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  • Rick LoPresti

The downfall of Bethel

It is valuable to study the history of some cities in the Bible. It gives background and context. Some cites are mentioned more than others. The city of Bethel is mentioned 66 times and has an interesting history. It was about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. The first time it is mentioned is in Genesis 12:8 when Abraham stayed there for a time as his second stop upon his arrival in Canaan. He built an altar there and prayed. He returned there after fleeing from a famine and spending some time in Egypt (Gen 13:3). His grandson Jacob stopped there after feeling from his brother Esau (Gen 28). He had a dream of a ladder which reached to heaven and when he awoke he called the place Bethel which means the house of God. Before that the Canaanite name for the place was Luz (Gen 28:19, Gen 35:6, Jud 1:23). Years later God told Jacob to return there and build an altar (Gen 35:1). He renamed the place Elbethel which means the God of the house of God (Gen 35:7). Bethel was part of the prophet Samuel’s circuit (1Sam 7:16).

The nation of Israel was split into two as part of God’s judgment on their sins and the sins of Solomon in particular (1Ki 11). This occurred in the days of his son Rehoboam (1Ki 12). Ten of the twelve tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel and two became the southern kingdom of Judah. The first king of the northern kingdom was Jeroboam. After his kingdom was established, he became concerned that since the temple was in the southern kingdom the Israelites under his rule would return to the southern kingdom (1Ki 12:26-33). Instead of trusting God who had given him his kingdom (1Ki 11-12), he took matters into his own hands. He invented his own counter religion. He made two golden calves and placed one of them in Bethel. He also created a counter-priesthood to the Levites and built an alternative temple. He forced the Levites out of their office (2Chr 11:14). He invented an alternative to the feast of tabernacles which occurred on the same day but the following month (Lev 23:33-36). His religion was not based on faith in God and keeping His commandments. It was based on a desire to be in control and be popular with man rather than please the Lord. His religion looked just like the real one. It was a close copy. They had worship, a temple, a priesthood, and religious celebrations with holidays that seemed to celebrate the same things. However, it was actually pagan. They were worshipping idols and not God. Their temple was not the one God chose nor in the place God chose. Their priests were not the ones God chose. They were the least qualified to be spiritual leaders. Their feasts looked like the ones prescribed in the word of God but only those who knew the scriptures could tell the difference.

The Lord sent a prophet to speak against Jeroboam’s altar in Bethel (Iddo? – 2Chr 9:29), but instead of repenting, Jeroboam was going to have the prophet killed. The Lord intervened and the prophet left after God destroyed the altar. Instead of repenting, Jeroboam doubled down in his sin. There was an old prophet in Bethel that heard what happened, and he lied to that prophet and told him God had changed His instructions to him (1Ki 13:7-34). That prophet believed him, and his disobedience to God cost him his life. Why would the old prophet deceive the man of God and cause him to disobey God? He acknowledged that the prophecy against the altar was true and even asked to buried in the same grave as that prophet. There are at least two things to consider. It could be that God was testing that prophet’s obedience to God above all else. Another thing is that when the people refuse to repent of their idolatry and try to maintain a front of spirituality, there is a strong spirit of deception that goes with that. It is so strong that God will even put a spirit of deception in the mouths of prophets (1Ki 22, Eze 14:1-11). The point here is that in Bethel only the word of God can be trusted, especially when what the prophets are saying contradicts it. Again, only those who truly know and believe the word of God will be able to tell the difference.

From that point on, Bethel became a place which symbolized the fall of Israel instead of pointing them to spiritual and literal landmarks of faith. Jeroboam even warred against the people of God (2Chr 13). There was a school of prophets in the days of Elijah (2Ki 2:3), but other than that Bethel continued to be a stronghold of Jeroboam’s pagan counterfeit religion until it destroyed the northern kingdom altogether. It should be noted that the school of real prophets was operating in the same place at the same time as Jeroboam’s imposter religion. The Bible mentions the sins of Jeroboam 17 times in 1 and 2Kings and directly attributes them to the downfall of Israel. They refused to repent and perpetuated his system for generations. Even after Josiah came and fulfilled the prophecy of the man who spoke against Jeroboam’s altar (2Ki 23), they continued in their sin until they were destroyed (2Ki 17).

History repeats itself because man never learns its lessons. The famous quote “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” is originally attributed to George Santayana and made famous by Winston Churchill. It is true. The spirit of Bethel is alive and well today, and only Christians who believe and know the truth of the scriptures and are full of the Spirit of truth which is the Holy Ghost will be able to discern truth from error (Jn 14:17 & 26, Jn 15:26, Jn 16:13, 1Jn 4:6). So, if you have not obeyed the doctrine Jesus gave the apostles (Mt 28:18-20, Mk 16:16-17, Lk 24:43-49, Jn 3:3-5, Jn 20:21-23, Acts 2:38-39, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:44-48, Acts 19:1-7, etc.), you should put your faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and receive the Holy Ghost which is manifested by the initial outward evidence of speaking with tongues. You should also join a church that teaches these things and learn the sound doctrine of the scriptures. If you have already done these things, take heed to the warnings of Jesus and the apostles about the deception that is now among us and follow the truth no matter what man does.

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