FEASTING BEFORE THE LORD
In Deuteronomy 14:23 Moses said, "And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there." Moses seemed to be saying, "After you enter into the land, you must be careful where you eat the best part of your harvest. You need to set aside the top tenth of the harvest and bring it to the place which the Lord shall choose. You are not allowed to enjoy the top tenth in the place of your choice, not even in your homes. Rather, you must set it aside until the appointed times and bring it to the place which the Lord your God shall choose. At that place you may eat it and enjoy it. You must do the same with the firstlings of your flocks. Offer them to the Lord in the place He shall choose and then eat them in the presence of the Lord." This feasting in the presence of the Lord in the place of His choice is the kind of worship God has ordained. Most Christians do not understand that the worship ordained by God is a matter of eating. God has ordained that feasts be held in the place of His choice. Three things are important here: the place of God’s choice, the times appointed by God, and the portions of firstfruits or firstlings desired by God. Have you ever realized that the worship God desires is a feast? This is what God wants today.
In Deuteronomy Moses seemed to be saying, "After you enter the land, you have no right to eat the firstfruit or the firstborn of the flocks in the place of your choice. This is forbidden. Rather, you must keep them aside until the appointed time. Then you must bring them to the place chosen by God, offer them to God, and then eat them in the presence of God.
PRESERVING THE ONENESS
OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Now we must see the reason God ordained that the children of Israel worship Him at the place of His choice. God chose a unique place in order to preserve the oneness of the children of Israel. The oneness of the Israelites was maintained by coming to worship at the unique place chosen by God. It did not matter in what part of the holy land the Israelites lived, whether it was far to the north or far to the south. They had to come to the place God had chosen.
Suppose an Israelite from one of the northern tribes said, "God is omnipresent. Why must we travel so far to worship Him? Let us set up a worship center here in the north." Certainly worshipping God is a good thing. How could anyone say that it was not good to establish a worship center and to encourage people to come there to worship God? This is vastly different from opening a gambling casino. Nevertheless, something may sound good, but still not be right. The setting up of a worship center as a convenience to people in their worship of God may be good, but this does not make it right. If the Israelites living in the north had done this, those in the south might have followed their example and said, "God is not only with them in the north, but also with us here in the south. Let us worship Him here." If the northerners and the southerners had done this, there would have been two divisions among the Israelites. Without the regulations given in Deuteronomy 12, 14, 15, and 16, there would have been many divisions among the children of Israel. Probably each tribe would have set up its own center of worship, with every tribe claiming that their center was a place for the worship of God. In this way the children of Israel would have been divided again and again. The divisions would have been endless, perhaps with a center of worship set up in every home. If that had taken place, the divisions among the children of Israel would have numbered in the thousands. Such division is confusion; it is spiritual fornication. In other words, it is Babylonian. Now we can appreciate God’s wisdom in choosing one place as a center of worship.
When I read these chapters in Deuteronomy as a young man, I could not understand this matter. However, when I was enlightened, I simply had to worship God. For years I had tried to describe the oneness that we should endeavor to keep. But I did not have the utterance until I saw the light regarding God’s choice of the place of worship in the Old Testament. In the eyes of the Lord it was not right for the children of Israel to worship at any place other than the unique place God had chosen. In this matter God did not allow them to make their own choice. Second Chronicles 6:6 reveals that God’s chosen place was Jerusalem. During all the years of their history, the children of Israel have not been divided as far as the worship of God is concerned. Even when their nation was divided, their place of worship was still uniquely one. Their oneness was maintained by the unique worship center chosen by God. It was there, in Jerusalem, that they built the temple. The children of Israel brought the firstfruit of their harvest and the firstlings of their flocks to Jerusalem, where they offered them to God and enjoyed them with God and with one another. This type of worship in the place chosen by God was very pleasing to Him. This was worship that maintained the oneness of the children of Israel.
Suppose two of the Israelites were at enmity with each other. When they went to Mount Zion to worship God, they were forced to be reconciled. As they ascended Mount Zion, they repeated the words of Psalm 133: "How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" I believe that such reconciliation took place again and again. Eventually, the Israelites who hated one another had to forgive one another so that they could sing the words of Psalm 133. This not only happened between individuals, but also between tribes. Because they had to go up to Jerusalem three times a year, they could not remain at enmity with each other for a period longer than several months. God’s ordination did not allow this.
(The Spirit and the Body, Chapter 19, by Witness Lee)