Today we continue our study of biblical geography in concentrating on a city named Har Megiddo.
The great road way that corrected the empires of the ancient world is called the Via Mara, ďThe Way of the SeaĒ. All important countries and civilizations of Bible times traveled back and forth on that road. That road goes through a very crucial mountain pass. That mountain pass is guarded by the greatest of the ancient cities, the city of Megiddo.
To the east: the great empires of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. With their silks and their cloth and their spices and all their exotic things. To the south and west: Egypt, that huge, powerful, technically advanced nation with its food supply and access to salt and other kinds of things. And those two empires really needed each other and so they traded back and froth.
This site is called Tell Megiddo, right on the edge of a plain that was called the plain of JezreŽl. Some Christians refer to it as the plain of Armageddon; weíll call it by its Hebrew name, the plain of JezreŽl.
Now due to the desert here to our east, really the only way the trade route could go easily is to go to the north, along the rivers, till they got north of the desert, and go down through this piece of land we call Canaan or Israel, down to Egypt. If there is one place where that road could be controlled it is right here at Megiddo.
And for that reason, before the bronze age, people came here to live, not only because of the fertility of the valley, but also because this city stood right here and guarded that pass through which the trade route went and there fore could exert control over the world.
Some scholars say that more battles have been fought down there in the Jezreal valley in front of you, right here, than in any other place in the world, known to history. So you have to imagine the blood shed down here in this valley most of it done simply to exert control over this spot because this spot controlled the world.
I. The Plain of Megiddo, a symbol
This place became a symbol for the Jews.
A. First it represents wealth.
Probably the most significant passage about this spot in the Bible is in 1 Kings where it describes King Solomonís powers and glories. King Solomon if you remember had become king in the south. In Jerusalem, he had been put on the throne that his father, King David had held, and Solomon asked God for wisdom. So God said, ďIíll give you wisdom and Iím going to give you greatness also.Ē
Solomon became the riches king who ever lived. He had money, he had power, he stretched the kingdom to the north and to the south and to the east. Probably the greatest Israelite king in terms of power to ever live.
Well the Bible says in 1 Kings 9:15-17 that Solomon fortified Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor. Now, that tells you from a Hebrew way how Solomon controlled the world. What made Solomon rich? God did. How did God do it? By giving Solomon the strength to control this trade route. So Solomon controlled the world because he controlled the trade route - Megiddo.
B. But in the Bible it also represented the symbol of the continual war between good and evil.
In the book of Revelation the writer is talking about the continuing battle between good and evil. And he writes it this way, ďThen they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.Ē Now, what makes this Armageddon? Now weíre standing on a hill, a mound, a mount. In Hebrew a hill is translated ďHarĒ.
So weíre at Har Megiddo or as you would say in Hebrew at Armageddon. So this becomes the place of Armageddon. So what youíre looking at out here is what the writer of Revelation uses when he wants to describe the symbol for the battle between good and evil. Revelation 16:13-16. By choosing this location, he gives you some insight on what that battle is all about. Since this place determines the control of the world, by saying that the battle will be at Armageddon, the writer is saying the battle is ultimately for control of the world.
And so we come here I think, there is going to be an on going battle between the people of God and the people of the devil. And that battle is called Armageddon. But I like to think ultimately that the battle between good and evil is going on all over the world. And that battle is gong to determine, who and what controls the world. Now the question becomes for us, where are we in that battle? Where are our loyalties? Where are our allegiances? The Bible describes that the battle of the end of time is not a battle for political real estate, but itís a battle for the hearts and souls and minds of people.
