So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. – Genesis 35:15
The account of Elisha at Bethel seems harsh until you consider the history of Bethel. Bethel means “house of God” and was given that name by Jacob after he had a dream about a ladder ascending into heaven (Genesis 28:19). Bethel was later called “Beth-Aven” meaning “house of evil” (Hosea 10:5) because Jeroboam built a temple for a golden calf at Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-30).
The jeering of the youths reflected the mindset of the community. They jeered him, not just for his bald head, but because he was a prophet of God and not a follower of Jeroboam’s golden calf. Their mocking phrase, “Go up, you baldhead!” was likely intended to mock the ascension of Elijah. Their taunting and disbelief foreshadowed the taunts given to Jesus on the cross.
This short sad account reminds us that religion itself is not ridiculed by the world. False religions are accepted, just as calf-worship was revered in Bethel. It is biblical, Christ-centered religion that is ridiculed (John 15:18-25). It also teaches us that there are blessings for those who listen to God’s Word and accept His messengers (2 Kings 2:19-22), but judgment for those who reject His Word and His messengers (2 Kings 2:24).
By way of application, all humanity is either in Bethel or Beth-Aven. But we are only in Bethel – in God’s house – through saving faith in His Son, Who alone is the way, the truth and the life, the only way to the Father (John 14:6)!
Suggestions for prayer
If you are a member of Bethel, a child of God through faith in Christ, thank God for His grace and mercy! If you are still in Beth-Aven, on the outside looking in, pray remembering the promise of Jesus, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Ted Gray has served as pastor of First United Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois for the last 15 years.