For several months, I have heard a voice in my mind, which I believe to be from the Lord. It has come at various times when I would settle myself down, and think very little, and be quiet and contemplative on God, the Bible, and especially future ministry dreams. It has usually come when I have daydreamed about starting a storefront Pentecostal church, where true godly Biblical preaching could occur, and genuine Spirit-filled worship that seeks after the felt presence of God. The voice has been, “Restoring the worship of God at Bethel.” This strange sentence has popped in my head at various times, having a sort of enigmatic quality. I’ve never really looked into the Bible about this until now, out of curiosity, because I just heard the voice again. I’m sure I’ve got a grasp on what the Lord is saying to me now. I think David Wilkerson preached a sermon on this once, but I’m not sure.
The Spiritual History of Bethel
The word “Bethel” means “house of God” in Hebrew. The Holman Bible Dictionary says, “Religiously, Bethel served as a sanctuary during the times of the patriarchs, judges, and the divided kingdom, hence was second only to Jerusalem as a religious center. Entering Canaan, Abraham built an altar at Bethel, calling “upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8), and returned here after his time in Egypt (Genesis 13:3). His grandson, Jacob, spent the night here on his way to Syria to find a wife. In a dream the Lord confirmed the Abrahamic covenant, and Jacob responded by renaming this locale which was previously called Luz, “Bethel” (“house of God”; Genesis 28:10-22)…When he returned with his large family, Jacob came to Bethel again to hear the Lord’s confirmation of the covenant and his name was changed to “Israel.” Here again Jacob set up a stone monument (Genesis 35:1-16; Hosea 12:4-5)…The ark of the covenant was kept in Bethel during a period of the judges (Judges 20:27), so the tribes converged there upon Benjamin to avenge the moral atrocity at Gibeah (Judges 20:18-28), offering sacrifices and seeking the Lord’s direction (Judges 21:1-4). Bethel also was a place where both Deborah (Judges 4:5) and Samuel (1 Samuel 7:16) judged the civil and religious affairs of the Israelites in the area…Whereas BETHEL HAD BEEN A PLACE OF ORTHODOX WORSHIP from Abraham to the judges, Jeroboam I made it a religious center of his innovative, apostate religion of the Northern Kingdom. He erected a golden calf both here and in Dan with non-Levitic priests and an illegitimate feast to compete with the celebrations and religion of Jerusalem, ten and a half miles to the south in Judah (1 Kings 12:29-33). Bethel was the prominent site over Dan. There an anonymous prophet from Judah found and rebuked Jeroboam I and brought destruction to the king’s altar (1 Kings 13:1-10)…Hosea seems to have played with the name of Bethel (“city of God”), by referring to it as “Beth-aven” (“city of a false [god],” Hosea 5:8-9; Hosea 10:5)…Later, Josiah desecrated another false altar of Bethel during his reforms (2 Kings 23:4-19).”
Interpretation and Application:
A Call for Godly Pentecostal Church Planters to Arise!
I was thinking of Samuel or the Old Testament prophets having a regard for the place, and I was right (1 Samuel 7:16). But in my skimming through 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, I found the true spiritual story of Bethel, and what it meant for me. The answer, the Spirit impressed on me, is found in the following:
1. Bethel started out as a very sacred place. It was where Jacob’s Ladder appeared in a dream to Jacob, and confirmed to him by direct experience, that the God his grandfather Abraham worshiped was real, and he was so impressed by this as to call the place “Bethel,” meaning the house of God. Later on, Jacob wrestled with God near this sight, and was disjointed in the thigh and renamed Israel. It is a site of critical importance to the people of Israel: their namesake, and the place where their forefather Jacob found his faith in God.
2. The place was so revered in future generations, that the ark of the covenant was kept there at one stage (a golden box that contained the Ten Commandments); and the prophet Samuel was stationed there for a time. Clearly, the place was holy, and true prophets of God were led of the Spirit to honor the true God in that place. It appears that there was a sort of small temple, church, or place of worship located there.
3. However, the pagan Jewish king Jeroboam (d. 909 B.C.) defiled Bethel during his reign; and turned it into a syncretistic place of worship, where the golden calves of Baal and his heretical view of God could be worshipped together. He clearly departed from Scripture in his practice of idolatry and worship of false gods. He brought male shrine prostitutes, idols, fornication, and all kinds of perversions into the land of Israel. God sent a prophet to rebuke him; and a miracle caused the pagan altar to break in half. But Jeroboam still did not repent! For generations to come, the paganism continued in Israel’s government; and the temple of God in Jerusalem, filled with idols, was utterly pagan. The prophet prophesied: “Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you” (1 Kings 13:2).
4. The prophet was right. A king named Josiah (d. 609 B.C.) appeared about 300 YEARS in the future, and when the king was 26 years old, a priest found the Law of Moses in the temple. When it was read to the young king, he was so overcome with anguish at all the paganism in his kingdom, that he went everywhere, and destroyed all the idols, pagan sites, and killed all the pagan priests. This was called Josiah’s reform. Josiah had no idea about the 300 hundred year old prophecy about himself. So, on the day that he burned the 300 year old bones of the pagan priests on the altar at Bethel, he saw the tomb of the old prophet nearby, and said, “‘What is that tombstone I see?’ The people of the city said, ‘It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it'” (2 Kings 23:17). Only the local people of Bethel knew about the 300 year old prophecy. King Josiah fulfilled the prophecy without knowing about it.
5. “Restoring the worship of God at Bethel.” This is the word I keep hearing in my spirit every time I think of starting a Pentecostal church, where people can once again worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth, and connect with the presence of God once again, with a clear conscience, seeking a holy life. It’s not an easy task. Apostasy is die hard. In the Bible, it took 300 years for the apostasy of Bethel to cease. The word I keep hearing might have to do with Bethel Church in Redding, California. There is apostasy over there. Making merchandise out of people. Not preaching Hell or holiness. Sensationalizing emotional experiences. Making religion into a “laughing” matter. But I’m more inclined to think that “restoring the worship of God at Bethel” has to do with Pentecostalism in general. I’m not suggesting that I feel God is calling me to be a well-known Pentecostal reformer, like David Wilkerson. Maybe He will. Whatever God gives me to do, I will try to do it, whether it is great or small in its numerical reach. One thing I do know: today’s Pentecostalism is nothing like it was under the leadership of William J. Seymour or Smith Wigglesworth. Things can change with you and me, one GODLY PENTECOSTAL MINISTRY at a time. What about you? Is God calling you to restore the worship of God at Bethel? I feel He is calling me, in some capacity, to cry, “Altar! Altar!” only to watch the false altars in these seeker-sensitive Pentecostal prosperity churches to split in half, so that I, like Abraham, can once again build a true altar to the Lord, and call upon the name of the Lord in true worship (Genesis 12:8). Only by faith in Jesus and the working of God’s Spirit, and His promises, can this be accomplished if I am obedient with what I understand to be God’s spoken word.