When Abraham was living in Ur of the Chaldeans, the Lord called him to leave his home country and go “to the land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). So Abraham (who was then called Abram) did as the Lord said and, not knowing where he was destined, journeyed to Canaan. And when Abram arrived there, he found a great tree at Shechem, sometimes called the Oak of Moreh, and in the shade of that great tree, the Lord appeared to Abram and promised, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Genesis 12:6-7). And Abram marked that site with an altar to the Lord, acknowledging the covenant that had been made between them.
Time and generations passed, and Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, who had been forced to flee Canaan for fear of his life, returned to the land God had promised his grandfather. In his time away, Jacob had acquired wives who honored foreign gods (Genesis 31:19). After arriving back in Canaan, Jacob’s sons, in avenging a horrible wrong done to their sister, murdered the men of an entire city and took all of their households, including their pagan idols, for their own (Genesis 34).
Jacob could sense that the wheels were falling off his return to claim his inheritance, to the point that he feared that he might be destroyed in the very land promised to him as a descendant of Abraham. God’s prescription for dealing with these problems was to call Jacob to worship. But before Jacob could worship the one and only holy God, he knew he would need to rid himself of the presence and influence of the false gods his household had picked up along the way. So Jacob ordered his family and all who were with him to relinquish their foreign gods, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.
Time and generations passed again – slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, wandering in the wilderness, and finally the return to Canaan. The great leader Joshua gathered the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, the descendants of Abraham, once again at the oak tree at Shechem. And Joshua called on the people to do away with the gods of their ancestors beyond the Euphrates River and the gods of their enslavers in Egypt and serve the Lord alone: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). So the people made a covenant that day, beneath the oak at Shechem, to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The great tree at Shechem was a place where things were left behind. There Abraham left any uncertainty he had about the inheritance that he had pursued by faith, as God showed him the land that would be given to his descendants. There Jacob left the idols his household had accumulated and went forth to worship the One True God. There Joshua and the people of Israel left the false gods of their ancestors and their oppressors and pledged to serve the Lord.
Before we can move forward to pursue the life of righteousness that God desires for us, there are things that we must leave behind. It won’t be a tree in Shechem where we lay aside the weight of accumulated baggage – perhaps it will be the altar at a revival, or a bedside, or a church pew, or someplace else of personal significance. Where will your “Shechem” be? And what will you need to leave there?
“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair