God's Centre in Shiloh

Lessons for the Church Today.
Charles Stanley.

Shiloh in the Beginning

Joshua 18.

God had now redeemed Israel from Egypt. They were delivered from the power of Pharaoh, separated from Egypt by the waters of the Red Sea, and more ― they had seen the ark pass into the depths of Jordan; they had followed through that type of death into the land. They had been circumcised; the reproach of Egypt had been rolled away; they had kept the passover in the land and had known some fighting, failure and victory. And now "the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there."

Before we examine the first lesson of Shiloh, let us ask, How far have we traveled this journey? Can we remember in the days of our wretched slavery to Satan that we had no power or means of escape? Did God, in His deep compassion for us, send His Son to redeem us by His own blood? Have we eternal redemption through His blood? Have we known real deliverance from sin and Satan? Have we been separated from the world, Satan's world, by the death of Christ, as Israel was separated from Egypt? Have we had wilderness experience and there learned that in us, that is, in our flesh, there is no good? And, further, have we died to it all with Christ and in Him entered the land? If dead with Him and risen with Him, that is the end of wilderness trial of the flesh, of self, under law.

Have we, as dead and risen, been circumcised ― that separation to God, as a sign of that righteousness we had in Him when He called us, as ungodly, Egypt's reproach being rolled away? And have we kept our passover, entering with boldness into His presence by the blood of the Lamb? Do we know anything of fightings, failures and victories?

Yes, Israel had now traveled as far as Shiloh. It is well to ask ourselves, Have we reached that point? Can we trace the hand of our God thus far with us? If so, let us ask, What is Shiloh? and what are its lessons to us? The first lesson we have is this: "And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there."

Shiloh was the place where the Lord set up His name in the land at first (Jer. 7:12) ― the tabernacle, His dwelling-place in the midst of Israel. Shiloh, the place where the Lord dwelt, was the very center of all Israel. Is not Shiloh, then the gathering of the whole assembly of Israel together, a striking type of the church, or assembly, of God? There was one assembly of Israel, and the Lord was in the midst. On the day of Pentecost, the one assembly of God was formed by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. There are, however, many points of contrast between the type and the antitype. Israel's redemption was temporal and earthly; the redemption of the church is heavenly ― for heaven ― and eternal. The Lord was in the midst of Israel, but the veil shut them out of His presence. When Jesus bowed His head in death for us, the veil was rent from top to bottom, the way into God's presence forever opened. The calling of Israel was earthly; the calling of the church is heavenly. How much is involved in this! A great work had been accomplished for Israel, and they were now in the land; they had crossed the Jordan, and they had come to Shiloh, the place of gathering to the Lord. What a work had been accomplished for the church, when the first great gathering together took place and the assembly was formed! In one case, all Israel was together; in the other, "all that believed were together" (Acts 2:42-47). "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart" (Acts 4:32-37). With Israel, "the land was subdued before them." And with the assembly, the church, what mighty power there was in those first apostolic days! Converts then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, numbered in the thousands.

Now, though Israel had passed the Jordan and was in the very center of the land, yet it was a well-known fact that seven tribes had not yet received their inheritance. Is not this also the case with the assembly, the church, to this day? The church, in the person of its Head, is in possession of the glory, yet how many dear Christians there are who have not received the inheritance!

Have we really laid hold of this truth that all believers are reckoned as having crossed the Jordan, dead with Christ and risen in Him, partakers with Him of the eternal inheritance, joint-heirs with Christ? No doubt we cannot understand this or enjoy it, though in the heavenly position, and we cannot possess it unless we have reached our Shiloh ― what God began to do at Pentecost. It is important to know what point we have reached in our own souls. How many have passed through deep distress of soul as to sin and its bondage, like Israel in Egypt! They have just reached the blood of the Lamb, having found there is no other shelter from judgment. And, through the mercy of God, they have taken shelter, though in the dark, beneath the blood-sprinkled dwelling in Egypt. There they remain in that house; truly they are safe but have never known in power what deliverance from Egypt is. Redemption, in full eternal deliverance, they have never yet known. Such souls can have no light, in that state, as to what Shiloh or Pentecost mean.

Others may have traveled a step further. They may see distinctly they were slaves of sin and Satan and, as such, may have learned how they found shelter by the blood of the Lamb and more ― deliverance: Yes, they have been separated from Satan's kingdom and power through the death of Christ. But they have not yet learned the surpassing grace of Ephesians 2, Colossians 2 and Colossians 3:1-4. Have you passed through Jordan with the true Ark, which is Christ?

