When I traveled to Israel the first time I was truly surprised by what I saw in the northern part of the country. I was so used to thinking that Israel was the land of shepherds and sheep with wide open spaces to graze them. I wasn’t expecting the trees, valleys, mountains, and abundant water of the north. Viewing the Jezreel Valley from atop Mount Carmel (where Elijah had his famous show-down with the prophets of Baal) was truly eye-opening! And while it was pleasant to look out over the fertile plain while “Konies” (similar to ground-hogs) played on the rocks, the view made it hard to remember that this area is known more for warfare and strife than its beauty. Jezreel’s strategic location and its fertility made it one of the most desirable regions in Israel to control. More than 20 battles have been waged here by Caananites, Midianites, Israelites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks and the British. Controlling Jezreel and Megiddo (its most prominent city) meant dominance in all of the ancient world’s trade and commerce, not to mention the security it provided against invaders.
On the surface the economic, political and geographical importance of Megiddo and the surrounding area is understandable. But the Bible is more concerned with the spiritual issues that occurred here than any other aspect. As one of the most thoroughly excavated sites in Israel, archaeologists have uncovered 20 layers with each layer representing a different period of occupation. Among some of the discoveries is a large circular stone altar upon which it has been determined that human sacrifice took place. When the people of Israel were engaged in the conquest of the land the Lord warned them to rid the land of its pagan worship practices. Although Joshua conquered this area, the tribe of Manasseh to whom it was allotted was never able to completely conquer Megiddo “for the Canaanites were determined to live there” (Josh. 17:12; Jdg. 1:27). Since the Canaanites stayed, their detestable religion remained with them. During the divided kingdom Baal worship was rampant in this area.
The abundance of rain and fertile soil were part and parcel of the Canaanite god who appeared to control both. We do not usually see the humor in Elijah’s dramatic confrontation with the frenzied prophets of Baal, but it is there in the way Elijah chides them. “If your god controls the rain, how is it that my God has been able to stop it for 3 years? Pray a little harder- perhaps he’s in the bathroom and can’t hear you!” (1 Ki. 18:26-29) Elijah was not the only prophet who battled Baal on the Lord’s behalf. One commentator noted, “In Hos. 1:4 the prophet adhering to God’s direct instruction, named his first son Jezreel in an iconic allusion to the slaughter at Jezreel carried out by Jehu against the house of Ahab, and particularly Jezebel, for their support of the prophets of Baal. (2 Ki. 9:1-10:11) The irony of this story is that Jehu’s own dynasty would be wiped out because of it continued adherence to the cult of Baal”.
Megiddo’s embattled place in history culminates in the Book of Revelation. In spite of all that has transpired beforehand and the devastating results of God’s judgment, mankind refuses to repent and instead a collection of nations gather in the Valley of Jezreel to wage war against Him (Rev. 16:9-14). It is a futile endeavor. However there are victories associated with this valley as well (Deborah- Jdg. 5:19-20 and Gideon- Jdg. 6:33) and in the end, the Battle of Armageddon brings to fulfillment the promise made to Hosea that one day the Lord would restore not only Jezreel (which means “God sows”) but Israel as well (Hos. 2:14-23).
It is difficult to look at the ambivalent status of world politics today and feel with any certainty that God is about to fulfill this promise. But Jesus said the end of world history would come like a thief in the night and it’s best to be ready (Mt. 24:42-44). Are you? (1 Thes. 5:1-6)
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 8/6/2017