When I was in college, I spent a semester living in Israel. It was amazing. One of the things that took some getting used to was how old everything there was. It was common to visit places that had been around for thousands of years. I remember one day going to a crusader castle that was built only 1,000 years ago, and thinking it looked so new compared to everything else. But most of these old places had one thing in common: they were ruins.
How strong does something need to be, and how long does it need to last for you to regard it as permanent?
Joshua 17 and 18 mark the halfway point of the account of the distribution of land to the twelve tribes of Israel. And in Joshua 18:1, something very important happens: the people set up the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Before there was a kingdom of Israel, before David took Jerusalem, before Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion, there was Shiloh—situated roughly 24 miles north of Jerusalem, near the geographic center of the promised land.
After centuries of slavery and decades of wilderness wandering, the people of Israel must have felt the surge of a sense of permanence when they first set up the tabernacle. They were home at last. And that home must have seemed permanent too. Shiloh stood throughout the time of the judges, on into the days of the prophet Samuel, who grew up there under the care of Eli the priest (1 Samuel 1:1-25). Shiloh would house the Ark of the Covenant, where the presence of the Lord dwelt, for over three hundred years (c. 1444-1116 B.C.). For perspective, the Tabernacle stood in Shiloh for almost 100 years longer than the United States of America has existed.
For Joshua’s generation, and many to follow, Shiloh was the destination of countless pilgrims who esteemed the city as the spiritual center of things—God’s own town.
But now it is a ruin.
The city fell to the Philistines over 3,000 years ago. Knowledge of the actual site of the tabernacle is lost to history. Only rubble remains where the center of things once stood.
The people of Israel’s true and better inheritance was not a place made of wood and stone. Neither was God’s eternal presence meant to be contained in a box of gold. Even as we read about the long awaited distribution of land to the twelve tribes of Israel, we remember that nothing of what they built remains.
But the God who loved Israel and led them does remain. He will never become a ruin, and neither will those whose faith is in Him.
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).
Written By Russ Ramsey