This will introduce you to God's thoughts of His assembly now on earth and what He expects from it. "And Joshua said to the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers has given you?" God had given them that goodly land, but they had not taken possession. He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. How long have we been slack to go to possess our heavenly inheritance?

Shiloh, then, was not only the true ground of worship ― there Jehovah dwelt amidst the people ― but it was also the center of all operations and conquests. From thence three men from each tribe were to go forth and mark out the land that remained. "And they shall divide it into seven parts." "Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the Lord our God." They were solemnly charged to bring the description there to Shiloh before the Lord. And they did so "and described it by cities into seven parts in a book, and came again to Joshua to the host at Shiloh." Thus they went forth from Shiloh, and they "divided for an inheritance by lot in Shiloh before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (Joshua 18:1, 8-10; Joshua 19:51).

Here, then, we have two important principles: The tabernacle being set up at Shiloh as the dwelling-place of God, it becomes the center of gathering for worship, and also it is the center from which all operations have their source. It was so with the assembly once set up at Pentecost; it became the dwelling-place of God (Eph. 2:19-22). "In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." All believers were gathered together, were builded together, and from this center, even from the Lord by the Spirit, all service had its spring and power. (See Acts 13:1-4.)

The land was divided at Shiloh, and all cases for judgment were brought there before the Lord. It was there the fathers of the Levites came to Joshua and to the heads of the tribes, and there they spake to them (Joshua 21:1-3). Was not this also, in like manner, in the beginning of the church? (See Acts 4:32-37.) The Holy Spirit had come down from heaven, had formed the assembly, and had united it to Christ in heaven ― had come to dwell and abide in the midst of the one church. The new Shiloh was set up in the wilderness of this world ― the church, the dwelling-place of God the Holy Spirit. Oh, if our hearts realized this, would it not be enough to settle any and every question brought before Him?

We shall now find that Shiloh was not only a striking picture of the assembly, as Shiloh was first set up in the land, after the full accomplishment of redemption, but also of its subsequent history. Those are very significant words at the end of the book of Joshua: "And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that He had done for Israel." This closes the history of the Acts of the Apostles. While the apostles and the elders who had seen the works of the Holy Spirit lived and also those elders who outlived the apostles, the assembly served the Lord and waited with joyful expectation for His return.

We now turn over the leaf to the book of Judges, and what a picture of the failures of the church! Who that knows anything of history can question the rapid increase of evil in the professing church? Let us not forget that all through the book of Judges, the tabernacle remained at Shiloh. And, in like manner, all through the dark history of Christendom, the Holy Spirit has remained in it, however grieved. When Joshua and all that generation were gathered to their fathers, "there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about" (Judges 2:8-12). Is not this a sad picture of the church, as seen in its responsibility on earth? How soon it linked itself with the idolatry of the nations of the earth. The presence of the Holy Spirit was soon practically set aside ― yes, complete redemption was almost forgotten. Where is it to be found in the so-called fathers of the church?

How little is said about the tabernacle at Shiloh during the days of the judges! Yet it was surely there. It is not until chapter 18 that it is even named. "And they set them up Micah's graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" (Judges 18:31). Have there been no graven images set up in the so-called church? Yet the Holy Spirit is still here. Again, we find a man going up to the house of the Lord. (See Judges 19:18.) And what scenes of cruelty and fearful wickedness did he witness! This aroused all Israel, and they gathered together and came to the house of the Lord and wept and sat there before the Lord and fasted. (See Judges 20:23-27.) What terrible destruction fell on Benjamin that day! This ended in leaving Benjamin without wives. And again Shiloh comes before us ― yes, its locality needed to be accurately described. "Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah." And it was as the daughters of Shiloh came out of the city to dance, every man caught his wife, to go to the land of Benjamin.

Thus, in the book of Judges, we see the sad downward failure of Israel, with times of revival and deliverance, from time to time, as God raised up deliverers, but the very locality of the tabernacle at Shiloh had to be pointed out. Very, very little is said or known, apparently, about the presence of Jehovah and the place where He recorded His name. Is it not equally so in what is called church history, after the first century? Failure, departure and worldliness crept in, but the true church of God, as seen in the Acts and Epistles, was scarcely named ― scarcely known. Yes, the heavenly calling and principles of the church were so effaced from men's minds that, even in this day, not a few lie in wait and steal them, as the sons of Benjamin stole the daughters of Shiloh. Yes, how many steal precious truths, not to remain at Shiloh, the gathering together to Him, but to take and trade with them in the land of Benjamin! Yes, the books of Joshua and Judges read like a prophetic sketch of the church, as seen in its history on earth.

