Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Deuteronomy 12:10-12). At the same time it was not without its natural reason. The situation was both central and secluded; in the midst of the land, as the tabernacle had always been "in the midst of the camp" in the wilderness (Numbers 2:17), and yet removed from the main routes of the country's traffic. Its name, dating probably from this time, while expressive of the fact that God had now given His people rest from their enemies, was also suggestive of the deeper thought of His settled dwelling among them, and was in harmony with the retired and tranquil aspect of the scene. Shiloh, the sanctuary, the place of rest. In this establishment of the tabernacle at Shiloh the Israelites were performing the highest function of their life as a people. It was a devout recognition of God; the majesty of His being, His sovereignty over them, their dependence on Him as the living root of all their social order and prosperity, that testimony for Him which it was their high calling to present before the nations. The tabernacle at Shiloh stands as a type of all places where people assemble to pay their homage to the Supreme.
I. THE SANCTITY OF THE SCENE OF WORSHIP. The tabernacle was the centre and home of all devout thought and feeling. The highest acts of worship could alone be performed there. It represented the unity of the religious life of the people, as opposed to a scattered and divided worship. It was called "the tabernacle of witness" (Numbers 17:7; Acts 7:44). In several ways is every scene of worship, every "house of prayer," a witness.
1. As a symbol of the presence of God with His people. It bears witness to the fact of His spiritual nearness and accessibility. It could have no meaning if personal and "congregational" communion with God were not a blessed reality. The fundamental idea of the tabernacle was that it is the place where man "meets with God," and finds a gracious response to his seeking. "In all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee" (Exodus 20:24). "There will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat" (Exodus 25:22). And Christ perpetuates and confirms the promise with a freer, richer grace: "Wheresoever two or three," etc. (Matthew 18:15). This gives sanctity to any place; makes it a true sanctuary. What other consecration can be needed than the realised presence of the living God?
2. As a memorial of the hallowed traditions of the past. The historic associations of the tabernacle were distinctive, wonderful, supernatural. Its origin: made "after the pattern shown to Moses in the mount" (Exodus 26.); the "glory cloud" that rested upon it; its varying fortunes; the changing scenes through which it had passed - scenes of human shame, and fear, and sorrow, and scenes of joyous triumph and marvellous Divine interposition - all this invested it with extraordinary interest. Every true house of prayer has its hallowed memories. Some small chapter at least of the sacred story of the past is enshrined in it. It speaks to us of struggles for truth and liberty, purity of faith and worship, freedom of conscience, in former days. It represents the earnest thought and self-denying labour of devout men and women who have long, perhaps, been numbered with the dead. It has been the scene of many a solemn spiritual transaction: revelations of truth, searchings of heart, stirrings of sympathetic emotion, heavenly aspirations, visions of God. However lowly a place it may be, the memory of these lingering about it gives it an interest and a distinction that no outward charm can rival.
3. As a prophecy of the better future. The tabernacle, though it had come now to a resting place after all its wanderings, was still only a temporary provision, a preparation for something more substantial and enduring. The time came when "Ichabod" must be pronounced on Shiloh. The ark of God was taken, the sanctuary was desecrated, and the faded glory of the sacred tent was lost at last in the greater splendour of the temple; until that also should pass away, to be followed by a nobler shrine. So is it with all earthly scenes of worship. They are but temporary and provisional. They are expressive, after, all, of our human weakness - dimness of spiritual vision, imperfection of spiritual life. They remind us ever of the "vail that hangs between the saints and joys Divine." They "have no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth." They speak to us of the "more perfect tabernacle not made with hands." We see in them a prophecy of the nobler worship of the future, and learn through them to lift our longing eyes to that eternal city of God of which it is written, "I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it" (Revelation 21:22).
II. THE PEACEFUL ASSOCIATIONS OF THE SCENE OF WORSHIP. "Shiloh" is a name that becomes every place of prayer, every scene of Divine manifestation and communion. It ought to be a place of rest in the midst of earthly agitations, a quiet resort for the spirit from the traffic and turmoil of life, a refuge for the weak and weary, a sanctuary for those who are harassed by the contradictions and pursued by the animosities of a hostile world. Unhappily the house of God is too often connected in men's minds with far other ideas than those of tranquillity and peace. It is suggestive to them of division, and enmity, and bitter contention. The mischief done by those historic strifes about faith and worship that have raged around it, or those mean discords that have reigned within, can never be exaggerated. And yet wherever there is a place of Christian assembly there stands a testimony to the "one Lord, one faith," etc. Beneath these superficial distractions lies the bond of a true spiritual unity. Let that essential unity become manifest, then shall the "glory of the Lord" be again upon His tabernacle, and it shall attract the world to itself as a true sanctuary and place of rest. - W.
