Here is a spiritual conundrum posed by loganfields2:
Could you please explain to me in one of your posts the history of, and the importance of Bethel in the Bible! I would greatly appreciate it!
Thanks for the question, loganfields2.
The Old Testament town of Bethel (formerly named Luz) was one of the first places in the Bible where the Hebrew people met with God. The most famous of these encounters was Jacob’s dream of a stairway to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it, and the Lord standing above it (Genesis 28:10–22).
Because this and several other early encounters with God happened at Bethel, it signifies our first beginnings of knowledge and understanding about God, heaven, and spiritual truth. And since this early knowledge of heavenly things comes in the first stages of our spiritual journey, when we are more earthly-minded than spiritual, Bethel represents a rather external and pragmatic sense of what God and spirit are all about.
One hint at this significance is that in the original Hebrew, Bethel means “house of God.” A house of God is an earthly, physical place (such as a church or temple) that is seen as the dwelling place of God. God cannot really be contained in a physical building or location (see 1 Kings 8:27), but we earth-bound humans often need something solid and physical to remind us of the presence of God, heaven, and spirit.
Before we dig deeper into the history and importance of Bethel, let’s get a visual on where it is located. Here is a map showing the position of Bethel in the Holy Land. It is west and a little north of Jericho, the first city that the Israelites conquered when they entered the Holy Land (Joshua 6). It is north of Jerusalem, which became the spiritual and political center of Israel.
(Map courtesy of www.israel-a-history-of.com)
Bethel: A place for the Hebrews’ early encounters with God
Bethel is mentioned in over sixty verses in the Bible, representing over thirty distinct stories and prophecies, all of them in the Old Testament. Of course, we can’t cover them all in this article. So here is a list of some of the most important events that took place in Bethel:
- Near Bethel, Abraham built one of the first altars mentioned in the Bible, and there he “invoked the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 12:8)
- After Abraham had fled to Egypt to escape a famine in the Holy Land, he returned to the same place near Bethel, and once again invoked the name of the Lord. (Genesis 13:1–4)
- When Jacob was fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau, he stopped for the night at Bethel. That is where he first encountered God, in a dream in which he saw a stairway to heaven, with angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord standing above it. (Genesis 28:10–22)
- After Jacob’s return to the Holy Land, Bethel was the second place where he and his family settled. There he set up an altar to God, and God spoke to him. (Genesis 35:1–15)
- Upon first entering the Holy Land, after conquering Jericho, Joshua and the Israelites next conquered Ai and Bethel. (Joshua 8:10–17; 12:7-9, 16)
- Bethel was one of the first places in the Holy Land where the ark of the covenant of God was set up, and where the priests offered sacrifices and inquired of God. (Judges 20:18, 26–28; 21:2)
- When the northern kingdom of Israel seceded from the southern kingdom of Judah, its first king, Jereboam, set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan. He had the people worship there instead of going to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple where the ark was. (1 Kings 12:25–33)
- After Assyria conquered and exiled the northern kingdom of Israel, the king of Assyria sent one of the captured Israelite priests back to Bethel to teach the people from other nations who had been resettled in Israel how to worship “the god of the land.” However, they continued to worship their own gods as well. (2 Kings 17:24–41)
- Because Bethel had become corrupted by the worship of idols and other gods, several of the prophets railed against it. See, for example, Jeremiah 48:13; Hosea 10:15; Amos 3:13–4:4; 5:1–6.
If we put together all of these key stories about Bethel, here is the picture that emerges:
Bethel served the ancient Hebrews as an early point of communication with God, and of entry into the Holy Land—even if not always the first. As the religious, cultural, and political life of the Israelites increasingly focused on Jerusalem, Bethel faded in significance. However, when the northern kingdom of Israel seceded, Bethel became one of two major centers of idol worship in the north. This corruption sealed its fate in the Bible story. By the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethel had completely faded away as a place of importance. It is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament.
Bethel: Making a deal with God
Just as Bethel took on importance in the early history of the ancient Hebrews and of the Israelite nation as a point of connection with God and heaven, so it takes on a similar spiritual significance for us early in our spiritual growth.
And just as in the course of the Bible story Bethel faded away as a point of connection with God and heaven, so the type of connection with God represented by Bethel must fade away for us as we become more spiritually mature.
To illustrate the character of the connection with God and heaven represented by Bethel, let’s look at just one brief vignette, from the famous story of “Jacob’s Ladder.” After Jacob had that amazing dream of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it, and God standing above, he made this vow to God:
If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you. (Genesis 28:20–22)
Do you see what Jacob is doing here? He’s making a deal with God! In essence Jacob is saying to God, “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
At the time Jacob had his first encounter with God, his life was a mess. He had just royally infuriated both his older twin brother Esau and his elderly father by tricking his father into giving him the all-important blessing of the first-born. Esau was planning to kill him as soon as their father died. Only the intervention of his mother Rebekah saved him from that fate. But in order to avoid death, he had to flee his home and everything he was familiar with, and go to a distant land to live with relatives he had never met. (For more on this story, see the article “Dan Gheesling: Judas, Jesus, . . . or Jacob?”)
With his life in chaos, Jacob finally began his relationship with God.
Isn’t that how we often start in our relationship with God, too?
When life is good, who needs God?
