The whole congregation... assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle.
An event of great importance now occurs; the civil arrangements of the country are in a measure provided for, and it is time to set in order the ecclesiastical establishment. First, a place has to be found as the centre of the religious life; next, the tabernacle has to be erected at that place — and this is to be done in the presence of all the congregation. It is well that a godly man like Joshua is at the head of the nation: a less earnest servant of God might have left this great work unheeded. How often, in the emigrations of men, drawn far from their native land in search of a new home, have arrangements for Divine service been forgotten! In such cases the degeneracy into rough manners, uncouth ways of life, perhaps into profanity, debauchery, and lawlessness, has usually been awfully rapid. On the other hand, when the rule of the old puritan has been followed, "Wherever I have a house, there God shall have an altar"; when the modest spire of the wooden church in the prairie indicates that regard has been had to the gospel precept — "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" — a touch of heaven is imparted to the rude and primitive settlement; we may believe that the spirit of Christ is not unknown; the angels of virtue and piety are surely hovering round it. The narrative is very brief, and no reason is given why Shiloh was selected as the religious centre of the nation. "We should have thought that the preference would have been given to Shechem, a few miles north, in the neighbourhood of Ebal and Gerizim, which had already been consecrated in a sense to God. That Shiloh had been chosen by Divine direction we can hardly doubt, although there may have been reasons of various kinds that commended it to Joshua. Situated about half-way between Bethel and Shechem, in the tribe of Ephraim, it was close to the centre of the country, and, moreover, not difficult of access for the eastern tribes. Here, then, assembled the whole congregation of the children of Israel, to set up the tabernacle, probably with some such rites as David performed when it was transferred from the house of Obed-Edom to Mount Zion. Hitherto it had remained at Gilgal, the headquarters and depot of the nation. The "whole congregation" that now assembled does not necessarily mean the whole community, but only selected representatives, not only of the part that had been engaged in warfare, but also of the rest of the nation.
How long are ye slack to go to possess the land?I.
IS NOT THE GOODLY PORTION FREELY PROVIDED, AND WAITING YOUR ACCEPTANCE? Hath not the Lord God of your fathers freely given you a title to the country of peace and rest in heaven? May not "an entrance be ministered unto you abundantly"? &c. His hand broke asunder your chains, when ye lay helpless in the land of your spiritual bondage — when Satan was your taskmaster, sin your service, and death your wages. He paid the full ransom of your deliverance. The same hand which took you forth from the captivity and death of sin has still led you onward, cheered with increasing hope of reposing in the kingdom and glory of Jesus Christ. As your day, so has your strength been. Is there then, in the little circle of perishing enjoyments around you, is there, even among the present spiritual privileges with which Divine love has invested you, anything sufficiently great to satisfy the aspirations of one who looks for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life?
II. IS NOT THE ATTAINMENT OF SALVATION THE GREAT BUSINESS OF LIFE, TO WHICH YE SHOULD BE DEVOTED? Your life, in its best and only worthy acceptation, consists not in seeking "what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, and wherewithal ye shall be clothed," and how ye shall enjoy the present, and be aggrandised for the future; but in holy resolve and aim to seek the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Be your portion of present advantages, whether temporal or spiritual, what it may, let it not absorb your minds, that ye may rest upon it, and seek nothing beyond. Do not live so much beneath your privileges as to be satisfied with the mere shadow of good; while the pure, perfect, unsatiating, and everlasting reality solicits you in vain.
III. HAVE YE NOT LOST TIME ENOUGH ALREADY? If we look inward to the experience of our own hearts — if we recollect the testimony of years past and gone, they will surely speak of long and guilty inattention to the duty of serving God who hath called us to His kingdom and glory. How many opportunities have ye possessed of walking with God, like Enoch, and of illustrating the holy character of His religion so unequivocally, that men must have taken knowledge of you that you had been with Jesus! What then remains? Redeem the time by an increasing zeal and diligence to do the work of God, and to attain by His grace a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.
The weakness of our nature discovers itself, even under the most prosperous and encouraging circumstances. This degrades our conquests and diminishes the glory of our triumphs. Either self-indulgence, indolence, or indifference was the cause why they were slack to go to possess the land. The luxury of new and undisturbed possessions succeeding to the incessant toils and privations of warfare too long, and it may be too immoderately, entwined about their earthly affections, and retained them in the lap of indulgence. A condition like this, so congenial with the fleshly desires of the heart, induced a frame of indolence which was not only indisposed but might render them indifferent to new achievements, How unfavourable to those energies and exertions which require the mortification of self-indulgence as a condition of uninterrupted prosperity! This has often been found attended with more dangerous results than even the most pressing adversity. Who has not needed this reproof again and again? "Why are ye slack to go to possess the land?" Present gratifications have made us indifferent to future interests; and private satisfactions to public duties. Let the Christian remember that he owes much to the interests of others, not only to the present, but even to future generations, as far as concerns the Church of God; and therefore, to live to himself, inclosed within the narrow limits of his own person and concerns, is unworthy the greatness of his character, and far beneath the dignity of his being. Though nothing were wanting to render complete our personal estate or family patrimony, yet let us remember that we have much to achieve for others, for our brethren, and the cause of truth, that require self-denying and self-sacrificing exertions.
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