Before we proceed to that deeply interesting and solemn warning of our subject ― Shiloh ― as found in 1 Samuel, let us ask, beloved brethren in Christ everywhere, Are we not slack, in every sense, in possessing the land? The whole period of the history of Christendom, before its final apostasy, and perhaps into it, is also divided into seven divisions, or epochs, of its history (Rev. 2-3). But even at this time, how many towns and villages are there where the Lord's people have not got possession of the heavenly inheritance! Are we not slack to go up to help them? Yes, souls need help all along the way from the darkness of Egypt to Shiloh. Yes, do we not all need to arise and take possession? If we are at Shiloh, God's center, still let us remember we are in the midst of enemies, far more subtle than the children of Canaan. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).

In Elkanah we have an Israelite who fully recognized the place of Jehovah in Shiloh, as He says, "Where I set My name at the first" (Jer. 7:12). This is the more cheering, after all the failure and forgetfulness of their history during the period of the judges. Was it not sad that they should so soon turn aside from the center that God had set up ― His dwelling-place among them ― and set up their own idolatry in their high places? Is it not still more strangely sad that the church should have so soon, and for so long, turned aside from God's center, God's gathering-place ― the Person of Christ ― and set up churches of men's own in every land?

After all the forgetfulness and departure, Shiloh was the only place where the name of the Lord was recorded. It was as yet still the same. The mercy-seat, cherubim, golden altar, candlestick, laver, altar of burnt-offering ― all were there as at the first. Thither did Elkanah bring his whole house, all his sons and daughters. There they came to worship. "This man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh."

Is not this a refreshing sight? They came to that place where all Israel had been gathered together in the days of Joshua, as we have seen. Has there not been a little reviving in our day, after the true Shiloh had been almost forgotten? Have not a few believers been gathered together to worship even to the name of the Lord Jesus, in His presence, owning the presence of the Holy Spirit, as in the days of the apostles? After centuries of forgetfulness, like the days of the judges, have not souls been awakened to inquire what is and where is Shiloh, that is, the quiet, true place of the assembly of God? Shiloh means "quiet" or "peaceful" ― and, oh, the blessed peace of being in His presence as worshippers! Yes, the true Shiloh is wherever two or three are gathered to His name. For a time the scepter has departed from Judah and the period of gathering together to Him has come, even as it will be in another way in a future day.

Happy is the Elkanah of our day, who, with his whole household, is gathered to the true Shiloh, even to the Lord, to worship. There is one remarkable member of this household ― we might say a true Philadelphian in her day. Shall we now observe closely Hannah before the Lord at Shiloh? She was a despised woman, of little strength, and, to look at, of little worth, for she had no child, "and her adversary also provoked her sore." She was of a grieved spirit, but she held fast the word. What earnestness of prayer! She asked for what she wished to devote to the Lord in Shiloh. She "prayed to the Lord, and wept sore." And "she continued praying before the Lord." "Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard." She was greatly misunderstood, even by Eli the priest. There were others at Shiloh ― we will notice them soon ― but how far do we answer to Hannah at Shiloh? She could say, "I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord." The Lord heard her cry, and Samuel was the gift in answer to her prayer at Shiloh. The Lord's presence was very dear to Hannah at Shiloh and to all Elkanah's household.

And what was the inmost desire of Hannah for her precious babe? Let her tell us. She says, "I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide forever." And she "brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young." She does not say, He is only a child; I will leave him at home in Ramah. No, she brings him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh. Is there no voice in this to us? Have we less privileges, as to our children now, than Hannah had then? Then, as now, it was to the overcomer. Who would have thought that sorrowful Hannah was the overcomer? Read her triumphant song of faith ― what a key-note: "My heart rejoices in the Lord." Faith soars beyond all difficulties, evils and judgments and looks right on to Israel's ― no, Messiah's ― glory. Here, then, is one, not only on true ground, at the place where the Lord had placed His name ― the true gathering-place and center of all Israel ― but she is in the state of heart suitable to that place.

It is sometimes said we do not see that those gathered to the Lord, as in the beginning, are any better than others ― evil shows itself there as elsewhere. In plain words this means, It is no matter whether we do the will of the Lord or not. After all the evil recorded in the Book of Judges, was not Shiloh still the only place Jehovah owned as His dwelling-place? The ark was still there, and those who sought the Lord, like Elkanah, came there. There Hannah prayed and worshipped. There she brought her young child. There she rejoiced in the Lord. The more we study the case of Hannah at Shiloh, the more we must own it to be of the Lord.

Now let us look at the warning this scripture affords. There was terrible evil at Shiloh, evil that must be and was judged. Could we have a more striking contrast than Hannah and the sons of Eli? In one case, we have a worshipper filled with joy in the Lord; in the other, the most daring wickedness ― yes, wickedness that refused to be restrained and carelessness that neglected to restrain wickedness.

