Many battles at Megiddo
During the Bronze Age, Megiddo was an important Canaanite city-state and during the Iron Age, a royal city in the kingdom of Israel. The city was located about 26 km (15 miles) east of the Mediterranean Ocean and about 40 km (25 miles) southwest of the Sea of Galilee.
The ancient city of Megiddo had a strategic location. It was at the intersection of two main roads and near a pass (Wadi Ara) through the Carmel mountain range. It was on the main route (the Via Maris) between Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and Egypt.
Megiddo controlled the main pass that runs northeast though the hill country from the coastal plain of Sharon to the Valley of Jezreel (or Plain of Esdraelon). Esdraelon is the Greek name for Jezreel. Megiddo overlooked the fertile Jezreel valley. It had good farmland and good water supply from springs and the Kishon River flowed through the Jezreel valley.
The mound (tell) of Megiddo has been excavated and the modern name of the site is Tell el-Mutesellim. Excavations have unearthed 26 layers of ruins, indicating a long period of settlement. And the city gate and wall have been identified.
During the first and second century BC the major powers in the Middle East were Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Egypt was south of Israel, Assyrian was north of Israel, and Babylon was east of Israel, but Babylonians travelled to Israel from the north via the fertile crescent.
Other closer enemies of Israel were the Amalekites, Ammonites, Arameans, Canaanites, Edomites, Midianites, Moabites, and the Philistines.
Because of its strategic location, Megiddo and the “plain of Megiddo” were the site of many ancient battles. It has been claimed that more battles have been held here than at any other place on the earth. Cline (2002) counts a least 34 wars at Megiddo from ~2350 BC to AD 2000. Some of these are listed in the Appendix.
Occupation by Israel
When the Israelites occupied Canaan the king of Megiddo was defeated, but the city wasn’t conquered (Josh. 12:21). “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely” (Jud. 1:27-28NIV).
Megiddo was allotted to the tribe of Manasseh (Josh. 17:11-13; 2 Chron. 7:29), but some Canaanites remained in their territory. It was in the northern part of the tribe of Manasseh, near to the tribe of Issachar.
In 1230BC Deborah and Barak of Israel (with God’s help) defeated Jabin king of Canaan based in Hazor in a battle near Megiddo – “by the waters of Megiddo” (Kishon River). God caused a storm and a flood that immobilized their chariots (Jud. 5:19-21). The Canaanites would have been confident of winning the battle because it was on a plain near the Kishon River and they had chariots, which were superior to the Israelites battle equipment (4:13).
Megiddo was the headquarters of one of Solomon’s 12 administrative regions. The district governor, Banna, supplied provisions for the king and the royal household (1 Ki. 4:7, 12).
King Solomon used slave labor to build the walls of Hazor and Megiddo which were strategic towns on the north-south trade route (1 Ki. 9:15). So Solomon fortified these cities.
God used king Jehu (of Israel) to kill Jezebel (at Jezreel) and the descendants of her husband king Ahab. When king Joram (a son of Ahab) was killed at Jezreel, King Ahaziah of Judah was also killed – he was wounded and escaped to Megiddo and died there in 841BC (2 Ki. 9:27).
Josiah was a good king of Judah. When Pharaoh Necho II travelled to help the Assyrians against the Babylonians, Josiah’s army confronted him at Megiddo, but Josiah was killed in the battle in 609BC (2 Ki. 23:29-30). They fought on the “plain of Megiddo” (2 Chron. 35:22). Josiah’s death in battle came as a result of his disobedience to the word of God as communicated by a pagan Pharaoh (2 Chron. 35:20-27). He didn’t inquire of the Lord to see if Pharaoh’s words were true. Instead he sought security apart from the Lord. Although he disguised himself, he was killed in battle. And his death was lamented (v.25). So general and bitter was this mourning that it became a proverb, to which Zechariah (12:11-12) alludes to about 90 years later (520BC).
The prophet Zechariah predicted that in a future day the nation of Israel will mourn over its rejection of the Messiah (12:10-14). “On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.” (12:11). The mourning of Israel when they realize they have pierced their own Messiah, is likened to the mourning associated with the death for Josiah.
The final battle
The last battle at Megiddo described in the Bible will occur in the time of tribulation after believers have been raptured to heaven. Satan’s demons will assemble “the kings of the whole world” in a battle against Jesus Christ when He returns to rule over the earth (Rev. 16:12-16). The site of this battle is “Armageddon”, which is transliterated to Greek from Hebrew for “Mount Megiddo” or “Mountain of invasion” (Rev. 16:14, 16). The Lord has a great victory at Armageddon (Rev. 19:19-21). Some see this as a symbolic description of the final overthrow of evil by God. God is victorious in the final conflict between wicked humanity and God.
The wrong battle/fight
Let’s look at one battle at Megiddo. Josiah was perhaps the godliest king that ever ruled Israel. His character and conduct remained unblemished throughout his 31-year reign. But his story shows that a lifetime of godliness can be brought crashing down by a moment of recklessness. He destroyed idolatry and repaired the temple. After the Pentateuch was rediscovered, He restored their religious practices. But he decided to take military matters into his own hands. He picked a fight with Necho, king of Egypt, when Necho was on his way to fight another pagan nation. Josiah didn’t consult God, but God spoke to him through his pagan opponent! But he ignored a divine warning and lost his life at 39 years of age (2 Chron. 34:1). And Judah went back to having ungodly kings.
Lessons for us
Don’t be like Josiah who challenged Pharaoh as he was passing through Israel, but was killed in battle. Be careful about getting into other people’s business – “Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own” (Prov. 26:17).
And don’t fight the wrong battles. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:4-5). Be wise in knowing when to speak and when to be silent – there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7). And in knowing when to act and when not to act. And in knowing when to confront a person or issue and when to leave the person or issue alone.
Appendix: Battles at Megiddo
Here is a list of some of the battles at Megiddo.
1468BC – Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated the Canaanites after a 7-month siege and turned Megiddo into an Egyptian base. This is the world’s earliest battle for which a detailed account exists.
1230BC Israel under Deborah and Barak defeated the Canaanites (Jud. 4-5).
1170BC Gideon was victorious over the Midianites and Amalekites (Jud. 6).
1010BC Saul was killed by the Philistines after a battle in the valley of Jezreel (1 Sam 31).
~1000BC Perhaps David conquered the city of Megiddo as part of his program for establishing the kingdom of Israel.
926BC During the reign of Rehoboam, Pharaoh Shisak captured Megiddo for Egypt.
732BC The Assyrians captured the northern part of Israel.
609BC King Josiah of Judah died in battle against Pharaoh Necho II.
The Persians built a small town near Megiddo.
350BC The place was abandoned.
1799 Napoleon fought the Ottomans in Jezreel Valley.
1918 The British under general Allenby ended the rule of the Turks in Palestine. His calvary took the Turks by surprise.
Cline, Eric H. 2002 “The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age”, Ann Arbor MI, University of Michigan.
Written, October 2020
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel