A Chosen Place
A. E. Long, Nutley
The song of Moses and Israel, following their deliverance from Pharaoh's power, chiefly celebrated the great victory wrought by God on their behalf. It was also in part prophetic, in that it envisaged their entering into their inheritance in Canaan, "all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them . . . Thou shalt bring (the people) in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance", Exod. 15. 15-17. But central to their life in Canaan would be God's habitation, "the place, 0 Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established", v. 17. These two aspects of the song, celebratory and anticipatory, are brought together in verse 13, "Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed; thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation". From the outset God had a "place" in view, where He would "dwell" among His people, which He would choose, and where His people would be required to resort for their sacrifices and worship. Shortly before they entered Canaan, God gave them statutes and judgments, to be observed by them in the land. The idolatrous places of the inhabitants were to be extirpated, and their idols and shrines destroyed. These had proliferated throughout, Canaan. Contrariwise, Israel's worship was to be centralized in one place, "unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come", Deut. 12. 1-5. It would be a place chosen by God for a people also chosen by Him.
There is a very marked emphasis in the book of Deuteronomy on the chosen place. Whereas there are but five references to the chosen people, there are twenty references to the chosen place, of which five occur in chapter 12, three in chapter 14 and six in chapter 16. Of course, the "place" would have been meaningless without the people to use it, but the stress on the former shows the importance that God attached to it. "The place which the Lord shall choose" occurs almost as a refrain in the book. When the Canaanites had been defeated and Israel had rest from all their enemies round about, "Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you", 12. 10, 11. At a time when many of the people would need to journey a distance to reach such a place, settled conditions were essential to its use. The choice of the place would not fall to the people, but to God. They were expressly forbidden to offer their burnt offerings "in every place that thou seest: but in the place which the Lord shall choose", vv. 13, 14. Nor might they eat within their "gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows . . . nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering . . . but ... in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose", vv. 17, 18; 14. 23. Provision was made if the place was too distant or the way too long, for some of the people to reach it, 12. 21; 14. 24, 25. The Passover might not be sacrificed within any of their "gates", but in the place chosen by God, in the month Abib, in which month God brought the people out of Egypt, 16.1, 2, 5-7. Similarly, the feast of weeks and the feast of tabernacles were to be observed in the place God had chosen, vv. 9-11, 13-15. At these three great national feasts, all their males were to appear before the Lord in the place He chose, v. 16. Judgment of "hard" matters of controversy between the people was to be sought of the priests at the place which the Lord would choose, 17. 8-10. The basket of first fruits was to be taken to the place chosen by God and given to the priest there, where the bearer would "profess" God's deliverance of his forebears from Egypt and their possession of the land, as an act of worship, 26. 2. At the feast of tabernacles, every seventh year, all Israel were required to gather in the place which God chose, to hear the reading of the law— men, women and children and the stranger within their gates, 31. 11, 12. By this means the purity and homogeneity of Israel's worship was safeguarded. Had it been otherwise, wrong practices would have proliferated throughout the land, as had the idolatry of the Canaanites before them.
God's choice of Israel, as an "elect" nation, began with Abraham, whom He promised to make "a great nation" and to give his descendants Canaan for a possession. Likewise, God's choice of a "place" to centralize the worship of that nation in Canaan, began with Abraham. Mount Moriah, "the place" where God told him to sacrifice Isaac, which place he called Jehovah-Jireh, Gen. 22. 2, 3, 14, was destined, nearly a thousand years after, to be the site of Solomon's temple, "the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Oman", 2 Chron.
3. 1. Providentially, David's purchase of the site, at a time of national crisis, fulfilled his great desire to "find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob", Psa. 132.
4, 5. Thus the temple at Jerusalem became the accepted place of worship for Israel, "the place which the Lord" chose, Deut. 16. 2, 6, 7,11,15,16.
In the New Testament, worship is not per se connected with any place as such, however venerable. Many people speak of a place of worship, by which they mean a church, as though such a place were essential to worship. 'A place of worship' is a misnomer; it would be more correct to say of 'a place for worship', since corporate worship necessarily involves a venue for that purpose. Paul wrote to the local church "at Corinth", and to "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord", 1 Cor. 1. 2. The Lord's conversation with the Samaritan woman was instructive in this regard. Consistent with the ideas of her age, she assumed that worship must inevitably be connected with a place, "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain (Gerizim); and ye (Jews) say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship", John 4. 20. Whatever claim Jerusalem had to be the acceptable place of worship, Gerizim had none, for it was the centre of worship of a mixed race with an hybrid religion consisting of the worship of various Assyrian gods and that of the true God; cf. 2 Kings 17. 24-41. The Lord described such worship as ignorant, "Ye (Samaritans) worship ye know not what", John 4. 22. He then indicated a coming important change in the nature of worship, "the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain (Gerizim), nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father", v. 21. That would be in the then-future, since realized, but it was already true, when He spoke to the woman, that "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth", v. 23. Jerusalem had been the place of worship for centuries, but it would no longer be so. There would be a revolutionary change. Such teaching would have been highly obnoxious to an orthodox Jew, but if Jerusalem were no longer to be the acceptable place of worship, Gerizim had no standing in the matter of worship whatever. Henceforth, worship must be "in spirit and in truth"; "in spirit", since "God is a Spirit", and "in truth", because henceforth worship must conform to the new revelation concerning it. Consistently, Paul wrote to the Philippians, "we are the circumcision (i.e. the true 'Israel'), which worship God in the spirit", 3. 3. As a former orthodox Jew, Paul had once been a devotee of ritualistic worship, but had on conversion come to an understanding of its true nature. At Athens, where Paul indicted the Athenians for being "too religious" in their multiplicity of shrines to various gods, he affirmed "God . . . dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands", Acts 17. 24, 25. Like the Samaritans, their worship also was ignorant v. 23. Ritual has no place in spiritual worship; there is no longer a mediating priesthood as under the law, nor any of the apparatus of worship that went with it. The simpler the venue and its appointments, the more consistent it is with that worship which the Father seeks. Thus worship is no longer connected with a place, as the tabernacle; God dwells "with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit", Isa. 57.15. A company of such persons is constituted "an habitation of God through the Spirit", Eph. 2. 22, "the temple of God" in which "the Spirit of God dwelleth", 1 Cor. 3. 16. To be followed by:
A Chosen Priesthood;
A Chosen Prince;
A Chosen Portion.