Dictionary of Bible Names

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Bible Meaning: House of God
Strong's Concordance #H1008

Originally named Luz (Genesis 28:19), which means "almond tree" (Strong's #H3870), the city was renamed Bethel by the patriarch Jacob.

A Long History

Located close to Ai, Bethel is one of the locations where Abraham camped when he first came into the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:5 - 8). It is also Biblically well known as the place where Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching to heaven (Genesis 28:11 - 22).

Bethel, at the time of Joshua, was a Canaanite royal city (Joshua 12:16). After the Israelites conquered the city it became a border town between Benjamin and Ephraim that the tribe of Benjamin was given as an inheritance in the Promised Land (Joshua 18:11 - 13, 22).

Location of Bethel in Ancient Israel Map
Location of Bethel Near Ai

The city, however, with the Lord's blessing, was taken over by the tribe of Ephraim (Judges 1:22 - 23). A mount near the city is also called Bethel (Joshua 16:1).

The Ark of the Covenant, for a period after Israel entered the Promised Land, resided in the city (Judges 20:18 - 27). This made Bethel an important center of worship (1Samuel 10:3). The Ark was eventually moved to its permanent home in Jerusalem.

Center of Pagan Worship

King Jeroboam becomes the first ruler of the Kingdom of Israel after it split with the Kingdom of Judah in 930 B.C. God promises to bless him and insure he has a ruling dynasty if he is obedient to Him (1Kings 11:29 - 39). Jeroboam, however, becomes fearful the people will abandon him if they continue to worship in Jerusalem. He therefore sets up pagan altars and establishes his own priesthood in the cities of Dan and Bethel. This grievous sin of idolatry will ultimately lead to Israel being conquered and taken out of the land by Assyria.

Important Verses

Genesis 12:7 - 8
And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.

And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent . . .

Genesis 28:12, 18 - 19
And he (Jacob) dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it . . .

And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.

Joshua 16:1
And the lot of the children of Joseph fell from Jordan by Jericho, unto the water of Jericho on the east, to the wilderness that goeth up from Jericho throughout mount Bethel . . .

Judges 1:22 - 23
And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel: and the Lord was with them.

And the house of Joseph sent to descry Bethel (Now the name of the city before was Luz) . . .

Judges 4:4 - 5
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

Judges 20:18, 27 - 28
And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God (Bethel), and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up first . . .

And the children of Israel enquired of the Lord, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days) . . .

1Samuel 7:15 - 16
And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.

1Kings 12:28 - 29, 32
Whereupon the king (Jeroboam) took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy Gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan . . .

And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.

2Kings 2:3
And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master (Elijah) from thy head to day? And he said, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.

Additional Studies

Dictionary of Biblical Names
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Series Notes
References are based on the
King James Bible translation (KJV).