Five Recent Archaeological Discoveries

Five Recent Archaeological Discoveries

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about the latest archaeological discoveries. This post will cover five recent archaeological discoveries announced in the past five months.

Royal Israelite Complex at Horvat Tevet

archaeological discoveries--royal estate of omri
The royal Israelite estate at Horvat Tevet

As frequently happens in modern Israel, new construction often reveals old treasures. Preparations for the new Highway 65 running through northern Israel in the Jezreel Valley has revealed an ancient Israelite Administrative complex dating to the time of Israel’s kings Omri and Ahab. Dr. Omer Sergi, who co-directs the expedition has stated, “When you go inside the main building at Horvat Tevet, you are standing in the best-preserved building of the House of Omri ever found in Israel.” This main building is described as a royal estate and measures 20 meters (60 ft) long and 30 meters (90 ft.) long. Findings, which include kilns for making pottery, storage jars, textile workshops and grinding stones for milling grain into flour,  suggest that this location was part of an administrative complex where officials collected and redistributed agricultural products. For a more detailed description of this discovery see this link at Patterns of Evidence.

Temple Discovered at Motza

archaeological discoveries--Temple at Motza
This massive cultic structure shares a similar architectural design to the Temple in Jerusalem and is located only 4 miles Northwest of the Temple Mount!

Although originally discovered in 2012 (when another highway was being constructed!), Motza has only hit the news recently (although see this article from December 2012 by The Times of Israel). Starting in the Spring of 2019 a fuller study was begun on this interesting place. This is a fascinating discovery. More and more, temples and cultic sites are being discovered in Israel (see my post here and here for example, and see the final item below). This fits in quite well with the Old Testament’s description of high places and unauthorized places of worship. The intriguing part of this recent archaeological discovery is that the temple complex at Motza is only four miles from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem! This temple is believed to have been in use from 900 B.C. through the early sixth century B.C. It is about 2/3 size of Solomon’s Temple and the close proximity to Jerusalem suggests that it operated under the auspices of Jerusalem. It is well known that Solomon sanctioned the building of many temples (1 Kings 11:4-8), and his successors, even the “good” ones are censored by the author of Kings for not removing the high places (e.g., 1 Kings 15:9-14; 22:41-43). Among the fascinating discoveries are some figurines of human heads (see photo below) and some horse figurines with riders. For a more in depth look at this discovery and other photos, click this link on Patterns of Evidence or this link at haaretz. For a more cautious approach about this discovery, see the article at ABR here.

archaeological discoveries--figurines from tel motza
Human head figurines discovered at Tel Motza

Altar Discovered at Shiloh

Tel Shiloh
Tel Shiloh

A lot of exciting discoveries are being found at the biblical site of Shiloh by the team from ABR (Associates for Biblical Research) under the direction of Dr. Scott Stripling. Past discoveries include animals bones of sacrificial animals that are consistent with the type of animals ancient Israelites would have sacrificed. Many coming from the right side of the animal. Why is this important? Leviticus 7:29-32 notes that the right side of the animal was the portion given to priests. A burn layer at Shiloh has been examined and dated by carbon-14 dating to 1060 B.C., plus or minus 30 years. This is the time period the Bible indicates the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines. A ceramic pomegranate was discovered in 2018. The significance of the pomegranate is that pomegranates were worn on the garment of the High Priest (Exodus 28:31-35). Another interesting discovery is a  large monumental building, dating from the time of the Tabernacle which is in the initial stages of being uncovered. One of the sensational discoveries of the 2019 archaeological season was the discovery of three horns of an altar that is of biblical dimensions. A photo of one of those horns can be seen below. Other discoveries include numerous scarabs and bullae. If you’re interested in watching a two-part series on the recent discoveries at Shiloh hosted by the folks at ABR click here.  For further information on the ongoing excavation at Shiloh by ABR click here.

archaeological discoveries--Altar horn from Shiloh
One of the altar horns excavated at Shiloh in 2019.

Archaeological Discovery of an Ancient Canaanite Metropolis

Ein Esur
Ancient 5,000 year old Canaanite Metropolis

A constant theme of this post is how the construction of new highways in Israel leads to surprising archaeological discoveries. None is more surprising or sensational than the discovery at Ein Esur. In the words of excavation director Yitzhak Paz, “The study of this site will change forever what we know about the emergence [and] rise of urbanization in the land of Israel and in the whole region.” It is being called “the New York City of the Early Bronze Age.” The city dates to about 3000 B.C. and there is another city beneath it believed to date 2000 years earlier. This massive city covers 160 acres and, including outlying areas, stretches to about 700 acres. To quote R. Brian Rickett of Patterns of Evidence: “Despite previous paradigms, land surveys, and scholarly consensus, an ancient and well-established city existed in Northern Israel around the time of the establishment of the first Egyptian Kingdom. Furthermore, the newly discovered city is the largest known city to date from this period anywhere in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria. Scholarly consensus is already in transition as this new discovery is reshaping everything that was believed about the ancient urbanization process in the land of Israel.” Discoveries like this demonstrate that there is still much to learn about ancient Canaan and that biblical descriptions of large and ancient cities are more reliable than previously thought by more skeptical scholars and archaeologists. This kind of discovery also illustrates that it is premature to come to conclusions based on a lack of evidence, a practice followed by some scholars and archaeologists. One never knows what is lurking just below the surface, waiting to be discovered! To watch a short video on the discovery at Ein Esur click here. You can also check out two articles at The Times of Israel by clicking here.

Ancient Temple Found at Lachish

Archaeological discoveries--Temple at Lachish
An ancient Temple has been discovered at Lachish.

The archaeologists who have uncovered this new discovery at Lachish are calling it a Canaanite Temple. The reason for this is the numerous artifacts found including two small bronze “smiting gods” who are believed to represent the Canaanite gods Ba’al or Resheph (see photo below). The structure had two columns and two towers which led into a large hall. There was an inner sanctum (a holy of holies) with two standing stones believed to represent the temple gods (for the plan of the temple, see the drawing below). Some of the other fascinating finds include Egyptian-inspired jewelry, daggers, axe-heads, scarabs, and a gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name of Rameses II. A piece of pottery with Canaanite/Hebrew writing has also been discovered. This writing includes the first time the letter samech has been found in an inscription this old (roughly 1130 B.C.). The temple is dated to the 12th century B.C. The interesting thing about this date is that it falls within the biblical period of the Judges. My own thought is that, unless Lachish had somehow fallen back into Canaanite hands during this period (and there is evidence of two destruction layers dated to the 13th and 12th centuries B.C.), it is possible that this temple may further confirm the rampant idolatry of the Judges period, as described in the Book of Judges (Judges 2:11-13). The discovery of the writing on the piece of pottery also provides further evidence that there was an alphabetic system in use during this time (at least in certain areas of Canaan). For further information on this archeological discovery see the article by the Jerusalem Post here, or the very informative article in The Times of Israel here.

archaeological discoveries--the smiting gods
The smiting gods, perhaps Ba’al or Resheph.
12th century Canaanite temple plan
The plan of the a 12th century BCE Canaanite temple at Lachish. (J. Rosenberg)

 

The Unseen Realm: The Movie

The Unseen Realm: The Movie

The Unseen Realm
The Unseen Realm is now available on Faithlife TV at this link:

If you’ve ever wondered about some of the strange passages in the Bible that talk about the Nephilim (Gen. 6:1-4; Num. 13:33), the disobedient “spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:18-22; 2 Pet. 2:4-5), or the cosmic battle we face against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 6:12), then Michael Heiser’s book, “The Unseen Realm,” or his more popular version of this same topic, “Supernatural,” is a must read. However, for those who would rather watch a movie than read, Faithlife has now produced a movie version of The Unseen Realm.

