Shechem: Strife or Shalom?

Historically, Shechem has been a place of strife, contention and curses. Yet Yeshua made it a place of shalom, living water and blessings. This very real place confronts every human being with a choice: blessing or curse, strife or shalom. Today, let us choose the blessing of eternal life and shalom. V’eemru? (And let us say?)

How many of you are familiar with Shechem? It’s mentioned many times in Scripture. In Beresheet (Genesis) 12:7, HaShem appeared to Abram there, and promised “To your descendants I give this land.” However, the previous verse also mentions, “Now the Canaanite was then in the land.” Alas, the fulfillment of this promise was not going to come without resistance. So Abram moved on.

When Jacob came back to the land, after 20 years with Laban in Paddan Aram in upper Mesopotamia, the first place he settled was Shechem, where he even “bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent.” Later, Jacob willed this piece of land to his favorite son, Joseph—who was eventually buried there. (Joseph’s tomb was desecrated recently. Alas, the strife continues to this day!)

However, a prince of Shechem had eyes for Jacob’s daughter Dinah—indeed, more than eyes! Dinah’s older brothers Simeon and Levi exacted rather cruel revenge on him and all the men of Shechem. So Jacob’s whole clan had to move on, as he said in Genesis 34:30, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land.”

In other words, strife makes us stink. Right? How many of you know that strife stinks? (Yet people like it! You don’t believe me? Look at all the violence in movies & video games. Look at the incessant strife people stir up their families, their clans, their nations. Yet it all stinks!)

Jacob’s solution to his dilemma was to get right with God. Genesis 35:3–5, “Then they gave Jacob all their foreign gods and their earrings, and Jacob hid them under the oak near Shechem. When they set out, a terror from God came over the cities around them, and they did not pursue Jacob’s sons.” When strife and conflict are becoming dangerous, consider Jacob’s approach: get rid of all foreign gods. Get rid of all pride; get rid of all resentment; get rid of self-righteousness. Can we do that? V’eemru?

Genesis was so long ago; people might wonder if Shechem was even a real place. Well, it’s a real place. Encyclopedia Britannica reports that Shechem “had been almost buried by the earth and stones washed down from the surrounding mountains.” Nevertheless, it was identified with Shechem by German archaeologists who dug it up a century ago, unearthing massive city walls, two monumental city gates, and a citadel with a massive Canaanite temple.  Genesis 34:20 mentions that Shechem had a city gate.

Genesis also implies that Shechem was not a walled city in Abram’s time, but was by Jacob’s time. Biblical archeology confirms the Bible—all the way back to the Patriarchs—because Shechem became a walled city about 1900 B.C.E.

Shechem means The name Shechem probably derives from a Hebrew word meaning “shoulder”— and if you look at a picture of the site, you can see why—it’s in a pass between two mountains that look like shoulders.

The two mountains are Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal—do these mountain names sound familiar?Deuteronomy 11:29 instructs, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal.” That’s exactly what Joshua did, as recorded in chapters 7 and 8 of the book of Joshua—setting up an altar, then arranging the leaders of the tribes on these mountains to proclaim the blessings (for obeying HaShem’s commandments) and the curses (for disobedience).

An article in Biblical Archeological Review reports, “The mountains form a natural amphitheater in which the recitation of the Law could easily be heard. Despite their heights… there are many accounts of people speaking from the slopes of the mountains and being heard in the valley below.” So everyone there was able to hear all the blessings and curses.

Obviously, those present figured they’d  get the blessings. All they had to do was hear, and heed. V’eemru?

Alas, the human heart becomes hard & resists hearing, let alone heeding, God’s good commandments. Judges 9 records the corrupt and violent rule of Abimelech—an illegitimate son of the hero Gideon, by a prostitute who lived in Shechem (Judges 8:32). After Gideon died, the children of Israel fell back into idolatry, worshipping the pagan Baals. Abimelech convinced the men of Shechem to murder all the other 70 sons of Gideon, and then set him up as ruler. Only one other son of Gideon survived the massacre, and he pronounced a curse on Abimelech and the men of Shechem from Mt Gerizim, before running away for his life. The curse was fulfilled: Abimelech and the men of Shechem fell into treachery and strife.