But when our life is a mess, and things are looking bleak, then we might start thinking, “Maybe I need God in my life after all.”
What’s the first thing we do?
In effect, we say to God, “If you’ll straighten out my life for me and give me what I need to get through this mess, then you can be my God. I’ll worship you and devote my life to you.”
In other words, like Jacob, we make a deal with God.
From deal-making to unconditional love and service
As a start on our spiritual journey, making a deal with God is not such a bad thing. It’s a heckuva lot better than ignoring God completely!
But its sort of . . . conditional.
We’re saying to God, “I’ll believe in you and serve you, but only if you do the things I want you to do for me.”
That’s sort of like saying to your fiancé, “I’ll love you and commit my life to you, but only if you agree to provide half the household income, do the dishes, and mow the lawn.” What self-respecting person would agree to marry someone who said that?
Well . . . God does want to get a foot in the door of our life, so God actually will agree to a certain amount of deal-making early on in our spiritual journey. But that kind of quid pro quo attitude won’t carry us very far.
Sooner or later, we must turn our life over to God with no conditions or prerequisites. God will bless us in many ways we hadn’t even imagined! But exactly how God will bless us is up to God to decide. The things we want for ourselves may not be what’s best for us in the long run. God may not always give us what we want, but God will give us what is best for us.
When we are ready to commit ourselves to loving and serving God unconditionally, then, as with the ancient Israelites, the rather superficial, deal-making relationship with God represented by Bethel will gradually fade away from our life, having done its job of getting us started on the pathway toward God.
In addition to being a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader, this is one in a series of articles on the theme “The Bible Re-Viewed.” Each article takes a new look at a particular selection or story in the Bible, and explores how it relates to our lives today. For more on this spiritual way of interpreting the Bible, see “Can We Really Believe the Bible? Some Thoughts for Those who Wish they Could.”
See also: What is the Meaning and Significance of Gilgal in the Bible?
Thank you for answering so thoroughly. It was very insightful and interesting to learn about.
Thanks for your comment, and thanks again for the original question! I’m glad you enjoyed this response.
Revisiting Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho, to recrossing Jordan to infinity and beyond, I was delighted to find your content, tone and style through a map search. A coincidence to those still i the wilderness, to me another small sign of God’s providence, proof of the truth of romans 2:28. You would have a similar piece on Jericho’s history and importance? Swedenborg has been granted a gifted translator, on loan as it were from God’s staff of gifted teachers and communicators.
Thanks for your thoughts, and for your kudos, which I do appreciate.
No article here on Jericho so far, though it does get a mention or two in my parallel piece on Gilgal, which you might also enjoy:
What is the Meaning and Significance of Gilgal in the Bible?
Godspeed on your ministry!
I’m really grateful for the time you took to explain the meaning of Bethel and its implications. Can I then say that Bethel is the beginning of a Christians experience and that one is expected to advance to and conquer Bethel, so as to enter a deeper and more selfless relationship with God?
Hi Uju Wealth Kaine,
Yes, that sums it up very nicely! Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!
Thanks from me also.
Thanks pastor for explaining about bethel, I was wondering why God’s anger was upon Jeroboam when he erect golden calf at bethel holy place,place of transformation, house of God,thanks pastor may God keeps you
As far as importance to our spiritual growth is concerned, I feel it is absolutely essential for every Christian to realize that this was a prophesy, a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ as the “house of God,” as God tabernacle (John 1:14). John 1:51 And He said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, You shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. This is the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream (Gen. 28:11-22). Christ as the Son of Man, with His humanity, is the ladder set up on the earth and leading to heaven, keeping heaven open to earth and joining earth to heaven for the house of God, Bethel. Jacob poured oil (a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the ultimate expression of the Triune God reaching man) upon the stone (a symbol of the transformed man) that it might be the house of God. In the chapter of John are the Spirit (v. 32) and the stone (v. 42) for the house of God with Christ in His humanity. Where this is, there is an open heaven. This chapter, as the introduction to this Gospel, introduces Christ as both the Son of God (vv. 34, 49) and the Son of Man. Nathanael recognized Him as the Son of God and addressed Him as such (v. 49), but Christ said to Nathanael that He was the Son of Man. The Son of God is God; as such, He has the divine nature. The Son of Man is man; as such, He possesses the human nature. For the declaring of God (v. 18) and for the bringing of God to man, He is the only begotten Son of God. But for the building of God’s habitation on earth among men, He is the Son of Man. God’s building needs His humanity. In eternity past Christ was only God, only the Son of God, and had only divinity; but in eternity future Christ, as God and man and as the Son of God and the Son of Man, will have both divinity and humanity forever. God’s house is not a physical building and does not need such as a symbol. The symbols and signs are in the Old Testament. When Christ died and resurrected, He became the Spirit to guide us in to all the reality of the Father’s house which is built of Christ’s humanity multiplied and expanded through us by Christ’s divinity. In other words, the reality of Bethel is the human and divine incorporation of the Triune God with man. He is in us and we are in Him as a mutual dwelling place. The correct translation of John 14:2 is “In my Father’s house are many abodes…” We are the abodes and in the Father’s house. Christ is in us, the Father is in Christ which means the Father is in us, and we’re in the Father. Daily we must allow the Spirit to guide us into this reality. This is the ultimate goal of God’s heart and is the purpose of giving Jacob the dream of Bethel! Our God is wise and very consistent in the revelations that He gives us. The purpose of all of them is to lead into His house.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
I interpret the nature of God and the Trinity differently than you do (see Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?). I also interpret some of the symbolism of the story of Jacob’s dream at Bethel differently than you do.