The Unseen Realm is narrated by well-known TV  and film actor Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law and many others). There is also a cast of Who’s Who among evangelical scholars including Michael Heiser, Darrell Bock, Eric Mason, Ben Witherington III, and Gary Yates.

The Unseen Realm: What to Expect

The Unseen Realm
Heiser’s book is available at Amazon USA / UK and Logos Faithlife

If you’ve read Heiser’s book by the same name, or his book “Supernatural,” then you will be familiar with the content of this film. The film is done in a documentary style moving between the insights shared by the various participants. Like Heiser’s book, it begins with a brief look at the beginning of Psalm 82 which introduces a discussion about the Divine Council. It then moves to the meaning of the word “Elohim” (God, gods) and a discussion about its significance in the Old Testament.

Heiser and his companions then explore the entire content of revelation from Genesis through Revelation demonstrating the pervasive theme of cosmic warfare that is revealed in Scripture. One of the benefits of this fascinating journey is an explanation of obscure passages that many of us have tended to avoid, or at least, found confusing.

Strengths of the Movie

Christ's proclamation to the spirits in prison.
Christ’s proclamation to the spirits in prison.

Besides providing an explanation for hard-to-understand passages, Heiser and friends explain the significance of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. They also offer an interesting interpretation of the Conquest of Canaan. In Heiser’s view, the Conquest is aimed at the giant clans who were descended from the Nephilim. The death of the Canaanites was a result of the intermixture of populations. Heiser also contends that this helps explain why the Bible sometimes says to “utterly destroy” the inhabitants and, in other cases, to “drive out.”

Other insights include the Rabbinic teaching of the two Yahwehs (an interpretation  of the Son of Man passage in Daniel). This, along with passages about the Angel of the Lord, demonstrates that the OT provides support for the One God being manifested in different persons (a precursor to the concept of the Trinity).

I have read for years about the connection between Babel and the events of the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. While Babel divided the nations through different tongues, Pentecost made it possible to reunite nations through the speaking in tongues. Heiser and friends, however, demonstrate that the connection between these two events goes even deeper. I found this very enlightening.

The biggest strength of The Unseen Realm is the way it ties all of Scripture together. In the process of showing how the Bible describes the cosmic spiritual conflict from beginning to end, it also does a superb job of preaching the gospel and showing why Jesus had to die and rise again.

Weaknesses of the Movie

Dr. Michael Heiser
Dr. Michael Heiser, author of The Unseen Realm.

In my opinion, the biggest weakness of the movie is that it presents a lot of important, but theologically dense, material in a short amount of time. The movie is one hour and eleven minutes long. My familiarity with the book made understanding the movie a lot easier. However, I asked several people (my wife, my brother, and 2 friends) to watch the movie with me who had never read either of Heiser’s books. Each found the movie interesting, but were a little overwhelmed with all of the information presented. Some of the information is new, or offers a different interpretation of passages that some have never heard before. My viewers suggested that they would want to go back through the movie, pausing it and looking up the relevant passages of Scripture in order to check out Heiser’s arguments more carefully.

I am aware that Heiser’s views originally expressed in his book The Unseen Realm caused quite a stir among evangelicals. Some excited, some confused, some afraid that heresy was being advocated. The reaction of my viewers to the film was surprisingly open. They had either heard similar ideas before or found the explanations offered very intriguing. If the movie opens peoples’ minds and leaves them wanting to investigate the teaching at a deeper level, then it must be considered successful, even if it presents a lot of information. To be honest, I don’t know how the film could have covered less. It’s important to see the whole picture presented by Scripture.

The other weakness depends on one’s point of view. Throughout the film different artists are shown creating works of art that relate to the themes beings discussed. I and some of my viewers found this perplexing at times. Not always seeing how the art connected to the message. However, there was agreement that the time spent on showing the creation of the artwork allowed the viewer time to absorb what was being discussed. Those who are artistic may have a more positive response to the use of the artwork in the movie.

Final Evaluation

My overall response to the film, and that of my viewers, is a positive one. I believe this film is an effective way of communicating these truths of Scripture. If one is patient and follows the presenters and their presentation all the way through to the end, the film delivers a wonderful sense of the depth and beauty of God’s plan. Of course, not everyone will agree with everything in the film (or book). However, anyone who takes the time to view it will definitely find spiritual nourishment and be prodded to search out the topics presented in greater detail. I heartily recommend The Unseen Realm (movie and book) to all who are interested in better understanding the cosmic battle we are in and the wisdom of God’s unfolding plan.

To purchase The Unseen Realm: The Movie, click on this link. A trailer of the film is also available at this link.

(Thanks to Logos/Faithlife for providing me  with a link to preview the film for free. However, I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.)

Favorite Logos Commentary: The Geographic Commentary

Favorite Logos Commentary: The Geographic Commentary

Lexham Geographic Commentary
For this and other great resources from Logos click on the link here.

Those who frequent this blog may be aware that I’ve become enamored lately with a geographical approach to Bible Study (see posts here, here, and here). A favorite Logos commentary of mine is the Lexham Geographic Commentary. Last year, I did a review of volume 1 which focused on the Gospels (see review here). Lexham Press has recently published the second volume on Acts through Revelation. Since I’ve already done an overview of this series, I’d like to focus on one particular chapter of volume 2 that points out how valuable this commentary is in Logos. As noted in my previous review, although these volumes are available in hardback from Lexham Press, the Logos version offers many superior advantages.

Like volume 1, volume 2 has chapters authored by various experts on biblical geography and the ancient world. I’ve chosen chapter 41 entitled, “The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus,” by David A. DeSilva. If you want an in-depth sensory learning experience regarding Ephesus then this is the commentary for you! This chapter on Ephesus is chalk-full of maps, diagrams, photos, and videos to enhance one’s learning experience about ancient Ephesus. The screenshot below is an example of one of the great features available in the Logos edition. It is called “before and after.” The picture on the right is taken from the book and shows the way the Odeon in Ephesus might have looked. By clicking on the picture, a screen appears on the left hand side with a little slider allowing you to see the way it looks today, as well as how it looked then. I have left the slider in the middle of the picture so that you can see both the before and after. By using the cursor, you can move the slider in either direction.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
“Before and After” is one of the great features of the Logos edition.

