Bethel: The Place of Sanctification
In Genesis 35:1, God told Jacob to “arise and go up to Bethel.” Jacob had been there twice and both times God manifested Himself to him in a precious way.
Stay in the House of God
After hearing from God twice, circumstances and pressures caused Jacob to leave Bethel, the house of God. When God spoke to him he was in a strange place called Shechem. I wonder how many times we have allowed situations and pressures to cause us to leave the house of God. When if we had stayed at Bethel, the presence and blessing of God would have remained with us. Like Jacob, we need to hear from God by way of divine revelation.
The third time, God spoke to Jacob telling him to return to Bethel. Return to the place where you made a consecration, to the place I revealed myself to you, to the place I made promises to you, the place you originally committed your life to me, the place you made vows and commitments to me. It was at Bethel where Jacob said, “I will give you a tenth of all I receive.” It was there that God revealed ministering spirits to Jacob, as angels traversed a ladder from heaven to earth, and it was there God changed Jacob’s name. But Jacob had departed from Bethel.
How many of us have departed from the place God made Himself real to us, from the place we had at one time made some vows and commitments to the Lord? Perhaps one time you pitched your tent at Bethel and there God did a work of grace in and for you. It was there you made some commitments and promises and there God made Himself real to you. But now the days have gone by and other things have pressed in on your life. If you would suddenly come to your attention before God, you would have to confess you have wandered away from Bethel and the Holy Spirit may be saying to you, “Arise go back to Bethel.” Return to the place you first met me and your life was changed.
Prayer Should be a Priority
One of the things we learned from the first message was that Bethel was a place of an altar. A place where we can be near God, seek His face and our lives can be changed. One of the deep concerns of my heart is that God would lay on the church a spirit of prayer. I know there are praying people in the church, but I also know the church of our day is not really a praying church, and that concerns me.
We may pray, but we are not really entering into the spirit of prayer. We have places of prayer, altars at our churches, yet no one is there praying. This gives me deep concern and so it should all of us. There was a time when we could go to church and people would be gathered around the altar praying and seeking the face of God. Today we are drinking coffee and eating donuts. Not that there is anything wrong with fellowshipping, but what has happened to prayer? We have lost the spirit of prayer in the church today. We need to go back to Bethel and build an altar and make His house a place of prayer once again.
Pastors, elders, deacons, leaders, worship team, and ushers, let’s make prayer a priority in the house of God again. God knows we don’t need people in positions of ministry going through the motions of serving God, doing what God has called us to do without His blessing and anointing. It’s not a lot of programs and activities that we need. What we need is a praying church. We need God to place within us the spirit of prayer again. The Bible says we have “received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). Why isn’t the church crying out to God any longer? Let’s begin laying hold of God again (Isaiah 64:7).
Sanctification at Bethel
Not only is Bethel the place of an altar, but it is also a place of sanctification. God spoke and Jacob passed the word on to his household. “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem” (Genesis 35:2 and 4).
Jacob was telling them to get rid of foreign gods and anything that was crowding into their lives and pushing God out. They needed to bury them, separate themselves, and sanctify God in their midst.
Since Bethel is a place of holiness, Jacob told them to take their earrings out. Their earrings were not something they wore to make them look nice. The earrings connected them to the worship of other gods, identifying them with the gods of Canaan and the world. Jacob was telling them to put aside everything that connected them to other religions so they could put God on the throne.
God’s Presence at Bethel
Bethel is a place of God’s holy presence. Jacob said, “God was with me in the way in which I went” (Genesis 35:3). Jacob knew that God was at Bethel. When he left Bethel, he testified that it was the house in which God lived. David cried out to God saying, “Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). I’ve said many times that I would rather die physically than not have the presence of God. Living life without the awareness of God’s presence would have to be hell. What a delight it is to sit down in the car and feel God’s presence! What a thrill it is to work and feel God’s presence! What a joy it is to come to the house of God and feel His presence. That’s Bethel! I pray that we’ll arise and go to Bethel.
Notice in verse five it states, “And they journeyed” (Genesis 35:5). I can see this patriarch, a two fisted boy, limping along, wanting to serve God but somehow he pulled away. Yet God saw something in Jacob’s heart. And when Jacob felt the challenge, and heard the voice of God, he wasn’t so dense that he didn’t respond. When he heard the voice of God saying “It’s time to return to Bethel,” Jacob stood up and said, ”We’re going back.” He stood before his company and said, “Put away your foreign gods, we’re going back to Bethel and build an alter” and the whole company headed off for Bethel.
