Articles, Land intercession

Shechem – the town near the well of the Samaritan Woman

Have you ever wondered if what we do on land, matters?  The story of Shechem provides us with some insights and answers.

The very first time that we read about a place called Shechem in the Bible, is in Gen 12:6-7

Abram passed through the land to the locality of Shechem, to the oak or terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.  Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, I will give this land to your posterity. So Abram built an altar there to the Lord, Who had appeared to him.

The Lord appeared to Abram in the vicinity of Shechem, and it was here that God promised him that this land will one day belong to his generations to come.  It was a place where Abram built an altar to the Lord and worshipped Him.  It was a place where God met Abram and where he had a special encounter with God, that included a promise from God not for Abram alone, but also for his generations to come. It is a place where God revealed his long-term vision of giving land to his chosen people.  Surely this place must have been a place of special significance for Abram, after having such a profound encounter with God.

So if this was God’s intention for Shechem and the rest of the land – to belong to God, to belong to God’s people, to be the land on which there would be an altar meant for worship of the one and only living God – God surely meant that there would be good things in stall for the town and its inhabitants? So what happened in history after this day at Shechem?

We find the next reference to Shechem in the Bible in Gen 33:18 to Gen 34: 31.  Jacob arrives in the vicinity of Shechem, pitches his tent there and buys a piece of land from the people of Hamor.  He builds an altar there, and he calls it El Elohe Israel – literally that means “God, God of Israel”.  Then the unthinkable happens at this place: Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, goes out with the daughters of the land and when Shechem, Hamor’s son, the prince of the land, sees her, he takes her and rapes her.  Now the Canaanites were the descendents of Noah’s son Ham.  Canaan was Noah’s grandson and we know that Ham also displayed a sexually perverse spirit when he violated his Father’s privacy while Noah was drunk and naked in his tent. So this perverse spirit seems to still be present in the Canaanite lineage.  However, in spite of Shechem’s wrongdoing, he decided to do the “right” thing and marry Dinah.  Gen 34:3 says that he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to her and asked his father to arrange for him to marry her.  Jacob and his sons were rightfully grieved and angry when they heard what happened to Dinah (vs 7) but then Hamor and Shechem spoke to them and offered to take Dinah as his wife and bring any dowry they may require of them.  They even offered them the freedom of the land to live and trade in it and to live with them together as family and in peace.  Shechem pleaded to receive favour in the eyes of Jacob and his sons (vs 8-12).

However, in vs 13 the Bible says that Jacob and his sons spoke deceitfully to Hamor and his son Shechem, because he defiled their sister.  Well, perhaps they thought that Shechem’s sin gave them the right to sin against Shechem, to take revenge.  Their bitterness and unforgiveness drove them to commit a terrible sin.  They convinced Hamor and his people to get circumcised.   In vs 19 the Word says Shechem did not delay to get circumcised and the Word adds that he was more honourable than his entire father’s household.  He convinced the leaders of Shechem to be circumcised… and all of them did!

On the third day, when the men were all in pain, Simeon and Levi, took their swords, attacked the people of Shechem, killed all the males and took the women, children and all the livestock and material possessions for themselves.  At first one may think that Shechem got what he deserved, and that Simeon and Levi defended their sister’s honour, until one realises that circumcision was the sign of the Hebrew’s covenant with God.  So what they actually did was to bring Hamor and Shechem into the covenant of God – they became blood-brothers.  They used the sign of the covenant to deceive Hamor and his people but not only that, they rose up against a brother with whom they were in covenant.  Jacob did not take this news well,  and it is really in Gen 49:5-7 where we see how seriously he disapproved of this conduct of Simeon and Levi when he spoke these last words to them:

Gen 49: 5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers [equally headstrong, deceitful, vindictive, and cruel]; their swords are weapons of violence.6 O my soul, come not into their secret council; unto their assembly let not my honor be united [for I knew nothing of their plot], because in their anger they slew men [an honored man, Shechem, and the Shechemites], and in their self-will they disabled oxen. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”

In Gen 35:1-4 we read how God commands Jacob to journey from there to Bethel.  Before he leaves he purifies himself and all that were with him.  No doubt that this included the women and children of the people of Shechem who now lived with Jacob and his sons.  They probably contributed to bringing the idols into the camp.  However, it is interesting that Jacob buries the idols under the terebinth tree… where Abram first built the altar… there he hides them.  God does not want us to have hidden idols in our hearts or our land, he wants us to destroy them, to ask his purifying fire to completely obliterate anything that challenges His place as God, the God of Israel, in our hearts.  Did Jacob cleanse the people, but continue the defilement Simeon and Levi started on the land with this action?  Let’s continue to read…

In Joshua 17-21 we read that Shechem became the property of the tribe of Manasseh and both a city of refuge and a Levite city.

