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Familiar Places

Words by Ellie Di Julio | Illustrations by Marie Warner Preston

Genesis 12 is a well-known and foundational passage of Scripture, but have you ever noticed where these events take place? Join us on the blog as we consider the significance of Shechem and the terebinth tree.

Every year around Christmas, I make the pilgrimage to my hometown to see my family and take a trip down memory lane. I drive by the house I was born in, pop into favourite shops, and revisit old memories. It’s nostalgiatastic.

But there’s more to these trips than re-experiencing my past. As I’ve matured, I’ve started to see my life’s foundations with clearer eyes, understanding more of myself each time I visit by communing with this special place over and over.

God does this, as well, taking us back to familiar places as His own story matures and grows throughout the course of Scripture.

In particular, Genesis 12:6-7 introduces us to one of the Bible’s most important, yet seemingly innocuous locations. Tired from a long journey, we find Abram making a pit stop after finally reaching Canaan. God is speaking to him again, promising that this is the land his descendants will inherit. And as powerful as that statement is, is where Abram stands when he hears it.

This location, just outside of Shechem, is mentioned constantly across both the Old and New Testaments as the site of pivotal moments in God’s story.

It’s the first place God appears to Abram in the Promised Land (Genesis 12:6-7). The land Jacob buys after reconciling with Esau (Genesis 18-20). The field where Joseph is betrayed (Genesis 37:12–14) and buried (Joshua 24:32). Where Moses instructs God’s Law, blessings, and cursings to be kept (Deuteronomy 11:26-30; 27:1–8). Where Joshua dedicates the witness stone (Joshua 24:25). Where Israel is divided (1 Kings 12:16–17). Where Jesus reveals Himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman (John 4:4-26; 39-42).

But God isn’t satisfied to bring us to a general location over and over; He tightens His focus to a single nearby tree.

We’re told that “Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6 NKJV). Now, terebinth trees are still fairly common in that region, but nothing in the Bible is without intention—this is more than a simple arboreal detail.

The terebinth is next mentioned some thousand years later as Isaiah receives his commission from God. He’s told to prophesy Jerusalem’s destruction yet is left with a hopeful note: “‘But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land’” (Isaiah 6:13). This imagery is borne out by science; the terebinth’s roots are so deep that it produces shoots even after being chopped down.

Sound familiar?

Later, as Isaiah begins to speak of the coming Messiah, he declares, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). This repetition instantly links us back to Isaiah 6:13, then as we look closer, back to the terebinth’s tenacity, to Abram, to God’s fulfilled promises, and also forward to the One who will come from the line of David, son of Jesse: Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17).

From unkillable tree to glorious life in Christ, God revisits this easily-overlooked location with us, each time adding to our understanding of His faithfulness, trustworthiness, and attention to our lives, down to the smallest detail.

As the years pass, and like a yearly pilgrimage home, we find ourselves circling back to places, people, and patterns we thought didn’t matter but actually hold great significance, we can take comfort in knowing that the Master of detail is at work, folding it all together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Is there a ‘place’ in your story that God is inviting you to revisit? What new perspective does He want to give you there?

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