In telling his sons what should befall them in the last days, Jacob made reference to the name Shiloh when speaking to Judah. Since no explanation was given, it seems probable that this particular designation of the coming Messiah was already known to the sons of Jacob. The verse reads, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be”, Gen. 49. 10. From this it is evident that Jacob looked forward to the coming of a person, notwithstanding the fact that every other reference to that name in Old Testament Scriptures relates to a place. Arising from this disparity, we may conclude that the place Shiloh carries a symbolic reference to the glorious Christ, the coming Shiloh, a Person. As such, it should be instructive to follow through these references, so as to glean something of the right relationship between Him and His people.
Moses took up the prophecy, and converted it into an instruction to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 12. 5, not mentioning the name of the place presumably because they had not yet arrived, but quite obviously referring to the “gathering of the people” and setting out the nature and manner of worship which should take place there. “Unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose … to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come”. In this single verse we see the outline of God’s sovereign choice and how it affects His people’s solemn duty. Their coming will not be just to His Name (which will be known to all far and wide), but they are to come to His habitation (which implies a witness on their part, since they have become associated with Him in the sight of all around).
Before passing on to the detail of worship set out in the next verse, it is interesting to see how the collective exercise “unto his habitation shall ye seek” produces the individual experience “thou shalt come”. This is the blessed portion of every believer who fellowships around the Person of Christ.
In verse 6 we have set out for us all the forms that worship could take for these Israelites. Each warrants a study in itself so in our present context we cannot make more than a passing reference to the items in the list:
There was considerable freedom in what to eat and where to eat, but verse 18 is quite clear that all these offerings were to be eaten only “in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose a place that we now recall as Shiloh.
In considering the location and the manner of eating, it is well to see where the Scriptures draw a distinction, and to seek the reason for it. Verse 24 (following v. 21 “in thy gates”) deals with eating at home, and the instruction regarding the blood is “thou shalt pour it on the earth as water”. This differs from that which is the Lord’s in verse 27 where we find “the flesh and the blood, upon the altar” at Shiloh. Being poured forth suggests that the life of our Sacrifice was not taken from Him but rather yielded voluntarily, and being at home shows that we can enter in to something of the spirit of that sacrifice in our everyday life. Being placed upon the altar, then, would indicate that the sacrifice was complete and yielded to Jehovah. Our worship should bear the same character.
Moving to the close of the chapter, we find a qualification to all the instructions that Moses had passed on, namely, that “thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it”, v. 32. This forms a clear reminder that the principles of our God are unchanging, for there is an unmistakable reflection of this warning in Revelation 22. 18, 19, showing right down the centuries how jealous God is for His Word.
Having looked at the prophecy and instruction concerning Shiloh, we can turn to various subsequent references to Shiloh in the course of the Israelitish history. The first is: the setting up of the tent of meeting, Josh. 18. 1ff. Desirable as it is that the Lord’s people should meet together for prayer, teaching and worship, it is important to see that the purpose of God at Shiloh was not for the people to meet together but for the people to meet God. Referring to the door of the tent of meeting, God said “and there I will meet with the children of Israel”, Exod. 29. 43. It is also significant to notice that our chapter begins by showing that it was “the whole congregation” that assembled together. With such a description, there would be no one missing. How sadly do we devalue God’s purpose when we inexcusably absent ourselves from “the whole congregation”: how much do we miss out in our privileges when we come together to meet with the brethren but not with the Lord.
Linked immediately with the setting up of this glorious meeting between God and man, we find the statement that the land was subdued before them. We might well observe that once all is in order at “the meeting”, then all the spiritual difficulties are removed. We should not pass over the two words “before them”. It was God who had gone before them to subdue their enemies.
From Joshua 18. 2 to 19. 51, we have the dividing of the inheritance. This function is brought about by the challenge in verse 3, “How long are ye slack to go in to possess the land?”. The possession was the same as had been conveyed to Abraham, but with the marked difference that they were able to make use of it; (note Acts 7. 5, “he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child”). There is only one other place in the New Testament where the word “possession” is used in this sense. Ephesians 1. 14 speaks of the Holy Spirit as the earnest of our inheritance (that is, what is still to come to the believer) until the redemption of God’s own possession (that is, the believer, who, by grace, is already God’s).