However, I do see that story as a prophecy of Christ, along with the entire Old Testament (see Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39). I do not see this as the only meaning of the Scriptures. They also have meaning relating to our own spiritual rebirth process. And of course, they have a meaning relating to the spiritual journey of humankind over the ages.
I also agree with you on the general progression of God (from our human, time-bound perspective) as first being divinity only, then divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ, and then being present with us as the Holy Spirit after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father. And I enjoyed your thoughts on the purpose of God’s revelations.
I am curious: does the viewpoint you express here represent the views of any particular Christian church, denomination, or of any particular Christian theologian, teacher, or pastor?
I liked ur explanation,have u ever looked at st.john1:51? When I researched it I ended up at Jacobs dream and I found something that he said interesting…..this must be the house of God…this must be the gate of heaven….i don’t think Jacob made an error here and I believe just as how bethel was termed as the house of God its the same today but only differently I may be wrong but I can’t help but feel Jesus was getting across some spiritual message to us on the power of the church it being the gate of heaven and it having the glory God over it.what do u think?
Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, John 1:51 does seem to be a fairly clear reference to the story of Jacob’s Ladder. Jesus was, of course, steeped in the Scriptures–which for him were what we call the Old Testament. In the course of his teaching and his life, he suffused those Scriptures with a higher meaning than had been generally perceived before.
I would say, however, that in Christianity, ultimately it is Christ himself who is the “house of God.” This, I think, is the message of “angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:51 – emphasis added).
While Christian churches can serve to introduce people to Christ and teach people about Christ, we now have a direct relationship with God in Jesus Christ. We no longer need to approach God through the human intermediaries of priests and churches.
That, anyway, is some of what I see in John 1:51 and its reference to the story of Jacob’s dream.
I do not know, Danavan, if old links are revisited, as was Bethel by Abram and Jacob (and perhaps a few other worshippers over the years). But I have always thought the emphasis in Jesus’s words to [apparently] dreamy,eyed, philosophizing, Messiah-hoping Nathaniel was on the YOU. Not WHAT Nathaniel was going to see, but that HE TOO was going to have several eye-opening, mind-arresting, life-changing events besides that one under the fig tree, and this first personal encounter with the Master, the Messiah. Not to mention the ironic humor of those early evangelistic disciples excitedly telling
family and friends, WE found HIM !!! So true: the words in stone over the entry to the church read “Whosover Will” And the words on the brass placard on the Lord’s Table read: You did not chose me; I chose you.” I think you are right, and I think Jesus gave them food for the journey when he spoke of the power of the church to the twelve, when he said, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Does the ‘it refer to “faith” or “church”. I suggest the answer is “Yes”, to both of them together.
The church, the gate of heaven, juxtaposed against the gates of hell. Gates can only prevail if and when they are opened, and are not generally thought of an offensive weapon. Oh come to the Father through Jesus the Son, to God be the glory….
Thank you Danavan. Your comments to Lee two years ago have sparked a message, sermon, that might be ready for delivery in a month or two.
Great explanation. It was very helpful to understand more about Bethel and its place in the Bible.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article!
VERY USEFUL.GOD BLESS YOU.
Thanks for stopping by. Glad the article was helpful for you!
God bless you.Thank you for the information about bethel and its history. Jusst iam preaching on it.
You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. I’m glad the article is helpful to you.
So this old thing is still gettin’ read quite often huh?
Hi again logan.fields2,
Yes, it’s quite popular. Not the post I would have predicted for the second highest hits all-time, but there you are!
It’s crazy man. Glad people are getting something out of it!
would Bethel the place be consider a place that was not desirable to the eye or a rocky place and A I pleasing Gen 13:10 ” And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where,”
There is some debate about exactly where Bethel was. However, it was definitely in the central, mountainous region of the Holy Land, where there are many rocky outcroppings. It was located on a key road north from Jerusalem. The proposed sites do have one or more springs that could supply a town with water. Bethel is presented in the Bible as a key, centrally located city from which Joshua’s conquest of the Holy Land could press north and south. It may well have been located in a bottleneck that people traveling through the center of the land were obliged to pass through when going south to north or north to south.
The plain of Jordan would, of course, be well-watered, as river valleys almost always are. Other rivers and streams flow through the valley on their way to the Jordan. The land itself is also more level. So it would have looked quite inviting to Lot for his livestock as compared to the steeper, rockier highlands.
thank you for your reply hope to visit the Holy Land one day
:Your research and comments helped me find answers to significant questions that came to me as I was reading my Bible. Thank you for all of your hard work and may God bless you!
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind comment. I’m glad the article was helpful to you! God bless.
This is a good job. God blss you
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. May God richly bless you as well!
Nice,insightful and inspiring
Hi Dele Adeleke,
Thank you. And thanks for stopping by!
Simply excellent! Your article, Marks comments from John and your responses have given me much more insight than I would have ever thought.
Hi Belay Guta,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad you’ve gained some good insight here!
Very helpful.should we still hold the idea of bethel as a place of christian hope today?
