Sights and Insights: Before Jerusalem, there was Shiloh

As we approach the High Holidays, Tel Shiloh offers essential reminders of how places change over time, and how times change as well.

September 12, 2011 11:01
4 minute read.
Shiloh tell from west

Tel Shiloh 311. (photo credit:


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Wayne Stiles is an author who has never recovered from his travels in Israel—and loves to write about them from his desk in Texas.

Local schoolchildren ate their lunches across the olive grove from my wife and me. Like the kids, we had come on a field trip to explore ancient Shiloh. Although our lunch was hardly a feast, it reminded me of the reasons that the Israelites initially came to this site. They came to the annual feasts to worship.

Ask most Americans where Shiloh is, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. Historians may point to a Civil War battle in Hardin County, Tennessee. Music buffs may start singing the chorus to a Neil Diamond song. But question someone who knows his or her Bible, and Shiloh means something far more significant.

The patriarch Jacob first spoke of Shiloh on his deathbed, giving a promise to the tribe of Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10). Most commentators agree that Jacob’s prediction had messianic overtones and included a promise of kings as well as a place of rest.

Photo: BiblePlaces.comAfter the Israelites entered the land God promised them, the Tabernacle of Moses indeed did rest from its wanderings. It rested at a place named Shiloh (Joshua 18:1).

After finishing lunch, I followed a path to where archaeologists have identified a large, level area. The space measures four hundred feet long and seventy-seven feet wide. Although not all agree, this place likely represents the place where the Tabernacle rested.

Examining the ruins, I saw an outline of the Tabernacle’s footprint. I walked to the back where the rocks roughly formed a rectangle. It was hard to take in the truth of it, but if the Tabernacle stood where I was standing, then the Holy of Holies had been beneath my feet.

For three centuries, those obedient among the tribes of Israel would have come here to Shiloh for the annual feasts. Joshua divided the tribes’ allotment of land at Shiloh (Joshua 18). At Shiloh the godly Hannah prayed to conceive, and her son Samuel ministered before the Lord here (1 Samuel 1:1-28; 3:21). From the time Israel entered the land until the time of Samuel, the Ark of the Covenant remained in the Tabernacle at Shiloh.

Photo: Wayne StilesBut because the ancient Israelites refused to walk with God, “He abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh, the tent which he had pitched among men, and gave up his strength to captivity and his glory into the hand of the adversary” (Psalm 78:60-61). The Philistines took the Ark and destroyed Shiloh in 1104 BC (see 1 Sam. 4:10-11).

In the days of Jeremiah, the stubborn leaders of Judah had a false sense of security because they had the Temple of God in Jerusalem. So the Lord told Jeremiah to use Shiloh as an illustration, as he suggested to the leaders that they take a field trip north: “Go now to My place which was in Shiloh . . . and see what I did to it” (Jeremiah 7:12).

As I looked around the ruins of Tel Shiloh, I was amazed at how places change over time, and how times change as well. For three hundred years, only the high priest could stand in the place of the Holy of Holies. But today, anyone can wander where the Tabernacle stood, because “the glory has departed” (1 Samuel 4:22).

Once the presence of God dwelt at Tel Shiloh, but now only weeds and rocks remain. Once the Israelites came to Shiloh to worship at the feasts, but now only archaeologists, a few tourists, and schoolchildren visit.

“Go to Shiloh and see,” God said. What an essential reminder as we approach the weeks of Israel’s High Holidays.

What to Do There:
Get an overview of the site from the observation tower. Visit the ruins of the Byzantine church. Meander through the ruins from the Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, and Iron Ages. As you walk among the ruins of the Tabernacle, read Samuel’s story and the Ark’s capture in 1 Samuel 1-4. A modern Israeli settlement is nearby.

How to Get There:
From Jerusalem, head north on Route 60 for 42 km to modern Shilo. The tell is just beside it to the west.

Read Wayne’s blog and subscribe to his weekly Podcast at

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