David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
A Long and Complex Story
Megiddo’s history reaches far back into the distant past, having been a continuous settlement down through thousands of years, from Neolithic times to the Persian occupation.
Then, sometime between the fifth and third centuries BCE, this once powerful Canaanite city-state, and eventually Israelite fortified city, dwindled into history.
Dave and I were very fortunate to meet the world-famous archaeologist Israel Finkelstein while we were there visiting another archaeologist, Assaf, whom we had met years ago at Tel Kabri. (More of that story to come in a later post.)
The first biblical mention of Megiddo comes in a long list of kings Joshua conquered in his march across Canaan with the tribes of Israel.
Once the land had been subdued, Joshua allotted to each tribe their inheritance from the Lord, and “the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages” became a part of Manasseh’s portion.
Yet the Manassites could not take possession of those towns, but the Canaanites continued to live in that land.
But when the Israelites grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor but did not utterly drive them out.Joshua 17:11-13 (NRSV)
“The main find from the Canaanite period are the city gate (15th century BCE), and the original stone paving from the period that leads to it. Alongside it is the Canaanite palace – the remains of a vast structure of rooms built around a central courtyard. In one of the rooms, spectacular items were found, including gold objects, hundreds of pieces of decorated ivory jewelry, and a washroom paved with shells.
Just some things to note:
- Joshua initially had defeated the king of Megiddo, along with many other kings in many other battles.
- But the Canaanites were too many, and too strong, to actually conquer, to overthrow, or to drive out of the land.
- The Israelite tribes who settled in those areas ended up living side-by-side with the people whose land the Israelites were seeking to colonize.
- As the Israelite population increased, and as they grew stronger economically and militarily, Israelite occupation and colonization translated into Canaanite subjugation and enslavement.
It is a familiar and uncomfortable story for us to read, particularly since it seems God had commanded Israel to enter, conquer, subdue, and occupy. This was the land God had always intended for the Israelite tribes to have.
Yet it is a story that has repeated itself countless times all over the globe, written into the archaeological record, ancient annals, the Bible itself, and in our own historical period.
“An interesting site in the “large section” excavated by the early archaeological expeditions at Megiddo. In this area, the earliest remains of the site were found. The temples were used as a ritual site for some 2000 years, until settlement by the Israelites (12th century BCE). In the large section, which was excavated down to the bedrock, more than 20 layers of settlement were found.”
And it is a story that will be acted out one last time at the end of history.
The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great River Euphrates, and its water was dried up in order to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet.
These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.
(“See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.”)
And the demonic spirits assembled the kings at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.Revelation 16:12-16 (NRSV)
Armageddon is a Koine Greek transliteration of the Hebrew “Har Megiddo” (Mount Megiddo).
The Prophet Deborah
When Manasseh’s tribe was given the powerful stronghold cities of Megiddo and Beth-shean, they came to Joshua wringing their hands, saying “all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” At the time, Joshua showed little sympathy. He simply told them, “you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron and though they are strong.”
Yet even the generations after Joshua could not accomplish what he had been so confident they could.
That is to say, until Deborah!
Her story is found in Judges 4-5. It seems a number of Canaanite kings had allied with the king of Hazor. Together, their cavalry amounted to nine hundred iron chariots, allowing them to appropriate the major trade routes coming through the Valley of Jezreel, and levy heavy tolls. Even the pharaohs’ caravans had to pay tribute.
Then, in a surprising twist—and only by God’s supernatural intervention through Deborah’s anointing as a prophet—was victory secured. The Canaanites’ vastly superior military strength literally became their downfall.
The Prosperous King Solomon
Megiddo’s next mention does not come until centuries later.
This is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon conscripted to build the house of the Lord and his own house, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer (Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it down, had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife; so Solomon rebuilt Gezer), Lower Beth-horon, Baalath, Tadmor in the wilderness, within the land,
– as well as all of Solomon’s storage cities,
– the cities for his chariots,
– the cities for his cavalry,
– and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion.2 Kings 9:15-22 (NRSV)
The Place of Mourning
Two well-known kings met their deaths at Megiddo
King Ahaziah of Judah
These introductory verses say everything.
In the twelfth year of King Joram son of Ahab of Israel, Ahaziah son of King Jehoram of Judah began to reign.
– Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned one year in Jerusalem.
– His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of King Omri of Israel.
He also walked in the way of the house of Ahab, doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done, for he was son-in-law to the house of Ahab.2 Kings 8:25-27 (NRSV)
Her name is not mentioned, but her influence was strong. Athaliah was Jezebel’s daughter, and the acorn did not fall far from the tree!
About a year into his reign, King Ahaziah’s uncle King Joram of Israel was wounded while waging war with the Arameans. So Ahaziah went to the Valley of Jezreel to see how his uncle was doing. Meanwhile, the prophet Elisha had sent one of his protégé’s to anoint general Jehu as the new king of Israel. Immediately afterwards, Jehu mounted a military coup, gathering supporters on his way to Megiddo, where Joram was recuperating.
In a suspense-filled scene, Joram received word, and both he and Ahaziah jumped into their chariots to ride out to Jehu. Was the general coming in peace or in revolt?
Both kings died a violent death that day, and Jezebel’s death was soon to follow. (You can read the whole story in 2 Kings 8-9).
“An Assyrian quarter was also found, with six straight streets. This quarter served as a residential neighborhood after the Assyrian conquest (732 BCE). Nearby, the remains of a magnificent building were found, the only one of its kind in Israel, similar in plan to Assyrian palaces, although on a smaller scale.”
King Josiah of Judah
Generations later, the good King Josiah also died at Megiddo, fighting Pharaoh Necho. According to scripture, the pharaoh tried to dissuade Josiah, saying,
“What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, so that he will not destroy you.”2 Chronicles 35:21 (NRSV)
But Josiah did ignore the warning, and died that day.
Digging up Armageddon
Archaeologist Eric Cline has written a fascinating book about the excavation of Megiddo (where Armageddon is prophesied to take place) and the great importance this city held for thousands of years. Look for a review in coming months.