Coming back to Joshua 18, we find that the description of the land was read from the book in verse 9 at Shiloh, and the land was granted by lot to the people at Shiloh in the succeeding passage. All the wealth of the land was dispensed at the tent of meeting. How much spiritual profit there is available for us when we obediently meet the Lord where He has placed His name! At that point, Joshua dealt with seven tribes out of the twelve, which meant that there was more in the future than in the past and we too can look forward to God’s blessings with this confidence that there is more for us in the future; “neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”, 1 Cor. 2. 9; “at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”, Psa. 16. 11.
Before the portions were divided out to them at Shiloh, the men had to go out and walk through the land, Josh. 18. 8. That part of the land that they experienced by obedience became their own by the hand of Joshua. Even so today, the Lord grants us things of spiritual value when we are willing to go out of our way to acquire knowledge of them. There should be no such thing as second-hand Bible knowledge. We have, not seven, but 66 portions before us, and the whole inheritance is there to “walk through”.
Coming now to Joshua 21. 1, we find Shiloh as a place of fellowship. Different ideas arise in different minds in relation to fellowship. The scriptural pattern is quite clearly laid down by such thoughts as fellowservants, fellowlabourers, fellowprisoners and fellowsoldiers, and this is far removed from any emotional experience of fellowship sometimes practiced. In this instance, the Levites came to Shiloh expressing their needs, and the children of Israel had fellowship with them - they share their possessions.
A cursory glance at 22. 12 might suggest Shiloh as a place of war, for we see the children of Israel all ready to engage in battle when they heard of a rival altar raised up by Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. In observing their zeal, it is well to note that those who meet to the name of our Shiloh today should be ready to permit no rival to His holy Name, although it is superfluous to mention that the taking up of arms (even metaphorically) is not the method of correcting error within the church. If we read on, we find that words of sweet reason prevailed so as to prevent a terrible and needless conflict between brethren. So much so, that what had been regarded as a rival to Shiloh was now called a witness, v. 34. This should not be surprising, for had not these tribes gone out in the first place from Shiloh itself? Our Lord himself in later years passed a suitable commentary: “he that is not against us is on our part”, Mark 9. 40. There is far too much service set before a child of God to allow him time to argue with others of the Lord’s people who do not worship with him or who seem to have a different set of spiritual priorities.
The next mention of Shiloh is in Judges 18. 31, and it can be seen as the basis for the reckoning of time. The detail of the incident is of no relevance to our present study, other than to show how the sacred record refers to the time that the house of God was in Shiloh. To the historian who was writing and to his contemporary readers, that period was a natural point of reference in establishing the time of events of lesser importance. How desirable that believers today should arrange all their thoughts, words and actions so that they are in relation to the place of meeting - the place where God has chosen to put His name there.
Such a meditation leads on quite naturally to the next mention in Judges 21. 12, 19, 21, where Shiloh became the base for family life. The lead-up to this point is long and involved (and again for our study, not relevant), but what should be noticed is that the sons of Benjamin chose their wives at the place of meeting. How much happier would many homes of believers be if young men and women would content themselves in finding life-mates “at the place of meeting”. Such an exercise would not only avoid the pitfalls of the unequal yoke but would also lead to establishing homes based on partnerships which already knew the common ground of “the meeting”. There was fellowship in the action that day - the sons of Benjamin were encouraged by the children of Israel. Parents and friends of young persons do well to take note of a special field of service for God by recognizing and using opportunities to give wise counsel in this aspect of the assembly.
In the first few verses of 1 Samuel 1, we are on ground which must be more familiar to most of us. At the outset we see Shiloh as the Lord intended it, the place of sacrifice and worship, so perhaps it would be best for us to leave matters expressed as simply as that, so that the profundity of it may dawn on and permeate our whole being.
The very next verses show us that the expression of Elkanah’s love for the Lord did not preclude an expression of his love for those around him. Indeed it was the very occasion of the first that he chose to be a renewing of the second. Oh that our worship of the Lord may prompt us to display the unfeigned love of the brethren.