Thank you. Bethel is a place of new beginnings. In that sense, it still has a role in Christian hope and life today. We all have to start somewhere, and Bethel is a good place to start. However, when we’ve traveled farther along in our journey with God, we can leave Bethel behind, and move on to greater things.
I’m so blessed with your write up. It has given me more understanding on what God has laid in my heart.
Thanks for stopping by. Glad the article was helpful to you!
Very helpful, God bless you
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it!
Hi Lee, thanks for the eye opener explainations about bethel, God bless u. Please i will want u to explain this part for me. “And just as in the course of the Bible story Bethel faded away as a point of connection with God and heaven, so the type of connection with God represented by Bethel must fade away for us as we become more spiritually mature”. Thanks.
Hi Precious Benjamin,
Thanks for stopping by.
As explained in the article, spiritually Bethel represents a state of mind in which we agree to believe in God and follow God, but only if we see benefit in it for ourselves. For example, we may say to God, “I’ll follow you, but only if you give me the house, or car, or healing, or mate, that I’m looking for.”
As we become more spiritually mature, we must leave behind that way of thinking, and travel toward believing in God not for how it benefits us, but because we want to live a good, loving, and thoughtful life of service to God and to our fellow human beings.
Does that help?
WOW this was a pleasure to read, I can’t help but wonder WHY was there a stairway from earth to heaven? and in Gen 28:15 God said “…I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” it seems like God is saying one day he will make a bridge between earth and heaven, like a stairway so we can go to heaven. so what I’m trying to ask is could this be an allegorical story of redemption? Jesus Christ’s death will be our stairway to heaven?
Hi Nhat Tran,
Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article!
For Jacob, the dream of a stairway to heaven was an experience of the presence of God and the angels, and a promise, right at the time that he was being exiled from his home, that he would one day return.
For us, it is a spiritual assurance that God and the angels are present with us here and now, even at our darkest times, and that we will one day return to live in the spiritual land that is our true home. In the Bible, the Land of Canaan or the Holy Land symbolizes spiritual life, as compared to the surrounding lands, which symbolize a more materialistic focus in life.
There will not be a literal stairway to heaven that we can climb from earth to heaven. Instead, there is a spiritual stairway that shows us the way to leave behind a merely materialistic life and become spiritual in our goals and focus in life.
And yes, I believe that Jesus Christ becomes that stairway for us, not just by his death, but by his life and his presence with us–as suggested in John 1:51:
Thank you , for the in sight .
You’re welcome, Colleen. Thanks for stopping by!
Jesus…the stairway to heaven.
Lee, thanks for offering your research and spirit-led wisdom here. I have a related question for you: when you said at some point it is necessary to leave your Bethel behind, do you think that means physically as well (not just spiritually)? I have a physical place that I’ve always regarded as my Bethel — which I’ve deemed to be a good thing (a place of encountering God and experiencing deep intimacy with Him). But your article implies that your Bethel is a place to eventually leave behind. Can you leave behind your Bethel spiritually (growing and maturing) but stay there physically? Can you explain more?
Thanks for stopping by. Good question!
My main point in the article on leaving Bethel behind was about our spiritual life. We may start out bargaining with God the way Jacob did in Bethel. But as we grow in the Lord, we have to leave behind that attitude of “what do I get out of it,” and instead follow the Lord simply because it’s the right thing to do, and in time because it’s what we love to do.
Where we are physically here on earth may or may not have a connection with our inner, spiritual life. Some people live in the some physical place all their lives, and continue to grow in their spiritual life and their walk with God. Others get stuck in a physical place, and need to move away from it in order to break their old habits and associations.
About the physical place that you think of as your Bethel, it all depends on whether you can continue to grow spiritually while encountering God at that place. If so, then the place itself will be transformed from Bethel to Shiloh to Jerusalem for you, just as the tabernacle of God moved from one town to another until Jerusalem was established as the place of worship and of meeting God for the Israelites.
However, if you find at some point in your life that your physical Bethel is holding you back in your spiritual journey and your walk with the Lord, then you may need to leave it behind and find a new place where you can especially feel the presence of God.
Grateful for your response and your continued study of the scriptures. Thanks Lee!
Lee, I have another related question for you. When you stated in this response that our Bethel can be “transformed…to Shiloh to Jerusalem,” would you mind explaining more what that means for us spiritually? I’m incredibly interested in knowing how to move from Bethel to Shiloh in my spiritual journey and any scriptures/research/insight would be greatly appreciated!
That is a very good question, which deserves a full post of its own! However, I’ll give you a shorter (sort of!) version here.
Each of these places–Bethel, Shiloh, and Jerusalem–was a site for the Tabernacle, one following the other, after the Israelites entered the Holy Land to conquer it. The final place for the Tabernacle (actually, a replacement Tabernacle built by David) was in Jerusalem–where the Temple was later built by his son Solomon. (The Tabernacle may also have been set up in a few other places in the Holy Land.)
This means that each of these places represent the focus of our spiritual life and worship as we go through our journey of spiritual rebirth, or regeneration.
As stated in the article itself, Bethel represents an early stage in our Christian life in which we bargain with God, seeking to get a good deal for ourselves in return for our faith in God and our obedience to God’s commandments. Bethel also represents a time of spiritual battles and struggles, since the Tabernacle was in Bethel during the time of the initial conquest of the Holy Land. So in our spiritual life it represents a time of major battles and struggles to leave behind our old, selfish and worldly ways of life and focus our lives on God and spirit instead.
