John T. Willis

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beth-el and Beth-aven

There are many wordplays throughout the Bible. Biblical composers frequently use wordplays to communicate the great truths of God. Two related examples of this are Beth-el and Beth-aven. In Hebrew, beth means "house." One well-known example of this is Beth-lehem, "house of bread."

"Beth-el" means "house of God." This is a worship place, a sanctuary. Genesis
28:10-22 supplies the background and significance of this term. Jacob is on his way from Beer-sheba in south Israel to Haran to the northeast of Israel on the Euphrates River to flee from his brother Esau. Jacob comes to Luz, where he becomes very weary and goes to sleep on a rock. There he experiences the famous story of his dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder to heaven. After the dream, the Bible says in Genesis 28:17-19:

"And he [Jacob] was afraid, and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than THE HOUSE OF GOD, and this is the gate of heaven.' So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Beth-el, butt he name of the city was Luz at the first."

Beth-el continued to be an important place of worship throughout the Old Testament. Jeroboam I set up a golden calf at Dan and a golden calf at Beth-el. 1 Kings
12:28-30. After that, prophets refer to Beth-el several times: see for example, Amos 3:14; 4:4-5; 5:4-5; Hosea 10:15; 12:2.

In several Old Testament texts, prophets denounce the sinfulness of ungodly practices at Beth-el. They use Beth-el in a derogatory way, using the term Beth-aven, "house of iniquity." Joshua 7:2; 18:12-13; Hosea 4:15; 5:8; 10:5.

This is like changing the son of Saul from Ish-baal, "son of Baal," to Ish-bosheth, "son of shame."

Share YOUR insights and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

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