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The Bethel Blessings

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

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Bethel in the Bible was formerly named Luz. It was located about 11 miles north of Jerusalem near Ai. It was a major trading center that was at a crossroads. Even though Bethel was in the dry hill country, there were several natural springs that had water in abundance for the people who lived there and for passersby.

The Hebrew word "Bethel" means "the house of God." Bethel is mentioned in more than sixty verses about at least thirty different stories and prophecies. Bethel is mentioned more times than any other place in the Bible except for Jerusalem. A lot of important things happened in Bethel, and most of them are mentioned throughout Genesis, the first book in the Bible. Some things about Bethel are also mentioned to a lesser degree in other Old Testament books. However, Bethel is not mentioned at all in the New Testament because the city had been burned down before the time of the New Testament (Ezra 2:28).

Bethel: A Place of Promise

Bethel is first mentioned in Genesis 12 as a place near where Abram stayed on his way to Egypt (Genesis 12:6-9). It was at the place where one of the first altars is mentioned in the Bible. It is also the place where God promised Abram that he would become the "Father of Many Nations." At the time, Abram was old and his wife was barren.

A Place of Prayer

Bethel is the place of prayer (Genesis 13:3-4). After Abram returned from Egypt, he stopped at the same place where God made a promise to him. This time Abram prayed and called on the name of the Lord at Bethel.

A Place to Meet God

Jacob had tricked his elderly father into giving him the blessing that should have gone to Esau, his firstborn. Esau was planning to kill him. Rebekah, their mother sent Jacob away from home to keep Esau from killing his brother.

Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending on a ladder

Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending on a ladder

Jacob was on his way to go to Laban, his mother's brother. 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)

Bethel is the place to meet God (Genesis 28:10-19). It is the place where God revealed Himself to Jacob through a dream about angels on a ladder ascending and descending on a staircase to and from heaven. Jacob sees God standing on the top of the staircase (Genesis 28:11; 18-19).

When Jacob awakened, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” Therefore he set up a pillar as a memorial that the place where he slept would be God’s house.

A Place of Commitment

Bethel is the place of commitment (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob made a vow that he would be committed to always give God a tenth of whatever God gave him.

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A Place of Fellowship

Bethel is the place of fellowship (Genesis 35:1). God told Jacob to stay in Bethel and be in fellowship with Him in that place.

A Place of Sacrifice

Bethel is the place of sacrifice (Genesis 35:3). Jacob built an altar and sacrificed to God at Bethel. It was the same place where his grandfather Abraham built one of the first altars. It is where God made a promise to have descendants. Jacob was one of those descendants.

A Place of Remembrance

Bethel is the place of remembrance (Genesis 31:13). God reminded Jacob, "I am the God of Bethel."

Bethel: A Place to Make Amends

Bethel is the place where Jacob stopped when he returned home to confront his twin brother Esau after he cheated him out of his birthright. They had not seen each other in 22 years.

A Place for Two Deborahs

Bethel is the place to bury things. After Jacob had been away from home over two decades, his mother Rebekah sent her loyal nurse to tell Jacob that it was safe for him to return home. The nurse named Deborah died and Jacob buried her under the oak below Bethel (Genesis 35:8).

Another Deborah, the only female judge of Israel, held court at a site between Ramah and Bethel (Judges 4:5).

A Place of Blessings

Bethel is a place of blessings (Genesis 35:9-12). God blessed Jacob at Bethel with the same blessings He had given her grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac.

Worship Center of Israel

After Jacob’s returned home, Bethel was the second place where he and his family settled. There he set up an altar to God, and God spoke to him. Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel (Genesis 35:15).(Genesis 35:1-15)

Bethel remained one of the main worship centers of Israel. The ark of the covenant was kept at Bethel for a time, and the people often went there to seek God during times of trouble (Judges 20:18–28).

Place of Transfer of Power

God sent Elijah to Bethel on his last day of ministry and being on this earth (2 Kings 2:2-3). It was on that day that he transferred his prophetic anointing to Elisha before he was translated into heaven without physically dying.

Elisha was a wealthy farmer, but he killed his oxen, burned his plowing equipment, and cooked the meat. He celebrated with his workers. All of this was done to indicate that Elisha had moved into a different position.

A Place for Prophets and Priests

God often sent prophets to preach at Bethel (1 Kings 13:1-10). Many of these prophets pronounced judgment and condemnation on Bethel as a center of idolatry (Amos 3:14; 5:5–6; Hosea 10:15).

Bethel remained a home for prophets and priests (2 Kings 17:28-41). Bethel was one of the first places in Jerusalem where the ark of the covenant of God was located and where the priests offered sacrifices and inquired of God. (Judges 20:18, 26–28; 21:2)

The high places of Bethel used for idolatry were destroyed by King Josiah of Judah as part of his religious reforms (2 Kings 23:4, 13–19). Eventually, by the time of Ezra, the city of Bethel had been burned down and reduced to a small village (Ezra 2:28).

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Just as Bethel was the place of blessings for the biblical patriarchs, we can have some of those same blessings from God at our own Bethel, "the house of God."

For Further Reading

The History and Importance of Bethel in the Bible

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