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KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada

The Israelites reached the plains of Moab, east of River Jordan, on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year after they had departed from Egypt (Deut 1:3). They had arrived at the threshold of the promised land. Around 70 days later, on the tenth day of the first month, they would cross the river to reach Canaan (Josh 4:19). Moses knew that he was nearing the end of his life, and would not be able to cross into the land with them (Deut 3:23–27). The people would obtain the promised land of God under the leadership of Joshua.

Faced with a multitude—the number of men alone was about 600,000 (Num 26:51)—who had followed him on the long journey through the wilderness, Moses inevitably had many instructions for them. But where was he to begin? He was an old man of 120 years old. What words should he leave this young multitude at such a crucial moment? Moses chose to reiterate the laws of God (Deut 1:5), earnestly and repeatedly exhorting God’s people. After all, they were about to enter a new land—a land in which they would settle and leave behind the tent-dwelling, nomadic life.

The nations of Canaan had pagan traditions and idol worshipping practices that were worse—and more evil—than those of Egypt (Deut 18:9–13). These were challenges to the faith of the Israelites, who would be allocated throughout the land of Canaan, with two and half tribes residing east of River Jordan. If they were to live among these nations, how would they avoid adopting and assimilating pagan customs into their own culture? Would they be able to uphold their faith like they did in the isolation of the wilderness? Naturally, Moses was worried. Against the backdrop of integration with the Gentile nations, the passing down of the Israelite faith from generation to generation would have seemed like a mammoth challenge.

For this reason, Moses reminded the people of the laws and ordinances that they were to observe in the land God had given them, and he instructed them of these:

1.      “These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things.” (Deut 12:1–4)

2.      “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes…Observe and obey all these words which I [Moses] command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 12:8, 28)

3.      “But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go…Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I [Moses] command you.” (Deut 12:5a, 13–14)

Unfortunately, after the people entered Canaan, they did not obey Moses’ commands to drive out all the inhabitants (Judg 1:19–35). Hence, the Canaanites, along with the way they worshipped their gods, remained in the land. These Canaanites and their practices became the thorns which hindered the Israelites from keeping the pure faith, as Joshua forewarned: “[T]hey shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you” (Josh 23:13b). Sadly, not only did they confuse the Israelites’ faith in the one true God, they eventually became the key cause for the fall of the nation.

After they entered Canaan, the Israelites did not act as Moses instructed—instead of wholeheartedly learning and practising what was right in the eyes of God, every man did whatever was right in his own eyes. They forsook God’s principles, established in accordance with the law. This affected the substance of their faith, their attitude in service, as well as the relationship between the tribes.

Teaching 1: Doing What Is Right in Your Own Eyes

In the absence of God’s words, today’s moral standards promote the idea of “every person doing what is right in their own eyes” as the pinnacle of human society. The rationale is that if everyone acts according to their own conscience, evil and anti-social acts will reduce. However, in the kingdom of God—where we have God’s guidance—conduct based on one’s conscience alone is insufficient. One needs to examine oneself according to God’s yardstick. What man deems to be right may not necessarily fulfill the moral requirements of God. For this reason, Moses warned the people not to act according to what is right in their own eyes.

The Book of Judges records the history of the twelve judges established by God for His people, in the generations following Joshua’s death. It also recounts how the people’s faith fluctuated over a 400-year timespan (Acts 13:20), and how they were almost blind in their knowledge of God. God was their King (1 Sam 12:12), but the Bible repeatedly states, “In those days there was no king in Israel…”[1]   By establishing His tabernacle at Shiloh, God wanted them to come before Him and be subject to His sovereignty, but they did not do so. Since they were unable to acknowledge God as their King, they judged and made decisions based on their own standard, and the Book of Judges concludes with the phrase: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). This is exactly what Moses had warned them against before his passing. 

Teaching 2: In the World, But Not Of the World

Entering the world and living with its people will, more often than not, weaken one’s determination to uphold the words of God, leading one to assimilate and adopt worldly practices. However, the true church of salvation is not isolated from the world. Rather, she participates in society as the light and salt of the world, acting out of love to care for the souls of the world, and guiding them to receive grace.

