The Bible’s gates of hell or “gates of death” (v. 13) may remind Lord of the Rings fans of the Black Gate of Mordor. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and the movie adaptations, the Black Gate is a fearsome structure—dark, huge, seemingly invulnerable, and guarded by legions of powerful, evil creatures. Merely to approach this gate was to be tempted to despair.
Psalm 9 contrasts the “gates of death” (v. 13) with the “gates of Zion” (v. 14). First, it announces itself as a song of praise and thanksgiving (vv. 1–2). Then the telling “of all your wonderful deeds” opens by describing what God had done to Israel’s enemies (vv. 3–6). He’d rebuked and sent ruin upon them, while upholding and vindicating His people. The praise continues by describing God’s overall worthiness to be worshiped (vv. 7–12). The Lord is on His throne, ruling sovereignly over all nations. He is just and righteous. For the oppressed, He is a refuge and stronghold. He is eternally constant: “You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you” (v. 10). We “who know your name” should be proclaiming to the world His love and faithfulness (v. 10).
The two gates appear in the next two verses, where David prayed for God to act with mercy and power, as He had in the past (vv. 13–14). The situation was dire. He felt as though he was at the very “gates of death.” But if God would have mercy and rescue him, he would remain able to sing God’s praises “in the gates of Daughter Zion,” that is, Jerusalem, “and there rejoice in your salvation.” This represents a complete reversal. To be transported from the “gates of death” to the “gates of Zion” is an impossible miracle, something only God could do!
>> Are you feeling closer to the “gates of death” or to the “gates of Zion” today? No matter how you may feel, remember God is present with you and delights to hear your prayers. As this psalm shows, praise, thanksgiving, and cries for help can all be expressed together!