Shiloh was the location of the Tabernacle after the initial conquest of the Holy Land, during the time of Samuel. There were still some conflicts during this time, but for the most part the Israelites lived a more peaceful and settled life during the time the Tabernacle was in Shiloh. This is reflected in the meaning of “Shiloh” in Hebrew, which is “tranquility, rest.” So having the Tabernacle in Shiloh represents a time in our spiritual journey, or rebirth, when we have overcome many of the major bad habits (sins) and obstacles that had blocked us from living a Christian and spiritual life, and have settled into that life. We still have our struggles, but we are now solidly settled into a Christian life.
And yet, the time period during which the Tabernacle was in Shiloh was also a rather disorganized and decentralized period in the history of the Israelites. There was no central authority, and no cohesiveness as a nation. The twelve tribes lived in their own areas, administered their own affairs, and generally faced the various local enemies on their own. So this time in our spiritual development also represents a time when, although we have become active Christians, we are not very organized about it. We just sort of face issues and conflicts whenever and wherever they crop up, in a reactionary manner. We don’t have any clear focus and direction to our life.
Jerusalem, where the Tabernacle was later established by David, and where Solomon built the Temple, represents the next stage in our spiritual journey of rebirth. The name “Jerusalem” also incorporates the sense of peace conveyed by the name “Shiloh.” So this is also a settled state of Christian life. And yet, Jerusalem, as the capital established by King David, represents a much more focused form of Christian life. Under Saul, the first king of Israel, and especially under David, who finished the job of conquering the Holy Land, the Israelites were unified under a single leader, with a clear and unified goal.
Having the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, in Jerusalem, then, represents a stage in our spiritual journey in which we have set clear spiritual goals for ourselves, and are pursuing those goals in a proactive, not reactionary, way. Our life has purpose and direction. We are here to accomplish God’s purpose for our life, which we see clearly laid out ahead of us.
We may or may not see farther down the road that God is leading us on. But we know what task God has given us now, and we are intent on accomplishing that task. To put it in distinctly Christian terms, we have a clear and comprehensive idea of the teachings of Jesus as they apply to our lives (this is the meaning of Jerusalem spiritually), and we have focused our lives on learning and living by those teachings in a very specific way.
I hope these brief thumbnails help you on your own spiritual journey!
You’ve been generous with your response once again, Lee. Thank you so much for offering your wisdom and research. I look forward to digging deeper into what you’ve shared!
Nice thoughts on Bethel!
nice teaching, more grace.
Hi oluwafemi michael,
Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the teaching here.
Thank you Lee for your narrative regarding the city of Bethel. That is so alarming to know this location is no longer significant.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Perhaps Bethel’s physical location is no longer significant. But its meaning for our spiritual life does have continuing significance as long as we are in a “Bethel” state.
not sure if you’ll see this, but what do you about churches named bethel? either way, very insightful read! thanks
I think that Bethel is a fine name for a church. We’ve all got to start somewhere spiritually. If a church helps us to get started on our Christian and spiritual journey, it’s doing its job, isn’t it?
PRAISE THE LORD
Dear Brother In JESUS CHRIST.
Truly i am much motivated, by Loving JESUS CHRIST Grace past few days we are trying to buy home, my Pastor came to visit the home we planing to buy. Pastor saw the house as he was praying word came to him this house will be called EL-BETHEL. So find the website i thank God for your gentleness and loving nature quality replying all question with blessed inputs and encouraging.
One thing i liked most as you explain (“Shiloh” in Hebrew, which is “tranquillity, rest.” So having the Tabernacle in Shiloh represents a time in our spiritual journey).
If i am not wrong in Tabernacle was Ten Commandments, “Shiloh means Rest” when we have in our heart and life God Commandments it should rest not be shaking and jumping and moving and let go and let in.
i pray and you also pray each and every God Commandments will rest in me and my family and everyone life peacefully. So that we all live to will of Loving JESUS CHRIST.
Loving Bro. Edwin Lawrence.
Hi Bro. Edwin,
Thank you for your beautiful and tranquil thoughts! May God’s blessings be on you and your ministry.
I absolutely love this! Very clear and thought provoking. You stirred my spirit as I was praying for direction in a certain area and the Holy Spirit kept dropping “Bethel” in my spirit so I decided to look it up and came across this. I am truly blessed, encouraged and motivated by your teaching Brother Lee, please let me know where I can sign up to learn more from you! Thanks again, God’s richest blessings on you!
Thank you! I’m glad this article was helpful to you. You can get email notices of new posts by entering your email in the box under “Follow by Email” in the right navbar of every page. Feel free to search around here for other articles you might enjoy!
Interesting article that I came across while researching the connection between Bethel and the dwelling place of God in man.
I was a bit concerned about your thought that Bethel… Which would translate into the divine reality of Bethel… Being left to fade away.
From what I’ve come to see is that scripture reveals God as a God of increase, and as such, having our starting point with God at Bethel, as God increases in us, this reality becomes enlarged to where it includes Jerusalem.
