I’ve been reading through the book of Joshua lately, remembering how God displayed his faithfulness to the Israelites by leading them into the Promised Land after a long and difficult journey.
What has really struck me though, is that once the Israelites entered the land, their challenges were not over, not by a long way. They had to work out how to divide the land to allocate sections to each tribe, and there were lots of battles to be fought, many tribes to be conquered, several cities to be taken.
There were great victories such as the fall of Jericho, but other occasions where it went less smoothly- a man called Achan stole some of the treasures set apart for God, causing the Israelites to be defeated by the people of Ai; the Gibeonites deceived the Israelites into making a peace treaty, and in several places the Israelites failed to completely drive out the other tribes.
I think I would have found this discouraging and disappointing. After travelling for so long, setting all my hopes on making it into the Promised Land, surely this should be the “happily ever after”. I would have been expecting life to be easy once I finally arrived. I would have been hoping for a life of rest and peace- not the prospect of more battles and ongoing uncertainty.
I don’t know how the Israelites felt about this, but I love their response in the middle of it all: “the entire community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tabernacle” (Joshua 18:1)
In the midst of the battles and the unfinished business and the tribes being scattered across the Promised Land, the entire community came together to set up the Tabernacle- the place of worship, the place where God’s presence dwelled among them, the place where they were reminded of God’s faithfulness and of what united them.
The Hebrew word Shiloh means “place of rest” or “peace.” The word is also used in Genesis 49:10 in Jacob’s final blessing to his sons: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Here, the word Shiloh refers to the Messiah- in other words, the Prince of Peace, the one who was promised, who would bring true rest for our souls.
All of this reminds me where I can find rest. Too often I seek it in circumstances, thinking that if I can get things in order and tie up all the loose ends, I will find my rest. I look to resolve the battles of life, hoping that will bring me peace, but the truth is our peace and rest do not depend on our circumstances.
Jesus said: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Our circumstances are never going to be perfect here on earth. There will always be battles to be fought- but we can have peace in Jesus, even in the midst of the challenges and trials of life.
He doesn’t promise to resolve all of our situations as we might like, but he does call to us through the pain and the uncertainty, through the tensions and divisions we face:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
I know this has been a difficult week for many of my American friends. I know there is a lot of fear and uncertainty, hurt and divisions, and I am praying for you and your country as you move forward.
But in the midst of all the challenges and trials of life, let’s gather at Shiloh. Let’s remember what unites us, no matter what might threaten to divide us, and let’s remember where our peace and rest are ultimately to be found.