The Expository Files.


Forgetting Bethel and Gilgal

Amos 4:4

About 40 years before the destruction of Samaria, God sent Amos to prophesy about the impending doom of that rebellious people. In this book, God shows his frustration with the chosen people who refused the opportunity to walk with the Lord.

Amos 4:4 shows how the Israelites had forgotten even the basic foundations of their communion with God: "Come to Bethel and transgress, At Gilgal multiply transgression...." God chose his words wisely when he mentioned these two towns, because Bethel and Gilgal represented the very essence of Israel's covenant relationship with God.

Bethel means "House of God" and was the place where Jacob made an important pact with God (Genesis 28:20-22). He erected a memorial to mark that place, and later returned there to worship the Lord (Genesis 35:1-15). There, God promised to give the land of Canaan to Jacob's descendants. Bethel represented God's presence in Israel.

Gilgal is also closely associated with the idea of Israel's special relationship with the Lord. When Joshua led the people into the promised land, they constructed a memorial at Gilgal (Joshua 4:19-20). At that same place, the sons of Israel were circumcised to show that they were leaving behind all the corrupting influence of Egypt (Joshua 5:1-9). The people stayed at Gilgal to celebrate the first Passover in the new land (Joshua 5:10), and later came together at that place to divide the land that God had given to them (Joshua 14:6). Gilgal, like Bethel, represented the presence of God among the Israelites.

But by the time of Amos, these cities were associated with sinful disrespect for God. What Israel was doing was equal to a woman committing adultery on the day of her wedding anniversary, in the same bed she shares with her husband! Israel had forgotten everything special about being God's people.

To use the temple of God today (the Christian's own body 1 Corínthians 6:19-20) to sin against the Lord, is to forget the most fundamental blessings of being God's special people. Let us avoid the sins of Bethel and Gilgal!

By Dennis Allen
From Expository Files 5.6; June 1998