Scenes From the Promised Land
“Woe To You, Chorazin!”—Why?
YOU certainly would not want God to pronounce woe on you, would you? Think, then, how the Jews of three Galilean cities should have felt when God’s Son and Judge proclaimed:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! because if the powerful works had taken place in Tyre and Sidon that took place in you, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. Consequently I say to you, It will be more endurable for Tyre and Sidon on Judgment Day than for you. And you, Capernaum, . . . down to Hades you will come.”—Matthew 11:21-23.
The scene above focuses on one of those cities—Chorazin. This picture also appears for July/August in the 1989 Calendar of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Interestingly, Jesus’ words at Matthew 11:21-23 are in the Bible reading program of Jehovah’s Witnesses during August. What, then, should we know about Chorazin?
Well, take note of where ancient Chorazin lay. You can see its ruins in the foreground of this photograph. Next, note the trees on the northern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. That is where Capernaum was, about two miles [3 km] away. The perspective of this aerial photograph might suggest a rather flat terrain, yet Chorazin is actually situated in hills some 885 feet [270 m] above the shore.
It also helps to know that at about the same distance from Capernaum, along the shoreline, was Bethsaida. Thus, in reproaching these three cities, Jesus was concentrating on a small area around his center of activity in Galilee. (Matthew 4:13; Mark 2:1; Luke 4:31) Why did Jesus pronounce woe on them?
Jesus spent much time with the apostles in this area, and he performed many powerful works here. Near Bethsaida he miraculously fed over 5,000 people, and he restored sight to a blind man. (Mark 8:22-25; Luke 9:10-17) Among his miracles in or near Capernaum was his curing a sick lad from a distance, healing a demonized man, enabling a paralytic to walk, and resurrecting the daughter of an officer of the synagogue. (Mark 2:1-12; 5:21-43; Luke 4:31-37; John 4:46-54) While the Bible does not specify for us what “powerful works” are linked with Chorazin, Matthew 11:21 indicates that Jesus performed miracles in or near there. Yet, the people would not repent and put faith in him as the Messiah who had God’s backing.
Looking at the accompanying scene of Jesus performing such works, you might ask, ‘How could the people of Chorazin be so unresponsive?’ Perhaps a clue is to be found among the black basalt stones that archaeologists have unearthed among these ruins, which date from the third century C.E. These remains include a synagogue in the city center and residential areas nearby. Some of the stones from the synagogue had unusual carvings. Of what? Figures from Greek mythology, such as a snake-haired Medusa and a centaur, half man and half horse. Since Judaism should have strongly opposed such idolatrous sculptures, why would Jewish leaders in Chorazin have allowed them on their synagogue?
One theory is that “a liberal attitude might have been traditional in the locality,” giving Jesus reason to hope for a good response in the city.* But if these synagogue friezes suggest anything about an attitude in Jesus’ day, it could be that the majority in Chorazin were not particularly concerned with worshiping “the Father with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) They showed that by their not accepting the miracle-working Messiah.
When Jesus sent out the 70 disciples, he again used hyperbole involving the unresponsiveness of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. If Jesus’ fellow Galileans of Chorazin who were acquainted with his powerful works did not respond favorably, the disciples should not be surprised if inhabitants in some other cities in which they preached did not receive them.—Luke 10:10-15.
So as we contemplate the lifeless black ruins of Chorazin, we should take to heart the warning implicit in Jesus’ “woe.” Failure to repent, to respond to God’s work being done by his people, can lead to debasement and a desolate future.
The World of the Bible, Volume 5, page 44, published by Educational Heritage, Inc., New York, 1959.
[Map on page 16]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Sea of Galilee
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est. and Survey of Israel
[Picture on page 17]
[Picture Credit Line on page 16]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.