The first chapter of Dorothy Kelley Patterson’s book, A Woman Seeking God, explains “the Bethel experience”.
…every believer must make many trips to “Bethel”, seeking the will and direction of the Lord and reaching for His strength and sustenance for the trials and difficulties that inevitably arise in the course of life on this earth.
If you don’t know the Old Testament story of Jacob, you might not understand what she means by her reference to “Bethel” and why we must make many trips there.
Genesis 25-28 explains the relationship between Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, which wasn’t good. Their parents didn’t help by having favorites, Esau was his father’s and Jacob was his mother’s. Their mother helped Jacob trick his father and his brother into receiving a blessing that was not meant for him. In so doing, she caused an even deeper rift between the brothers and a separation from her son, where she would never see him again.
After stealing his blessing (to be a man of means with nations serving him and the covenant promise from God to possess the land promised to Abraham), Jacob has to run for his life because his brother wants to kill him. He is sent away to find a wife, back to their people they had left in Paddan-aram generations before.
Jacob leaves Beersheba (at the bottom of the map above) and travels to Bethel where he stops for the night. Alone and probably feeling ashamed by what he had done and devastated by the outcome, it had to have been one of Jacob’s lowest moments of his life. Nothing was turning out as he planned.
He wasn’t looking for God, he was simply running He was exhausted, so tired that he laid down on the ground, used a rock for a pillow and feel asleep.
I’ve slept “like a rock” before, but not “on a rock”, unless I was camping. I can’t imagine that he was very comfortable. Maybe he felt he didn’t deserve any comfort. When I’m worried about something, I dream strange dreams. That night, on the rocky pillow, Jacob had a dream!
A stairway came from Heaven and touched Earth and angels went up and down the stairs. God stood next to Jacob and confirmed the covenant He had made with his father and grandfather:
“I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land that you are now sleeping on. Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Jacob woke up, knowing that he had been in the presence of God and made an altar out of the stone he had used for his pillow and named the place “Bethel”.
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.” Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz. Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me.”
Jacob wasn’t looking for a message from God, God might not have even been in his thoughts, but God was waiting on him to get to a place where He could be heard.
Jacob was approaching Bethel, weary and worn, devastated and depressed, down on his luck, in a bad place, worst than he had ever been before and God says “I can work with that.”
How many of us are approaching Bethel today, not realizing that God is about to work in us or through us to bring about His plan? We think that we are worthless, we just want to curl up and forget what has happened to us or what we have done. Yet God is saying, “It’s not the plan I had for you, but I can still make it work. Look, I am with you, open your eyes and see me. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Do you need to rename the place you are at today “Bethel”? Will it be the place where you finally put your trust in God to lead and guide you?
God kept His promise to Jacob and all the world was blessed through him. Jacob is one of Jesus’ great-grandfathers. Through Jesus the entire world is blessed.
God keeps His promises. He’s not like people, changing their minds based on attitudes or circumstances. You can trust Him.
He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Hebrews 13:5