What would represent Megiddo in our culture? Hollywood? I could call Hollywood Megiddo. Hollywood sets the standard for the valley system of our culture. We could say New York. Well, whatís New York? Well, itís the financial center of the world. If the values which determine New York are oppression and injustice and dishonesty, then the influence that we have on the rest of the world is anti-God. May you want to say that Washington DC is the Megiddo? Maybe thatís a call for some of you to be Christian politicians. We cant all you see just be the little people that serve the Lord. We not only need the little towns of Jezreel, and all this other little towns in the valley, weíve got to have the Megiddoís too. Maybe the most significant Megiddo of today is the family. So maybe the first commitment that we all must have in this battle of Armageddon, which in my opinion goes on everyday, in every town and every community you represent. Maybe the first step in that battle, the first skirmish, will be to go back and to dedicate ourselves to our families.
Letís not forget something. There is a general riding on a white horse who leads us. Look at the view of the north. Thatís Nazareth. Now, just over the crest of that hill a boy grew up and I wonder how many times he climbed to the hill behind his house and looked across the valley at Megiddo. Knowing what it stood for, knowing what had happened here, but more importantly, knowing that it represented a battle of which he was to become commander and chief. He grew up people, at Armageddon. So I look out there and I donít simply see a battle that I have to be part of, I also see the fact that valley, that beautiful plain symbolizes the victory of Jesus Christ.
II. When Megiddo is controlled by evil
Let me talk about what happens when the Megiddos are controlled by the forces of evil.
Now the Canaanites practiced that fertility cult because they were farmers. And as you look out at the valley down below here, you understand why those farmers would find it necessary to worship a fertility god. You see the futility out there, you see that their god must have seemed to them to have been very effective. And it was that religion that those shepherd Israelites, when they came into this country, found themselves so attracted to. The attractiveness may have been in part that their God was a desert God, a shepherd God. He had been the one who had brought water out of the rock, and had protected them in that wondering period; where as when they came here they found themselves exposed to farmers. And, would the desert God be appropriate in a new situation and in a new setting.
Well, when they got to this country, it must have been easy for them to see the attractiveness of this fertility god. After all, look at how he had blessed his worshipers. I mean, the fertility here was just tremendous. And so they must have thought that his was defiantly the god of choice.
We come here to get an understanding of that religious background that the Israelite people found themselves drawn into; that will help us appreciate better some of the things which God said about the struggles between bad and good. When the Israelites came here, the Canaanites practiced a fertility religion. Lets just refer to it as Baal worship. Ahab was the king, he began to be drawn into Baal worship as his father had been. And he married a women from Phoenicia, named Jezebel, who was a priestess of the Baal cult, of her town which is in Phoenicia. Her father had been a follower of Baal. She came here and brought her Baal worship with her. Now we know from history that her form of Baal worship, the Phoenician form of Baal worship was particularly a radical form of Baal worship, and as she brought that Baal worship to this part of the country, it very much became a part of the Baal worship in this part of the land of Israel and very soon it was being practiced by the Israelites, including Ahab and Jezabel. In fact, back on that mountain top right over there you can see the place that traditionally locates where Elijah had a contest with the Baal prophets of Ahab and Jezabel.
There are many names you could give to Baal. He is called Moloch, or Dagon, but we'll refer to him as Baal, who had a mistress, a female half, called Ashera.
A.Human sacrifices were practiced:
Now Baal worship was widely practiced in this culture by the Canaanites, only at later points did the Israelites participate in it, at any great depth. And Baal worship went like this. They believed that Baal was the god, the god of fertility. He was often portrayed as a god of thunder and lightning, sometimes on the back of a bull or on the back of a calf, with a lightning bolt in his hand. You get that whole sense of the storm and of lightning and of thunder and of rain that would bring fertility. And when he went back to the underworld, a place that was very dreary, very dark, not particularly a very attractive place, and the land would begin to loose its fertility. Then in the spring time, or so it was hoped, Baal would come back to life, and he would return to earth. What they believed brought Baal back to life was the offering of blood. And we can say that through out most of his history the blood offering was the offering of an animal. But there were also times in history where the Canaanites practiced, and so did the Israelites, offering of human blood. They believed that that offering of human life would somehow be and offering to Baal that would bring Baal back to life.
But in the middle of this high place, this huge mound of stones here, which probably had a covering of beaten clay of some kind so that the top was flat. In the middle of this high place would be an idol. It would stand in the middle with a roaring fire build in side of it. Now the name the Bible uses on occasion to describe that alter or that is Tophet. And then those mothers who followed the practice of this particular cult would hand the baby to the priest. And the priest would climb the stairs of the high place and approach the altar in some position of worship and would take that baby and would lay the baby on the red hot arms of that idol.
Almost very difficult even to think about or to describe, some of you have small children, some of you are first sons. The people would gather to do that, including, the Bible tells us, King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6), King Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and other Kings in Judea who actually sacrificed their children in the valleys outside the city of Jerusalem, somewhere near the temple. Now in retrospect, as you look at that, you think about the fact that really what they were doing is saying, we so much want Baal's blessing of fertility, of personal, physical things that I need, my crops, my animals, that they were willing to offer the life of child for person financial material success.
I think the culture we live in is remarkably similar because it seems to me what defines to a large extent the culture we live in, is on the one hand the cheapness of human life. We practice abortion, and we take the life of an unborn child. 29 million plus times already, Often simply because of the unconvinced of the child for financial reasons. And that seams to me to be somewhat similar kind of motivation.
Its interesting that one of the archeological publishing recently had to do with a cemetery that was found in the city of Carthage. Carthage was originally Phoenician, where Jezebel came from, and they practiced a very similar kind of cult, of religion, it came from the same source. They recently uncovered a cemetery there that was 60,000 sq. feet. 60,000 sq feet of burials, just of burnings, at several levels deep. Now imagine how many babies were represented, how many human lives were represented in those levels of burial. Now you're talking about an enormous cemetery in several levels over a period of over 100+ years. But in all those burial urns, the remands of the burnings of that particular year.
What Satan brought to this culture and to this place was of such evil, that to somehow to believe that the taking, the offering of a human life, a baby no less, was appropriate because it brought personal gain.
- I guess I'm just struck to about how similar to abortion that is. I mean we could fill cemeteries with babies that have been aborted. And we wonder how they could stand by and watch and we do the same. And I think as Christians we really need to just get on the band wagon and not be so apathetic to watching it and let it happen.
- Going back to your concept of your relation with abortion, the child sacrifices, you talked about the grave yard being uncovered. In today's society we are claiming that thatís not even in our life. We're totally ignoring that and we are not burring it, there is no remorse at all.
B.Sexual relations were perverted:
And here is the second part of the ritual: if Baal returned to life and had relations, sexual relations with his consort, his mistress Ashera, that relationship would produce fertility.
The priest of Baal would have sexual relationships with a girl, a women who had been chosen. She would be brought out onto a place like this in front of the worshipers, gather as you gather in church you might say, and would observe the sexual intercourse right here on this plate form. Because they believed that by having intercourse between priest and priestess of Baal, you could possibly encourage or seduce Baal and his mistress Ashera to have intercourse in some sense, and out of that relationship between Baal and Ashera would come the fertility of the land around. And then following that, all the adult members of the community, who participated in the Baal cult, they would go off to the side and they themselves would practice intercourse with a prostitute. So the sexual relationship between the male and the female god produced the fertility of the crops and the olive trees, and the vineyards and the sheep and even men and women in their families. And so their religious practices were really and attempt to encourage Baal to come back to life and for Baal and Ashera to have sexual relations.
Now we have a community that has really perverted two of the most beautiful gifts that God has given us. They have perverted the beauty of the gift of a human life, a child. But it has also in the process perverted normal sexual relationship between male and female, within the bonds of marriage. Ezekiel 16:20-22. And in our society it seems like almost everything involves in some way a perversion or a lack of respect for the beauty of human sexuality. Whether that is television or movies or advertisements or whatever. It just seems to me that we have perverted similar kinds of things. These things were a disgrace. You know, one of the names that the Canaanites gave to Baal was Beelzebub. And Jesus comes along, not to far from here and He takes that word, Beelzebub and He applies that word to the devil himself. (Matt. 10:25 and 12:24.) He calls him Beelzebub Ė prince of dumpsters.
