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.
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