In contrast to the three relatively unimportant towns of Galilee I discussed in my last blog post are the five other cities mentioned in Luke 10. All of them span the pages of both Old and New Testaments. We’ll divide these cities into two groups for our discussion.
Another Three Cities
The ancient city of Sodom was well known to First Century Jews as it is to Christians today. In spite of the fact that it had ceased to exist as a political entity before Israel or the church ever came into being, it retains its fame as a place destroyed by the direct intervention of God in human affairs (Genesis 19:1-29).
There is within the Old Testament a long tradition of using Sodom as a benchmark for sin. Israel is warned that it will suffer a fate similar to Sodom’s if it breaks God’s covenant (Deuteronomy 29:23; 32:32). Each of the major prophets used the city as a label, sometimes for unrepentant Israel, but also for the city of Jerusalem and for false prophets. Foreign peoples, including Edom, Moab, and Babylon are compared to Sodom as well.
Tyre and Sidon, often mentioned in “one breath” in Scripture, are the other two yardsticks Christ used in His condemnation of Bethsaida, Capernaum, and Chorazin. These two cities are rightly joined, for they are connected by a common culture, that of the seafaring Phoenicians. Tyre and Sidon were two of the principal cities of these people, the others being Byblos and Aradus.
The four cities were somewhat independent, working together in a loose confederation somewhat like the cities of the Philistines. At times Tyre, and then Sidon, assumed the foremost position as the Phoenician capital. Tyre was the capital of King Hiram, who maintained peaceful relations with King David, and later, King Solomon, supplying timber for use in the temple Solomon built.
So why do these two cities take their place next to Sodom? Jezebel! This princess, daughter of King Ethbaal, married the apostate King Ahab, a notoriously evil king of Israel. Jezebel wielded an evil influence over Ahab that resulted in the persecution and death of many of God’s faithful. It was Jezebel who so terrified Elijah that he fled the northern kingdom when he learned she planned to kill him.
Before we move on to consider our final two cities, it is worth noting that the prophet Ezekiel also used Tyre as a symbol of evil. After a condemnation of the “prince of Tyre,” Ezekiel moves on to condemn the “king of Tyre,” who is clearly not human. This striking poetic passage describes Satan’s rebellion against God and subsequent ejection from “the mountain of God” (Ezekiel 28:11-19).
The final two cities to consider are Jerusalem and Jericho, which seem to hold no symbolic significance in Luke 10. Each is mentioned once, and those references are within the parable, in which Jesus speaks of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Jerusalem, of course, takes center stage in Scripture. It was the headquarters of Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham. It was the capital established by King David, and it was the place where King Solomon built the temple. And it was the place where Christ was crucified. To discuss it in more detail would take us away from our objective of shedding light on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
For most of us, Jericho is immediately recognized as the city where the walls fell down for Joshua and the children of Israel when they first entered the Promised Land. What might be less familiar is the New Testament role of the city. King Herod, in an effort to escape the chill of Jerusalem, established a winter palace in Jericho.
Though just 17 miles apart, Jerusalem and Jericho were a world apart in terms of climate. At an elevation of 2,500 feet, Jerusalem sits astride a mountain ridge that runs roughly north to south in Judea. Jericho, on the other hand, sits on a flat plain at 1,200 feet below sea level. Its position next to the main ford across the Jordan River, and at the confluence of several valleys that lead up into the Judean hill country, gives the city strategic and economic value. Trade flowed through the city, making it an ideal location for collecting taxes (Luke 19:1-2).
The mountain ridge overlooking Jericho trapped most rainclouds blown inland from the Mediterranean Sea, depriving the city of any significant rainfall. Fortunately for Jericho, a nearby spring provided its water needs, making the city an oasis in a desolate region.
Traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho would have been difficult for a variety of reasons, including the 3,700-foot difference in elevation and the barren terrain devoid of water. The Ascent of Blood, perhaps so named for the red ochre mineral deposits, may also have hinted at another ever-present danger, robbers.
What are some of your thoughts as you have been digging into the background for this parable? I’d love to see your comments!