The Significance of Shechem

In Hebrew shechem means “shoulder,” an apt description of the town’s location in the narrow valley between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, approximately 40 miles (65 km.) north of Jerusalem.

Today the world calls it Nablus, a Palestinian Authority city in the so-called West Bank and destined to become Judenrein, “clean of Jews,” in a future Palestinian state.

But Shechem was once a very Jewish city; and it was no accident that in his farewell to his people, an aged Joshua gathered the Israelites there to beg them to follow God (Josh. 24).

Joshua took Israel back to its roots, physically as well as historically, in a powerful object lesson to reinforce the nation’s ties to generations past and all God had done.

Scholars Carl Keil and Franz Delitzsch noted the magnitude of this meeting: “For this solemn act he [Joshua] did not choose Shiloh, the site of the national sanctuary,…but Shechem, a place which was sanctified as no other was for such a purpose as this by the most sacred reminiscences from the times of the patriarchs.”1

Why was Shechem so important? Because it was there that Moses, many years earlier, had told the Jewish people,

This day thou art become the people of the LORD thy God. . . . These shall stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people,…and these shall stand upon Mount Ebal to curse (Dt. 27:9, 12–13).

Thus Joshua brought them back to the very spot where God had warned them to obey or be chastened.

Even more important, said Keil and Delitzsch, Shechem was where Abraham received the first promise from God (Gen. 12:6–7) and where Jacob settled after returning from Mesopotamia; “and it was here that he purified his house from the strange gods, burying all their idols under the oak” (Gen. 35:2, 4).2

Through Joshua, God brought Israel back to its beginnings. He recounted Abraham crossing “from the other side of the river [Euphrates]” (Josh. 24:3) hundreds of years earlier and arriving in Canaan. And as God promised, He multiplied Abraham’s seed and gave him a son, Isaac. Later God gave Jacob’s brother, Esau, Mt. Seir; “but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt” (v. 4).

Then came Moses and the miraculous Exodus, which Joshua had experienced firsthand. He reminded them of the unbelievable military victories God gave their forefathers and how God gave them cities they did not build and “vineyards and olive yards which ye planted not” (v. 13).

And it was outside Shechem where the Jewish nation then buried the bones of the patriarch Joseph, within the boundaries of the land God had promised to the children of Israel, “in a plot of ground which Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for an hundred pieces of silver” (Josh. 24:32).

Today the spot is known in Hebrew as Kever Yosef, “Joseph’s Tomb.” It is a Jewish holy site and Yeshiva (Jewish school) that thousands of Jewish people visited each year.

In October 2000 the Palestinians destroyed it, set it on fire, and built a mosque in its place.

  1. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 226.
  2. Ibid.

11 thoughts on “The Significance of Shechem

  1. Tom Simcox thank you so very much this awesome teaching. The revelation behind it is very deep. I celebrate grace sir. Keep waxing stronger In God’s word.

  2. Such insights!
    Just goes go to show that to those who follow after GOD, even the smallest details matters!
    I am so moved by how Abraham, Moses, Joshua all KNEW the significance of SHECHEM!

    on a different note, I was reading about the tribe of Benjamin and how they were destroyed.
    Thousands of years later, Apostle Paul mentioned in one of his epistles that he was from the tribe of Benjamin..

    Again, amazing…just goes to show how GOD provides such accurate narrative and description through frail and fallible human beings to write Scriptures to such exactness!

    Shalom from Perth, Western Australia.

    We are in touch with one of your reps for Friends of Israel in Western Australia and he did a wonderful job presenting on PESACH/PASSOVER recently at our ministry.

      1. You are correct when you say Benjamin was not destroyed. Judges 19:1-21:25 contain the Biblical account of the Benjamite War. Chapter 21 declares how the rest of the tribes remained true to their oath, “Now the men of Israel had sworn an oath saying, “none of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife…” (Jud. 21:1). To maintain the oath but to save the vastly diminished tribe the 400 virgins that remained in Jabesh Gilead were given to the remaining men from the Tribe of Benjamin (Jud. 21:12). The remaining 200 Benjamite males were instructed to take wives from the maidens of Shiloh. Of course the the Tribe of Judah would ultimately be the tribe of King David, after Saul’s failures. And Jesus will someday sit on the Earthly Throne of His Earthly father David and rule for 1,000 years. Benjamin can claim one of the most significant Apostles – the Apostle Paul.

  3. I have a question about the location of Joseph’s bones…”And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.”
    — Joshua 24:32 (KJV)
    If the KJV says they buried him IN Shechem, why do you write he was buried “outside” of Shechem. I’m a little confused about your wording. Thanks!

    1. I just rechecked the location of Joseph’s physical grave and Biblical scholars locate it as within the ‘general area of Shechem.” Today it is actually located in the town of Nablus, in Biblical Judea and Samaria. Could he have been buried in the center of the original area known as Shechem? Sure, that’s absolutely possible, it’s also possible that his grave was located outside the actual town that developed, as there are many graves that were originally located around the towns in that day. The point here is that his physical grave is still known today, reinforcing and confirming the complete accuracy of the Bible.
      Thank you so much for reading Israel My Glory, and for your interest in and love for the Word of God.

  4. Hi Terri,
    You are correct that Shechem was located in what would have been the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s territory.

  5. Since Palestine destroyed the site in
    Shechem and built a mosque over that site, have they been ” troubled” for it?

    1. Hi Sherry,
      Thank you so much for reading IMg and for your very insightful question. I have been checking to see if the modern day Nablus (Biblical Shechem) has been experiencing any “problems of issues” since they built that mosque.
      In 2017 Nablus was enduring a real shortage of water Apparently, due to the age of the buildings, and their poor upkeep 1/3 of all the water that should be available is lost due to faulty pipes and plumbing. The entire area was experiencing a serious drop in rainfall annually.
      Nablus also does have serious problems with lawlessness, according to what I’ve read, gunmen have taken over the streets which forces the population to remain in their homes and buildings for safety. Of course the mayor of this Palestinian city blames Israel, while the rank and file people blame the Palestinians. Nablus has become a very difficult area to live and is not a place that receives much tourist attention.
      I’m not sure if that is what you were looking for , but it is their reality, sadly. Thank you, once again, for your interest in FOI and for reading Israel My Glory.

  6. Thank you for making all these Bible stories alive. Your insight is invaluable. God continue to bless you richly.

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