Have you noticed when someone says something to you, the tone of what they say speaks louder than their words? As I’ve studied the Bible, I’m convinced something else also contributes to the words: the place the words were spoken.
That’s why Joshua regathered the young Hebrew nation to Shechem. The geographical context of his words played a significant role in shaping the message.
The place screamed as loudly as Joshua’s words.
What he said that day still applies to us.
The Significance of Shechem
You’d never know it today, but Shechem, the site of modern Nablus, provided the most important crossroads in central Israel.
Joshua designated Shechem as a city of refuge. Probably because of its ease of access in a time of possible flight, a manslayer could take refuge from his avenger in Shechem, one of the three cities of refuge on the west side of the Jordan (Joshua 20:7; 21:21; 1 Chronicles 6:67).
Because of its central location and vital intersection, Shechem often found itself in major events in the biblical narrative.
- Abraham came first to Shechem when he entered Canaan (Genesis 12:6), and God confirmed the promise to give the land to him.
- Later Jacob settled here, and dug a well. Joseph was buried here (Joshua 24:32).
- After the Exodus, the Lord commanded Israel to go to Shechem and recite the blessings and the curses of the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 27:4).
Joshua did this, and dividing the nation, “Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal” (Joshua 8:33). Shechem stood in the valley between.
When visiting the valley between the hills, it’s easy to envision the nation of Israel shouting the blessings and the curses. The BiblePlaces Blog cites an acoustic experiment conducted in 1879 that demonstrated how the valley would have acted as a natural amphitheater—amplifying the voices of the Hebrew nation.
Shechem Remained Significant
During the time of the Judges, Abimelech was proclaimed king at Shechem (Judges 9:6). After Solomon, Rehoboam “went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king” (1 Kings 12:1). Jeroboam chose Shechem as the capital for the Northern Kingdom, perhaps because of the significant history there for Ephraim.
Samaria became significant in Shechem’s history because the people who later worshipped on Mount Gerizim came to be known as “Samaritans” (named after the capital Omri had chosen).
- After the Assyrians dragged the Northern Kingdom into exile in 722 BC, the Assyrians repopulated the area with a mixed breed—partly Jewish, partly Assyrian.
- These people did not know the Lord (2 Kings 17:24-41) and thus they continually struggled with idolatry.
Recently the archaeological site atop Mount Gerizim has opened. Tremendous Byzantine ruins are there. Thankfully, once again visitors can come to ancient Shechem—as long as proper arrangements are made with guides who remain aware of political tensions in the region.
Joshua’s Challenge at Shechem
Just before Joshua’s death, he gathered the nation to Shechem again—years after their antiphonal shouting. Here Joshua reminded them:
- Abram was an idolater at one time, but left it all to follow the Lord (Joshua 24:2). Joshua elevated the grace of God in calling them out of a pagan past.
- Jacob buried his idols and worshipped God at Shechem. What a humble beginning.
- He then urged them to choose personally to serve the Lord “in sincerity and truth” (Joshua 24:14).
Jesus’ Challenge Still Rings True
Amazingly, Jacob’s well still exists just outside of modern Nablus. Visitors can descend below a modern church built over the site.
Two thousand before our time—and almost two thousand years after Jacob’s—Jesus spoke to a woman by this well. His words were similar to Joshua’s. Jesus said the worshippers God seeks are those who worship Him in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).
Both Joshua and Jesus stressed the need for internal sincerity and truth and not external formality. I wonder if Jesus had the words of Joshua, his namesake, in mind as He spoke in Sychar beside ancient Shechem.
Both were urging the same response—one that we need to heed.
Choose each day whom you will serve.
Tell me what you think: What place do you go that reminds you to choose God every day? To leave a comment, just click here.