Another superior feature of the Logos edition can be seen in the next screenshot. When DeSilva describes the various deities worshipped in the city of Ephesus, one may wonder who some of these deities are. In the Logos edition, all of the deities are highlighted. By clicking on the highlighted name (in this case I have clicked on Cybele), the lefthand side of the screen produces what is known in Logos as “The Factbook.” This resource provides an enormous amount of information at one’s fingertips to learn more about who Cybele was. Using a hardback copy one would obviously not have this information available, and at best, might put the book down to look up “Cybele” in a Bible Dictionary. Logos not only lists various articles available on Cybele, but also offers photos and a video about this goddess. Here’s the screenshot.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
Screen shot of the Factbook on the left which is accessed by clicking on the highlighted names in the book on the right.

The next two screen shots show an example of a video embedded within the text of the book. The first screenshot shows the book itself. By clicking on the link in the book, Logos takes you to a “Media” page where you are able to then watch the video. See the second screenshot below.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
This is a picture of the link in the book. Clicking on it takes you to a media page where you can watch the video.
Lexham Geographic Commentary
In this screenshot, the media page can be seen. Simply click the arrow to watch a video on Ephesus.

These are just a few of the advantages available in Logos. Photos can also be imported into the media page and transferred to PowerPoint, Keynote, or Logos’s own “Proclaim” for use in a slide presentation. The final screenshot is found at the end of the chapter listing still other resources available in the Logos version.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
Still other resources available in the Logos version of the Lexham Geographic Commentary!

David A. DeSilva, himself, is an extremely knowledgeable scholar on the ancient Roman world. This chapter on Ephesus is a gold mine of information and is greatly enhanced by all of the features available in Logos. This is why the Lexham Geographic Commentary is a favorite Logos commentary of mine. Check it out and the other resources available at Logos by following the link here.

The links on this page take you to my Logos page. To view this commentary, or any other Logos product, simply click on the links at the top of the page in Logos, or type the name of the resource in the search box.

5 Strategies for Improving Your Bible Study

5 Strategies for Improving Your Bible Study

The following is a guest post by Kaleb Cuevas from Logos:

Perhaps you have committed to a new Fall Bible study at church or are eager to dive into the latest new Bible study resource. Either way, you likely have the best intentions to stick with your new study on a consistent basis and increase their biblical knowledge. However, without the right mindset or frame of reference, you can easily lose interest and motivation.

Here are 5 strategies for helping you stay engaged by bringing your Bible study content to life.

1) Study for the right reasons

It is easy to view Bible study as an intellectual exercise. But acquiring information about the Bible is not a proper end in itself. Paul described the purpose of Scripture: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). If our studies do not equip us for good works, then they are unprofitable studies. As we read the Bible, our goal must be to ultimately apply it to our lives.

2) Consider the historical setting

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible was not written to 21st century Americans. Each book of the Bible was written by a specific person, to a specific group of people, in a specific culture, at a specific time, and for a specific purpose. If we miss these details, we are likely to misunderstand much of what we are reading. Many good study Bibles include much of this information in the introductions to books of the Bible, so we would recommend starting with one of those.

3) Use historical definitions of biblical words

Very few Greek or Hebrew words have an exact English equivalent. So we have to remember that the English words in a translation may not mean exactly the same thing as the original Greek or Hebrew. One way to get around this obstacle is to do a word study, examining every occurrence of a particular word in the Bible to see how it is used therein. However, this method is time consuming, so it might be helpful to acquire a good Bible dictionary that compiles such studies on major words in the Bible. It makes it easy to understand what a given word actually means when used in the Bible.

4) Keep it in context

All too often, we read the Bible as if it were a collection of unconnected verses. A single verse taken by itself can appear to mean something totally contrary to the author’s intent. We wouldn’t skip to a sentence in the middle of Moby Dick and expect it to make sense, so why do we do this with the Bible? One good example is Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is frequently claimed as a promise for God’s specific blessing on an individual. But when we look at the context, we see that God was talking to the Israelites, whom he had sent into exile for their sins. Only after being in exile for 70 years would God bring them back to prosperity. Those are “the plans I have for you” according to Jeremiah’s full context.

5) Understand the genre

The Bible is made up of 66 different books, and they include many different genres of literature. There are epistles and narratives, poems and parables, instances of wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature, and a host of other specific styles. Keeping them all straight can be confusing, but it’s a vital part of understanding what we read. Thankfully, there are tools to help us here as well, books that provide an overview for each book of the Bible—including the genre—along with a number of other important details.

5 Strategies for Bible Study was written by Kaleb Cuevas who is Marketing Manager for Logos Bible Software, a product of Faithlife, which uses technology to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible and offers 14 products and services for churches.

Logos Bible Software
If this post on “5 Strategies” has piqued your interest in using Bible study software, you can check out Logos by clicking here.

The Theology of 1&2 Samuel

The Theology of 1&2 Samuel

I’m a big fan of getting the “Big Picture” of a biblical book. The old cliche that “You can lose the forest for the trees,” is definitely true in biblical studies. We can become so microscopic by examining a word or verse (which definitely has its place!), that we can lose the meaning of the whole. My purpose in this article is to look at the theology, or big picture, of 1&2 Samuel. These books were originally one book and, therefore, they should not be separated if one is looking for the overall teaching they provide. (Note: I have done a similar post on The theme of the book of Genesis).

We’ll tackle the theology of 1&2 Samuel by looking at the following four points:

  1. 1&2 Samuel is a story about 4 main families (a point often overlooked in many commentaries and studies of these books).
  2. A summary of the contents of these books.
  3. How the beginning and ending of 1&2 Samuel contributes to understanding its main themes.
  4. Key texts that summarize important theological points being made.

A Story About 4 Families

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel
The significance of family relationships is highlighted in my book “Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel”. Available at Amazon USA / UK.

Because these are books that talk about the establishment of the monarchy in Israel, it’s often overlooked that these books are a story about 4 families. The families of Samuel, Eli, Saul, and David not only dominate the narrative of 1&2 Samuel, almost every person mentioned in these books is related to one of these four families! There are a few exceptions to this, but the only reason these exceptions appear in the story is because of their effect upon—and relationship to these 4 main families.

There’s also a special relationship between the heads of these 4 families. Samuel becomes a surrogate son of Eli, Saul becomes a surrogate son of Samuel, and David becomes a surrogate son of Saul. These relationships connect the leading figures of 1&2 Samuel and move the story forward.

The use of family language in 1&2 Samuel is also very striking. For example the word “son” or “sons” occurs over 300 times in these books. The word “house” which can not only refer to a physical building, but to a family or dynasty—like “the house of Saul,” or “the house of David”—occurs about 176 times. The word “father” occurs 82 times, and I could bore you with the frequent occurrences of other family terms, but hopefully you get the idea. This emphasis on family is what led me to title my book on 1&2 Samuel “Family Portraits,” and it’s a feature of these books that is often overlooked.

Overview of Contents of 1&2 Samuel

There’s a great deal of disagreement over how to outline the books of Samuel. My purpose here is to present an outline that will give us a general overview of the contents without going into detail as to why I’ve broken the chapters down the way I have. That would be another long post.

