Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bethel: The House of God

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you
Psalm 84:4

Tonight is my first night in Bethel, in my new apartment, in this home that God has provided. (Well, technically last night was my first night here, but I’m not counting that because it was due to a minor catastrophe involving a lock-out, no heat or blankets, and a pretty sleepless night.) Tonight is the first official night. Tonight is the night my home was filled with friends--new friends who feel like old ones--and with laughter and prayer and big dreams of how God might use this place. Tonight is the night I am rejoicing in God’s provision here in this land that still feels a bit foreign.

Beth’el (pronounced with the accent on el) is the Hebrew word for “house of God.” In the ancient Near East, the word El was a generic word for “god” that the Hebrews used to refer to the one True God, Yahweh (see my post titled HaShem for more on ancient Hebrew names for God). Beth is the Hebrew word for house. Maybe it’s sentimental, but when I started thinking about moving up here to take the job at Walnut Hill, I couldn’t help but want to live in Bethel (rather than Danbury or Newtown or Brookfield) because of the name. I know—nerd city.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe firmly that God’s house, that sacred place where He resides, is no longer a temple made of stone and adorned with blue curtains and bronze and goat hair (Exodus 36). No—the temple is human hearts infiltrated with the Father’s grace, handed over to Christ Jesus, and moved by the Spirit. The church is people, as my friend Eliza likes to say. You and I are Beth’el (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)! Still, God has always used names to emphasize truth. And this name, Bethel, is significant.

Bethel is mentioned 13 times in the book of Genesis. It seems that it was a significant place for both Abraham and his grandson Jacob. Both built altars there to praise God for His provision (Genesis 12 and Genesis 35). Bethel was the place where you could be sure of God's presence.

Fittingly, Bethel was the site of Amos' brief prophetic ministry. There pleaded with the people of Israel-Judah to purify their worship of Yahweh by laying aside cultist ritual and seeking justice. In this way, the transfer of the temple from an external structure to the hearts of believers was foreshadowed.

As I settle into this new home, I'm rejoicing with Jacob, "Come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God...who has been with me wherever I have gone" (Genesis 35:3). Lo, this is the God who is ever-present--in Nashville and in New England--my great Pillar of Cloud who is faithful to lead.

No comments: