“And he called the name of that place Bethel.” – Gen. 28:19
Bethel means “the house of God”; wherever God meets with His people, that place may be thus very appropriately designated as such. There was no temple or building there where Jacob met God and yet, says Jacob, “This is none other than the house of God.”
This is confirmed by Jehovah’s own declaration: “The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? for all these things hath mine hands made, saith the Lord; but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.”
It is also confirmed by the conversation of our Lord with the woman of Samaria. Her countrymen imagined that God must be worshipped at Samaria and nowhere else, and the Jews supposed that He must be worshipped at Jerusalem or not at all. But our Saviour takes this opportunity to teach her that His services and worship are not confined to a particular place.
Nothing makes a people dear to God except their conformity to Him; that which makes a place of worship sacred is the divine presence of God. As to external holiness, we cannot attach anything to wood and stone. There were no physical temples before the flood. The patriarchs had altars, but no temples. Until the end of the third century, there were no official places for Christian worship and preaching. The apostles preached and prayed wherever they could find a place. Our Saviour preached from on board a boat, in private homes, on the side of mountains and in the open streets.
“Where’er we seek Thee, Thou art found,And every place is hallowed ground.”
There are several cases in which this remark will afford encouragement.
First, when by sickness, accident, or distance, we cannot meet with other believers in an assembly of God’s people. It is our duty to go there whenever it is in our power; a real Christian will feel it to be a privilege to be there with the saints of God. His past experiene enlivens and encourages him when he thinks of it; he has seen God’s power and glory in the sanctuary; he remembers this and therefore he is glad when they say to him, “Come, let us go to the house of the Lord!”
But we might be providentially the Lord’s prisoners, and when we are and we find ourselves deprived of meeting with other believers in corporate worship, we need to remember that there are three things to which we have access all the time regardless if we are able to be with other Christians.
First, we have access to the word of His grace. Then we have access to the throne of grace, and finally we have access to and the presence of the Spirit of grace. Thus we will never be deprived of what we truly need from Him, who is our all in all, though we be deprived of the public gathering of the saints when God removes us from it.
Secondly, it should encourage those whom God has removed geographically from a sound gospel church. If a person removes themself from a sound church to being without one through vanity, seeking of selfish worldly advancement, or through discontent, worldliness or rebellion, then they are completely out of the will of God. But if in the providence of God a person is stationed in a place of spiritual barrenness, they have every hope that the presence of the Fountain of grace will make provide their streams, and that the God of all grace will be with them, though they may be deprived of some of the means of grace.
Thirdly, it will also encourage us in the weekdays between the Lord’s Day meetings. The Lord’s Day does not always last; we cannot be always with the saints. But we can be with God in the closet, as well as in the public worship. We can walk with God through the day. The spirit of devotion may influence us in the absence of outward forms. Any place, by prayer and meditation, may become to us the house of God. And then we can sanctify every situation and render it sacred and happy.
– William Jay