The name Bethel comes from the Hebrew beth, meaning house, and el, meaning God. Bethel means House of God. Numerous events of Bible History occurred there, including God's appearance to Abraham and Jacob, and for some time it was the place (see Bible Places) where the Ark of The Covenant, containing The Ten Commandments, was housed.
Bethel has a long connection to major Biblical events of the Old Testament (see Old Testament Fact File):
- Bethel is located about 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Jerusalem, west of Jericho and the Jordan River.
- Prior to the Israelites' entry into The Promised Land, as God commanded them, Bethel was originally a Canaanite city named Luz (Genesis 28:19).
- When Abraham (see Abraham, Man Of Faith) first entered Canaan, he camped between Bethel and Ai (Genesis 12:8), and when he returned from Egypt he returned there and "called upon the name of The Lord" (Genesis 13:3-4).
- Jacob, while fleeing from Beersheba to Haran, had his Stairway To Heaven dream near Bethel.
- Years later, upon his return there, Jacob built an altar and renamed the place El-Bethel (Genesis 35:6-7), and then Bethel (Genesis 35:15). It was in that time period that God gave Jacob a new name - Israel. (Genesis 35:9-10).
- In times of trouble the people went to Bethel to ask counsel of God (Judges 20:18, 21:2).
- The Ark Of The Covenant was kept at Bethel for a long time under the care of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron (Judges 20:26-28) (see also Levites).
- Bethel was one of the seats of Samuel's circuit court of justice (1 Samuel 7:16) (see Samuel).
- After the Israelites were divided into 2 kingdoms upon the death of King Solomon (Israel in the north and Judah in the south), Bethel was included in the northern kingdom under King Jeroboam (see Kings of Israel and Judah). He soon made it into an idolatrous place where the people worshiped a golden calf (1 Kings 12:28-33). The prophet Hosea then contemptuously called it Beth-aven, which means house of idols, or house of wickedness (Hosea 4:15) (see Images and Idols)
- After the northern kingdom was destroyed and exiled by the Assyrians (see Ancient Empires - Assyria), later becoming known as the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel," a few loyal priests lived and taught in Bethel, although they did so amidst continued idolatry (2 Kings 17:27-34).
- Later, King Josiah, king of Judah, purged Bethel of all of its idolatry (2 Kings 23:15-18) before the southern kingdom itself was conquered and exiled by the Babylonians (see Why Babylon?).
- Bethel still existed after the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 2:28, Nehemiah 7:32).
- Today, the Bethel of the Old Testament has been identified with the ruins of Beitin, a small village just south of Shiloh.
Fact Finder: What was the name of Rebekah's nurse who died and was buried near Bethel?
See also Rebekah