From my studies, I’ve come to see the meaning of Jerusalem being as somewhat along the lines of wholeness, completeness (or unbrokenness), which is a kind of full/righteous wage of sort, that is associated with God.
Which is how peace is achieved.
But Jerusalem is a very complex word, even encompassing a meaning that suggest the flight, or way that a projectile takes on it’s way to hitting the intended mark.
I’m bringing this up because the reality of the above is pretty much where God brings us after our Bethel experience. And it becomes the reality that we will dwell in eternally.
This, for me, is the enlarged Bethel experience, and all that comes after this Bethel experience, comes out of our Bethel experience.
Surely, as we see in scripture, our Bethel experience can become corrupted — one just need look around us at the horror Christianity is to see this corruption. And Paul even spoke to it when he said that all of Asia had turned away from him (his ministry). Which is partially responsible for how we’ve ended up with the folly that is Christianity.
Paul even speaks to this matter of error that can come out of our forgetting how we began…
Galatians 3:3… “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Most certainly God will allow — even cause — our Bethel experience to fade, should we pursue corruption after having it. But Bethel faded in the old testament… Under the old covenant.
We have something better.
Even if for a time it seems that we reject the reality of our Bethel experience… The Reality of our Bethel experience will never leave us nor forsake us. Because, given our Bethel experience, we are His.
How then can it be proper to say, or even suggest that our Bethel experience fades away.
No my brother, it doesn’t, it becomes enlarged to fill the whole earth.
The higher up you climb on Mount Zion, the more you see. But the first step you took up this divine mountain will always be an integral part of your journey.
Because that first step was only possible in God. And God is eternal, having no beginning and no end.
The reality of Bethel is God with man, and man with God. And that reality is God’s eternal desired, worked out in Himself.
Amen my brother.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment.
About Bethel fading, the meaning of this is that our early, relatively self-absorbed and deal-making relationship with God must fade away if we are to reach our full spiritual potential—which in the Old Testament is represented by Jerusalem, as you say, and which in the New Testament is represented by the New Jerusalem.
When that early Bethel-like relationship with God fades, we don’t lose anything. Rather, we build on that earlier stage of our spiritual journey to achieve a higher and better state, represented by the well-developed and very complex city of Jerusalem, and even more by the New Jerusalem, which encompasses the whole “earth” of our lives.
Speaking for myself, while I’m thankful for the many experiences I had when I was younger (and wish I could have avoided some of them!) I have no desire to go back to any earlier stage of my life. Rather, I look forward to continuing my journey forward and, I hope, upward to a higher level of love, understanding, and relationship with God and with my fellow human beings.
Very insightful article.All the other comments also added greatly to deepen my view of the importance of what Beth-El was at that time. I also believe that Elizah was taken up by the chariots and horseman of heaven at Beth-El. In the book of Kings it says he was told to go there and Elisha followed him there to Beth-El, who also received double portion of Elijahs spirit in that very same place. Beth-El…Amazing
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad the article was helpful.
About Elijah, though he passed through Bethel on his way to the place where he was taken up to heaven, that did not happen in Bethel, but on the other side of the Jordan, across from Jericho. You can read the story in 2 Kings 2:1-18.
Thanks Lee for watering the thirst sheep of God specially from countries where Bible study is a dream for the people like me.J,B.
Thanks for stopping by. You are very welcome!
You avoided answering the question a year ago, about King Jeroboam and Bethel.
Bethel represents disobedience. Instead of traveling to Jerusalem as instructed, the king erected shrines in Bethel and Dan
The symbolism notion of this representing a person’s spiritual journey I find ridiculous.
1 Kings 12:25-33
25 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and went out from thence, and built Penuel.
26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:
27 If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.
28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.
30 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.
31 And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.
32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.
33 So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.
What happened in the next chapter hmmm?
God sent a “man of God” to prophesy against the king for his disobedience.
We can call Bethel “House of God” all we want, but when we’re the ones running the show and calling the shots, instead of being obedient, God does not bless it and in fact will tear it down.
Thanks for your comment. “Avoided” is a strong word. There are a lot of comments here. Apparently I let that one slip past without replying to it.
However, the general issue of the corruption of Bethel due to idol worship practiced there starting under Jereboam *is* dealt with in the article, even if Jereboam is not specifically mentioned.
Good morning,, im just asking, is the stone(jacob’s pillow) is still in bethel? Or is there any sign or tourist sign on that holy place that we can see till now. Is that bethel is the bethlehem now? Thank you so much.
Hi Jing elemia,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. It is very unlikely that a stone that Jacob set up as a pillar nearly four thousand years ago is still known to us today. However, there are many traditions about various places in the Holy Land, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there is a tourist attraction related to the site of Jacob’s dream. Oh, and Bethel is not the same city as Bethlehem.
Interesting article and comments, I’m curious, what role if any do you think Bethel will play when Ezekiel’s temple is built? I heard about Bob Cornuke’s new book (which I haven’t read yet) about the Temple Mount and his theory that Solomon’s temple was not located where we traditionally have thought it to be. Do you think it possible that Bethel was the true location of the Temple and actually where the City of David was located? It would be just like God to spell it out for us in the Old Testament and we just ,”did not know it” as Jacob said!! Thanks for the inciteful read!
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.