I. PUBLIC WORSHIP AFFORDS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SPIRITUAL REST. The tabernacle was set up when "the land was subdued." The seat of worship was named "Shiloh," the "place of peace." Our churches should be homes of spiritual peace; our Sundays, Sabbaths of spiritual rest. The ejaculatory prayer of sudden emergencies, and the "praying without ceasing" of those who "walk with God" and enjoy constant communion with Him, are not sufficient means for withdrawing us from the spirit of the world and revealing to us the heights and depths of heavenly things. For this we want a more complete separation from common scenes, and a longer season of quiet meditation.
II. PUBLIC WORSHIP AFFORDS THE MEANS FOR THE OUTWARD EXPRESSION OF SPIRITUAL WORSHIP. All true worship must be internal and spiritual (John 4:24). External ordinances without this are a mockery; but spiritual worship will naturally seek some external expression. The body is so connected with the soul that all emotion tends to bodily manifestations - joy to smiles, sorrow to tears, anger to frowns. So emotions of worship find their outlet in articulate prayers and songs of praise. Such expression is
III. PUBLIC WORSHIP IS AN OCCASION FOR A PUBLIC TESTIMONY TO RELIGION. The tabernacle was set up in the sight of the people as a visible witness for God. We have our "altars of witness." It is our duty
(1) to confess our faith (Matthew 10:82);
(2) to glorify God by declaring His character to the world and thanking Him before men for the blessings we have received;
(3) to preach Christ by making the light of His gospel shine through the worship of His Church (Matthew 5:18-16).
IV. PUBLIC WORSHIP IS A STIMULUS TO PRIVATE DEVOTION. It counteracts the depressing influence of worldly occupations and the variations of private experience resulting from our own changing moods. It stimulates us
(1) by the direct influence of the religious exercises of prayer, praise, and the reading of Scripture and preaching;
(2) by mutual sympathy.
V. PUBLIC WORSHIP HELPS US TO REALISE CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD. The erection at Shiloh was "the tabernacle of the congregation." There the tribes assembled together. It was to them the centre of national unity. In our worship we should forget our differences. Rich and poor meet together first as one in sin and want and helplessness, and then as one in redemption, spiritual joy, and Christian service. No duty is more important than that of maintaining a spirit of Christian brotherhood (John 4:20, 21). By no means is this more fully realised than by union in the deepest emotions of the spiritual life. - W. F. A.
I. MUCH OF THE CHRISTIAN INHERITANCE IS NOT YET POSSESSED.
(1) Multitudes of men have not yet received the advantages of the gospel which are freely offered to all. Christ died for the whole world; God desires the redemption of all men; all are freely invited (Revelation 22:17). Yet some live on in sin, some in distress, some in unbelief. Let these know that the distribution of God's grace has not ceased. There is yet abundance to be given for those who seek. The festal chamber is not full. There is yet room. The door is still open (Luke 14:22, 23).
(2) The Church has not yet conquered the world for Christ. He claims the whole world. So long as there are heathen nations abroad and godless men at home the work of the Church militant will be incomplete. It is foolish to be satisfied with the triumphs of the past. We should rather lament the slow progress of the gospel.
(3) Christians have much of their inheritance in Christ not yet possessed. The half has not been told us. No one can conceive the fulness of the riches of Christ (Isaiah 64:4).
(a) Christians do not enjoy on earth all the blessings which they might have;
(b) greater blessings are reserved for heaven (1 John 3:2).
II. IT IS OWING TO THE SLACKNESS OF MEN, AND NOT TO THE WILL OF GOD, THAT SO MUCH OF THE CHRISTIAN INHERITANCE IS NOT YET POSSESSED. Not God's will, but man's impenitence, delays his acceptance of the blessings of the gospel. Not God's will, but the Church's tardiness, hinders the spread of Christianity through the world. Not God's will, but the Christian's weakness, prevents him from enjoying the full privileges of redemption. This slackness to take full possession of the Christian inheritance is culpable, and arises from various causes.
(1) Satisfaction with the present. The Israelites became too well satisfied with their achievements before all the land was conquered. We are too readily tempted to "rest and be thankful" before half our work is done. Our watchword should be "Forward" (Philippians 3:13, 14).
(2) Indolence. Even when we know that more should be done we are slothful and unwilling to rouse our energies for continued service. This may arise
(a) from weariness when it shows the need of the Divine help for continued exertion; or
(b) from culpable remissness when it is a distinct proof of cooling zeal.
(3) Habits of delay. Some seem to follow the rule of never doing today what can be postponed till the morrow. Every day has its task. To postpone this to the morrow will hinder the task of the morrow. All is ready on God's side; there is no excuse for delay. While we delay the opportunity may pass (Psalm 95:7).