Any overview of 1&2 Samuel should point out that these books constantly present contrasts between the major characters.
1 Sam. 1-7 depicts the end of the period of the Judges and present a contrast between the inept and corrupt leadership of Eli and his sons with Samuel. These chapters also anticipate the coming monarchy through Hannah’s prayer and by depicting Eli in royal terms. Chapters 4-7 also detail the important threat that the Philistines pose to Israel. Eli’s ungodly leadership results in God abandoning Israel to Philistine domination, but Samuel’s godly leadership reverses the tide and brings victory to Israel over their enemies.

1 Sam. 8-15 introduces the people’s demand for a king, followed by the selection of Saul. While there are mixed reviews on the beginning of Saul’s kingship in 9-11—some in favor, some not—Samuel’s speech in chapter 12 lays the groundwork for what the Lord expects in both a king and His people. Sadly, chapters 13-15 tell of Saul’s rebellion and rejection. Saul’s son Jonathan provides a positive contrast to his father as we see what a godly king should look like, while Samuel’s instructions and rebukes demonstrate Saul’s rebellion.

1 Sam. 16-2 Sam. 1 introduces us to David and provides various contrasts with Saul. David receives God’s Spirit while Saul loses the Spirit, only to have an evil spirit torment him. While Saul fears the enemy, David steps out in faith and defeats Goliath. Thus, just as Eli’s leadership  resulted in failure and domination by the Philistines, so too does Saul’s. David, like Samuel before him, brings Israel victory against the Philistines. Saul seeks to kill David, while Jonathan befriends him. And when presented with the opportunity, David refuses to take Saul’s life. These chapters end describing Saul’s death and David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan.

2 Sam. 2-8 describe the rise of David over Judah first, and finally over all of Israel. The early chapters (2-4) contrast the rule of David and his general Joab with the rule of Saul’s son Ishbosheth and his commander Abner. Chapters 5-8 show David fulfilling a number of ancient prophecies, as well as establishing Jerusalem as the political and spiritual capital of Israel. The highlight is chapter 7 when God makes a covenant with David and promises him an eternal dynasty. This covenant recalls the words of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:10 and highlights the messianic theme of 1&2 Samuel.

2 Sam. 9-20 focuses on the house of David. Chapter 9 introduces David’s desire to do good to the house of Saul by blessing Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. Things begin to unravel however when David is provoked into a war with the Ammonites. During the war, David commits adultery with Bathsheba and murders her husband Uriah. Chapters 13-20 explore the consequences of David’s sin and the destruction that falls on his household as well as the nation. Absalom’s rebellion is at the heart of these chapters and the author once again presents another contrast. This time it’s between David and his son Absalom.

The books of Samuel conclude with chapters 21-24. These chapters are not in chronological order. Instead they’re ordered by a literary technique known as chiasm.  While David doesn’t die until 1 Kings 2, these chapters present a fitting conclusion to the books of 1&2 Samuel, including a psalm of David and his final words.

The Beginning and Ending of 1&2 Samuel

Hannah's song & David's psalm
Here is a list of some of the similiarities between Hannah’s song and David’s psalm.

Introductions to biblical books are very important for understanding the overall messages that God seeks to convey. It’s also instructive to compare the beginning of a book with its end, especially when that book is a narrative like 1&2 Samuel. One should ask what’s different at the end from the beginning? How does the end of the story reflect on the changes that have occurred since the introduction? These questions are very instructive when it comes to 1&2 Samuel.

1 Samuel begins with a family crisis that is resolved by Hannah giving birth to Samuel and fulfilling her vow of dedicating him to the Lord. The climax of this story finds Hannah offering a Psalm of praise to the Lord at the beginning of chapter 2.

As we read her words of praise, however, it becomes clear that Hannah’s words are not simply about her own situation. They’re related to God’s ways of dealing with His people. They speak of His sovereignty and power as He raises people up and brings them down. Her psalm ends in 2:10 by speaking of God’s “anointed” and “king.” Of course, there’s no king at this point in the story and, so, Hannah’s prayer anticipates the future. Her words are, in fact, prophetic and introduce a messianic theme that leads to God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7). This covenant informs the rest of the OT and anticipates Israel’s future messiah, a descendant of David. If we pay close attention to her psalm of praise, we’ll find that it actually provides a blueprint for the stories that follow in the rest of the book.

As we approach the end of the book in 2 Samuel 22, we find a psalm of David (as noted above). A comparison with Hannah’s psalm reveals many similar words and phrases. In fact, the theme of David’s psalm is the same as Hannah’s—God’s power. The difference is that, while Hannah’s psalm looks forward and proclaims the things God will do, David’s psalm looks back on what God has done.

Many have also noted that David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan, which occurs in the middle of the book (2 Sam. 1) has a similar theme. And so the beginning, middle, and end of Samuel have important psalms that talk about power.

Just as Hannah’s psalm is preceded by an introductory story, so David’s psalm is followed by some concluding material. This type of structure where something begins and ends in a similar way is known in literary circles as an inclusio. Think of it like a set of bookends or a parenthesis that blocks off a portion of text.

To summarize, by looking at the beginning and ending of the books of Samuel, we’ve learned that power is a key theme to the book. To be more specific, we’ve learned that God’s sovereignty is a truth that determines the outcome of the story. While 1&2 Samuel affirm that Israel is God’s king and His power is absolute, it also includes God working in Israel through His anointed king.

Key Texts in 1&2 Samuel

1&2 Samuel Key texts
The four key texts of 1&2 Samuel

Our last point of discussion is to note some of the key texts in 1&2 Samuel. An important question to ask is, “How do we know when we’re getting the message that God wanted to communicate through His Word, as opposed to making the text say whatever we want?

One of those ways is by becoming sensitive to what I call key texts. A key text might be a phrase within a verse, or perhaps a verse, or even a group of verses, that when you read them communicate an important truth that explains the story. In the case of the books of Samuel, there are certain texts that seem to jump off the page and say, “This explains in a nutshell what you’ve been reading about!”

In my opinion, there are four key texts in Samuel that summarize the major themes and purposes of the book. These four texts can be broken down into what I would call the main key text, which is then supported by the other three key texts.

1. The main key text of 1&2 Samuel is one we’ve already mentioned in the previous section. It’s Hannah’s psalm, or as some call it, Hannah’s prayer which is found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

As we’ve seen, the theme of this psalm praises God for His power. Hannah declares that the Lord is in control. She says that the Lord raises up and brings down, the Lord kills and makes alive. This theme of power shouldn’t surprise us. After all, the books of Samuel are about the establishment of the monarchy, which is an expression of the exercise of human power. But Hannah’s psalm declares to us from the beginning that though humans may struggle for power with one another, ultimately it’s God’s power that matters. Hannah also announces in the final verse that God exercises power by giving strength to His anointed. Her psalm explains the contrasts in the book. The contrasts we spoke of when outlining the contents. Through Hannah’s words we understand why Samuel is raised up and Eli and his sons are brought down. Why Saul is brought low and David is exalted.

Very simply, Hannah’s prayer is the basis that explains everything that happens in 1&2 Samuel. Although we’ll meet many fascinating and compelling characters in 1&2 Samuel, Hannah’s prayer reminds us that God is the main character of the book.