It seems clear enough to me from the text of the Bible that the Tabernacle / Temple will never return to Bethel, and that the Temple was built in Jerusalem and not anywhere else. But of course, these are the physical, historical Tabernacle and Temple. Much more important are the spiritual Tabernacle and Temple, which are to be built within our own heart. The Temple that we build in our heart is the place we prepare within ourselves for the Lord to be the central presence in our life.
I turned my life over to God March 2013 and since then have slowly been growing in the Lord. I have had over the past 3 years developed a desire to reach out to the lost, those that may love/believe in God but can’t find it within themselves to take the first step toward a relationship with Christ or even walk through the doors of a church. I recently began looking into purchasing a 16×32 portable building to start some sort of ministry to reach out to those in my community. As I was doing so a minister overheard my conversation one day price searching and told me that he would donate to my cause a 16×30 portable building that he once used as an office. With that said, I was driving home from a few days later and a thought over took my mind “It is to be called Bethel” but I understood it spelled as “Bethal” and the thought over took my mind again and said to me “Not Bethal, Bethel…spelled with an “E”. I quickly grabbed my phone to google the name and was at AWE of it’s biblical meaning! Today I came across your post and again I’m in AWE. Your description of Bethel is exactly what God has told me my Bethel is to be. A place to draw others onto him, that otherwise would not come to know him and form a relationship with the Lord that leads them into a church for greater leading and maturity. Thank you so much for this post, may God Bless you and May he continue to use you to help people like me 🙂
Please pray for the ministry God is giving me and the little building “Bethel” that it was all take place in….Our God Is An Awesome God!!!!!
Thanks for stopping by and telling your story. I’m glad this article was inspiring to you.
May God richly bless your ministry!
This is Great Insight
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad you found it enlightening!
hello sir thank you very much for this great opportunity this is quite interesting and very important to me have not been able to have a stable spiritual life all those years I don’t know if it had been because of my name bethel please I would like to ask if there’s a need of the change of name thank you very much sir
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments. I’m glad you found this article helpful!
About changing your name, that would be a personal decision that only you can make. However, it is not a bad thing to be reminded of where our connection with God started, even if we may over time mature as Christians beyond the infant faith that we had when we first accepted Christ into our lives.
a prayer point was raised by my pastor yesterday that God should take us to the place of our rest and just today I came across this article and it was a great blessed to me and I really want to grow to grow spiritually. Christ the rock
On the matter of Bethel needing to fade… And Jerusalem being His goal for us…
My brother, how many times did God have to deal with Jerusalem?
Many times… Even causing it to be destroyed.
Bethel isn’t about “…our early, relatively self-absorbed and deal-making relationship with God…” needing to “…fade away if we are to reach our full spiritual potential—which in the Old Testament is represented by Jerusalem…”
That’s what the cross is for.
And where is the cross located?
My brother, Bethel is God’s chosen meeting place of God and man… And this will never change… It will never fade away.
The reality of Bethel in a believer’s life is Christ Jesus, as Christ Jesus is where a believer and God meet.
And I know of no scripture verse that tells us that our relationship with Christ Jesus must fade away.
And no, I am not saying that Bethel is more important than Jerusalem. Both are important, as the reality of both are Christ Jesus.
Scripture tells us that the church is the house of God in creation.
In creation, God’s house is the mutual dwelling place of God and His redeemed (John 14:2 & 23)… And in the church — as the house of God — we have man as God’s dwelling place and God as man’s dwelling place.
Today, the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream at Bethel is the church, the house of God, the manifestation of God in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:15).
Which is God’s eternal desire (Eph. 3:3-13).
Why would you even for a moment want to think that seeing this reality must fade away.
Scripture tells us that God created the heavens and the earth, but He is pleased to dwell with man (Isa. 66:1-2).
Scripture tells us that we as believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16) and together we are the dwelling place of God in spirit (Eph. 2:22), even God’s house (Heb. 3:6).
Scripture tells us that God is our dwelling place for all generations, and we love to hide and abide in Him as He abides in us (Psa. 90:1; 91:1; John 15:5).
And scripture tells us that the house of God is constituted with God and man mingled together as one… In His house God expresses Himself in humanity, and here both God and man find mutual and eternal satisfaction and rest (Psa. 132:13-14).
And this is the reality of Bethel… Not Jerusalem… Old or new.
And yet we know that it is the new Jerusalem that John saw coming down out of heaven, at the center of which is God.
So what’s going one?
On the one hand we have Bethel, the house of God, which is the church… And on the other hand we have the new Jerusalem, that which comes down out of heaven and has God at its center.
What’s the connection?
Bethel, the church, becomes the new Jerusalem, the bride… The eternal Bethel, the house of God, the mutual dwelling place of God and man, where man dwells in God and God dwells not only with man but in man.
It’s not a matter of something “fading away”… But of something growing to become that which is desired.
The good land… The promised land… Is Christ Jesus.
And within this good/promised land is all that He is to us.
And we should not think that we are above any aspect of our Lord, and fall into the opinion that one aspect should be forgotten… Less the Lord see that we need to experience it again as a reminder of who He is to us.
Thanks for your comment.
It’s not a matter of letting our relationship with Jesus Christ fade. Rather, it’s a matter of that relationship being transformed as we mature in Christ. Its quality will no longer be that of Bethel, but of Jerusalem, and eventually of the new Jerusalem.