(4) Unbelief -
(a) in the need of Christ,
(b) in the greatness of the Christian blessings,
(c) in the Divine power, through which they may be obtained. - W.F.A.
Joshua 13:1 we find an address delivered to Joshua by Jehovah, in which he was reminded how much remained to be done ere his work was finished, and his age forbade the belief that many years would intervene before his death. To the assembled tribes of Israel the exhortation of the text was consequently given. The tribes of Manasseh, Reuben, and Gad had received their inheritance on the east of the Jordan, Judah occupied the south of Palestine, and Ephraim a domain in the centre, Levi was to have no special territory assigned, and seven tribes waited for the determination of their settlements.
I. THE POSITION OF THESE ISRAELITES. After years of wandering they were permitted at last to tread the soil of the land of promise. They might well indulge feelings of gratification at the thought of their surroundings, that the wilderness was passed, and their eyes beheld the country which their fathers had in vain desired to see. A spot had been selected where the tabernacle should remain, being, according to the promise and prophecy of God, "in the midst of all their tribes." Still the Israelites had only attained to a half-way position. The rest of arrival must be succeeded by the warfare of acquisition before they could reach the rest of enjoyment. Jehovah had granted to them the land of the enemy, had conducted them safely thither; now let them grasp the privilege placed so near. Few of God's gifts but necessitate effort on the part of the recipients, efforts to appropriate and improve. According to the old fable, treasures are buried in the fields, and only diligent search and cultivation will bring them to light and make us master of them. What men pay for or have a hand in securing, they value; what they strive after, they esteem; hence the necessity laid upon us to labour in order to receive is a beneficial law.
II. WHAT THE REPROOF OF THE TEXT ARGUES UPON THE PART OF THE REPROVED.
(1) Indolence of disposition. It was doubtless pleasing to the Israelites to indulge for a season their love of ease. They could live for a time on the bounty of their brethren and on the fertile produce of the land which had cost them no trouble to till. They were "slack to go in to possess the land." Indolence is one of the most difficult foes to overcome. The great majority evince a decided disinclination to energetic exercise of their powers. Indolence is not only a state of privative loss in respect both of character and happiness, it is also a dangerous state, leaving man open to any incursion of the arch enemy. History abounds in instances of failure on the part of men to become great because they relaxed their efforts and progress ceased. A little longer struggling and the summit of ambition and fame had been scaled. "Idleness," says Seneca, "is the burying of a living man."
(2) Insensibility to the privileges possible to be acquired. Desire of gaining an end in view is the chief incentive to exertion, and the strength of the desire depends upon the amount of appreciation of the advantages which will be thereby secured. He who is not attracted by the pictures drawn of heaven will not manifest any resolute endeavours to get there. That kind of exhortation is most successful which causes hearers to glow within them at the thought of the precious jewels which may be obtained by seeking. Emotions are regulated by the keenness or dulness of our perceptions.
(3) Forgetfulness of direct command. Sloth was, in fact, disobedience. The very purpose for which God had preserved the tribes was, that they might, in obedience to His behests, occupy their respective territories, and drive out the inhabitants who had defiled the land. Many persons excuse their dilatoriness in complying with the precepts of Scripture by various pleas which discover an insufficient acknowledgment of the obligation resting upon them not merely to leave undone what ought not to be done, but to do at once what they ought to do. In this they are verily guilty. We must not be oblivious of the sins of omission as well as of commission. Woe to us if we know our Lord's will and do it not! Constantly let the inquiry be made, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
III. THE APPLICATION OF THE FOREGOING. To Christian attainments. The Christian life is described in many terms, nearly all of which represent it as a progress, a "reaching forth unto things that are before." It is called a warfare, a race, a pilgrimage, a building, etc., denoting continuous effort, in the shape of assault or resistance to assault. There are strongholds to be taken, plains to be seized, fountains and woods and rivers to be gained, trophies to be won. The followers of Christ are expected to advance in faith, hope, and love, in knowledge, purity and holiness, in gifts and graces, in self discipline and improvement, and in usefulness to others and to the Church. To secret discipleship. There was a time when you were under the servile yoke of sin, and being released entered the wilderness of doubt to be affrighted by the thunders of the law. But you have found a High Priest, a Mediator, who has also been a Deliverer to lead you into the land of rest. You have believed in Christ, and are rejoicing in your condition. But you have not taken your rightful position among your brethren. Some are engaged in tending the ground, planting and sowing, erecting houses and expelling the enemy, whilst you are content to remain by the tabernacle of the Lord. You do not enjoy the privileges of communion at the table of the Lord, and of occupying your station in the Church of Christ. To stay where you are is an injury to yourselves, it is a loss to the Church, and dishonours the Redeemer. - A.