Beit She’an was at one time an Egyptian outpost because it is centrally located on major trade routes. Over time the Canaanites gained control of the area. Then Israel began taking possession of the Promised Land.
Beit She’an earned an undesirable reputation. It is remembered as the place where Israel’s first king was publicly humiliated. King Saul died on Mt. Gilboa in a battle with the Philistines. The Philistines were sea-people who settled on the coast (mostly modern day Gaza Strip). In 1 Samuel 31 we read of the Philistines engaged in war near the eastern border of Israel (the Jordan River). After being struck by arrows, Saul took his own life when his armor-bearer refused to kill him. After the battle, the Philistines were plundering and found Saul’s body (along with his sons and armor-bearer). They cut off their heads, took their armor, then mocked Israel by displaying their headless corpses on a wall in Beit She’an.
Before the time of Christ, a large Greek city was established around the ruins of Beit She’an and renamed Scythopolis. Pompey helped transform Scythopolis into a Roman city, which evolved into a Byzantine city until destroyed by an earthquake in the eighth century AD. Scythopolis was a capital of the Decapolis (a league of Ten Cities with limited independence under Rome). It was also the only Decapolis city west of the Jordan River.
In Greek and Roman cities, the size of a theater was built in proportion to the population. Scythopolis’ theater is a fair size, estimated to be about 7000 seats. Only the lower third of the theater is well preserved today. The city had all the other Greek and Roman amusements and luxuries: baths, hippodrome, temples, civic forum, monuments, and a commercial forum (a colonnaded main street for the shops). Even parts of the extensive infrastructure can been seen, including a (now broken) Roman bridge over a branch of the river.
Beit She’an’s long history is a sad illustration of indwelling sin (Romans 7:21) or “the easily besetting sin” (Hebrews 12:2) in believers. Why is it a “sad illustration”? Because this is not where I want to live, yet I do.
Five hundred years separates Joshua and King Saul. Beit She’an (remember, “house of ease”) was in the “Promised Land” given by God, but never fully conquered. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh complained about how difficult it would be to strive against those settled in their tribal allotment. “The Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron.” Joshua reminded them, “you are a great people and have great power” (Joshua 17:16-18). They didn’t listen.
?In that battle with the Philistines, Saul died in his sin, unrepentant before the Lord. When King Saul was defeated, Beit She’an was used to proclaim victory over Israel.
About 1000 years separate King Saul and Jesus Christ. Jesus had no sin but lived in obedience to His Father’s will, and conquered every sin, including those which we can’t overcome (which in reality is every one of them). Paul makes reference to the Scythians in Colossians 3:11, illustrating by way of contrast the centrality of Jesus Christ in the believer’s life-long mortification of the flesh.
Those (few) times when we get it right and live like Jesus, He is our “all and in all.” Those (multiple) times when we are living more like Saul, Jesus is still our “all and in all,” giving us His grace to return to a right relationship with Him, the desire to be vigilant in the conquest against sin that remains in our flesh, and His power to overcome. When we are fully and finally victorious, we will dwell in the Lord’s “house of ease” forever.