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(Part 1 in a 3 part series on How God Desires to Be Worshipped– Revealed at Shechem)
Whenever I’ve gone to a historic site or a national memorial I’ve always liked to take my time (usually to the consternation of my family) to read each and every descriptive plaque and gaze at photos or drawings to try to get a sense of what happened there. That’s the closest I can get without having actually experienced the historic event. It could be a place of triumph in the founding of the nation or a place of tragedy in a massacre. I rely on those plaques, photos & available films. Of course my visiting any historical site wouldn’t have come close to what would be going on inside the mind of someone who was actually there who experienced the event such as a WWII veteran 30 years later returning to the beaches of Normandy or a survivor of the holocaust 30 years later gazing at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. To them the shouts, cries and death aren’t just etched in old black & white photos, but would be very real.
The same could be true today in visiting the National 9/11 Museum in New York City. Yes, I could visit Ground Zero and I remember watching events unfold on TV, but I imagine the events are remembered more vividly for those New Yorkers who ran from the billowing debris as the towers fell, gasping for breath and then mourning the loss of loved ones. Those lost were real people—not just 1 of 3,000 whose name would later be etched in a wall.
What if there were no national memorials, museums, photographs, films or displays? Generations later would anyone even think about the beaches of Normandy outside of a recreational context? What if all the public had was written down in a book about a certain event which happened at that location? Two thousand years later would anyone even remember?
The same could be said for you and me today when we read about places or events in the Bible without understanding the significance of what was happening at that particular location. For example, in the gospel of John there was a place where Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and asked her for a drink of water. There were no historical markers at this location, so our only reference would be from her that it was a well that Jacob had made and his sons & livestock drank from it (John 4:12). What Jesus told her at this location were perhaps the most profound proclamations He ever made to anyone. She and many of her city were given eyes to see and ears to hear who Jesus really was. She was told how God desires to be worshiped now that the Christ has come.
A Walking Tour of Shechem
Before we get into the message Jesus gave this woman, it would be helpful to understand the spiritual and historical significance of where Christ was. Jesus didn’t need to read any plaques or look at historical markers to get a feel for where He was. He remembered the sights, the sounds and the people of this area over the thousands of years (“…before Abraham was, I AM”. John 8:59).
When we read John’s account we see that Jesus and His disciples were going to Galilee, but needed to pass through Samaria. John 4:5 reads, “So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph”. When you read the corresponding account in Gen. 33:18-20 (NKJV used throughout) it says, “Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel”. Josh. 24:32 reads, “The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph.” This is also confirmed in Stephen’s testimony in Acts 7:16 which also shows that Judah, Levi, Rueben and all of Jacob’s sons were also buried right there.
Therefore, many scholars believe that this Samaritan city of Sychar, “near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph” (John 4:5) was probably built on or near the old city of Shechem. If you or I could figuratively have taken a “walking tour” to understand just a little bit of what Jesus already understood, we would have first seen the little marker titled “Jacob’s well”. Then moving a little further down the path a sign could have read, “Beneath this plot of ground are the bones of all of Jacob’s sons, including Joseph which Joshua brought out of Egypt and buried at this spot.” Taking the theoretical “walking tour” of the area, the tour guide would have said, “Over here to the right are the remains of the altar Jacob built called ‘El Elohe Israel’ which is translated ‘God, the God of Israel’. Now there’s a reason why this location was so important to Jacob. The first Canaanite city Abram (Abraham) went to when he came to Canaan was Shechem (Gen. 12:6) and it was here to our left where once stood the old tree of Moreh where the Lord appeared to Abram and promised in Gen. 12:7 ‘To your descendants I will give this land’. In this section of land, where the Lord appeared to Abram, he built his first alter to the Lord.”
