Between Bethel and Ai

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.  He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring[c] I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

  • Genesis 12:1-8

“Bethel is the symbol of fellowship with God; Ai is the symbol of the world. Abram “pitched his tent” between the two. The lasting value of our public service for God is measured by the depth of the intimacy of our private times of fellowship and oneness with Him. Rushing in and out of worship is wrong every time— there is always plenty of time to worship God. Days set apart for quiet can be a trap, detracting from the need to have daily quiet time with God. That is why we must “pitch our tents” where we will always have quiet times with Him, however noisy our times with the world may be. There are not three levels of spiritual life— worship, waiting, and work. Yet some of us seem to jump like spiritual frogs from worship to waiting, and from waiting to work. God’s idea is that the three should go together as one. They were always together in the life of our Lord and in perfect harmony. It is a discipline that must be developed; it will not happen overnight.”

  • Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Today’s Chambers’ quote is the second half of the devotion from which came the quote used in yesterday’s post.  We need to worship, to give back to God, love-gifts.

But in this part of Chambers’ lesson, he talks about the two towns, Bethel and Ai, and pitching one’s tent.  We hear about these towns throughout the Old Testament, and oddly not at all in the New Testament.

Bethel is described by Chambers as the symbol of fellowship with God.  Bethel means ‘house of God.’  The author of Genesis used a little literary license in Genesis 12.  Bethel was not ‘Bethel’ in the time of Abram.  It was named Bethel by Jacob in Genesis 28:19.  The town had been known as Luz prior to Jacob giving it the name Bethel, because Jacob made an oath that he would give God a tenth if God would protect him and prosper him on his journey.  This dedication and renaming was the morning after Jacob had his dream of a ladder to Heaven while resting his head on a stone.  He erected the stone as a pillar to mark the spot.

Jacob returned to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-15).  As his family moved from Bethel, Rachel gave birth to her second son, Benjamin, and died in Ephrath, later to be known as Bethlehem.

Bethel is mentioned 68 times in the Old Testament in fourteen different books of the Bible, 10 books in the historical sections, and in four books of the minor prophets.  While Bethel was named as the house of God, the references to Bethel in the book of Amos are far from complimentary.  Given enough time, we humans can corrupt anything, even the resting place for the ladder to Heaven.

In contrast, Ai is mentioned 36 times in the Old Testament, with few exceptions mostly in the book of Joshua.  It was at Ai that Joshua’s army was repelled because someone had stolen household idols in their previous victory.  Once Joshua had cleansed the camp and rededicated the army, Ai was taken and destroyed.  Later in the book of Joshua, Ai is mentioned as a cautionary tale.  In the census of Ezra and Nehemiah, Ai is mentioned only in connection with Bethel, lumping the total of people counted for the area of the two towns.  The final reference to Ai in the Scriptures is in Jeremiah 49:3, a reassurance that Ai has been destroyed.  According to Chambers, Ai is the symbol of the world.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am in a mood of worship when I spend my time studying God’s word at my computer in the mornings.  I mentioned that I never wish to leave this sanctuary.  I feel very close to God here.  Yet, there are bills to pay and doctor appointments.  We need to buy groceries.  In thinking of the large number of references to Ai in the book of Joshua, it is important to note that the manna stopped when Joshua got the people into the Promised Land.  The Israelites were responsible for their own food gathering from then on, including the two battles to destroy Ai.

And when we go food gathering at the grocery, I travel over roads that are filled with crazy drivers, distracted drivers, and spooked drivers who have met the other two types – but can make silly blunders due to being ‘spooked.’  I suddenly lose that sense of worship.  It becomes my mental focus to survive so that I can return to my sanctuary.  As soon as “Ai” calls (meaning anything outside my sanctuary), my every thought is to get the interruption resolved so that I may return to “Bethel.”

Find your “Bethel.”  And don’t spoil it, as did the people in Amos’ time.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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