What is the significance of Mount Gerizim in the Bible?
Mount Gerizim is mentioned by name four times in the Bible. It is currently called Jabal at-Tur in Israel and stands at 2,890 feet above sea level. It has a twin, Mount Ebal, to the north, which might explain its name, meaning "mountain cut in two." Between the two mountains lies the Valley of Shechem. The northern face of Mount Gerizim, the side facing the valley, is steep and sparsely covered with shrubbery. However, there is a spring lower down with a high yield of fresh water. Plus, the rain runs down that side of Mount Gerizim making the Valley of Shechem a well-watered and fertile land.
In the Bible, Moses instructed that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were to write the Law on stones and set them up on Mount Ebal, along with an altar for burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then there was to be a ceremony of "blessings and cursings." Half the people were to gather on Mount Gerizim and the other half on Mount Ebal to hear the Law repeated. Those on Mount Gerizim were to shout "Amen!" when the blessings that would follow if the Law were obeyed were pronounced. Those on Mount Ebal were to shout "Amen!" when the curses that would follow if the Law were not obeyed were pronounced (Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:11—28:68).
Joshua and the Israelites faithfully carried out this command as recorded in Joshua chapter 8 after their victory at Ai. As the people faced east, Mount Gerizim would have been on their right, the side of good fortune. Furthermore, the fact that water flowed down Mount Gerizim bringing life to the valley, whereas the water on Mount Ebal flowed down its northern face, away from the valley, would have been a strong visual picture symbolizing the life and blessing God promised in response to their obedience. The lush and fertile northern face of Gerizim would have been a strong contrast to the rocky and barren southern face of Mount Ebal.
Later, in Judges 9:1–21, Mount Gerizim is mentioned again. Gideon's son Jotham stood atop Mount Gerizim when confronting the people of Shechem for taking Abimelech as their king after Gideon's death. Judges 8:34–35 explains, "And the people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel." Abimelech was also a son of Gideon, through a Shechemite concubine. Abimelech went to his relatives in Shechem and had them, "Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, 'Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?' Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh" (Judges 9:2–3). Abimelech gathered "worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him" (Judges 9:4) and then killed all of Gideon's other sons, with the exception of Jotham, the youngest who was able to hide. Jotham was devastated that the people in Shechem would betray his father in such a way. He explained their crime by giving a story about a bramble king of the trees. Then he pronounced a curse upon any who were knowingly disloyal to Gideon and who purposely dishonored his memory.
Hundreds of years later, Mount Gerizim became holy to the Samaritans because they believed it to be God's chosen location for a temple. First Kings 8:29 reveals that God placed His holy dwelling in the temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion (also called Mount Moriah or the Temple Mount). The Samaritans believed Mount Gerizim is where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, although our Scripture records that location as Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1–19). They also believed it is where Jacob had his dream, rather than in Bethel farther south (Genesis 28:10–22). And they believed it is where God placed His holy dwelling in the tabernacle instead of the location farther south in Shiloh as recorded in Jeremiah 7:12.
Because of these beliefs, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim in the 5th century BC, but it was destroyed by the Hasmoneans in the 2nd century BC. For this reason, Mount Gerizim is certainly the mountain the Samaritan woman at the well was referring to when she spoke to Jesus in John 4:20. Even today, the small remainder of those in the Samaritan religion still gather at Mount Gerizim to observe their festivals and public holy ceremonies. However, Jesus made clear to the Samaritan woman that mountains and location were unimportant because God wanted worshippers who worshipped in spirit and in truth no matter their location (John 4:21–24).
Mount Gerizim is the location where God visually displayed the life and blessing that would come if the Israelites obeyed His Law. It is the mountain where He confronted the sin of the people of Shechem. And finally, it is the place where Jesus revealed Himself as the long-awaited Messiah to the Samaritan woman, a true worshipper. This sequence of events encapsulates the gospel: God had plans to bless His people, but sin got in the way, so He sent His son to restore all creation back to right relationship with Him (2 Corinthians 5:19). Therein lies the significance of Mount Gerizim in the Bible.
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