After Samaria, we had an easy journey to Shechem. It is very close by. Shechem is the first place to be mentioned when Abraham enters the Promised Land, and when he arrived there, it was from here that God said “To your offspring I will give this land”, and Abraham built an altar there. (Gen.12:6,7). When his grandson, Jacob, returned from his sojourn in east (having fled from his brother Esau), he came to Shechem, and bought the piece of land for 100 pieces of silver (Gen. 33:18,19). Shechem is where Joseph came to when he was looking for his brothers, wearing his splendid coat of many colors, and eventually where Joseph would be buried after his very colorful and eventful life.
When the people of Israel re-entered the land, after the Exodus from Israel and their wandering through the wilderness, after defeating Jericho and Ai, Joshua brought the nation here to Shechem, as God had told him to do (Deut. 11) to recite the covenant that they had made in Sinai. Shechem is between two mountains, Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (you can see them in the photo gallery) and God instructed half of the tribes to stand on Mt. Gerizim to pronouce the blessing that would follow faithfulness, and half the tribes to stand on Mt. Ebal and give warning of the curses that would follow disobedience (Deut. 27).
In Joshua 24, at the end of his life, Joshua again brings the people to Shechem to renew the covenant, and to urge the people to “fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness. (We will hear echoes of this from another “Joshua” in another place very near by to Shechem, in a moment.)
Shechen became the first capital of the whole nation of Israel, although the capital was moved to Tirzah and then to Samaria before Jerusalem became the defacto capital. After Solomon’s death, when the nation split between the North Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, Shechem became the capital of the Northern Kingdom under Rehoboam.
There are great archaeological remains here in Shechem called Tel Balata. The first city here was founded in the 19th century BC and it’s name appears in Egyptian texts. There was a great expansion in the 17th – 16th century BC when it was a powerful city state in the hill country. The remains include impressive fortified walls, gates, a temple and , a fortress, a courtyard and a standing stone. The Assyrian invasion brought terrible destruction on the city and it did not recover until the end of the 4th century BC after Alexander the Great built a military and commercial installation. Finally it was reduced to rubble by the Maccabees in 107 BC, and never recovered due to the fact that Titus in 72 AD founded a new city, Nablus, only a short distance to the west.
As alluded to early, in the New Testament another “Joshua” gave another very close by to Shechem. Of course, this is Jesus (Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua) when he meets the woman at the well in Sychar. This is only a mile or more from Shechem. The woman is a Samaritan and as such has been caught up in religious practices that have deviated from what God originally commanded (part of the whole Jew / Samaritan conflict) and has led a life that has deviated from what God commanded. He engages her in conversation and, just as Joshua had commanded the Israelites to “serve him in sincerity and faithfulness” so too now Jesus calls the Samaritan woman to worship God “in spirit and in truth”. It is here at Jacob’s well that Jesus for the first time openly declares himself. When the woman says “I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” And Jesus replies “I who speak to you am he” (using the grammatical term that in Hebrew would come across as Yahweh). It is the Messiah who will break down the dividing wall between Jew and Samaritan, and between Jew and Gentile, and between all peoples, bringing peace and shalom.
How inconceivably awesome to stand in this place! There is a wonderful church that is built over the site of Jacob’s well, and I got a couple of nice pictures of the grapes on the vine growing on the courtyard wall. A reminder that this Jesus is the True Vine.