“But do not seek Bethel, nor enter Gilgal, nor pass over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go
into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nothing. Seek the LORD and live.” (Amos 5:5-6)
Bethel, in Hebrew, is the House of God. Abraham camped near Bethel when he first entered the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:8), and he “called on the name of the LORD” at Bethel when he returned from Egypt (Genesis 13:3-4). Bethel was something of a major starting point in the history of God’s people—and a very important place where God did wonderful things. Jacob’s dream of the ladder was at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-12). When he returned there after his exile, he called the place El-Bethel (Genesis 35:6-7) and formally named the place Bethel (Genesis 35:15). In fact, Jacob had his name changed to Israel at Bethel (Genesis 35:9-15). The nation Israel consulted with God at Bethel during the times of the Judges (Judges 20:18; 21:2). The Ark of the Covenant was kept at Bethel for many years (Judges 20:26-28), and Samuel held one of his circuit courthouses in Bethel (1 Samuel 7:16). Bethel played an important role in the development of God’s chosen nation.
However, Bethel later became Beth-aven, the House of Idols (Hosea 4:15). Jeroboam I established a temple to the golden calves at Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-33), and after the destruction of Israel, Assyria left false priests at Bethel to corrupt the land (2 Kings 17:27-34). Bethel became the place to worship God!
Here’s the subtle shift. God becomes fixed to a place or an event. The place or the event substitutes for God. The place or event is used to verify God’s way. The place is where “I feel comfortable” worshiping God. Result? There is more concern for property than people. The kind of place substitutes theology for truth. The experience gives more credence to intuition than inspiration. Ultimately, worship of a place or an event supersedes the worship of God.