Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.
At the start of chapter 12, Abram is told by God to leave the place he was living — Haran (11:31) — and his extended family — Abram was told to leave his relatives and his father’s house (12:1). So Abram picks up and goes and reaches Canaan. Abram stops at the oak of Moreh and God appears to him and Abram builds an altar (12:6). The Then at the start of this verse indicates that the event of this verse follows all of that. So this is part of the narrative of Abram’s obedience to God in leaving the land he was in and going where God told him to go.
So Abram leaves the oak and goes to the mountain on the east of Bethel. This verse, to me, is the entire walk with God in microcosm. Abram does not yet go to Bethel and he will resort to Egypt when the crisis hits, but he pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. It is in this place that he builds a second altar and calls on the Name of the LORD. Why the fuss?
Bethel means “house of God.” So, on the one side, Abram has the house of God; the dwelling place of the LORD. Ai means “destruction.” What genius named their city Destruction, I do not know, but there it is on the other side of Abram’s camp site. Abram sets up camp and builds an altar and calls on the Name of the LORD in between The House of God and Destruction. And that is the life spent walking with God in miniature.
Paul writes about our bodies as tents. Our entire life spent in these tents; these bodies is spent between the place where God is — Heaven — and destruction — Hell. And it is in this middle ground between Heaven and Hell that we can call on the Name of the LORD and be saved.
With all the madness that I see around me and all the truly disheartening occurrences — the current election cycle springs to mind —it is good to be reminded that I am metaphorically living between Bethel and Ai. My tent is pitched and I can call on the Name of the LORD here. Let me call on God to help me while I dwell here so that I might be a light to those going to Ai (Hell) and a reminder of home to those going to Bethel (Heaven).
Father, thank You for this reminder that I live between places. This life is not the final destination; the absolute residence, but a camp site between two cities. Let me build altars to You and call on Your Name while here so that Heaven feels that much more like home when You get me there.