Bethel is the place where Jacob first encountered the Lord. It was the place where he was given a dream and a promise. The place was originally called Luz, but Jacob renamed it Bethel because for him, it is where God resides – “house of God”. It was a special place, a refuge, a safe haven.
Jacob landed on Bethel as he was fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau whom he deceived. He was so broken then, fearful, helpless and without anything to go on living. But it was during that most trying time, when everything has been stripped away from him, that God made him a promise – “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
And in response, Jacob promised:
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
A few years passed and God has been faithful to His part of the promise. Jacob’s wealth has increased tremendously and he became a father to a huge household. Moreover, he has once again earned the trust and the forgiveness of his brother Esau. And true enough, God has brought him back to Bethel, with all of God’s promises fulfilled!
God met with Jacob at Bethel when he was still a needy person. And now that Jacob is already full to the brim, God commanded him to go back to Bethel. It is as if God wants him to look back on how things went in his life. God wants him to go back to his first altar, to where his faith begun.
Surprisingly for Jacob, he demanded his household to purify themselves and to give him their pagan idols to be buried in the ground. And as Jacob went to worship the Lord in Bethel, God once again confirmed His promises – and for the second time Jacob was blessed with the name Israel – a name change signifying that he is no longer identified with his past sins and mistakes.
If you are a Christian, like Jacob, we all have our “Bethel” where we first encountered the Lord. Our Bethel can be a place or even a person. While we all know that God is everywhere, Bethel is a special because you know you commune closer with God there.
Are you in a moment of loss and despair? Why not go back to your Bethel and take refuge there? If life’s anxieties has brought you to your knees, rest your case to God and find relief in Him. Or perhaps everything in your life is going well right now. Still, God will be pleased to meet you at Bethel. It doesn’t matter whatever season you are in, Bethel is where the God of the universe meets with the vulnerable you.
As you return to Bethel, think of the things you might need to bury: your pains? Your regrets? Maybe your achievements? Anything that takes off your focus from God can be a pagan idol that might need to be buried on the ground.
Go back to Bethel. God is waiting for you there. He will gladly refresh you with His promises to never leave you, and will remind you that you are no longer the same fearful, broken and helpless person you used to be. You are no longer “Jacob”, but “Israel”.