In Gen 37:12-17 we read about Shechem when Jacob sends Joseph to his brothers feeding their flock in Shechem, they departed from there and he finds them in Dothan, which is about 21km from Shechem – and once again we see brother rising against brother in the vicinity of Shechem.  Joseph’s brothers first plot to kill him but God uses Reuben and Judah to stand against this plot and instead of killing him, they sell him into slavery. Years later when he was reconciled to his brothers, he asked that his body would be brought back to Israel, and in Judges 24:32 we read that he was buried in the plot of land that Jacob brought from Hamor – at Shechem.

During the times of the Judges we read of two occasions where Joshua led the people to renew their covenant with the Lord – both these times it was done at Shechem (Joshua 8:30-35 and 24:1-27).  In Joshua 8 he once again builds an altar there to the Lord and in Joshua 24:26 he took a large stone and set it up under the oak (the terebinth tree) that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.  Shechem was clearly intended as a place where the people of the Lord would enter into covenant and would constantly be reminded of the covenant He made with them.  It was a place that would remind them of their relationship with El Elohe Israel.

However, in Judges 8:31 – 9:1-57 we read another tragic story of brother rising against brother.  Abimalec, the son of Gideon’s Shechemite concubine, convinces the people to make him king instead of having the 70 sons of Gideon reign over them.  He kills all but one of his half-brothers on one stone after he made this agreement with the people.  Jotham’s prophecy over Abimalec and the people, that they will one day raise against each other, happens after three years and both Abimalec and the people of Shechem die.

After the death of Solomon the people gather at Shechem to inaugurate Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, as their king.  (1 Kings 12) The people asked that the yoke that Solomon put on them be made lighter and Rehoboam’s elders advised him to do so, but the younger men advised him to increase the load on the people.  Rehoboam chose to increase the yoke, in effect further enslaving the people, just like Joseph was enslaved in that area.  The result was that the Kingdom was divided – bother and brother were divided against each other with Rehoboam as king over the one half and Jeroboam king over the other half.  Initially Jeroboam made Shechem his capital.

In Hosea 6:9 we read that the people of Shechem had descended into such a spiritual degraded state that the priests – the Levites – were robbing the people on their way to the city of Shechem.  The city that was supposed to be a city of refuge, a place of safety and the city where there was an altar to the God, the God of Israel, a city for the Levites, has now become a place where the priests rob their brothers… brother against brother once again.

The city was eventually destroyed by the Assyrians and after the exile it was not occupied for about 150 years.  The Assyrians resettled people into the area who worshipped YHVH, but we know that they continued to worship their own gods as well (2 Kings 17:24-34).  It became a Samaritan city.  When the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Samaritans sent people to go and help to rebuild the temple, but those building the temple refused their help.  This resulted in a longstanding rivalry and opposition from the Samaritans against the rebuilding of the temple.  After Alexander the Great destroyed the city of Samaria, many of the Samaritans fled to the foot of Mount Gerazim and built a temple that became a rival to the temple in Jerusalem.  In 128 BC John Hyrcanus destroyed the temple on Mount Gerazim, futher adding to the rivalry between the Samaritans and the Hebrews.  This seems to have destroyed the city completely until the Roman empire rebuilt it and named it Flavia Neapolis.  Today it is the city of Nablus.

The thing that happens at Shechem, brother against brother, continues to happen… while God intended it as a place of covenant, a city of refuge, a city of safety, a city for the Levites, a place where there is an altar – although not THE Altar – but nevertheless an altar to El Elohe Israel, The God, God of Israel.

And… I wonder would it make a difference if Simeon and Levi pitch up at Nablus and repent of their covenant violation in Gen 33?

Reference list

Biblehub commentary, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers,

Jewish virtual library, Archaeology in Israel:  Shechem (Nablus)


© 2015 Author:  HG Venter