I ran across this passage recently as I was reading the JPS translation of the Bible.

Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, beside that which came of the merchants, and of the traffic of the traders, and of all the kings of the mingled people and of the governors of the country. (1 Kings 10:14-15)

What caught my eye was “traffic of the traders.

Travel the land of Israel and you’ll soon find that it is a narrow sliver of well-watered earth sandwiched between a foreboding ocean on its western boundary and harsh deserts to its east.

If you had products in Egypt you wanted to sell in Asia or Europe? Unless you were willing to risk your livelihood on the seas, you’d send your goods through Israel. Likewise, products from Asia and Europe would use the same road to do business with Egypt.

At one point along the roads of Israel, all traffic converged into a narrow pass that cut through the Carmel Mountain Range. The mountains acted like a massive road block, funneling almost all of the traffic toward the easiest route through the mountains.

They called it the Megiddo Pass.

Visit ancient Megiddo today and you’ll hear a guide speak of Solomon’s ownership of the city. You’ll also hear of Egyptian ownership, Persian ownership and Roman domination. There’s an international flavor to the ruins of Megiddo, because every ruler in the region knew what Solomon knew about Megiddo.

If you could hold the city, you could charge merchants for using your pass. That’s how Solomon brought in income from the “traffic of the traders.”

Call it an ancient toll booth. Call it extortion, if you aren’t fond of taxes. Call it a bloodbath, if you’re a historian.

For no city on earth has ever seen so many battles. The valley below Megiddo? Napoleon once fought there. A key battle in World War I was staged there, turning the tide in the Middle East during that time like no other single battle. Even today, the Israeli Air Force mans a supercharged presence in the valley.

Almost certainly, you know more about this valley’s future than its past.

Through the years, as Megiddo grew taller and taller from all the kings who conquered it, destroyed it, and then built new walls and buildings on top of the old ruins, Megiddo became known as “Har-Megiddo.” Translated, it’s something like, “Tall-Megiddo,” or “Megiddo on the hill.”

The valley below Har Megiddo? The place where more battles have already been fought than on any other stretch of dirt in world history?

All the languages that flooded the area butchered the words and finally settled on a new name. This, they said, was the “Valley of Armageddon.”

Taxes. It all started with collecting a tax. Kind of like the Christmas story, as I recall.

You can count on death and taxes as the certainties of life, it is famously said.

Seeing the stage set at Armageddon, perhaps we should add one more certainty. Even in something as mundane as collecting taxes … God is in control!

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