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September 27th, 2020
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gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron


Last year, in preparation for a trip to Israel and Jordan, we decided to add three days to our organized tour in order to visit Shechem. Significance of the location included Abraham building an early altar there (Genesis 12:7), and Joseph’s brothers pasturing flocks there (Genesis chapter 37).  Jesus talked with the woman at the well that Jacob dug near renamed Sychar (John chapter 4), and countless armies and civilizations had occupied the place over thousands of years. Sunday, we heard a sermon on Joshua chapter 24, where after forty years of wandering, the children of Israel entered the promised land and Joshua addressed his people at Shechem. 

Leading up to that time, Joshua had been a young man serving as one of twelve spies, assigned to slip into Canaan to assess strengths and weaknesses, and bring back a report to Moses (Numbers chapter 13). They returned with samples of dates, grapes and pomegranates they’d found growing in the fertile land. But of all the spies, only Joshua and Caleb urged that the people enter the land. By the time of the Jordan River crossing, all the other spies and Moses had died. 

Prior to that, the Lord had instructed the tribes to station leaders of six tribes on Mount Gerizim to call out blessings. Representatives from the other six tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses (Deuteronomy 27:11-13). The location for Joshua’s major address to all the people was Shechem, which lies between the two mountains. 

On our visit, we toured Jacob’s well, a Samaritan museum, and rode a taxi to the ruins on top of Mount Gerizim, overlooking the Old World/modern city of Nablus. After all that, our visit to Tell Balata and the ruins of Shechem - where we were the only tourists that day - seemed underwhelming or anticlimactic. Excavated as a joint project of UNESCO, Leiden University in The Netherlands and the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, there’s a nice visitor center but only a dusty path through the weed-covered and overlooked site. 

We wished later we had stood for a moment and reflected on the scripture from Joshua 24. We’d had in mind the dramatic view – hundreds of thousands of people, spilling up both sides of the mountains, with their new leader standing between Gerizim and Ebal, Joshua’s powerful words ringing out: “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). 

Several times that day Joshua had challenged the multitudes who answered as one – we will obey, we will serve the Lord! For a visual reference, Joshua “…took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.” He then told the people, “‘Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which he spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God’” (Joshua 24:27). 

Reading the entire passage, we see the many times God through history interceded on behalf of his people. “I sent” – “I brought” – “I destroyed” – “I delivered” - but unfortunately, after Joshua’s speech, the collective memory didn’t last. Before long the new inhabitants of the land were adopting pagan practices and worshiping gods of the Canaanites. 

Many of us have also had times when we’re challenged to choose the right and shun the wrong. We may have had, in the moment, good intentions and strong resolve to carry out those choices. But most of us are also familiar with the shame and regret when somewhere along the way our aims go astray. 

Our tour of Shechem and Mount Gerizim consisted mostly of walking among stones – archaeological ruins – with the large Palestinian city surrounding them. In Jerusalem we viewed recycled stones, salvaged from previous walls and buildings, fitted perfectly into current structures. 

Centuries after Joshua, another leader appeared in Palestine. Jesus challenged new followers, such as the Samaritan woman, to worship in spirit and in truth, not just on Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem (John chapter 4). When the Pharisees disparaged his triumphal entry into Jerusalem amid cries of “‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,’” Jesus told them, “‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!’” (Luke 19:38, 40). 

As we make momentous choices and daily decisions, let the nearby stones bear witness for eternity. The One who was present at Shechem is here to guide and empower. It is possible to “‘fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and truth’” (Joshua 24:14). 

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