Before David became king, he and the prophet Samuel collaborated on the design of the temple that would one day be built in Jerusalem. The temple is often referred to as Solomon’s Temple. Solomon was the son of David that succeeded him as king and was responsible for building the temple. It was a magnificent structure that is thought by some Bible scholars to resemble the throne room of God in Heaven.
Along with the plans for building the structure, David established certain offices to enable the temple to function effectively. One of the offices David established was the porter or gatekeeper. It says in 1 Chronicles 9:22, “All these which were chosen to be porters in the gates were two hundred and twelve. These were reckoned by their genealogy in their villages, whom David and Samuel the seer did ordain in their set offices.”
I believe the reason David established that critical offices would be reckoned to certain families and ordained as a permanent office was to ensure that the temple and its service could be reestablished if the temple was destroyed. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed when king Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel and deported its inhabitants to Babylon.
The porters were sentries that guarded the gate against attack and therefore, would be the first to be killed if the city were invaded. The men that were assigned to the office of porter cast lots to determine which gate they were assigned to (1 Chronicles 26:13). Some gates were more or less desirable due to the likelihood that an attack would be targeted for that location.
To ordain someone into a set office means that you establish a fixed position for him (530). The word translated set, ’emûnâh (em – oo – naw´) is related to the word ’amân (aw – man´) which means to believe or be faithful (539). Aman is the word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” The link between the two words is permanence. Abraham had a belief that endured in spite of his circumstances and the porter had a position that had to be maintained in spite of any imminent threats or the destruction of the city.
There were four chief porters who “were over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God” (1 Chronicles 9:26). These men were most likely killed when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel because it says in 2 Chronicles 36:7 that “Nebuchadnezzar also carried of the vessels of the house of the LORD to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon.” If the chief porters lost their lives in line of duty, then they had the assurance that “the LORD repays the one who demonstrates that he does what God demands” (530).
The Israelites’ captivity was predicted long before the temple was built (Deuteronomy 28:41) and it was known that the people would return also (Deuteronomy 30:3), so David’s plans were made with that in mind. Given that he assigned men to positions that would likely result in death, David had to rely on Samuel for guidance in how to assure that the office of porter would not be left vacant.
In the arrangement for porters, it is noted that one man, Shemaiah had sons that were mighty men of valour. They were able men for strength for the service and they outnumbered the other porters’ families by more than 3 to 1 (1 Chronicles 26:8). It is not clear whether Shemaiah’s descendants were in the population that returned to Jerusalem after the exile. It is possible they were all killed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army and therefore, gave their lives so that others might survive and one day repopulate the city.