It is no easy task for the church to uphold the principles of biblical truth amidst a sea of diverse philosophies and declining moral values. This is why the church needs to cleanse herself continuously with the word of God and be sanctified by the truth (Eph 5:26; Jn 17:14–19). Then, she will be able to view worldly conventions in accordance with biblical truths. When it comes to evangelism and pastoral work, the church should not rely on worldly wisdom, in thoughts, words, or actions (1 Cor 2:6). Instead, she is to adopt spiritual foresight, and with her consecrated believers, strive after heavenly wisdom in one accord (Jas 3:17–18). Only then can the church overcome the corruptions of the world, belong to the Lord Jesus and become His glorious true church.

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (Jn 17:15–17)

Here, the Lord Jesus said that His disciples—and by extension, His church—are not of the world, just as He is not. The Lord does not take them out of the world, but He promises that He will protect them from evil. If the church wishes to preserve the believers from evil, sermons spoken on the pulpit should not only focus on affectionate love (Greek, phileo), and in the process, compromising the truth with worldly values. On the contrary, she should emphasize the upholding and teaching of the truth, so as to guide people on the correct path of salvation. She should all the more abide by the new commandment of the Lord—to love others out of concern for the salvation of their souls (Greek, agape). This is a higher level of love, for it bears responsibility for the salvation of man, according to the truth.

Only when the church can practise this higher level of love—bearing responsibility for the salvation of man—can she truly become the true church described in the Bible. Believers will not lead their own lives of faith as they deem fit, neither will they make decisions based on personal sentiments and preferences. Rather, they will seek to do what is good and right in the sight of God, striving to abide by His words.


But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go…Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.” (Deut 12:5, 13–14)

Through His laws, God not only taught the people how to worship and serve Him, He also specified where they were to do so. They did not have the freedom to choose where to offer sacrifices to Him—it was God’s choice. He chose a place in which to establish His name, a place where He would dwell with His people.

Teaching 3: Finding the One Church Where God’s Spirit Abides

There is a plethora of churches and denominations in the world today. Many Christians believe that it does not matter which church they attend, since all churches preach Jesus. Hence, they tend to choose a church close to home, or where the members are warm and friendly. But when one is seeking Jesus, the key consideration should be whether that church is the dwelling place of God—where He abides through the Holy Spirit, and has chosen to establish His name. This is what God clearly stated in the Book of Deuteronomy—that His people were to offer burnt offerings only in the place He has chosen, where His name is, where His Spirit abides.

After the Israelites entered Canaan, they were distributed throughout the land. It became necessary for the teaching of the faith to be centralized, and consistent in content, so that the knowledge of God would not decline. Hence, God chose a place in which to establish His name, where the people would gather during festivals to offer sacrifices and learn to always fear the Lord God (Deut 14:23).

Teaching 4: The Common Faith

The true church today, although scattered across the surface of the earth, should share in the same faith. When the faith is passed down, all instructions must adhere completely and consistently to the truth. We should not select the substance and method of our worship according to personal preference. Even though the church of God is located in many countries, the believers must serve God with a common faith (Tit 1:4).

The instructions on offerings and worship that Moses delivered to the people before they crossed River Jordan offer us direction for our own service to God. There are many Christian faiths throughout the world which preach Jesus, but they differ in their beliefs. For instance, some view the observing of the Sabbath as part of Mosaic Law, and thus unnecessary to keep under the new covenant. But, in fact, the Sabbath was established before God’s proclamation of the Ten Commandments through Moses, and even before His covenant with Abraham (Gen 2:1–3). The Lord Jesus Himself said that the Sabbath was made for man (Mk 2:27). Since it was made for man, how can man ignore the Sabbath? As the consequence of Adam’s sin, the ground was cursed. God said: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life…In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Man was doomed to toil all the days of his life. However, God had established the Sabbath on every seventh day before man had sinned, so that man could enjoy a day of rest on every seventh day (Gen 3:17–19). Hence, the Sabbath was made for man. Before the Old Testament laws, God had already commanded and disciplined His people to observe and enjoy the Sabbath Day, through the matter of manna collection (Ex 16:23–30). This was a perpetual covenant and everlasting sign between God and His people (Ex 31:12–17), and also the prophecy of Prophet Isaiah. According to Isaiah, this was a covenant that the true church in the last days, comprising many Gentiles who would come to believe in the Lord, must abide by (Isa 56:6–8).