Later, in verse 24, comes the woman’s place at Shiloh. That which she desired above all else she brought to the place where the Lord had chosen to put His name. Some women today are seeking what they see as equality with men (often, it seems that their aspirations are more for superiority). If such desires as Hannah’s were shared by godly sisters today, they would be able to triumph in the same way as she did. She yielded to the Lord that which she had most desired, and as a consequence the Lord’s name was honoured and the Lord’s people were blessed over the many years of Samuel’s leadership.
Sadly we turn now to 1 Samuel 2. 12-17. A solemn warning comes over to us, when we see the fruit of the lack of vigilance on the part of the priest responsible where the Lord had chosen to put His name. There was a previous indicator of his lack of application in 1. 9, where we find that Eli sat at Shiloh whereas he was under a duty to stand before the Lord, Heb. 10. 11. The result of his waning interest was that he allowed his sons free rein to the flesh, and they demonstrated so blatantly that they were interested only in the flesh of the sacrifices. One of the important things to notice here is how rapidly (in only one generation) there had come this tragic change, such that those “in charge” were not only out of sympathy with the Lord’s purpose (as sons of Belial, v. 12), but did not even understand it. Little wonder that many God-fearing men were offended at them!
When we reach the end of chapter 3, we find that the Lord is gracious in that he “appeared again in Shiloh”, v. 21, in spite of the abominations that had been perpetuated there. The word of the Lord came to Samuel, and then the word of Samuel came to Israel. This is the pattern for teachers in the 20th century. They first must receive and assimilate God’s instruction, and then that which they pass on to God’s people will be spoken with such conviction that it shall be described as “the word of Samuel”, 4. 1. There can be little doubt that one of the subjects which occupied the young prophet would have been the deeds of the wicked men recorded immediately afterwards, 4. 3. Surely Samuel would have warned (as we need the warning today) that the enemies of God and His people are not to be beaten by bringing God down to their level. There may have been a lot of noise made in the camp, v. 5, but if the ark of the covenant is removed from the place where God has chosen to put His name, then the mercy seat is missing too and the tent of meeting no longer fulfils its purpose. Let us see to it that the Person of Christ is kept central in the assembly lest it, too, becomes an empty shell. Things may look good before the battle, but if (as was the case at Shiloh without an ark) approach to the Lord in worship has ceased, then failure in the conflict with His enemies is inevitable.
The lone Benjamite who returned to Shiloh, 4. 12, rent his clothes, but even this seems to have been regret over the events rather than repentance over what had been their cause.
The next mention of Shiloh is very much later in the life of Samuel, 1 Sam. 14. 3, and shows the failure of the priest who should have been conducting service to the Lord in Shiloh; he was with the king some 15 miles away, and following him in his political and military struggles. This led to confusion all round, for the king was powerless to lead. It was Jonathan his son who initiated the battle, v. 6, and it was the king himself rather than the impotent priest who built an altar unto the Lord, v. 35. With such confusion on every hand, there is little wonder that the half-shekel for a ransom was completely omitted. Our Redeemer will be overlooked when we fail in our function as priests.
Very little is heard of Shiloh for many years right through the wars of Saul and of David, and even into the early times of the divided kingdom. Then the corner of the curtain is lifted briefly in 1 Kings 14. 1, 2. Surely it needs no commentary on the deterioration when we discover that the point of reference is no longer the tent of meeting (no longer in Shiloh, 1 Kings 8. 4), but the house of the prophet. Let us be wary when the names of men (however godly their disposition) begin to take precedence over the Name of the Lord.
So the place which the Lord had chosen to put His name there became neglected, rejected, misunderstood and totally desecrated by the men whom God had come down to bless, and as its history fades into oblivion it is left to the Psalmist to recall that eventually God himself forsook that tabernacle among men, Psa. 78. 60. The final reference to Shiloh in the Old Testament is in Jeremiah 41. 5, where it is listed with other cities of the Lord and it becomes evident that it no longer occupied any special sanctity with God or man.
A new witness to the Lord was set up, as we know, in the form of the temple at Jerusalem, but the Lord gave warnings of impending disaster there too These appear in Jeremiah 7. 12-14 and 26. 6-9, and are founded on the same sinful departure from God’s precepts as had taken place at Shiloh. These warnings to remember the failure of earlier generations are ample justification for us likewise to study their affairs and then to learn thereby “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”, Rom. 12. 2.