What is the significance of Bethel in the Bible?

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Bethel

The Hebrew name Bethel means “house of God.” The Bible mentions two places by the name Bethel:

The town of Bethel (more likely Bethul) close to Ziklag: This was one of the towns in Judah’s allotment that was given to Simeon (Joshua 19:4). It was mentioned in 1 Samuel 30:26,27 where it talks about David’s generosity to the elders of Bethel. When David returned to Hebron on the death of Saul, he sent gifts from his abundant spoil to those that have been kind to him during his years of wanderings.

The city of Bethel: It was located about 11 miles north of Jerusalem near Ai. It was a border city between the territory of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and that of the tribe of Ephraim. It played an important role in Israel. Only Jerusalem is mentioned more than Bethel in the Old Testament.

Most scholars identify Bethel with the modern-day village of Beitin, located in the West Bank, 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) northeast of Ramallah.

Patriarchs

Bethel is first mentioned in relation to Abraham where he lived and build an alter before he went to Egypt (Genesis 12 and 13). In Abraham’s time, the city was called Luz (Genesis 28:19). Later, it was mentioned in relation to Jacob when he fled from the fury of his brother Esau and had a dream of a ladder stretching between Heaven and Earth with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. There the Lord said to him, “the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants” (Verse 13). Then, Jacob made a vow to worship the Lord (verse 20,21). The covenant of God was repeated in Genesis 35 and the place was named El-Bethel. After Jacob wrestled with the Lord and received a blessing for his perseverance, his name was changed to Israel.

Joshua

Bethel is mentioned again in Joshua 7:2, 8:9 when the leader of Israelite tribes sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel. Joshua charged them, “Go up and spy out the country.” At Joshua 16:1, the city is said to be next to Luz. It was part of the land that was distributed for the descendants of Joseph.

Judges

In Judges 1:22, the descendants of Joseph seized the city of Bethel. And in Judges 4:5, the prophetess Deborah dwelt at Bethel under the palm-tree of Deborah (the nurse of Jacob’s mother Rebecca who is said to have been buried under a tree there – Genesis 35:8). This place is between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. There, the children of Israel came up to prophetess for judgment.

In Judges 20:18, the Hebrew Beth-El is translated in the KJV as the ‘House of God.’ The people of Israel went to Bethel to ask counsel of God when they were planning to attack the Benjaminites at the battle of Gibeah. They make a second visit there (Judges 20:26) after losing the battle. Bethel was a significant religious site at that time because the Ark of the Covenant was there, with Phinehas the grandson of Aaron (Judges 20:27). Judges 21:19 mentions the place of the yearly feast of the Lord in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel.

Samuel

In 1 Samuel 4:3, the Ark is said to be kept at Shiloh. And 1 Samuel 7:16 says that the prophet Samuel used to make a yearly trips to Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah to judge Israel. In I Samuel 10:3, Samuel tells Saul to go to Bethel to visit the ‘Hill of God,’ where he will meet a group of prophets praising God. Bethel is mentioned again in 1 Samuel 13:2 and 2 Samuel 30:27.

Kings

After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was divided. And King Jeroboam of the northern Kingdom erected two golden calves (1 Kings 12:28 ff) one in Bethel, and the other in Dan so that the people of Israel will not go to Jerusalem to worship there. This evil act raised the Judaeans against him.

In 2 Kings 2:1, the prophets Elijah and Elisha went to Bethel before Elijah was translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:11). And in 2 Kings 2:23, Elisha returned alone to Bethel, where some youths mocked him as a prophet of God. So, he pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears mauled forty-two of the youths.

In 2 Kings 10:29, we read that Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin by worshiping the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan. The shrine at Bethel was finally fully destroyed by King Josiah of Judah.

Ezra, Nehemiah, Amos, and Hosea

In Ezra 2:28 and Nehemiah 7:32, we read that Bethel was inhabited at the time of the return of the exiles from Babylon. In Amos, 5:5 and 7:13, the prophet declared that Bethel instead of being a place for the worship of the true God, had become the temple of an idol, and so “shall come to nothing.” The Lord declared that no prophesying will take place there. In Hosea 10:15, the prophet declared, being the main place of calf worship, Bethel was the sinful reason for many of the inhabitant’s future disasters. Bethel is not mentioned in the New Testament.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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