But do not seek Bethel, nor enter Gilgal, nor pass over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nothing. Seek the LORD and live. (Amos 5:5-6)
By the time you read this, the Institute for Creation Research will have determined the starting date for construction of the ICR Discovery Center for Science and Earth History. I would love to have you share the joy of the official groundbreaking with us, but whether you can be here or not, many of you have shared your gifts and your prayers with us and can surely rejoice with us as the hopes of many are now becoming a reality.
But as with any major event in the life of God’s people, there are warnings from Scripture about the dangers to avoid as the blessings of God become a focal point for the future. The prophet Amos records a series of history lessons that will help us evade the pitfalls of the wrong perspective.
A number of parallels could be drawn between the Israel of Amos’ day and our time, but it is sufficient to say that the nation had deteriorated spiritually to the point where they “did wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger” (2 Kings 17:11). Amos urged the godly folks to “seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:14-15). They had a chance to regain God’s favor, but the great events of history could also be a hazard.
Do Not Seek Bethel
Bethel, in Hebrew, is the House of God. Abraham camped near Bethel when he first entered the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:8), and he “called on the name of the LORD” at Bethel when he returned from Egypt (Genesis 13:3-4). Bethel was something of a major starting point in the history of God’s people—and a very important place where God did wonderful things. Jacob’s dream of the ladder was at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-12). When he returned there after his exile, he called the place El-Bethel (Genesis 35:6-7) and formally named the place Bethel (Genesis 35:15). In fact, Jacob had his name changed to Israel at Bethel (Genesis 35:9-15). The nation Israel consulted with God at Bethel during the times of the Judges (Judges 20:18; 21:2). The Ark of the Covenant was kept at Bethel for many years (Judges 20:26-28), and Samuel held one of his circuit court houses in Bethel (1 Samuel 7:16). Bethel played an important role in the development of God’s chosen nation.
However, Bethel later became Beth-aven, the House of Idols (Hosea 4:15). Jeroboam I established a temple to the golden calves at Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-33), and after the destruction of Israel, Assyria left false priests at Bethel to corrupt the land (2 Kings 17:27-34). Bethel became the place to worship God!
Here’s the subtle shift. God becomes fixed to a place or an event. The place or the event substitutes for God. The place or event is used to verify God’s way. The place is where “I feel comfortable” worshiping God. Result? There is more concern for property than people. The kind of place substitutes theology for truth. The experience gives more credence to intuition than inspiration. Ultimately, worship of a place or an event supersedes the worship of God.
Do Not Enter Gilgal
Gilgal was the place of new beginnings. As Israel prepared to begin the conquest of Canaan, Joshua commissioned 12 men to take 12 memorial stones from the bed of the Jordan River to commemorate the people’s miraculous crossing of the river (Joshua 4:3). Gilgal was the first place Israel camped in the land of promise (Joshua 4:19). It was at Gilgal that the people were circumcised in preparation for their possession of the land (Joshua 5:5), the Passover was celebrated (Joshua 5:10), and the manna ceased (Joshua 5:12).
The Ark of the Covenant returned to Gilgal every day after encircling the city of Jericho during its siege (Joshua 6:11), and Gilgal served as headquarters for all the battles during the conquest. The Gibeonites came to Gilgal to make their treaty (Joshua 9:3-6) and to ask aid against the Amorites (Joshua 10:6). The subsequent great battle against the Amorites was directed from Gilgal (Joshua 10:15), and the entire victorious campaign in the hill country of Judea extending to Kadesh Barnea and Gaza was conducted from Gilgal (Joshua 10:15). Gilgal was the site for many important “firsts” during Israel’s history.
But activity at Gilgal began to obscure the revealed Word of God. Saul, Israel’s first king, disobeyed God at Gilgal when he thought the need for activity overruled the requirement to obey God. Saul was told to wait for God’s permission to start the battle against the Philistines. He waited for Samuel as instructed, but grew impatient and acted ahead of God’s instructions. He claimed the people needed his leadership and insisted that he forced himself to disobey, giving a religious reason for his disobedience, all the while claiming he had merely responded to the voice of the people (1 Samuel 13:7-24).
Zeal for righteous action often ends in disaster. When activity becomes the standard for holiness, the activity becomes necessary to preserve the ideal. Resolving to “right wrongs” can often create more wrong, just as determination to “get the bad guys” will cause some to stumble. After a while, the cause begins to justify the activity, and loyalty to the activity becomes the test for holiness. Ultimately, preservation of the activity overrides biblical truth.
Do Not Pass Over to Beersheba
The final warning from Amos concerns Beersheba, an extremely important part of Israel’s earliest history. It was at Beersheba (the Well of the Oath or the Well of the Sevens) that Hagar was rescued by God after Sarai banished her (Genesis 21:14-19). Hagar later became the mother of many nations through Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18), as well as the biblical type of the outcast and the bondwoman against the freeborn (Galatians 4:22-31).
Abraham improved the well at Beersheba and settled there during the time he made a covenant with Abimelech, the Philistine king (Genesis 21:23-31). At Beersheba, Abraham built a grove and “there called on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33). He was living at Beersheba when God told him to sacrifice Isaac in the land of Moriah (Genesis 22:1-4, 19). Moriah, the site of that willing sacrifice, may well be the very spot on which Jesus was crucified or perhaps the place of the resurrection (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Beersheba figured prominently in the long life of the nation. Isaac made a covenant with the Philistines there, re-dug the well, and lived at Beersheba for some time (Genesis 26:17-33). Jacob was encouraged at Beersheba on his way to live in Egypt with his entire family (Genesis 46:1-4). Elijah hid in Beersheba when Jezebel sought to kill him (1 Kings 19:3).
But just as the other places of great importance dwindled in time and memory, Beersheba became a place often associated with evil. Samuel’s wicked sons lived in Beersheba. They were entrusted with leadership as judges, yet they took bribes and perverted judgment (1 Samuel 8:1-3). They were the main reason Israel wanted a king (1 Samuel 8:4-5). Beersheba became known for political oaths (agreements) with the ungodly.
Lessons from Amos
As the country preacher used to say when he finished his sermon, “Well, so what?” Amos (who was a country preacher) said: Don’t seek Bethel or enter Gilgal or go into Beersheba—“for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nothing. Seek the LORD and live” (Amos 5:5-6). As exciting as the beginning of the new Discovery Center is, as important as it may become, no matter the role that it may play in the lives of many, we do not find God in a place but in a Person. We do not find God in a campaign but in a commitment. We do not find God in promises from men but in power from God.
God Looks Forward, Not Backward.
Historical places and events are lessons, not laws.
God Wants Obedience, Not Activity.
Past victories are to be praises, not patterns.
God Demands Truth, Not Compromise.
Successful negotiations are details, not doctrines.
I hope you will get a chance to visit the new ICR Discovery Center for Science and Earth History. We will do everything we possibly can to make it a center of truth and encouragement. But the ICR Discovery Center is not an end in itself. It is really a new asset—a tool we will entrust to the Lord for His use and glory. We encourage you to follow the progress over the next months as the ICR Discovery Center is being constructed. Pray with us. Share with us. And hold us accountable to use our common legacy tool so we can all rejoice in our Creator’s commendation when we celebrate together around His eternal throne.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research. Dr. Henry M. Morris III holds four earned degrees, including a D.Min. from Luther Rice Seminary and an MBA from Pepperdine University.