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Three Men Going Up To God To Bethel (1 Sam. 10:3)

Memory carries the writer back in thought over half a century to when, in the North of England, our late brother John Miller emphasized the principle enunciated in this scripture. It depicts three men with gifts, probably the first-fruits which they had brought from their homes and were about to offer to the God of Israel at Bethel. This principle is found in the law of the sweet savour offerings (Lev. chaps. 1-3), and likewise in the law of the offerings of the first-fruits (see Lev. 23 and Deut. 26).

Under the New Covenant those in churches of God are viewed as a holy priesthood with the right and responsibility to offer to their God spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest who appears before God on their behalf, and whose hands they should fill. When coming to the meeting for the Remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ, when such sacrifices are offered, they should be in readiness before arriving there. There should be an exercise of heart throughout the preceding week.

Following the history of Bethel from Genesis 28 to 1 Samuel 10, we ask the question, "Was Bethel ever recognized as the place where Jehovah had put His Name as the centre of worship and gathering for Israel?" and if not, "Why were these men going up to God to Bethel?" When Moses gave legislation to Israel regarding the worship and service of Jehovah, who had redeemed them out of the house of bondage in Egypt, they were clearly told that, when they reached the land of promise, they were not to offer their burnt offerings and sacrifices in every place which they saw. The land which they were to enter was occupied by nations who practised idolatry, which, with its associated evil, was an abomination to the God of Israel. Therefore God decreed that those idolatrous nations must be purged out of the land by the invasion of the nation of Israel, who were to be a holy nation and subject to the law of Jehovah. The nations, who worshipped many deities, of necessity had many altars in prominent places in the land. In contrast to this the God of Israel was ONE, and any multiplication of altars by Israel would be a denial of this fact. Therefore the positive command was given, "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest, but in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee" (Deut. 12:13,14).

The history of Bethel commences at Genesis 28, with the flight of Jacob from his father's house. With little save his staff and his father's blessing, lonely and sad at heart he lighted on a certain place (not by chance) and lay down to sleep. But the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac was watching over him. He dreamed that there was a ladder set up from earth to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it; and Jehovah stood above it and said, "I am the Jehovah Elohim of Abraham thy father, and the Elohim of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed". What awe was begotten in the soul of Jacob, causing him to say, "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven". And Jacob called the name of the place Bethel, or house of God. Over two decades elapsed before Jacob retraced his steps to Bethel. He came with his wives and children, his flocks and herds, and builded an altar, calling it El-Bethel. This time God reveals Himself as El Shaddai (God-All Sufficient) and changes Jacob's name to Israel (a prince with God) (Gen. 35).

We pass over the sojournings of Israel's sons in Egypt, the Exodus, the

giving of the law, and the preparation of a dwelling place for God in their midst, over which, during their passage through the Sinaitic desert, would be a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night to direct them in their trackless journey to the land of promise. This tent was to be the divine centre of worship and service for about three hundred years. The place chosen in the land of Canaan was Shiloh, in the country of Ephraim, perhaps a tribute to the memory of the faithfulness of Joseph in Egypt. The erection of the tabernacle, or tent of meeting, in Shiloh is recorded in Joshua 18:1. Here was the place of the Name of Jehovah, and here was the dwelling place of the God of Israel among His people; and according to the word of the Lord through Moses, to this place they were required to come with their offerings at the appointed seasons.

Although the tabernacle had been erected in Shiloh and the ark of the covenant placed in the holy of holies, at the time of the events referred to in Judges 20:26-28 the ark had been removed to Bethel. The city of Bethel was one of those allotted to the tribe of Ephraim (1 Chron. 7:20-28). It was taken from the Canaanites by the "house of Joseph" (Ephraim) (Judg. 1:22-25). The centuries which had passed since the days of Jacob had not erased sacred memories associated with his visits to Bethel. Thus the removal of the ark to Bethel was perhaps prompted by sentiment. We are reminded of the repeated words of the inspired writer of the book of the Judges, "In those days there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (17:6,21:25).

The early chapters of 1 Samuel reveal that, prior to the time there spoken of, the ark of the covenant had been restored to its proper place in the tent of meeting in Shiloh, but spiritual declension of priests and people resulted in the ark of God falling into the hands of the Philistines as a judgement on Israel. Shiloh was forsaken as the place of God's choice (see Psa. 78:56-67) and for a century Jehovah had no dwelling place in Israel, therefore no collective service from His people. But the Philistines were not permitted to glory in the capture of the ark; they were compelled to send it away from them, and it found a resting place in the house of Abinadab (1 Sam. 7:1). There it remained, almost forgotten, until the days of David (I Chron. 13-16, Psa. 132).

It was during this intervening period, at the time when Saul was being installed as king of Israel, that the incident of the "three men going up to Bethel" took place. These men were carrying with them their gifts to offer to the God of Israel at Bethel, where there was evidently an altar of sacrifice and offering. The subsequent history of the books of Kings and Chronicles reveals that Israel multiplied their altars, some for the service of Jehovah and others to pay homage to the deities of the land. But here were three men, representative we doubt not, of many others who had the desire to appear before the God of Israel as individuals with thanksgiving and offering. Shiloh was forsaken and there was no word from the Lord regarding another place; but Bethel had sacred associations with the past, and there was an altar there, and God had heard the cry of His people there in the days of Phinehas, the priest of the Lord, when Ephraim in their distress had sought Him (Judg. 20:26-28). So we would judge that as individuals who feared and sought the Lord, He would accept their offerings. But there was no collective divine service.

This incident illustrates certain divine principles which we can rightly apply in somewhat similar conditions under the New Covenant. We believe that there were centuries when there was no dwelling place for God on earth. In New Covenant days God did not recognize temples made with hands, although many were erected. (We do not overlook the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer in Christ; this has been so since the day of Pentecost, see John 14:17; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19.) Throughout these long centuries there were those who were born of, and indwelt by, the Spirit of God, and walked according to the degree of divine light which had dawned upon them from the word of God, and who faithfully proclaimed the gospel of the grace of God together with the truth which they knew. Redeemed ones desired to show forth their gratitude for the fact that Christ Jesus had come into the world to save sinners, and to extol the Creator for His wondrous works. To many altars they repaired throughout Christendom in order to present their offerings of praise and thanksgiving. This they did as individuals.

About a century ago there were those who asked the question, Is there

a place where collective service can be offered answering to the words of

1 Peter 2:4,5? We believe that following upon that exercise of heart churches of God, according to the divine pattern were established, forming a spiritual house for God.

Children of God today should be exercised about a place on earth which is the counterpart of the place of the Name of the Old Covenant. We believe that there is such a place, albeit a small remnant of God's children are found therein.