Genesis 12:8 And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
In our search for Bethel, we cannot ignore the third city in the triad of cities that are mentioned in reference to Bethel.
Bethel, Ai (both Abram’s Ai and Joshua’s Ai) and Beth Aven are all mentioned in the scripture as being in the same vicinity.
We’ve looked at the Ai of Abram’s day.
Last time we looked at the Ai of Joshua’s day.
Let’s now find the ancient city of Beth Aven and then we can move on with Abram’s journey.
Beit-aʹven means “House of iniquity”
The scripture references to Beth Aven give very specific detail. So let’s go digging.
Joshua 7:2 Now Joshua sent men FROM JERICHO TO AI, which is BESIDE BETH AVEN, on the EAST SIDE OF BETHEL, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
* Beth Aven is beside (or opposite) Joshua’s Ai. Both are east of Bethel. (Why would there be two fortress cities so near each other? Opposite each other?)
Joshua 18:11 Now the lot of the TRIBE OF THE CHILDREN OF BENJAMIN came up according to their families, and the territory of their lot came out BETWEEN THE CHILDREN OF JUDAH AND THE CHILDREN OF JOSEPH* (*referring to Ephraim).
12 Their BORDER ON THE NORTH SIDE began at the JORDAN, and the border went up to the SIDE OF JERICHO ON THE NORTH, and went UP THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS WESTWARD; it ended at the WILDERNESS OF BETH AVEN.
13 The border went over from there TOWARD LUZ, TO THE SIDE OF LUZ (WHICH IS BETHEL) SOUTHWARD; and the border DESCENDED TO ATAROTH ADDAR, NEAR THE HILL that lies on the SOUTH SIDE OF LOWER BETH HORON
* The border travelled to the wilderness of Beth Aven where the city of Beth Aven was located, and then headed southward toward Bethel. So Beth Aven is NORTH of Bethel.
1 Samuel 13:5 Then the Philistines gathered together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude. And they came up and encamped in MICHMASH TO THE EAST OF BETH AVEN.
* The city of Beth Aven is therefore WEST of Michmash.
Putting that all together:
Beth Aven is north east of Bethel.
Beth Aven is west of Michmash
Beth Aven is very near Joshua’s Ai (which is also east of Bethel).
There is a city that fits this description.
With Bethel located at modern day El Bireh, and Joshua’s Ai located at Khirbet el Maqatir, the current city of BEITIN is the city that fulfils all of these requirements.
On top of that, the answer to why there were two fortress cities in such close proximity (Ai and Beth Aven), most likely is answered with the fact that there is a valley between these two cities (Wadi el-Gayeh).
This indicates that Beth Aven was likely a fortified city on the southern border of the tribe of Ephraim, while Ai was a fortified city on the northern border of the tribe of Benjamin. They looked across the shallow valley at each other.
The valley of Wadi el Gayeh was therefore the natural border line between the two fortified cities and in fact the eventual border between the coalition of the north (with Shechem as the main city) and coalition of the south (with Jerusalem as the main city).
Archeologist Bryant Wood concludes this point “With the location of Beth Aven now fixed, the border between Benjamin and Ephraim in this area can be traced. It passed from the southeast, coming up from Jericho, along the Wadi el-Gayeh that ends at Beitin. From there, the line went southwest, most likely on the west side of El-Bireh since Bethel was included in the tribal area of Benjamin (Jos 18:22). The border then proceeded to Lower Beth Horon (Beit ‘Ur et-Tahta) 12 km (7.5 mi) west-southwest of El-Bireh (Jos 18:13b).
These three places form a triad linked together by a complex network of geographic and archaeological parameters set forth in the Old Testament. There only can be one unique set of sites that fulfils the precise conditions of Scripture. The three sites that meet all of the Biblical requirements are: Bethel at El Bireh, Joshua’s Ai at Kh. el-Maqatir, and Beth Aven at Beitin.” (Wood 1997; 1999: 22).
When you next go to Israel, why not visit these areas because now you have the locations of some very historical places.
Did you know that your faith in the God of Israel is about prioritising His Kingdom first?
It’s really not so much about you and your life and what you need.
In fact He says that we are to “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” and then “all these things will be added to you.”
To SEEK FIRST His Kingdom is to dig and delve and search into the things that God loves. That’s what we are doing here. Stay focused on God. Learn, enjoy, be wide-eyed by the things He loves.”
Soon we will link it all up to Jesus but for now let’s keep being excited about the seeking.
Next we are back in Bethel with Abram.