As you know if you’ve been reading my writing for any period of time, I am drawn to metaphor in a big way. This is how the Holy Spirit often communicates deep things to me, in figurative, metaphoric terms. Biblical metaphors catch my attention constantly. When I share what I’m seeing, those metaphors become part of the flow of thoughts about how Scripture comes to life for us.
The metaphor that has caught me this week is that of doors.
There are 154 references to doors in the Old and New Testaments. Many of these refer to literal doors, and many biblical authors use doors as a metaphor.
So, before we look at some of these instances and find applications, a few things about doors in general, their characteristics and uses.
Doors can be made of many different substances—glass, wood, metal, plastic, or other natural or manmade materials. They can be flimsy, or they can be strong and impenetrable unless they are opened.
Most doors have hinges that allow them to swing open or swing shut. If they don’t have hinges, doors must be able to be pushed or pulled out of the way, as with pocket doors, sliding barn doors, or garage doors. If a door can’t be opened and shut at will, then it’s functioning as a wall, and not as a door.
Doors have to be tall enough for a fairly tall person to walk through without bending. They also have to be wide enough for a fairly broad person to pass through. If a door is too short or too narrow, it will not give equal access to a variety of sizes of people or animals.
Doors are to keep some things in and other things out. They are a barrier of protection, giving the owners of said doors the choice of who is allowed to share their space or come and go freely. Some doors have locks on them, which provide an additional layer of security against trespassers.
We’ll see now some of the ways that these purposes for doors figure in Scripture and come to life for us.
The first biblical reference to a door relates to sin. Isn’t that interesting? Early in the Genesis account of the first family, God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but finds Cain’s unworthy. Cain complains that God is unfair in his assessment of his offering, and God replies:
“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7)
Just outside the door of Cain’s heart crouched a roaring lion of sin, ready to pounce. Cain opened the door, murdering his own brother, and had to live the rest of his life as an outcast and fugitive. Sin came and marred the perfection of God’s garden, and ever since, sin has been crouching at the door of the human heart, ready to pounce.
Even after we place our lives in God’s hands and he saves us, we still must often deal with this unwelcome trespasser who crouches at the door. Will we open the door, as Cain did, or say, “Get behind me, Satan” as Jesus did, and shoo him away?
Think now about the Israelites just before their exodus from Egypt. Their ability to save their firstborn sons depended on the applying of blood to the doorways of their homes as a sign.
Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. (Ex. 12:22-23, NIV).
The doorframes daubed with blood were the key to distinguishing those who were to be saved from the devastation of the final curse on Egypt as a consequence of their treatment of the Hebrew people.
After their exodus, Moses received the Law at Sinai, and when he reiterated the laws of God before they entered the Promised land, he instructed the people to “write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Dt. 6:8). This parallel to the Passover story reveal’s God’s apparent love of irony. The prescription of Deuteronomy 6 is still a good prescription today. As we come and go from the relative safety of our home to a larger world, we are wise to post reminders at the doors or our homes and hearts.
Religious Jews still hang mezuzah’s next to their doors that contain a small scroll imprinted with Scripture representing their covenant with God. They lovingly touch the mezuzah when they enter and exit the home.
As a new believer living in New York, I remember tacking a piece of paper with Romans 12:2 inside the door of my apartment, reminding me not to conform myself to the world I was about to enter, but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. This would remind me of the doorway in my heart and mind that I had the power to open or shut, depending on what was seeking to enter.
As the Jews began their long sojourn in the wilderness, they built an elaborate tabernacle of worship and carried it with them. This was a holy structure that had doors. Guarding the tabernacle warranted the commissioning of Levites to be doorkeepers. It was essential that the holiness of the sacred space inside would be guarded and separated from the profane atmosphere and activities outside.
Doors, both literally and figuratively—have always been necessary to divide the sacred from the ordinary. Our places of worship should be honored and kept holy. And because God seeks worshippers who will worship him “in spirit and in truth,” our bodies and minds need also to be kept holy and set apart. We are to guard the doors of our hearts from any physical or cultural elements that might make us unclean.
A favorite Psalm verse reads,
“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10. NIV). When given a choice between the peace and honor of serving humbly as a member of God’s household or partying and luxuriating with the sinful and scornful, which will we choose? Door number one or door number two?
In many cases the door in question is the door or our mouths. Psalm 141:3 includes the prayer, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Just as God’s physically sanctuary required doorkeepers, the sanctuary of our hearts must be guarded at the door of our lips. This corresponds to Jesus’ teachings about how the words of our mouths reveal the contents of our hearts. What have we been letting in and what have we been keeping out? Our words will reveal both, for better or worse.
Jesus utilized the door metaphor in some other ways. When teaching about spiritual disciplines, he emphasized their private nature:
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt. 6:6).
Behind our doors is where our loving relationship with our Lord is nourished and cultivated. It is a secret sanctuary. Jesus wants us to be satisfied with our intimate, private worship, and not require the praise of humans. Looking for human affirmation actually robs us of the rewards of our worship.
As we pray (behind those doors) for provision, wisdom, understanding, or divine help, Jesus exhorts us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). Prayer opens the doors of heaven and God pours out blessings.
Doors also play a part in Jesus’ parables illustrating the Kingdom of Heaven. The virgins who had not brought oil for their lamps found themselves shut outside the doors of the wedding feast (Matt. 25:10). Jesus describes his worthy servants as those who are watching for the return of the Master, ready to open the door for him upon his return from a far country (Luke 12:35-37). We are to be near to the door, alert, watching for him, quick to welcome him.
A negative reference to doors applies to the “teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” when they “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt. 23:13, NIV). Ironically, it is these kinds of religiously prideful and arrogant people who will find the door shut in their faces when Jesus fully establishes his glorious kingdom.
This is not a popular teaching in these post-modern times, but Jesus clearly stated those who will be saved are those who “enter through the narrow door.” Many travel the wide way and when they come to the door, “many…will try to enter and will not be able to…you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us,’ but he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from’” (Luke 13:24-25, NIV). This can be a frightening thought, but our fear of God hopefully motivates us to ever be seeking his will and pleasure, and not just our own.
I hope I’ve provided enough examples to convince you of the value in considering this metaphor of doors in Scripture and applying it to our work and worship until Jesus returns. I’ll conclude with a well-known and loved biblical reference to a door:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev.3:20).
This could almost serve as a summary statement of much of what has already identified about doors. Jesus is always on one side of the door. Will we open the door to him? When we come to his door, will he open it to us?
This depends on our choice, our clear decision that we want to be in his company always and forever. Then we consciously and consistently live in ways that demonstrate our choice to love him above all else.