Hiel the Bethelite


I’m sure you can recall some great sermons based on famous people of the Old Testament. Sermons about people like Adam and Eve taking a bite of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Maybe the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Sermons about Moses receiving the ten commandments, or Noah and the Ark. How about that sermon about Hiel and his sons Abiram and Segub? Remember any sermons about them? No? Maybe you’ve heard about them in a Bible study.

If you told me you’ve never heard of these three people, it wouldn’t surprise me. However, if you’ve read 1 Kings, then you’ve read about them. But to be fair Hiel, Abiram, and Segub are only mentioned in one verse in the Bible and not much is said about them. So why bring them up at all? Let’s take a closer look.

Here’s what the Bible tells us about these three.

1 Kings 16:34

In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the LORD, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun. (NKJV)

This might be a good time to remember the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is His special revelation to man. Every word in the original autograph was intentionally recorded by God through human authors. If this is true, why did God have this verse recorded in His word and how does it affect us?

A very helpful clue to unlocking the purpose of this verse is found in the verse itself. Look at the last part of the verse. “…which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun.

This is just the clue a scriptural detective needs! All we have to do is look at those things that the LORD (YHWH) spoke through Joshua. We find the information we are looking for in the sixth chapter of Joshua.

Joshua 6:26

Then Joshua charged them at that time, saying, “Cursed be the man before the LORD [YHWH] who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates.” (NKJV)

Even though you may know the story well, I think you would enjoy reading Joshua Chapters 1 through 6. But for the purposes of this study, let’s just hit some highlights.

Moses just died. The Israelites are poised to enter the promised land, but have not yet done so. God appointed Joshua to take Moses’ place and lead the Israelites into the promised land. God brought Israel to the promised land and has given it to them as an inheritance. The caveat is Israel must obey God by following His instructions down to the letter. They must drive out the pagan inhabitants of the land. Joshua has never before lead a military campaign, nor has his army engage in military conquest.

In our way of thinking it would make sense to put Joshua under a seasoned General. Have him lead this inexperienced army through a little skirmish, a battle that they know they can win. You know, just to get them some experience before hitting the big time.

That’s not the way God works. He had them attach the most fortified city in the region. Jericho had a very effective system of walls impenetrable by Israel. God has assigned an impossible task. Take Jericho! You know the story, they march around the city for seven days. On the seventh day, the seventh time around they blew the trumpets and shouted in obedience to God. Israel obeyed, then God did his part and tore down the walls. Israel walked right over the rubble and conquered Jericho, then “burned it with fire”.

After all this we get to the prophecy made my Joshua in chapter six verse twentysix and 1 Kings 16:34 suddenly makes sense. We understand that God had brought down the walls, and through Israel, destroyed the wicked city of Jericho. Yahweh did not want Jericho rebuilt, but He knew that man has a tendency to return to his wicked ways (2 Peter 2:22). He had Joshua tell Israel what would happen to the man who attempted to rebuild what God had destroyed.

Let me encourage you. Don’t rebuild the stronghold the LORD has torn down in your life. There is alway a high cost associated with disobeying our Lord and Saviour. For Heil it cost him the lives of his oldest son Abiram and his youngest son Segub.

I would never, and am not suggesting that God, in this dispensation of grace, would punish our sin by taking the lives of our loved ones. But we must realize that we do not sin in a vacuum. Sin is a direct affront against God, and often negatively impacts those we love.

The destruction of Jericho was a declaration of God’s power, a proclamation of His covenant relationship with Israel, and proof that He would indeed keep His land covenant with Israel. Why would anyone want to rebuild that?

4 Replies to "Hiel the Bethelite"

  • Christine Elliott
    February 6, 2017 (10:04 am)

    This commentary was very engaging. It made me want to read my Bible more.

  • Dianne
    September 25, 2018 (7:41 pm)

    I know Hiel’s sons died because he tried to rebuild Jericho, but how did they die? I have read that they may have been used as a human sacrifice. Is that true or did they get injured and hurt while it was being built? Just wondering.

    • Mark Hathaway
      September 26, 2018 (1:26 pm)

      You pose an excellent question. Because Hiel’s two sons are only mentioned in one verse of the Bible, it is hard to know for sure how they died. I would be disinclined to believe they were used as a human sacrifice, because the biblical text does not indicate it. Keeping the verse in context, it seems to suggest an accident when laying the foundation, and then another accident while setting the gate.

      By asking the question you demonstrated an important Bible study principal. The principle is observation. When studying a given passage of scripture we want to make as many observations about the passage as we can. Questions of the text are one type of observation. We list our observations and explore them further. When considering our questions of the text, We want to look for idioms, metaphors, historical context, cultural context, etc. The diligent student will pursue answers to their questions. However, not every question will receive an answer.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • guy
    February 15, 2020 (6:32 am)

    We can spend time trying to decipher the scripture, but the result is: God punished their disobedience to his word.

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