Joshua 8:17 (KJV) And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.
What is the relationship between Ai and Bethel? Ai literally means “ruin” and Bethel means “house of God”. What is the significance of this to us within the contemporary culture?
Understanding The Text
In Gen. 12:8, Abraham is observed erecting an altar to God upon leaving the land of his fathers. This demonstrated the destruction of or putting away the former cultural lifestyle and accepting the covenant offered by God. In Gen. 28:19, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, is observed as having his first encounter with God at Bethel. Jacob erected a pillar and consecrated the place to God. God reminds Jacob of this encounter in Gen. 31:13 when He instructs Jacob to return to his father’s house. In Gen. 35:1, God instructs Jacob to return to Bethel. From Gen. 35:2-4, in preparation for this journey, Jacob instructs his family and servants to dispose of the foreign gods and purify themselves from their former lifestyle.
Jacob’s obedience is an example to us as we observe his decision to turn away from his former lifestyle and to return to the “house of God” where he would consecrate himself to God once again (v.3-4, 6-7). Jacob’s obedience to God resulted in God’s acceptance of him and the establishment of a covenantal relationship with him. In v. 14, Jacob consecrates the place and renames the place, Bethel, which is symbolic of the restoration of worship to God.
When we confess our sin and repent (turn away from it), the Blood of Jesus is applied to our lives and the restorative work begins upon the “ruins” of our hearts, and we become the “house of God“.
Why Is This Important To Us?
It is important to us because it means that there must be the destruction of our flesh and cleansing within before an altar can be erected in our hearts wherein God would be pleased to make it the mercy seat in which He will be seated upon. Atonement has taken place. Consecration has taken place. This is where He will meet with us (Exod. 30:6; Num. 7:89). This is where He will write His law upon our hearts. This is significant to us because it means that we can be assured that God’s presence will be with us wherever we go (Exod. 33:14; Mt. 28:20). We become the “house” of God’s presence (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Whether we want to admit it or not, we sin every day. When we come to God, we bring to Him our “ruins”. Once God accepts our surrender, and we accept Jesus’ finished work on the “altar” of Calvary, it is applied to our lives and God restores us as the “house of God“. He continues to renew and restore us as we continue to lay ourselves upon the altar. Wherever we go, throughout every moment of the day, whenever we pray, we are offering up ourselves to God upon the altar of our hearts as His “living sacrifice“.