Shechem—The City in the Valley
DEEP in the heart of the land God chose for his people, nestled between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, lay the city of Shechem. It was here—nearly four thousand years ago—that Jehovah promised Abraham: “To your seed I am going to give this land.”—Genesis 12:6, 7.
In harmony with this promise, Abraham’s grandson Jacob camped at Shechem and built an altar that he called “God is the God of Israel.” Probably Jacob dug a well in this area to supply water to his family and flocks, a well that centuries later would be known as “Jacob’s fountain.”—Genesis 33:18-20, footnote; John 4:5, 6, 12.
However, not all the members of Jacob’s family showed zeal for true worship. Dinah, his daughter, sought out companions among the Canaanite girls of Shechem. Dinah, who was then still young, left the safety of her family’s tents and began to visit the nearby city, making friends there.
How would the young men of the city view this young virgin who regularly visited their city—apparently unaccompanied? A chieftain’s son “got to see her and then took her and lay down with her and violated her.” Why did Dinah court danger by associating with the immoral Canaanites? Was it because she felt she needed the company of girls her own age? Was she as headstrong and independent as some of her brothers? Read the Genesis account, and try to comprehend the distress and shame that Jacob and Leah must have felt because of the tragic consequences of their daughter’s visits to Shechem.—Genesis 34:1-31; 49:5-7; see also The Watchtower, June 15, 1985, page 31.
Nearly 300 years later, the results of disregarding theocratic guidelines once again came to the fore. At Shechem, Joshua organized one of the most memorable assemblies in Israelite history. Imagine the scene in the valley. More than a million people—men, women, and children—belonging to six tribes of Israel stand in front of Mount Gerizim. Across the valley about the same number from the other six tribes stand in front of Mount Ebal.* And there below, alongside the ark of the covenant and between the two masses of Israelites, stand the priests and Joshua. What a setting!—Joshua 8:30-33.
Rising above this enormous crowd, the two mountains offer a stark contrast of beauty and barrenness. Gerizim’s upper slopes look green and fertile, while those of Ebal are mainly gray and bare. Can you feel the buzz of excitement as the Israelites await the moment for Joshua to speak? Every sound echoes in this natural theater.
During the four to six hours that Joshua takes to read ‘the book of the law of Moses,’ the people also participate. (Joshua 8:34, 35) Apparently, the Israelites in front of Gerizim say Amen! after each of the blessings, whereas the Amen! of those in front of Ebal emphasizes each malediction. Perhaps the barren appearance of Mount Ebal serves to remind the people of the disastrous outcome of disobedience.
“Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt,” warns Joshua. In unison, more than a million voices respond: “Amen!” Joshua waits for this thunderous response to die down before continuing: “Cursed is the one who moves back the boundary mark of his fellowman.” Once again the six tribes, accompanied by many alien residents, shout: “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:16, 17) If you had been there, would you have ever forgotten that meeting held between the mountains? Would not the need for obedience have been indelibly imprinted on your mind?
Shortly before he died some 20 years later, Joshua once again called the nation together at Shechem for them to fortify their resolve. He put before them the choice that everyone must make. “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve,” he said. “But as for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah.” (Joshua 24:1, 15) Evidently, these faith-stirring conventions at Shechem made their mark. For many years after Joshua’s death, the Israelites imitated his faithful example.—Joshua 24:31.
Some 15 centuries later when Jesus was resting under the shadow of Mount Gerizim, a heartwarming conversation took place. Weary from a long journey, Jesus was sitting by Jacob’s fountain when a Samaritan woman with a water jar approached. The woman was most surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink, since Jews did not talk to Samaritans, let alone drink from their vessels. (John 4:5-9) Jesus’ next words surprised her even more.
“Everyone drinking from this water will get thirsty again. Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty at all, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.” (John 4:13, 14) Imagine the woman’s interest in that promise, for fetching water from this deep well was a laborious task. Jesus further explained that despite their historic importance, neither Jerusalem nor Mount Gerizim were religious sites essential for approaching God. Heart attitude and conduct, not location, were what mattered. “True worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth,” he said. “Indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him.” (John 4:23) How comforting those words must have been! Once again this valley became the place where people were urged to serve Jehovah.
Today the city of Nablus lies alongside the ruins of ancient Shechem. Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal still dominate the valley, standing as silent witnesses to the events of the past. Jacob’s well, at the base of these mountains, may still be visited. As we meditate on the events that took place there, we are reminded of the importance of upholding true worship, just as Joshua and Jesus taught us to do.—Compare Isaiah 2:2, 3.
The six tribes in front of Mount Gerizim were Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. The six tribes in front of Mount Ebal were Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.—Deuteronomy 27:12, 13.
[Picture Credit Line on page 31]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.