Israel, as a nation in the Old Testament, had a lock on the presence of the Lord. They had the Tabernacle/Temple, the only place on the earth that the Lord specifically set apart in his own Name. They had the ark of the covenant, the only object near which the Lord said he would meet his people. They had the Aaronic priesthood, the only human institution that was given the permission and authority to minister before the Lord. And all three of these were present in Shiloh at the beginning of 1 Samuel, yet there is this very interesting passage:
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.
The Tabernacle, the ark, and the priesthood all were in Shiloh, but it was because of Samuel that all Israel knew the Lord was there. The Lord appeared to Samuel and gave Samuel his own words to proclaim to all of Israel from Dan to Beersheba, and it was because of this faithfulness on the part of Samuel that the rest of the nation knew the Lord was present.
This is so true of our lives yet today. We can have church buildings. We can have objects within the churches that are sacred and have deep historical, theological, and emotional meaning to the people. We can have the appropriate ministers performing their duties in service to the Lord. Yet the only way we can know the Lord is present is through the faithful lives of the people who are there.
Buildings can tremendously help with the aesthetics of worship, helping it be beautiful, but buildings in and of themselves can never ensure the presence of the Lord. Sacred items can remind us of who the Lord is and what he has done in the past, but they are not magic talismans that convey the presence of the Lord. Ministers are essential to orderly worship, but they are not guaranteed to be faithful or even believe the faith.
Only through the faithful witness of those who have a living relationship with the Lord can others know God is with us. Only through those faithful ones’ sharing of who God is and what the Lord has done for them will others know the Lord is present.
Be a Samuel for your community. Share the presence of the Lord with everyone you know.