Robert D. Kaplan wrote an article on September 7, 2012 in the Wall Street Journal Online entitled "Geography Strikes Back". He started the article by saying:
"If you want to know what Russia, China or Iran will do next, don't read their newspapers or ask what our spies have dug up - consult a map. Geography can reveal as much about a government's aims as its secret councils. More than ideology or domestic politics, what fundamentally defines a state is its place on the globe. Maps capture the key facts of history, culture and natural resources. With upheaval in the Middle East and a tumultuous political transition in China, look to geography to make sense of it all."
I completely agree. The same applies to many of the Bible stories that we read. We frequently read stories about people in the Bible traveling from one place to another, but going by a non-direct route. Why did they take that route? Well, check a map. You'll probably find the answer.
As you read through the Gospels, you'll notice that when Jesus visits Jerusalem, he frequently spends the night in Bethany as opposed to staying in the city. Why did He do that? Well, I can think of two reasons. The first reason is fairly obvious…He had good friends that lived in Bethany and He wanted to spend time with them. Mary, Martha and Lazarus frequently opened their home to Jesus when He was in the area.
The second reason isn't as obvious, but I think it is significant. Numerous times in Jesus' ministry, He would take advantage of opportunities to get away from the crowds (Matthew 14:23, 26:39, Mark 6:46, etc). In John 11, we read the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus. In the midst of that story, in verse 18, we are told that Bethany is approximately 2 miles from Jerusalem. While two miles isn't that far, it was far enough for Jesus to get away from the crowds of Jerusalem.
But, we can learn more about His choice to stay in Bethany by looking at a map. In this case, a topographical map. If you look at a map, you'll notice that Jerusalem is located due west of the Mount of Olives. And, Bethany is located on the south-eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. So, for Jesus to travel from Jerusalem to Bethany, He would have had to leave the city, cross the Kidron Valley, climb the top of the Mount of Olives, cross the top of the mount and then descend down to the town. It was the perfect place for Jesus to stay. He would have been close to Jerusalem, but since Bethany faces the east, probably could not even see Jerusalem from Bethany.