Bethel is religiously significant site north of Jerusalem that is believed to be one of the first places in the Bible where the Hebrew people met with God. Moreover, Bethel mentioned various times in the Old Testament: Bethel was the site of many biblical encounters; such as the place where Abram stayed and built an altar on his way to Egypt; and where Jacob dreamed of seeing angels and God.
History and Biblical Importance of Bethel
The ancient town of Bethel, which translates to “House of God,” was set on the border between Israel and Judah, and had a strategic location north of Jerusalem; which became the spiritual and political center of Israel. The town served the ancient Hebrews as a point of entry into the Holy Land and as a place of deep religious significance where communication with God took place.
Ancient Bethel is mentioned in over 60 verses in the Old Testament; representing over thirty distinct stories and prophecies. Some of these include:
- Firstly, Abraham built one of the first altars mentioned in the Bible near Bethel where he “invoked the name of the Lord.”
- Secondly, Jacob “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”.
- Bethel was the second place where Jacob and his family settled on his return to the Holy Land; where he set up an altar to God, and God spoke to him.
- Joshua and the Israelites conquered Ai and Bethel after entering the Holy Land and conquering Jericho.
- Bethel was one of the first places in the Holy Land where the ark of the covenant of God was set up.
When the northern kingdom of Israel seceded from the southern kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem became the spiritual and political center of Israel; Bethel became corrupted by the worship of idols and other gods. Moreover, it was here that Jeroboam; the first king of the southern kingdom of Judah; built a temple with a golden calf to intercept worshippers traveling to the Temple where the ark was in Jerusalem. By the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethel had completely faded away as a place of importance.