Judges 9:23 records that, “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech.” To make a long and bloody story short, Abimelech wound up massacring the citizens of Shechem and burning it down—and then a woman threw a millstone down on Abimelech’s head, killing him.

Archeologists found the migdal or fortress-tower of Shechem and determined that it was burned down around 1100 BCE—right about the time of Abimelech of the Judges. How about that? The Bible is true!

Moreover, the Bible reveals important truth about human nature. Though strife is, shall we say, unhealthy, people have a lot of trouble avoiding it. A few centuries after it was burned down, after leading a revolt against Solomon’s son Rehaboam, Jeroboam began rebuilding Shechem—and it eventually became the capital of the northern kingdom, called Samaria—a few miles from the tel (mound) of Shechem. Alas, Samaria became a hotbed of idolatry and strife. Jeroboam and his heirs set up lots of idols there, Scripture records several terrible sieges that took place there, culminating in the Assyrian invasion and destruction of the city. The Assyrians then transplanted peoples from other lands there, who became the Samaritans.

When the Jews came back to the land and began rebuilding the Temple and Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Samaritans didn’t welcome them back. Nehemiah 4:2 records that Sanballat and the rich men of Samaria mocked Nehemiah’s project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

The Samaritans built their own Temple on Mount Gerizim and offered sacrifices there—the ruins of the ancient Samaritan Temple have been found up there.

The animosity of the Samaritan and Jews was a settled fact by the time of Yeshua. So Luke 9:52-56 records that when a Samaritan village wouldn’t welcome Yeshua and his disciples, the disciples recommended that the Master call fire down from heaven to destroy it. Yeshua declined, saying: Luke 9:55–56, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Between you and me, at this point the disciples remind me of Simeon and Levi, or Abimelech, who burned down Shechem a thousand years before. Has anything changed?

Indeed, it’s still a relevant question.

Pamela at Jacob's Well

When Pamela and I drove through the area in 1987, we stopped to see Jacob’s  Well. An Arab man, recognizing s a tourists, offered as a drink from the well. It was  so cool & pleasant! Yet shortly after we flew home, the first Intifada began, with so  much terror that we wouldn’t have dared visit that place in the middle of what is  now called the West Bank.

Things settled down by the time we were back in the land in 1999, so we daringly  drove through. By this time, the modern town of Nablus was under the control of  the Palestinian Authority (after the Oslo accords were supposed to bring peace).  But we saw hundreds of Palestinian policemen were toting their rifles, all over  town—so we didn’t stop this time, but just kept moving along! A few months after  we flew home that year, the Second Intifada began, and more terrorism.

Truly, Shechem/Samaria/Neopolis/Nablus has had a long history of strife,  suspicion and terror.

Yet one good and wonderful story of shalom did take place there. John 4 record that Yeshua came “to a Samaritan town called Shechem, near the plot of land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there.” At this same well of Jacob, Yeshua asked for a drink. The Samaritan woman was surprised, for as John 4:9 record, she tells Him, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jewish people don’t deal with Samaritans.)”

Madam, all He wanted was a drink! Yet the first thing she offers is the long history of strife. The Master chose not to accept the bitter taste of animosity, instead offering her a taste of shalom. John 4:9-10, Yeshua replied to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

To this place of incessant strife and death, Yeshua came and offered eternal shalom and eternal life. Every human being must decide: will it be the blessings called down from Mount Gerizim? Or the curses called down from Mount Ebal? Will it be strife or shalom?

Down through the ages, HaShem implores us, “Choose life!”

True shalom cannot be negotiated by external treaties. True shalom must be opened up in our hearts. Yeshua came to restore waters in the well—not the one at Shechem, but the one in every human heart. Put your trust in the Prince of Peace—Sar Shalom—and instead of strife, you will experience shalom.

Moreover, whenever you are tempted to fall back into the strife of this age, remember—you can keep choosing life instead of death, faith instead of fear, shalom instead of strife. The choice is all the more available to us, once we have resolved to follow Yeshua, Sar ShalomV’eemru?

If you know the gift of God, it can make all the difference, for your own soul, and also for those around you on the piece of land that you occupy. So let us tell others, come taste the water of life! V’eemru?

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