The tour guide would go on to say, “Also, at this very spot you can see a large upright stone. It was here after the conquest of Canaan was complete, Joshua had chosen this place to gather all the tribes of Israel, their elders and judges” (Josh. 24:1). The tour guide would go on to explain that, “Joshua chose Shechem, because it was here at the foot of Mt. Gerizim and Mt Ebal there had years earlier been a gathering of what could have been a couple million people. Mt. Gerizim and Ebal rose 800 to 1,000 feet above Shechem and formed an amphitheater with excellent acoustics. Years later, if you will recall in Judges 9:7, Jotham was able to call down to the men of Shechem while standing on Mount Gerizim.
Joshua had built an altar on Mount Ebal, and there in the presence of all Israel he read to them the book of the law. His writing was based on the instructions of Moses (Deut. 11:29; Deut.27-28) to place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and curse on Mount Ebal. Josh. 8:33-35 says: ‘All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.’
So in his old age, Joshua gathered the people again to Shechem in the shadow of Mt. Gerizim (the Mount of Blessing). We read in Josh. 24:14-15 how after reciting their history, Joshua called for their repentance saying, ‘Now therefore fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served…. Serve the Lord!’. When all the people agreed, ‘Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem…. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord’ (v25-26).” Our tour guide would go on to say, “As an aside, when the Samaritan woman at the well told Jesus ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain’ (John 4:19) she was probably pointing at Mt Gerizim, the ‘Mount of blessing’ that overlooked Shechem.
Joshua also was inspired to choose this spot because he was calling for them to repent—to put away their false gods. It was here hundreds of years earlier after the massacre of the men of Shechem that ‘Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him as it was recorded in Gen. 35:2, 4, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments….’ So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem’. ‘ Now over here to our left is where the terebinth tree once stood.”
Our walking tour in and around the old city of Shechem would be a fascinating one because so much of the important events in Israel’s history happened right there. Shechem was a place of repentance, commitment and covenant. It was a turning point for the sons of Jacob, a turning point in Israel’s history in Joshua’s day and sadly a turning point in the dividing of Israel with the majority of Israel turning to ungodly kings and pagan gods. It was here at Shechem that the dividing of Israel into two kingdoms took place. Shechem (where Joseph’s bones and all of Jacob’s sons were buried) was part of Ephraim. The city would become part of Israel under Jeroboam the son of Nebat who caused Israel to sin. I Kings 12:1-2 says: “Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.” When Rehoboam looked out over the masses of people at Shechem, he saw people ready to be yoked and then whipped with scorpions (v-14). History shows what happened next was the dividing of Israel (v-16-20). In v-25 it reads, “Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and resided there.”
Continuing with the “walking tour” our guide would also point out that “Shechem was a city of massacres. It began when Dinah, Jacob’s daughter was violated by Shechem (he had the same name as the city) who then wanted to marry her. The brothers tricked Shechem into having all the males in the city circumcised to bring the peoples together. When the males were very sore after being circumcised, Simeon and Levi slaughtered all of them, then the other brothers joined in plundering the city. After the massacre they took everything of value– their livestock ‘and all their wealth. All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, In Gen. 34:9-30 ‘You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land.… They will gather themselves together against me and kill me.’.” Simeon & Levi went way beyond any kind of punishment for one man’s act against their sister. The result of this massacre may have been part of the reason for the anti-Semitism that continues on to this day.
What Simeon and Levi did wasn’t justice. In Gen. 49:5-7 Jacob’s prophecy states: “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. May I never come into their council; may I not be joined to their company– for in their anger they killed men, and at their whim they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” The Levites were to be scattered in various cities throughout Israel and in Joshua’s day the Lord made Shechem a Levitical city for the children of Kohath (included the lineage of Moses and Aaron) and it was also one of the cities of refuge for Israel (Josh. 20:7; 21).
Our tour guide would go on to say, “The next massacre at Shechem took place during the period of the judges at the hands of Abimelech (Judges 9:34-49). Judges 9:42-45 says: ‘On the following day the people went out into the fields. When Abimelech was told, he took his troops and divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the fields. When he looked and saw the people coming out of the city, he rose against them and killed them. Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city, and killed the people that were in it; and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.’ When he saw the men of the city coming out in the fields, Abimelech got his political revenge (he had come to power by those in Shechem who, after they agreed to have Gideon’s 70 sons killed, later turned against him) and began his slaughter. In v-49 he then gets those who had fled to the Tower of Shechem and burns alive 1000 men and women. Again, Shechem is a scene of a terrible massacre. It wouldn’t be rebuilt for several hundred years until Jeroboam decided to make it his first residence as king.”
In summary, Shechem was the place of new beginnings. This was the first place Abraham went and there God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan. Shechem was a place of commitment and repentance. This was where Jacob’s sons buried their idols and where they themselves chose to be buried. This was where all Israel gathered to hear the words of Moses read by Joshua and years later they met again to bury their idols and made a covenant to serve only God. Shechem was a city of massacres– first at the hands of Simeon & Levi and centuries later by Abimelech. Shechem was also a place of divisions. This is where all Israel gathered, only to divide under Rehoboam and Jeroboam the son of Nebat who caused all Israel to sin. In contrast, it was also here where the Messiah would have those of faith turn to God in repentance. There would be no more massacres and no more divisions. Mankind was now going to be worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
When Jesus came to the Samaritan woman at the well He didn’t need a “walking tour” to understand the momentous events that had taken place in the area in and around Shechem. Aside from Jerusalem itself, this was the most important city in all of Israel’s history. During His ministry He could have chosen any place and any person to declare that He was the Messiah, but He chose this place and this Samaritan woman to make His identity known (John 4:26). His proclamation wasn’t made to a questioning Pharisee at the Temple in Jerusalem or to Pontius Pilate or to 5000 Jews on a hillside eating loaves and fishes. It was only made to this Samaritan woman near Shechem. He also did it when His disciples were coming to Him from the city of Shechem. When she said that she looked for the coming Messiah and as we can read in v-25-27 “…’He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’ And at this point His disciples came and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’”. Even she at first wondered why Jesus was even speaking to her because as it says in v-9 “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”.
In the city of Shechem with an ancient history of “us vs. them” to the Jews the Samaritans were “them.” Even though the Samaritans were mixed remnants of the northern tribes of Israel, they were considered foreigners. Though they worshiped Yehovah and had the Torah, they did so on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem (they didn’t accept the rest of the Old Testament), and the Jews despised them. On top of this, she was a woman—even lower in the minds of Jewish men, including His disciples.
Jesus knew that His disciples had a problem with “us vs. them”. Their prejudiced mindset toward the Samaritans had to change for partiality is a sin (James 2:9). Acts 10:4 reads,“God shows no partiality” and Rom. 2:11 reads, “there is no partiality with God”. It’s carnal human nature to want to stereotype others. When Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37 it was also for His disciples’ ears to understand who their neighbor was to be loved. When 10 lepers were healed it reads in Luke 17:15-16, only one “…returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan”. In v-17-18 Jesus asked rhetorical questions for His disciples to consider. “’Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
A year or so after Jesus spoke to the woman at the well (and many in the Samaritan town of Shechem for 2 days), James and John wanted Jesus to call fire down from heaven and destroy a certain Samaritan village that had rejected Christ because He was on His way to Jerusalem (going to the wrong location). He had to rebuke the two young disciples James and John (who He called ‘sons of thunder’) for their spirit of destruction (Luke 9:52-54). God’s way is the way of agape love. He had come to save men’s lives (v-56) including those Samaritans.
Back at Jacob’s well (right after the Samaritan woman had gone to the city to inform them that she had found the Messiah) Jesus spoke with His disciples. In John 4:32-35 after His disciples urged Him to eat, “He said to them ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know’. Therefore the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest.’”