Yes, all this is a picture of the once one assembly of God and now the great house of Christendom, but to the faith of Hannah or her child, it was still as yet Shiloh, the quiet place of communion with God-Jehovah. Did not the Lord speak there to Samuel? "And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord" (1 Sam. 3:21). Shiloh was the gathering-place of Israel, and however few were gathered to Him ― yes, to even one ― He thus reveals Himself. It is so where two or three are gathered to Him now. It is in Shiloh, so to speak, He appears again. He reveals Himself to those really gathered to Himself in a way unknown elsewhere, and this by the word of the Lord.

No one will question that there may be in our closing day two persons, both, as to position, gathered on true ground, both professedly in the dwelling-place of God. The one hears the distinct voice of the Lord by the Word; the other does not hear ― has no real communication of God's thoughts. How is this? Have we not the answer here at Shiloh?

There is the stout and aged Eli, the very priest of Jehovah. Yes, age, antiquity, office, authority ― all these he has, and he is in the dwelling-place of God, but he does not hear a word. He had grieved the Lord by the allowance of evil. Is it so with any of us? Can we hear and understand the voice of the Lord if allowing evil? Impossible!

There was another person in the same house of the Lord. But what a contrast! It was the little child, Samuel. Are we like this little child, or like the ancient, aged Eli? There were two things very striking in the case of Samuel. He had been first weaned before he was presented to the Lord in Shiloh. You see that man of importance, who fails to hear the voice of the Lord in the assembly gathered to Him in Shiloh. Ah, he never was weaned. Have you been weaned, or did you take a place at Shiloh with your heart still linked with the world and like it in your ways? It was after Hannah had weaned him she "brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young" (1 Sam. 1:24). "And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli."

Samuel was not only weaned, but he was presented to the Lord through death. Have we been separated from the world and from all human religious efforts to improve the flesh by the cross of Christ? Weaned, dead with Christ and as a little child listening to the voice of the Lord in His Word: It is not enough to be in the right place or position at Shiloh.

But, oh, to be a little child; yes, to be nothing, with the ear open to hear what the Spirit speaks. Lord, search us by this Thy Word! If we are treading in the steps of Eli, we cannot have communion with the Lord. Oh, to be as a little child, weaned ― yes, presented to our God through death!

And notice, it is only as such that we can be used in communicating the word of the Lord to others. Read, again, 1 Samuel 3:16-21. Whatever the Lord reveals to us in His Word we must faithfully declare to others, even to the Elis of this day. Judgment was at the very doors of Shiloh. And is not judgment at the very doors of Christendom? Surely holiness became the house of the Lord at Shiloh! But what has Christendom become? And what will it yet become? Soon will Ichabod ("The glory is departed"; 1 Sam. 4:21) be written upon it. And how terrible its destruction may be seen in Revelation 17-18. But, beloved children of God, very great are our privileges during the brief moments that remain. If we are little, we shall grow. "And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him." Oh, to thus grow in grace and in the blessed consciousness of the Lord's presence with us, where two or three are gathered to His name. There is no doubt that men are more determined than ever to reject the testimony of the Lord Jesus. But the Lord did "let none of His words fall to the ground." May we be fully persuaded of this that the Lord will let none of His words, at this time of rejection, fall to the ground. Judgment must begin at the house of the Lord. In one sense it has begun ― the whole church is no longer gathered as one to the Lord. The ark has been in the hand of the Philistines, and the little Samuels have to go to Ramah. Ramah was his home. And while the ark has outwardly been a long time now with the Philistines ― the world, those in Canaan but not of it ― yet the Lord has never failed to find a Ramah, a blessed home, for His twos and threes in His presence, and to them that home is their Shiloh.

How blessed, even at this day, is the home of His dear presence! Though Christendom be like ancient Shiloh with little that bears the slightest likeness to its original design, how blessed to any who are truly weaned and presented to God, through death with Christ, to find Him with them in Ramah.

In conclusion, we would desire to carefully consider those words, "And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord." Let us be careful, on the one hand, not to disconnect the word from the Person of the Lord and so become mere intellectual students of Scripture, which gives no spiritual power to the soul, and, on the other hand, be equally careful lest we separate the Lord from His Word and thus become fanatical and trust in feelings or visions or so-called inward light. May we see and hear the Lord Himself in every scripture. Thus may the Lord reveal Himself to us by the word of the Lord!

It will be seen in Hannah's song that the Lord is before her soul in every thought; His salvation and His Person fill her soul with joy, at a time when there was everything to discourage in Israel. So may it be with us. C. Stanley