Another example is baptism. Many Christian denominations baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as Jesus stated to His disciples before His ascension. However, the disciples knew that the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is “Jesus.” Hence, the Acts of the Apostles records how they were sent forth by the Holy Spirit to baptize men, and each baptism was carried out in the name of Jesus.[2] Man can only receive forgiveness and salvation under the name of Jesus.[3] Therefore, the true church of salvation must carry out baptism in Jesus’ name, just like the apostolic church.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:4–6)

The church is Christ’s body (Eph 1:23), of which there is only one—the saved true church, chosen by God. This is the place that God establishes His name, where His Spirit dwells. The members of this church share a common faith (Tit 1:4), which includes one type of baptism, in accordance with the Bible.


Under God’s guidance, Joshua led the people to capture the cities of Canaan, bringing the land under subjugation. After this, the entire congregation gathered at Shiloh, where the tabernacle of meeting was erected (Josh 18:1). It was here, before the ark of covenant, that God met with and spoke to His servants (Ex 29:42; Num 17:4). At this time, God had chosen Shiloh to be the center of worship for His people—the dwelling place God had chosen to bear His name. It was also the nation’s administrative center, where people cast lots for their inheritance (Josh 19:51). This was where the festivals of God would be observed annually (Judg 21:19), and where sacrifices would be offered.

Following the death of Joshua, throughout the 400-plus-year period of the Judges (Acts 13:20), until the era of Eli the priest, the people continued to journey to Shiloh each year to offer sacrifices to the Lord of Hosts. This was where Samuel’s father travelled to annually to offer sacrifices, and where his mother made a vow to offer her son to God to become a Nazirite all his life (1 Sam 1:3, 11).

Although Shiloh was the center of Israelite faith, it did not play a leading role in the spiritual life of the people. During the period of the Judges, the people were influenced by pagan practices and customs, causing their faith to go through cycles of corruption and revival. When Eli became high priest, and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas served as priests in the tabernacle of meeting, the people faced an even greater crisis of faith. Instead of serving in purity, Eli’s sons became corrupt—they did not know God and carried out deeds of blasphemy before the altar (1 Sam 2:12–22).


The servants of God did not have God in their hearts, so Shiloh lost its spiritual and symbolic significance. It was a spiritual center in name only, for God was no longer willing to abide there. As stated in the psalm of Asaph: “He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent He had placed among men, and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy’s hand” (Ps 78:60–61). This refers to the time when the Israelites took the ark of God into battle with the Philistines, where they were defeated, and the ark captured. At the same time, Hophni and Phinehas died on the battlefield. When their father heard that the ark of God had been captured by the Philistines, he fell backward off his chair—symbolically falling from his position as high priest—and died (1 Sam 4:11, 18). With these events, God drew a line—He had completely forsaken His dwelling place in Shiloh (Jer 7:12–15).

When the Philistines possessed the ark of God, many calamities fell on them; they had no choice but to send it back to Israel. The people of Kirjath Jearim took the ark and placed it in the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated his son Eleazar to keep it (1 Sam 7:1). It was here that the ark remained quietly throughout the era of Samuel and Saul. After forty years, when David ascended the throne to become the king of Israel and Judah, he remembered the ark of God. But it was after many setbacks that David finally managed to bring the ark into the city of David, the stronghold of Zion.


After the ascent of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended to establish the apostolic church. While the apostles were still on earth, the church was continuously cleansed by the salvation truth, as taught by the Lord Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such, she remained holy and dwelled under the loving grace of God. And, just as the Lord promised, she preached the truth throughout the Gentile lands (Acts 1:8).

However, from the apostolic epistles, we see that in the latter stages of the apostolic era, towards the end of the first century, heresies began to erode the church’s foundation of the truth.[4] The church also became increasingly secularized (2 Tim 4:3–4). Following the passing of the apostles, at the beginning of the second century, the Holy Spirit gradually departed from the church. The church began to compromise on the salvation truth and to concede to heresies; she no longer upheld the pattern of sound words which she had received from the beginning (2 Tim 1:13–14). After the middle of the second century, records of praying for the Holy Spirit, and the downpour of the Holy Spirit, became rare. God eventually left the tabernacle that He established among man, just as He once departed from Shiloh.

During the period after the apostolic church and before the revival of the true church in the last days, the Holy Spirit might have come upon men as He did during the Old Testament period, moving men to serve God. [5] But He did not abide with men, until God poured down His Holy Spirit once again to establish the true church in the last days (Isa 2:2–3; Hos 6:1–3).

To be continued…