 3:2; Lam. 5:14; Dan. 2:49; cp. Amos 5:10). Sometimes even the king of the land would sit at the gate of the city (2 Sam. 19:8; 1 Kings 22:10). Most cities had only one gate, and so everyone who went in or out of the city would have to pass through that gate. Furthermore, there was usually an open space just inside the gate so there was plenty of room for people to gather.

The elders at the gate were generally older, mature men who were the powerful men of the city. As elders and often acting as judges, they were supposed to be godly and wise, which is why “Wisdom” could be found at the city gates (cp. Prov. 1:20-21). However, it was sometimes the case that the powerful men of the city were self-centered or ungodly, in which case the advice they gave would be ungodly too. Proverbs, reflecting the wisdom of the time, advises people to get advice from a multitude of counselors, and often those wise counselors could be found at the city gate (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6).

The larger cities often had a “double gate” for security. A double gate was a gate complex consisting of an outer gate and an inner gate with a space between them. The idea behind the double gate was that if an enemy managed to break down the outer gate they would not be able to break down the inner gate because while they were trying to breach it the city defenders could shoot arrows and spears, or throw rocks, or pour boiling water or oil down on top of them from the city walls surrounding them. The Old Testament city of Lachish is a good example of that.

If the city had a double gate, sometimes the elders sat “in” the gate, in the shade between the walls. The Hebrew “in” can also usually be translated “at,” so whether the elders were “at” the gate or “in” it usually has to be determined from the archaeology of the city. For example, Bethlehem was not a big city so when it did have a wall during what archaeologists refer to as the First Temple Period, it would have been a simple wall with just one gate, not a double gate, so the elders would have sat “at” the gate, not “in” it. [For more information on the elders at the gate, and that a person could seek wise advice there, see commentary on Prov. 1:21, “at the head of noisy streets”].


Commentary for: Ruth 4:11