When they lifted up their eyes to look at the fields what did they see? They saw many of the Samaritans from the city coming toward them (v-30). They wouldn’t be people to be slaughtered like Simeon & Levi did, nor as they came walking in the field they wouldn’t be a people to be massacred like Abimelech did (Judges 9:42-45) nor looked upon as people ready to be yoked and then whipped with scorpions like Rehoboam saw them (I Kings 12:14), but rather they were part of the spiritual harvest that Jesus saw when he viewed the people. John 4:39-42 reads, “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world’”.
We don’t know what was going on in the minds of His disciples as they lived among the Samaritans for two days, but we do know that after they received the Holy Spirit they grew to see things differently through the spirit of agape love which replaced their previous carnal prejudices. It would take several years more before the gospel would finally go to Samaria when the brethren were scattered and Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans. Peter and John went down to Samaria and laid hands on those Philip had baptized to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). Perhaps this was done to make it easier for many of the converted Jews to accept their new Samaritan brethren. In any case, Luke also records in v-25 that Peter and John were “preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans”. Though no specific places were named, I would like to think that they returned to Shechem to reap that harvest Jesus had told them about. Perhaps a converted woman at the well told them about the private conversation she had with Jesus years earlier. Maybe one of those villages where John preached was the same one he had years earlier wanted Jesus to call fire down from heaven and destroy. We do know that John’s gospel account was the last one written and it was the only one recording what Jesus told this Samaritan woman from Shechem. The Spirit of God moved John to record this important event in great detail for our edification.
How God Desires to be Worshipped
It was at this prominent location in Israel’s history that Jesus reveals some profound truths for those given eyes to see and ears to hear. Jesus knew about all of the momentous events that had occurred at this location, from the promise given to Abraham to the dividing of Israel under Rehoboam, it was no ordinary place. He and His disciples had just come from Judea. Let’s look at what John wrote. John 4:6-26 reads, “Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”
Up to this point worshiping God had been done in two ways– in this mountain or the other place. Jerusalem had been the right place because salvation was from the Jews. That’s where the Temple was and out of the line of Jesse the Branch would come (Isa. 11:1; see also Rom. 9:4-5). However, the time was coming when as it says in Rom. 2:29 “…he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not from men, but from God”. Jesus told the woman at the well, “now is” the time when that line of delineation between prescribing a certain place or manner has been replaced to one of worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth as He seeks.
The Temple, which was in Jerusalem, was just a copy or shadow of the true tabernacle in Heaven (Heb. 9:23-25). Through Christ, we don’t look to a temple in Jerusalem or to a priest to connect us with God, but as it says in Heb. 10:19-22 we now have “… boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” We have Christ in us and through the Spirit we have that “fountain of water springing up into eternal life”. We have direct access to our heavenly Father’s throne and daily as His sons our relationship with Him continues to grow. Through Christ our relationships with other believers are no longer a divisive “us vs. them” as the culture was back in Christ’s day between the Jews, the Samaritans and the gentiles, but instead we can see all of God’s children from His perspective. We now can worship our Father in spirit and in truth as He desires.
In part 2 we’re going to look more closely at how the divisive attitude reflected in Shechem’s history and the resulting effect on the 1st century churches of God has also today spilled over into many of the churches of God. The article itself is directed mainly to those who were once part of the old Worldwide Church of God or are attending one of its many offshoots. It is also for those brethren with a similar background who are currently just staying at home each Sabbath. To read or listen to part 2 in this series that’s titled “How God Desires to Be Worshipped– Revealed at Shechem for the Church” simply click on the link below. You can also at a later time go on my website thegospelunveiled.com, and look there for the 2nd article or any other article on my website.
Written by Lee Lisman
(Please click below to continue with the second article titled “How God Desires to Be Worshipped–Revealed at Shechem for the Church” in this 3 article series on How God Desires to Be Worshipped)
How God Desires to Be Worshipped–Revealed at Shechem for the Church part 2 of 3