Now, I would like to suggest that Jesus is by that saying that what was practiced here, places like this, in Jezreal, in Samaria, in Jerusalem even unfortunately, at Dan, maybe at Bethel too, was the Old Testament form of Satanism.
C.True religion was a joke:
Listen to this: ďAt the same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. That is what they did in my houseĒ. Ez. 23:37-39
So these people had the incredible gall to sacrifice their children on the same day that they went to Gods house to worship Him.
I think we have to be a little bit careful as we leave here today. I find myself sometimes leaving trying to understand how these people of this culture were thinking. And yet I guess I need to ask myself when I go to worship my God how pure and how clean is my heart. And I think sometimes God looks down on me and says, yeah, you're amazed that they could do this and worship Him at the same time, but what about these sinful patterns in your life? How can you continue to do that and still come to church on Sunday and worship me? How can you claim to honor God and do that on weekends? How can you claim to honor God and do that in your business? How can you claim to honor God and say that about your parents? Thatís the question you're really asking. How can somebody have the value system of evil, and claim to worship and serve God and this is an extreme form of that but itís the same issue.
What strikes me by way of a faith lesson is that the battle in our culture, and we've talked about this, between good and evil, is a very real one and has very real consequences. Because God comes to this culture and says, I am very patient with my people and I love you but what goes on in a place like this I absolutely will not tolerate. Thatís the last straw.
In Jeremiah 7, the people of Judea have done evil in my eyes declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bares my name and have defiled it. They have built the high places of Topheth in the valley of Hinum, of Ben-Hinum to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, something I did not command nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth, or the valley of Ben-Hinum but the valley of slaughter, for they will bury the dead in the Topheth until there is no more room.
Anther passage in Jeremiah, God says, I will actually turn the whole city of Jeruslaum into a Topheth, thatís how upset I am with that.
Taking the blood of the innocent for the sake of ones own personal gain is beyond what God is patient enough to bare. Jesus says in Matthew 18:5, 6Ö And so when God finally loses His patience here comes the Assyrian army. Probably the most brutal army the world has ever known. It comes marching down the Via Mara to places like this, and it ends at places like Lachish. And people there die brutal deaths. Some maybe guilty of things like this and other maybe completely innocent. But God finally says, enough! I think we need to put ourselves into that situation. People this is a very significant battle. And its one that we really need to ask, have we been involved enough? Because itís the kind of battle that has long term consequences.
Now I'm not saying the doom of our society is at hand. But in some ways I think that it is very safe to say that God soon reaches a point where He says, I will not tolerate the shedding of innocent blood. God loves innocence. Remember the sea of Galilee where Jesus stood by a mill stone and said, if you cause one of these little ones, and we define that to be more than children, one of these unimportant ones, to stumble, I will throw you into the abyss. I think that is an expression of the same kind of anger that God felt with what went on here. And we could even add to that to say, if someone has, through their own personal struggle, arrived at the point where they maybe had an abortion, there is even forgiveness then. And that I think is important note to have. That is not the unforgivable sin. What is unforgivable is when a culture accepts this as expectable.
But yet if you stand and you look from over there behind you is this beautiful plain. Thatís the symbol of the battle between good and evil, or maybe yet its better to say it this way, thatís the symbol of who is ultimately going to win, the battle between good and evil. And I think we need to keep that in mind, that no matter how evil it is, the thing that you face, in your own life. Now matter how evil it is, the thing that we face in our culture, no matter how big and how bad the thing seems that we have to wrestle with, as Christians in our western society, we must never put our eyes so much down on the evil, that we donít lift them up to what is finally going to happen. Because that out there says, when that battle is finally over and the commander and chief who was brought up, ten miles away, is crowned the king, God is going to win.