2. The next key text, and first supporting text is found in 1 Samuel 2:30. When God rebukes Eli through a prophet, God tells him, “Those who honor me, I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.” These words are important because they let us know that God is not arbitrary. Hannah said “God raises up and God brings down.” We might ask, “On what basis?” Does God act arbitrarily? Is there no rhyme or reason why He does what He does? 1 Samuel 2:30 provides the reason why some are brought low, while others are exalted. It has to do with whether they honor or despise the Lord.

This statement matches the teaching of the Law where God promises to bless the faithful and judge the rebellious (e.g., Deut. 27-28). However, the picture isn’t this “black and white.” 1&2 Samuel gives ample evidence that God’s grace and mercy are important elements that must be factored into the equation.

3. The third key text, and second supporting text, is found in Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in 1 Sam. 15:22-23. There Samuel says, “To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams.” Throughout 1&2 Samuel an emphasis is placed on true obedience vs. outward, ritualistic observance. God is looking for genuine worship, not outward show. There are many stories that reflect this important theme, including the contrast in the first two chapters between Eli and Hannah (as well as Eli’s sons and Samuel).

4. The fourth, and final key text (and third supporting text), is 1 Sam. 16:7. When God calls Samuel to go to the house of Jesse because He’s chosen a king from among his sons, He has to rebuke Samuel to not look at the outward appearance, as is common for humans to do. God tells Samuel that He doesn’t look on the outward appearance, but He looks on the heart.

The word “heart” is an important word in 1&2 Samuel. It occurs fifty-one times. Not only are there many stories that teach the lesson to not be fooled by outward appearance, this verse also connects closely with the other key texts. For example, God isn’t interested in outward ritual, but inward obedience of the heart. It’s the person with a genuine heart who honors God and this further explains God’s motivation in raising up some while bringing others down (1 Sam. 2:35; 13:14).

All four of these key texts work hand in hand and explain every story that is recounted in 1&2 Samuel.

Conclusion

Some would argue that the main point of the books of Samuel is the establishment of the monarchy, or, more specifically, the establishment of the Davidic monarchy. As we’ve seen, the theme of God’s anointed one is certainly an important theme in these books. However, one of the problems that can develop from this approach is simply looking at 1&2 Samuel as a historical source (“This is what happened long ago”). Of course, there are also many skeptics who would say this is an imaginative history. I would disagree and contend that these books contain genuine history, but we sell these books short if we only see them as history.

The four key texts noted above, and the way each of these texts interlock with the overall storyline, shows that 1&2 Samuel is much more than a nice story or ancient history. The message conveyed (and summarized in these 4 texts) is still very contemporary. In a world where the use and abuse of power is still a common theme, we need to know where real power lies. In our search for significance we need to realize that the honor we seek to achieve for ourselves is relatively meaningless and very fleeting. But in honoring the Lord, there is the promise of attaining everlasting significance as He promises to “honor those who honor Him.” This theme is continued in the NT where believers in Jesus are promised to share in His glory (e.g., Rom. 5:1; 8:30). Finally, the importance of integrity (the heart) and not focusing on outward appearance (or religious ritual without true content) is a message definitely needed in our society which is so image conscious but often lacks true depth and authenticity. The storyline, and culture that these books emanate from, may indeed be ancient, but the messages conveyed in 1&2 Samuel are very contemporary. These are books that definitely need to be taught and preached in the church today.

For a more indepth treatment of 1&2 Samuel check out my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel available at Amazon USA / UK, WestBow Press (e-book version available here), Barnes & Noble, and other internet outlets.

Goliath’s Gath Has Been Found

Goliath’s Gath Has Been Found

Gath, Tell es-Safi
My visit to Gath in the summer of 2008.

The ancient city of Gath (modern Tell es-Safi) has been experiencing the archaeologist’s spade for the past 23 years under the direction of lead archaeologist Aren Maeir from Bar-Ilan University. This excavation has revealed much about the Philistines, the ancient people who lived there. Perhaps, most famously, a piece of pottery was discovered in the excavation that bears similarities with the name Goliath (see my article here and the photo below). Maeir recently stated, “One of the nice things about excavations at this site – and archaeology in general – is that every time you excavate, there are surprises.” One of those surprises, just recently announced, is the discovery of an older city of Gath laying below the one that has been excavated for the past 23 years. This older city dates to the 11th century B.C., the time of David and Goliath, and is even larger and more impressive than the one Maeir and his team have been excavating over the past, almost, quarter of a century!

Goliath’s Gath is Impressive!

Maeir at Gath
Maeir standing by the ruins of the ancient Water Gate in Gath. ( Credit: TELL ES-SAFI/GATH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT)

The Jerusalem Post states, “While archaeologists have known for decades that Tell es-Safi contained the ruins of Goliath’s birthplace, the recent discovery beneath a pre-existing site reveals that his native city was a place of even greater architectural grandeur than the Gath of a century later” (for the full article click here). Digging beneath a previously explored area in Gath, this year (2019) the team discovered a large fortified structure with massive stones. Maeir states that the monumental architecture is larger than almost anything found in the Levant during this time period. As an example of the difference in size, Maeir compares the stones of the upper (later) period of the city (1.6 feet, or 1/2 meter long) with what he calls the “Goliath layer” recently discovered (3.2 – 6.5 feet, or between 1-2 meters). The walls of the older layer are also twice the width of the later walls (13 feet wide as opposed to 6.5 – 8 feet wide). The area covered by ancient Gath is also impressive. Maeir states that it covered about 123.5 acres, more than twice the size of comparable cities in the Levant. By comparison, the city of Jerusalem is estimated to have been about 10 acres in the time of David! For more details on the impressive size of Gath, see the excellent article in The Times of Israel.

Interpretation of the Find and Presuppositions

goliath ostracon
This is the piece of pottery, mentioned in the article above  (known as an ostracon), with names etched on it that resemble Goliath’s name. Discovered at Tell es-Safi, biblical Gath.

As we are all aware, all of us have certain presuppositions in our approach to anything in life. The same is true for archaeologists and biblical scholars. Maeir’s presuppositions differ from mine. He believes that much of the Bible was written at a later time period than the events that are described. Consequently he also believes that the Bible contains various myths, legends, and inaccuracies. As a result, he has suggested that the story of the gigantic size of Goliath (and others) may be related to the size of this ancient city and its walls. He thinks that ancient people would have reasoned that giant walls require giants to build them. Thus he does not believe the story of David and Goliath is literally true but derives from some such supposition.

Although Goliath may not be as tall as some think that he was (see my article here), I do respectfully disagree with Professor Maeir, since I hold to a strong view of the inspiration of Scripture. In my opinion, the power and sophistication of the Philistines and their great city of Gath, which has been revealed through archaeology, only confirms what the Bible has to say about them. They are pictured as a more technologically advanced society than the Israelites (e.g., 1 Sam. 13:19-22), as well as a dangerous and powerful foe. Many of the articles announcing this discovery are running with Professor Maeir’s theory. I for one, cannot agree. While we may not always be in agreement with the presuppositions and conclusions of others, we are certainly debtors to the men and women archaeologists who are uncovering the rich history of Israel’s past.

For other articles related to this recent discovery, see the following links:

This is the link to the Tell es-Safi site: gath.wordpress.com

Short article in Bible History Daily 

Has Ziklag Been Discovered?