Protection at Bethel
Somebody back in the crowd (there’s always one around) said, “Jacob do you know that, between here and Bethel, the land is infested with enemies? Before you get to Bethel we’ll all be killed.” I can see Jacob set his jaw and say, “God said to us, Go to Bethel, and to Bethel we go.” Jacob was limping because he had wrestled with God earlier and here he is, going down the road, and I can see the crowd saying, “We’re coming up and there’s a village over there, and they are waiting for us and their going to cut us down.” But as Jacob and the crowd passed by the village, not a ripple, not a stir, not a voice, not a soldier, not one opposition. You know why? Because the God of Bethel had stricken terror into the hearts of the enemies of Jacob and they couldn’t lift a hand. They were so weak they couldn’t touch a sword, so weak they didn’t dare put their finger on the man of God or his company that was going to Bethel.
The devil may be telling you why you should not go to Bethel, but the God of Bethel has promised to protect us, fight our battles and confuse the powers of the enemy. All he wants us to do is say, “God, I’m on my way to Bethel.” You say, “Were the enemies there?” Yes, but God confounded them. As we make an effort to draw close to God, and to live in the place where God’s presence is, there will be all kinds of enemies.
I’ve watched it. I can tell you experience after experience how the enemy looked at us as though he were arrayed to cut us down, but I’ve seen God put his hand up and say to the enemy, “You’ll come this far and you’ll come no farther.” I don’t know in what way the enemy is trying to bring fear in your heart, but if you’ll set your heart on going to Bethel, God will put terror in the hearts of your enemies. There is protection at Bethel.
Our Influence at Bethel
What else is at Bethel? “So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him” (Genesis 36:6). Because Jacob went to Bethel, the entire household went with him. When Jacob backslid, he took the whole household with him. When he started toward God, he influenced others toward God. It’s important we go to Bethel and take others with us. If we go to Bethel we’ll take the world with us. You’ll take your family, friends, loved ones, and acquaintances.
That said, you can stay in Shechem if you want, and because of your influence some will stay there with you. I cry from the depth of my heart, let’s go to Bethel! Let’s not be satisfied in the valley and in the plain country of Shechem. Let’s not sit under an oak, when we can sit under the glory of God. We influence others when we go to Shechem and we influence them when we go to Bethel. If everyone would go to Bethel the churches wouldn’t have room enough for all the people. There are many that have plans to do things that aren’t worthwhile, and you’ll stay away from the house of God with all kinds of excuses, but you won’t do it without taking someone with you.
Bethel is the most important thing that has ever happened to us. Let’s set our sights on Bethel, the house of God, the place where God’s presence is manifest. A man approached me recently at church. He and his family had driven over a hundred miles to get to our church. He stood with tears and a broken spirit and told me that it meant so much to be able to come to a church where the presence of God is. He talked about how God spoke to him and how much he desperately needed it. I don’t know about you, but I want to pitch my tent at Bethel.
Revelation at Bethel
“He built there an altar, and called the place El-Bethel: because there God appeared unto him” (Genesis 35:7). I can hear some smart aleck want to argue how a person can’t see God, and how some theological oriented person will want to fuss with you about whether or not natural man can see God and live. But I’ll tell you, I’ve been to Bethel and when you’re there, God has a way of revealing Himself to you until there’s no question about whether or not you can see Him. The man who wants to argue and say you can’t see God is a man that has never been to Bethel. It’s at Bethel that God gives you eyes to see what your natural eyes can never see (1 Corinthians 2:14).
John, on the Isle of Patmos went to Bethel and suddenly seeing God fell at His feet as a dead man (Revelation 1:17). John was never the same. Paul, riding his donkey to Damascus with letters in his pocket, breathing out threats against Christians, was knocked to the dust and through eyes that were blinded because of the brightness of the noon day sun, God gave him the capacity to see the Lord of Hosts (Acts 9). Isaiah was in the house of the Lord and suddenly God let him see there was a mighty one that was high and lifted up and His train filled the temple,” and there at Bethel, Isaiah was allowed to see God (Isaiah 6:1-6).
I’m sick of silly visions and crazy things “God told me.” I’m so sick of men that say, “The Lord said this and the Lord said that.” Show me a man or woman that’s seen the Lord Jesus Christ, in Bethel, and I’ll show you a man or woman with a fire burning inside of them to accomplish what God wants to be accomplished.
Bethel is where God’s presence can be seen. One glimpse of the presence of God makes all the brightness of this world look like darkness. One experience of the glory of God at Bethel makes the bright lights of this earth grow dim.