Glimpses of Israel - Bethshan

by Joseph Hunting

There are few ancient cities in Israel with a past more poignant with memories than Bethshan, meaning 'house of security'.

This ancient city located at the eastern end of the valley of Jezreel dates back to the earliest days of mankind's history in Canaan. When the tel was excavated it was found that no less than nineteen cities had been built over the ruins of their predecessors.

Bethshan is first mentioned in the Bible when Joshua allocated cities to the various tribes of Israel. It is interesting to note that, along with the other cities in the Jezreel valley, the Canaanites were not driven out, but were put under tribute.

During the four hundred years which followed Joshua's conquest of Canaan, Bethshan was occupied by the Philistines. During the concluding days of the reign of King Saul the armies of Israel sought to drive the Philistines from the Jezreel valley. In the ensuing battle Saul and his sons were slain and the Israelites fled. "And it came to pass on the morrow when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the walls of Bethshan."

David's heartbroken lament for Saul and Jonathan still seems to linger over mount Gilboa and Bethshan to this day. "Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you ... for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away ... Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!" (2nd Samuel 1:21-25).