Why Does Jacob Name Bethel Twice? (Genesis 35:15)

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It’s not just people that have name changes in Scripture. Occasionally, a plot of land will undergo a series of identification switcheroos also. 

One such example is the town of Bethel, a town that used to be called Luz (Genesis 28:19) and would eventually be known as El-Bethel — “the God of Bethel” — earlier in Genesis 35:7.

But “Bethel” is the name it was known for during its frequent mentions throughout the Bible. Curiously enough, though it was the second most-cited town in the Old Testament, it virtually disappears after the exile, with no mention at all in the New Testament.

The site is originally chosen because it’s in this spot that Jacob has his vision of angels going up and down on a ladder from Heaven to Earth (Genesis 28:10-22). Eventually, he returns back to Bethel a changed man and builds a proper altar to commemorate his relationship with God (Genesis 35:15).

Although lots of famous people would visit Bethel — Deborah (Judges 4:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:2-3), to name a few — it also has a darker history. As one of two idolatrous sites set up by Jeroboam (along with Dan), it played a role in leading people away from God, too (1 Kings 12:25-33).

This isn’t the first time that Bethel is called Bethel, though. In Genesis 28, when Jacob is on the run from his brother, he calls it Bethel. Now, in Genesis 35, as he returns with his enormous family, he names it Bethel again. Why?

One reason could be that of a vow renewal in light of all the people he now has in his life — people that wouldn’t have been with him without the direct help of God. Jacob is a family man now, and name the place Bethel (again) signifies that the promise is for him and his family, not just him.

It makes sense. If God is going to give Jacob the name of Israel twice (earlier in Genesis 35), why wouldn’t Jacob name the place twice? He can’t name God after all, so naming it again is as close as he can come to reinstating the vow.

We need Bethels in our life. We need reminders of our conviction towards Him, so that when our life flows through all sorts of different paths, we always remember the most important promise we’ve ever made.