The name “Bethel” is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. But Jerusalem appears extensively in the New Testament. And the final vision of the New Testament, and of the Bible as a whole, is of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Metaphorically, this means that the early relationship that we had with Christ, symbolized by Bethel, is replaced by a more mature relationship, symbolized by Jerusalem, and finally by the new Jerusalem.
If you want to think of the new Jerusalem as Bethel transformed, I don’t have a problem with that. Just keep in mind that in the Christian Bible, Bethel does fade away, such that it is no longer present in the New Testament.
Thank you so much for this article! I have been reading the comments and when I got to this one, I had to comment! Thank you so much for pointing out that Bethel is not mentioned in the New Testament. My pastor ‘s sermon today was from Genesis 28. For over 12 years now, my brother has made a place called EL Bethel his place of worship. His leader is referred to as an apostle and his wife is a prophetess who gives my brother a prophecy twice a week. The apostle and the prophetess are the only two leaders of this place. They refer to it as the” temple” and my brother will not attend or even visit any other church because he, along with a couple of other family members, feel that other churches are not holy enough and that God can only be found in this ” temple”. They believe that those of us who do not worship under his teaching are “asleep” and that we must be “awakened” by the apostle, who is a” God sent man, who’s been taught by God and has a direct line to Him”. He has made them believe that if they leave this place, they will lose their salvation and that they and their families will no longer be protected. This apostle is their mediator and while I did not hear this myself, it is my understanding this apostle told his “flock” that Billy Graham had to pass through him (the apostle) before he could enter heaven. I can see what is happening here and Yes I have tried in the most loving way to question these beliefs but no one is to question what they are being taught because those who question are labeled as an “adversary” or a “hindrance” . I plead with you and other fellow Christians to please pray with me over this situation! Thank you so much!
Thanks for stopping by, and for telling your brother’s story. It does sound like he’s gotten caught up in a very cult-like church. No human being has that sort of power. Only the Lord Jesus Christ does. Usurping that power (or at least claiming to), is stealing from the Lord. And telling people they will lose their salvation if they leave the group is classic cult mind-control.
Unfortunately, when people get pulled into these cult-like groups, it is very difficult to get them out. Their whole mind becomes re-tuned to listen only to the cult leader, and they see everything through that lens. Aside from prayer, which is always good, all you can do is continue to love the person even if they cut you off (also common among people caught up in cults), and be ready to receive them back if some upheaval in the cult or in their personal life causes the scales to fall off their eyes so that they re-enter the regular world.
Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Thanks Lee, For Your Comment I Had To Read A Lot Of Others Comments Before I Came To Your, With Views Similar To Mine. But More Importantly It’s Our Call To Treat Our Bodies As His Temple A Place That God Though The Holy Spirit Can Dwell.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad you found the post and comments helpful.
Godspeed on your spiritual journey!
Hi…keep in mind…there were two Bethel’s
The first one was when Abram went out of Eygpt and came to “Bethel” (this one was near Sodom and Gomorrah…near Hebron)
the other was a place called “Luz”…which Jacob renamed “Bethel”…which is up north towards Haran…but in Canaan
Jacob built an alter there…it is where he had a dream and saw angels ascending and descending from heaven and God was at the top of the “ladder”…so Jacob renamed the “City” of “Luz” to “Bethel”(House of the God of gods” or “House of God” or “House of El”
Bethel….means “house of God” or “El”…it means “House of the God of gods”(Elohim”)
So one Bethel was a “city” that Abram went through and the other was a
“spiritual” place as well as a “city” named “Luz” at first in the Land of Canaan
They were two different places:)
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. However, the Bible story makes it clear that the Bethel that Abram stayed in on his journey from Haran in the north to Egypt in the south (see Genesis 12:1–10) is the same place as the Bethel that Jacob stayed in on his journey from Beer-sheba in the southern part of Palestine toward Haran, where Abram’s kinsmen still lived (see Genesis 28:10–19).
Yes, Jacob renamed Luz to Bethel after Abram’s time. However, that became the name by which the place was known, so that it was used by the Bible writers to refer to it even when they were narrating stories that took place before Jacob’s time, and before it was known as Bethel.
Going back to Michael’s comments of February 21, 2016 to which you posed the question as to what ministry or church or theologian his views represented. As far as I can tell he did not respond to your inquiry. I believe I can make a good guess as to where he is coming from regarding this particular view of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity. The complexity of his exposition and use of a specialized vocabulary makes believe that he is a group of believers I became very familiar with many years ago. They refer to themselves as the “Local Church of such and such city” as they believe they are the true representatives the body of Christ. This expression probably began in the 70’s or earlier in California under the direction of Witness Lee and was primarily comprised of asian peoples although it has expanded to include all ethnic groups. They had at one time had some association with the Church of the Brethren but I am unsure of the details. Witness Lee, I believe at one time studied under the more familiar Watchman Nee in China before the oppression took over however I am not sure that the two men’s theology concur. Since coming to the US, the “Local Church” has expanded to many larger cities such as Cleveland and Austin and other cities. They do not hold to the orthodox view of trinity and are convinced that they are “recovering” the “truth” of the bible. Their publications are produced by Living Stream Ministries also of California.
Thanks for this information. Michael never did respond, so it is good to know a little more about his likely church connections.
For those reading in, the original comment is here.