Perched on a hilltop just north from Jerusalem is the beautiful community of Beth-El, a thriving town of hundreds of families, educational institutions, small industries and businesses. With a geographical elevation higher than Jerusalem, the modern Israeli community was founded in 1977 in the area of the ancient biblical town of Beth El.
Though the exact location is still uncertain among archeologists and bible scholars, we do know that ancient Beth-El marked Benjamin's northern boundary and served as a major traffic junction for people traversing the Judean mountain ridge from Jerusalem to Shiloh and beyond. Appearing in many biblical and historical accounts from the days of Father Abraham all the way to the Byzantine period, one story stands above all else.
It is the account of Genesis 28 that made Beth-El an engaging site for pilgrims who visit Israel. This reference is the account of Jacob’s night dream when he was on his way from his home in the Negev region to Assyria in the north in order to find a wife from his mother’s family. The Bible tells us that:
“… Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants … you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land…”
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he 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!” Then Jacob … took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel…” (Genesis 28:11-19).
This biblical and spiritual legacy draws the attention of people of faith worldwide who visit the area today. Featuring a vibrant population with 20 kindergartens, numerous secondary and high schools and the famous orthodox college, Beth El has a furniture factory, a winery, a public swimming pool, retail stores and even a famous bakery run by an immigrant from Tennessee.
The focal point of interest for visiting pilgrims is the traditional site where Jacob’s dream supposedly occurred, a slab of stone on the outskirts of town. The location was developed into a tourist site marked as “Jacob’s Rock.” Next to the rock, visitors can view the ancient oak tree, a burial cave and the historic stone building that once served as an Islamic prayer house and a Christian chapel, testifying to the interest the location held for many centuries.
Christians find it fascinating that that “ladder” Jacob saw in Genesis 28 connecting heaven and earth, though not mentioned for thousands of years of biblical history after that, reappears in the New Testament writings when Jesus responded to Nathaniel’s great confession of faith. He said to the astonished disciple, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:51).
Jesus said to all who have ears to hear that He himself is that “ladder” that Jacob saw connecting heaven and earth, and that the angels of God ascend and descend upon Him, carrying divine messages and fulfilling God’s work on earth. As the Apostle Paul wrote years later to Timothy, saying, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind … Messiah Jesus.” (I-Tim 2:5).
Visiting Beth-El today draws every person of faith to the reality of God’s kindness and faithful promises to humankind, and our SAR-EL team is looking forward to lead your upcoming groups to this very special place.
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