Has Ziklag Been Discovered?

Map of Ziklag
Although Ziklag is known to be in the southern part of Judah near Philistine territory, this map illustrates the uncertainty of its exact location. (Notice that 2 places are marked as possibilities, neither of which reflects the location suggested by the recent discovery).

Fearing that Saul would one day catch up with him, David, his six hundred men and their families, fled to King Achish, king of Gath (1 Sam. 27:1-4). After spending some time there and pretending to be a loyal vassal, David prevailed on Achish to give him his own city. Achish chose Ziklag and David, his troops and their families, turned a former Philistine town into an Israelite town (1 Sam. 27:5-7).

The exact location of Ziklag has been debated by geographers and archaeologists. Recently, however archaeologists Yoseph Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, Kyle Keimer, and Gil Davis have announced that they believe they have discovered it in their excavation at Khirbet a-Ra‘i (https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-archaeologists-say-theyve-found-king-davids-city-of-refuge-a-debate-begins/).

Lead archaeologists at Khirbet a-Ra'i
The three directors of the Khirbet a-Ra‘i excavation, possibly the biblical Ziklag. (Left to right) Israel Antiquities Authority’s Saar Ganor, Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, Head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Dr. Kyle Keimer of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, on July 8, 2019. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

David’s Sojourn in Ziklag

According to 1 Samuel 27:7, David spent 16 months in the land of the Philistines. Presumably, most of that time was spent at Ziklag. From Ziklag, David and his men carried out raids against the enemies of Judah in the South (1 Sam. 27:8). However, when reporting his activities to Achish, he would inform him that he had been attacking areas in southern Judah associated with Israelite allies and inhabitants (1 Sam. 27:10-12).

When the Philistines gathered their troops to fight against Saul, Achish expected David, as a loyal vassal, to accompany him (1 Sam. 28:1-2). However, the other Philistine commanders did not trust David and his men and sent them packing back to Ziklag (1 Sam. 29:1-11). During the time that David and his men were absent from Ziklag, the Amalekites, a perennial enemy of Israel (and among those whom David had attacked—1 Sam. 27:8), captured the defenseless city of Ziklag. They set it on fire and took all of the families of David and his men captive (1 Sam. 30:1-4). The story turns out well for David and his men as they pursue the Amalekites and are able to save their families (1 Sam. 30:18-20).

Identification of Khirbet a-Ra‘i as Ziklag

Khirbet a-Ra‘i
Aerial view of Khirbet a-Ra‘i. Photo by Emil Ajem, Israel Antiquities Authority

The dig at Khirbet a-Ra‘i commenced in 2015. The leaders of this excavation include archaeologists who also excavated Khirbet Qeiyafa. Khirbet a-Ra‘i is located between Kiryat Gat and Lachish.  Keimer, one of the lead archaeologists states that three elements must exist for a city to qualify as the location of Ziklag. 1. 12th-century BCE Philistine habitation; 2. 10th century settlement, and; 3. a destruction layer. All of these are present at Khirbet a-Ra‘i. Regarding other possible candidates for the location of Ziklag Keimer stated, “Each candidate had a problem — the sequence, the geography, no destruction layer. But Khirbet a-Ra‘i seems to check all the boxes.”

Other archaeologists are not as convinced. Bar Ilan University Professor Aren Maeir, director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project for the past 23 years, is against the identification. In a phone conversation with The Times of Israel, Maeir said, “This suggestion of Yossi Garfinkel is so unacceptable, it’s unbelievable. There is simply no basis for this. I don’t know how he got to it.” Another prominent archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, agrees. One of the main arguments by these archaeologists is that the ancient city of Ziklag must be farther south than Khirbet a-Ra‘i. One reason for this is that Joshua 19:5 states that Ziklag was part of the inheritance of the tribe of Simeon, which was given a southern portion of the tribe of Judah. In the map at the top of the page the reader will notice that guesses as to possible locations for Ziklag are much further south of Gath. This isn’t the first time that Maeir and Finkelstein have had disagreements with Garfinkel over biblical sites (e.g., Khirbet Qeiyafa). Only time will tell if Khirbet a-Ra‘i may be ancient Ziklag. Meanwhile, it is certainly another interesting excavation in a land full of fascinating archaeological sites!

For more information on this discovery see the following links:

https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-archaeologists-say-theyve-found-king-davids-city-of-refuge-a-debate-begins/

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-town-of-ziklag-may-have-been-discovered/?mqsc=E4072404&dk=ZE9A7XZ42&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDaily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=ZE9A7XZ42

https://www.israelhayom.com/2019/07/08/archaeologists-announce-discovery-of-the-biblical-city-of-ziklag/

The following link from the Jerusalem Post also includes a short video showing the excavation.  https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Biblical-city-of-Ziklag-where-King-David-took-refuge-found-594955

 

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible

King James Bible
Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward

Mark Ward has written a very informative and well-balanced book looking at the KJV and the need for modern English versions of the Bible. Ward loves and appreciates the KJV, but he also presents clear reasons why the Bible is needed in one’s contemporary language.

The Preface to the King James Bible 

Ward quotes an interesting statement made in the preface to the KJV. It reads, “As nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the latter thoughts are thought to be the wiser; so, if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being holpen by their labours, do endeavour to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us.” (p. 83). 

Besides the archaic language which begs for a modern equivalent (how many times did you have to read the quote to understand it, and who among us knows what “holpen” means?), I find 3 interesting things about this quote:

1. The translators acknowledgement of their debt to those English translators who had gone before (Tyndale, Coverdale, etc.).

2. The concern of their own translation efforts being rejected (“no man, we are sure, hath cause to dislike us.”)

3. Their acknowledgement that building on previous efforts will “make that better which they left so good”. As Ward notes, “The KJV translators were not KJV-Only. They would most definitely support the work of later translators building on their foundation and being helped by their labors.” (p. 83).

Why I Recommend This Book

There is a lot to be praised about this book. First, it is concise and easily readable in a short amount of time. Second, it is written with sensitivity toward both the KJV and those who love it. Third, it is written by someone who knows the KJV, and is aware of the issues involving Bible translation. Fourth, it is written by one who has done the research. 

This is not an “off the cuff” bashing of the KJV, but a well-reasoned and well-researched book. I recommend it, not only to my friends who are KJV-Only Bible readers, but for those in the church who ask the frequent question: “What translation of the Bible is the best/should I use?” Ward’s final chapter focuses on this question in particular, but his whole book gives a well-rounded approach to answering it.

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible is available at Amazon USA / UK and Lexham Press.

NICOT/NICNT on Sale at Logos!

NICOT/NICNT
Check out the sale on NICOT/NICNT at Logos. Available until 5/15/19.

NICOT/NICNT on Sale at Logos!

Logos has announced that one of the best evangelical commentary sets available is on sale until May 15, 2019. The entire series of the NICOT/NICNT is on sale for a whopping 43% off! If you can’t afford the whole series, you may want to purchase the volumes of your choice for $29.99 (excluding the two newest volumes). A majority of volumes in this series run between $45.00 – $80.00, so it is worth your while to get in on the sale. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about you can check out my review of the NICOT/NICNT Commentary series that I posted this past December. I’ve reproduced it below for your convenience. Click here or any of the links on this page to go to the sale page at Logos.

