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Submitted by on Monday, 6 July 2009No Comment


Israelite history before the destruction of the Kingdoms of Samaria (721 BC) and of Judah (587 BC) remembers Bethel which according to tradition was formerly called Luz and renamed House of God by Jacob. It was a border city between Benjamin and Ephraim during the time of the two kingdoms. In fact, it was one of two Golden Calf shrines in the Northern Kingdom, the other one being located in Dan (1 Kgs. 12:28-29). In Genesis 28:10-22, we find the story of how Jacob first comes to Luz and why he put up a shrine there, making the place important in the memory of the Israelites.

Isaac told Jacob to get a wife for himself in Paddan-Aram, from the house of Laban, brother of Rebeccah. Rebeccah had expressed her dislike over the possibility that her son might marry a Canaanite. So Jacob leaves the paternal place in Beersheba and on the way camps in a place where he had a dream about a stairway leading to heaven on which angels were ascending and descending. In the dream he also heard God by his side promising him protection. “May he protect” is also another etymology for Yaaqob. When Jacob wakes up the next morning, he pours oil over the place and vowed that “the Lord” will be his God if he returns from his journey safe and sound.


The Stairway to Heaven

The dream-vision of the stairway to heaven indicates the place as a locus of divine revelation. Angels, the messengers of God, use the staircase to bring to and from heaven the messages they are commanded to give. When Jesus, in John 1, tells Nathanael that the angels will be ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, he is actually saying that now the locus of God’s revelation is Jesus himself.

Bethel and the End of Northern Israel

It should be remembered that it was at Bethel where Amos, a Judean prophet, spoke against the injustices in the Northern Kingdom. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, told him to stop prophesying and go back to Judea were he comes from. In response, Amos predicts the destruction of the Northern Kingdom in a war and the death of Amaziah in exile (Amos 7:10-17). It is tragic that the place of divine revelation recognized by Jacob would later on become a place where prophetic revelation is rejected.

Genesis 28:10-22
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10But Jacob being departed from Bersabee, went on to Haran.
11And when he was come to a certain place, and would rest in it after sunset, he took of the stones that lay there, and putting under his head, slept in the same place.
12And he saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it;
13And the Lord leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land, wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed.
14And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth: thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and IN THEE and thy seed all the tribes of the earth SHALL BE BLESSED.
15And I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land: neither will I leave thee, till I shall have accomplished all that I have said.
16And when Jacob awaked out of sleep, he said: Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.
17And trembling he said: How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.
18And Jacob, arising in the morning, took the stone, which he had laid under his head, and set it up for a title, pouring oil upon the top of it.
19And he called the name of the city Bethel, which before was called Luza.
20And he made a vow, saying: If God shall be with me, and shall keep me in the way by which I walk, and shall give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
21And I shall return prosperously to my father's house: the Lord shall be my God:
22And this stone, which I have set up for a title, shall be called the house of God: and of all things that thou shalt give to me, I will offer tithes to thee.
Amos 7:10-17
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10And Amasias the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying: Amos hath rebelled against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.
11For thus saith Amos: Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall be carried away captive out of their own land.
12And Amasias said to Amos: Thou seer, go, flee away into the land of Juda: and eat bread there, and prophesy there.
13But prophesy not again any more in Bethel: because it is the king's sanctuary, and it is the house of the kingdom.
14And Amos answered and said to Amasias: I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet: but I am a herdsman plucking wild figs.
15And the Lord took me when I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel.
16And now hear thou the word of the Lord: Thou sayest, thou shalt not prophesy against Israel, and thou shalt not drop thy word upon the house of the idol.
17Therefore thus saith the Lord: Thy wife shall play the harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be measured by a line: and thou shalt die in a polluted land, and Israel shall go into captivity out of their land.

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