Jonathan demolishes the Philistine pillar at Geba

1 Sam 13:1-7    Saul prepares to fight the Philistines by luring them into the hill country of Ephraim, north of Jebus (Jerusalem) (see Map 54).

In an act of defiance, Saul’s son Jonathan demolishes the Philistine 'pillar' at Geba (Hebrew, ‘netsib’, means a ‘pillar’ or standing stone erected to indicate Philistine overlordship of the area) (see 10 on Map 54). Meanwhile, Saul summons the men of Israel to join him at Gilgal (see 11 on Map 54). 

 

Standing stones at Gezer - Stone steles (הניאוליתי)

Standing stones at Gezer    (הניאוליתי)

 

The Philistines hear that Jonathan has demolished the pillar and see this as a challenge to their authority. They assemble a huge army of soldiers, with three thousand chariots and head for the Michmash Pass leading down to Gilgal, near Jericho (see 11 on Map 54). When the Israelites learn about the strength of the Philistine force camped at Michmash, many of them desert or hide in caves.

 

Michmash and Geba

The Michmash Pass ran along the floor of a steep-sided valley (the Wadi Suweinit) running west from Jericho (in the Jordan Valley) up through the hill country north of Jebus (Jerusalem) to Ramah (Ar-Ram, 5 miles / 8 km north of Jerusalem), Beeroth (Al-Bireh, just east of modern-day Ramallah) and Bethel (Beitan, 3 miles / 5 km north east of Ramallah).

About 10 miles / 16 km west of Jericho, the steep-sided pass was bordered by tall cliffs and was overlooked (and controlled) by two settlements – Michmash (meaning ‘hidden’) just out of sight below the summit of the northern ridge, and Geba (meaning ‘hill’) on the southern ridge (see 1 Samuel 14:4-5).

In c.1012 BC, the Israelites rebelled against their Philistine overlords. Jonathan assembled the Israelite forces at Geba, and during the night, made a daring solo raid across the gorge with his young armour-bearer, killing twenty sentries guarding the Philistine camp at Michmash. As a result, the Philistines were thrown into confusion, and Saul was able to lead the main body of Israelites successfully against the panic-stricken enemy, pursuing the remnants of the Philistine army 3 miles / 5 km north to Beth Aven (now the Palestinian village of Burqa) – half-way to Bethel.

About a hundred years later, in c.910 BC, Geba was fortified to defend the Michmash Pass by King Asa of Judah. He re-cycled the timber and stone that had been used to build the Israelite defences at Ramah after King Baasha of Israel abandoned the city and retreated to Tirzah (see 1 Kings 15:16-22).

The site of Michmash is now occupied by the Palestinian village of Mukhmas, while, to the south, the site of Geba is above the Palestinian village of Jeba. The rock-cut socket that held the Philistine ‘pillar’ or standing stone (whose demolition by Jonathan marked the start of the revolt by the Israelites) can still be seen today on the hilltop above Jeba.

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