Readings for today: Hosea 10-14, Genesis 28 10-22

Back on the trail again. This time we visit some of the cities in our OT trails. So many cities, so many names, and so much meaning. To understand the OT, one must spend some time understanding the meaning of the OT cities. Today we will spend some time in the city of Bethel. The word Bethel means ” house of God”, named by Jacob after experiencing a dream while sleeping at this location, 10 miles north of Jerusalem.

In Genesis 28: 10 -15, Jacob dreams, God speaks to him, and he sees a very vivid image of the gate of heaven. God tells him , “The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. ” …….God tells him, “One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” The Jacob awoke from his sleep, and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not even aware of it”. What an awesome place this is ! It is non other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven! ” After waking up He took a stone and set a pillar, ,poured oil upon the top , and called the area “Bethel” “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house.”

Jacob left Bethel, but never forgets the vow he made to the Lord that day. Jacob left, moved on, married, had children, encountered many struggles among his wives and his relatives, wrestled with an angel, made peace with his brother, endured the rape of his daughter, and has his family name smeared after his son’s take revenge of their sister’s rapist. Then God calls him back, back to the place of Bethel. And Jacob, commands his family to give up their idols, and follow him. Once again Jacob builds an altar to God. Jacobs says “I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress.” It was here, at Bethel, that the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Jacob, no longer the deceiver, but a changed man, a man, ready to devote his life and family to God.

It’s interesting how Jacob returns to the Lord after venturing in life trying to do things his own way, like we often do. We may encounter God at a young age, hear his call, maybe even follow, but leave his side go on our merry way, live life, and find out the emptiness of following our own plans. Then we hear God’s call again, and we come back to Bethel. We listen, after struggling on our own. And we build that alter to God, “who answered our prayers when we were in distress”. Let’s dwell in Bethel. Let’s not turn our backs on the Lord. Let’s never allow our homes to be called a “place of nothingness”, no longer the place of God, but a place where God dwells, within our hearts, because of faith in Jesus Christ. A place whether figuratively or literally we bring our families and ask them to give up their idols and eternally worship the one and only true God.

As we journey through the last chapters of Hosea, notice how often God speaks of Jacob and the town of Bethel. It’s almost like God’s anger is palpable changing Israel’s name back to Jacob, the “deceiver”. The vow Jacob made with God, with his family by his side, was no more. The town of Bethel eventually became a hub of pagan idol worship. King Jeroboam erected a temple, set up an image, the golden calf, there, and it became an area of abominable acts. (1 Kings 12:29). In Hosea 10 :5, Hosea states “The people of Samaria tremble in fear for their calf idol at Beth-aven and they mourn for it. ” The term Beth-aven, which means “house of nothingness”, is a term substituted for the name Bethel. God could no longer even call this area Bethel. And then in verse 8, Hosea prophesies “And the pagan shrines of Aven (short for Beth-aven) the place of Israel’s sin, will crumble.”

Today’s music is a song from the music of “Bethel” , a worship group from Bethel church in California. The song is called Surrounded (Fight my Battles)”. As we dwell in the place of God, in our own Bethel, we learn that we we fight our battles with the the help of our Lord. In our last passages of Hosea, before we move back to the messages of Isaiah, reflect on these words from our Lord ” Hosea 14: 4-8

The Lord says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.

I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel will blossom like the lily: it will send roots deep into the soil.

My people will again live under my shade. They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.

O Israel, stay sway from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.

I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.”