The New International Commentary Series on the Old and New Testaments (My Review)

If I could only own one full set of commentaries, the New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (abbreviated as NICOT/NICNT) would be my choice. In fact, when the folks at Logos/Faithlife offered me the opportunity to own and write a review on a commentary series, the NICOT/NICNT was my choice! Beginning with the initial publication of the NICNT in the late 1940s, the New International Commentary series has been a staple in the lives of pastors, rabbis, students, seminary libraries, and those who are serious about plumbing the depths of the Bible. Like a fine wine, it as continued to improve with age. Many of its volumes are listed as the first or second top commentary on bestcommentaries.com.

Begun by a team of international scholars, the New International Commentary is a series in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Joel Green, the current editor of the New Testament series, writes that the NICNT was written “. . . to provide earnest students of the New Testament with an exposition that is thorough and abreast of modern scholarship and at the same time loyal to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.”

 

NICOT Judges Commentary
In this screenshot, author Barry Webb discusses historical issues related to the Book of Judges.

Each commentary begins with an introduction to the selected book(s) and looks at matters of authorship, date, background, purpose, structure, and theology (see screenshot above). This is followed by the author’s own translation of the Hebrew or Greek text and then a verse-by-verse commentary. Each commentary focuses on exposition of the text with theological and devotional insight, while not ignoring important critical matters dealing with the text.

Likes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

NICOT/NICNT
Always updating, the New International Commentary series volume on Galatians by David A. deSilva has just been published this year (2018).

One of the features of this long-running commentary series that I value is its commitment to stay abreast with the latest in scholarship. As the decades have passed, the New International Commentary series has grown along with contemporary methods of investigating the text of Scripture. As a result, older, outdated volumes, have been replaced, while volumes that retain their usefulness are in the process of being updated. For example, just this year (2018) Eerdmans (the publisher of the New International Commentary) has published a new commentary on Galatians by David A. deSilva. DeSilva’s commentary replaces the Galatians commentary by Ronald Y. K. Fung published in 1988, which, in turn, replaced the commentary on Galatians by Herman N. Ridderbos from 1953! These three commentaries on Galatians illustrate another feature I like. In older editions of the New International Commentary authors were much more brief in their treatment of the text. Whether that was by design (an editorial decision) or by author choice I do not know. While some may appreciate a brief commentary, and they do have an important contribution to make, I like the fact that the newer publications in the New International Commentary series allow the author freedom regarding page length. Looking again at the three editions of the Galatians commentary, Ridderbos’s original treatment of Galatians was 240 pages. Fung’s version was 375 pages. The latest contribution by deSilva is 622 pages. This example is characteristic of the entire commentary series. The new volumes coming out, whether replacements or brand new products are longer than the older volumes. Obviously this is only a plus if the author of a given commentary is providing good information, but this does not seem to be a problem in this series.

Dislikes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

The New International Commentary series currently consists of 48 volumes (26 OT and 22 NT). The New Testament series is nearly complete, only lacking commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude. The Old Testament series still lacks volumes on Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, and Amos. This is one of the drawbacks of this series. There is not yet a commentary on every book of the Bible. One would hope that the editors would encourage scholars assigned a certain book to meet a reasonable deadline so that the rest of these commentaries can be made available. One case in point is David Toshio Tsumura’s commentary on First Samuel which came out in 2007. Eleven years later, readers continue to wait for his commentary on Second Samuel.

The New International Commentary Series in Logos

Logos 8
Logos 8 is now available! Check out my review here, click on the link provided and get your update with a discount!

I am a person who still enjoys grabbing an actual book and reading through it. I also have to admit that I enjoy the sight of bookshelves full of books. However, I am gradually being won over by the new technological revolution which is spearheaded in the realm of Bible software by Logos/Faithlife. As great as it would be to have the entire NICOT/NICNT series lining my bookshelves (and I do have a number of volumes), I am in love with the idea of being able to take this entire series with me on my laptop, IPad, or IPhone! Granted, a person usually only needs one commentary at a time, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Logos puts a whole library of commentaries at your disposal.

Users of Logos are also well aware of the powerful search tools available in Logos. Every word in the New International Commentary series is tagged so that anything can be looked up in a matter of moments. If you’ve forgotten where that quote is that you liked, or a particular insight, it can be easily found by typing a word or phrase into Logos. This beats thumbing through a 1,000 page commentary trying to find that special quote or insight. Given the choice of having this commentary series on my shelves or on my computer is a no-brainer. I’d choose my computer every time.

If you have an older version of Logos and you’re wondering if you can buy this commentary series and still have it available when you update, the answer is “Yes.” You never lose any books that you purchase in Logos. They will always transfer when you update to a newer version. Of course, this series isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a commentary series that provides in-depth treatment of the Bible with great theological insights this one is definitely worth saving up for.

To check out the current sale at Logos use this link.

Shechem: Insights From Biblical Geography

Shechem: Insights From Biblical Geography

Ancient Shechem
Aerial view of the ancient city of Shechem

In my previous two posts (here and here), I have sought to demonstrate how learning biblical geography can be a helpful way of studying the text of Scripture. The ancient city of Shechem, located near modern Nablus, is another example of what can be learned by studying biblical geography. The city of Shechem is mentioned 54 times in the OT, not counting an additional 13 times where it refers to an individual by the same name. It is specifically mentioned twice in the NT (both in Acts 7:16), however, the mention of Sychar in John 4 may be the same city. It is certainly the same geographical area (see discussion below). Because of its frequency, we will only examine the most significant occurrences of this city in Scripture.

Shechem and the Patriarchs

Shechem
Shechem is located in the heart of the Land of Canaan.

The first mention of Shechem occurs in Genesis 12:6 when Abram enters the land of Canaan. We’re told that the Lord appeared to Abram and promised him that the Land of Canaan would be given to his descendants. As a result Abram built an altar. Thus our initial introduction to Shechem involves the Lord revealing Himself to Abram and Abram’s grateful response by building an altar.

Simeon and Levi
Genesis 34 tells the story of how Jacob’s sons destroy the inhabitants of Shechem for the rape of their sister.

Shechem plays a significant role in the story of Jacob after his return to the land (having spent 20 years with his uncle Laban in Haran). It is only the second place in Canaan where one of the patriarchs purchased a part of the land (the other was the cave of Macpelah and surrounding land where Abraham buried Sarah–Gen. 23:16-20). We are told that Jacob purchased some land near Shechem, and then, like his grandfather Abram, he built an altar there which he called “El Elohe Israel” (God, the God of Israel–Gen. 33:18-20). Thus, the first two mentions of Shechem in the Bible represent God’s promise of the land, along with Jacob’s purchase of some of that land, followed by both patriarchs worshipping the true God by building an altar to Him.

Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped by a man named Shechem (Gen. 34). Shechem was the son of Hamor, the ruler of the city at this time, and for whom, apparently, the city was named. Outraged at the treatment of their sister, the brothers (led by Simeon and Levi) devise a plan that leads to the destruction of the people of Shechem. Jacob fears retaliation by the surrounding inhabitants and God appears to him at that time telling him to go to Bethel. Before leaving, however, Jacob has his household put away all their foreign gods and purify themselves (Gen. 35:2).

As an interesting sidenote: In Hebrew the name “Hamor” means “donkey.” The inhabitants of Shechem are referred to as the “sons of Hamor” or “sons of a donkey.” While excavating the city under the lowest floor of the outer guardroom, what appears to be a donkey was found buried there [Toombs, L. E. (1992). Shechem (Place). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 5, p. 1182)]. The reason this is interesting is that Canaanites are known to have ritually slaughtered donkeys in dedication to their gods and buried them in the foundation of the city gates. See the following article: Bronze-Age Donkey Sacrifice Found in Israel.

Joshua

Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal. The vicinity of ancient Shechem.
Mounts Gerazim and Ebal provide the backdrop to the city of Shechem.

The Book of Joshua informs us that Shechem was both a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7), as well as a Levitical city (Josh. 21:21). Shechem was located near two mountains–Gerizim and Ebal. Before entering the Promised Land, Moses had commanded the people to build an altar on Mount Ebal and to divide the tribes between the two mountains. Half were to pronounce the blessings of the Law from Mount Gerizim, while the other half were to pronounce the curses of the Law from Mount Ebal. The fulfillment of this command is recorded in Joshua 8:30-35.  Shechem is also the setting for Joshua’s famous speech that includes the words, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15; see Josh. 24:1). These important events recall the patriarchal stories, especially the story of Jacob. Just as Jacob had called on his household to put away their foreign gods, so Joshua, centuries later, challenged the nation of Israel to do the same. Except for the horrendous crime committed by Jacob’s sons in the slaughter of the people of Shechem, its early history left a legacy of commitment to God and a repudiation of foreign gods. Shechem was also the place where the bones of Joseph were laid to rest (Josh. 24:32), a reminder of the promise given to Abram at Shechem that God would give his descendants the Land of Canaan. Not too bad of a start for this geographical location. But all that was about to change!

Abimelech

Death of Abimelech
Abimelech was killed when a woman threw an upper millstone on his head, crushing his skull.

The story of Abimelech, the son of Gideon by a concubine, is recorded in Judges 8:30-9:57. Although at one point Gideon had broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah pole (Judg. 6:27-28), leading Israel away from idolatry, by the end of his life he was responsible for leading Israel back into idolatry. Abimelech’s mother was from Shechem (Judg. 8:31) and he was able to convince the leaders of Shechem to make him king (Judg. 9:1-2) and destroy the other sons of Gideon (also known as Jerubaal). Abimelech hires 70 “worthless men” to do the job of slaughtering the 70 sons of Gideon. He hires them by using money from the temple in Shechem dedicated to the god Baal-Berith (Judg. 9:4-6). It is unclear how many temples existed in Shechem. Later in the story a temple dedicated to El-Berith is also mentioned (Judg. 9:46). Many scholars believe that these are two names for the same temple. El, which means god (or God), was the head of the Canaanite pantheon. According to Canaanite religion, Baal was a son (or possibly a grandson). There is also a sanctuary mentioned in Joshua 24:26. After Joshua wrote some words in the book of the Law, we are told that he set up a large stone “under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.” Ironically, this may be the same place later called the temple of Baal-Berith. In other words, a place that was known for turning from foreign gods to worship the true God had become a place where Baal was now worshipped. Another irony of the Abimelech story is that he destroys this temple when he demolishes the city of Shechem (Judg. 9:46-49)–the very temple whose funds had been used to install him as king!

Temple of Baal Berith in ancient Shechem
This photo, the same as the one above, points out the Temple and standing stone discovered at Shechem

Archaeologists have uncovered a temple in ancient Shechem (see the photo above). The destruction dates to the 12th century BC, the same time period as Abimelech’s destruction described in Judges 9. A standing stone was also discovered, part of which is still standing. It is probably this stone which is referred to in Judges 9:6 which states that Abimelech was made king “beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem.” Some also believe that this may be the same stone mentioned in Joshua 24:26. Archaeologists have also uncovered a statue of Baal at Shechem providing firm evidence that Baal was worshipped there. For further information click on the following link: Abimelech at Shechem.

Shechem and The Divided Kingdom

The disappointing history of Shechem continues as it becomes the scene for the coronation of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1). On this occasion, however, the northern tribes presented their grievances and when Rehoboam answered them harshly, the ten northern tribes made Jeroboam their king and created a permanent separation that lasted until the Exile. In fact, Shechem was fortified by Jeroboam and became the first capital city of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:25). If the reign of Abimelech emphasized the spiritual apostasy of Israel, the dissolution of the United Monarchy at Shechem was a precursor to the troubles that would plague Israel and Judah eventually leading both kingdoms into exile. Thus bringing to an end (at least momentarily) the promise made to Abram to give the Land of Canaan to his descendants.

The New Testament

Jacob's well at the foot of Mount Gerizim near ancient Shechem
Jacob’s well, now housed inside a Greek Orthodox Church in the area near Mount Gerazim and ancient Shechem is the location of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman.

By the first century A.D., the area around Shechem had become part of Samaritan territory. In fact, archaeologists tell us that Shechem ceased to exist in the first century B.C.. The only direct reference to the ancient city of Shechem is found in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:16, when he is recounting the history of the patriarchs. However, the NT knows another very important episode that happened in the vicinity of ancient Shechem. This is the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well near Sychar (John 4:5). Whether Sychar refers to ancient Shechem or to a nearby town (known today as Askar), is disputed by scholars. One thing that is certain is that the well that Jesus meets this woman at is the well of Jacob and is near the parcel of land given to Joseph (John 4:5). Today a Greek Orthodox Church has been built over the site (see the photo on the left) which sits near the foot of Mount Gerizim. Anyone familiar with the ancient site of Shechem from the OT would immediately recognize that this conversation takes place in the same locale by the reference to the mountain on which the Samaritans worship (John 4:20). The ruins of the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim can still be seen today. This Temple, built around the middle of the 4th century B.C., was destroyed probably sometime in the 2nd century B.C. (either by John Hyrcanus, or Simeon the Just).

While Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman has many implications (including her own salvation, as well as those in the town), for our purposes it creates the perfect ending to the sorted tale of the city of Shechem. Jesus’ response to the woman at the well concerns worship that is “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). How fitting that Jesus speaks of the meaning of worship that pleases the Father in a place where Abram and Jacob had built altars to the true God, and where Jacob and, later Israel, had put away their foreign gods in order to worship the God of Israel. How fitting also that Jesus brings the gift of the Kingdom of God to this woman and the people of her town in the very area that had witnessed the division of the Kingdom of Israel! Knowing the stories about Shechem in the OT and understanding that Jacob’s well and the first century village of Sychar is in this same geographical area brings a satisfying conclusion to a city with a mixed spiritual and political heritage. How good of God to bring this region full-circle through providing the living water that only Jesus can give!

For more on Shechem see the excellent article entitled: The Geographical, Historical & Spiritual Significance of Shechem at bible.org.