Updated: Sep 4, 2019
The Example of Shiloh
As we begin to look at the seventh chapter of Jeremiah in the context of our feature series, we find that the prophet is commanded to stand in the gate of the Lord’s house and exhort the people to repent, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these (vss. 3-4).The word “these” is generally believed to refer to the buildings of the temple. The message of Yahweh was that the temple was more than its buildings – that true worship was so much more important than any physical structure.
Immediately before the reference to Shiloh in our subject verses, we read of a strong rebuke against God’s people regarding the temple and what it had become due to their evil ways, Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord (7:8-11).
Profession of service to God that in reality is nothing but lying wordsand disobedience amounts to blasphemy of His name. And those who do such things abuse the house of Yahweh when they stand in it. We are reminded of a similar rebuke by the Lord Jesus when those of his day had likewise turned the temple into a “den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13).
We then find Yahweh instructing Jeremiah to speak words of warning concerning Shiloh.The prophet reminds them thatthe center of worship, including the Ark of Yahweh, has not always been in Jerusalem. It was some eighteen miles north of Jerusalem, situated in the tribe of Ephraim (Figure 1), and remained there throughout practically the whole period of the Judges.What happened in and to Shiloh was set forth as an example to the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day:
But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not; Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim(7:12-15).
Biblical History of Shiloh
Shiloh holds a prominent place in the history of the nation of Israel and as a lesson for God’s people.We know that when the Israelites first came into the Promised Land the tabernacle was set up as the center of the nation’s worship in Shiloh, And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them (Joshua 18:1). And it was here in Shiloh that Joshua divided the Land into the individual inheritances of each tribe (Joshua 18:10). Also, Samuel was established as the prophet of Yahweh at Shiloh, And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD(1 Samuel 3:20-21).
However, the remaining events that occurred at Shiloh were not so positive and did not reflect well at all on the relatively new nation.We know that the priesthood was soon perverted at the hands of Eli’s two sons, Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD… Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD(1 Samuel 2:12, 17). Hophni and Phinehas showed even further contempt for their office as priests with their abominations in God’s house of worship while leading others astray, Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD’s people to transgress (1 Samuel 2:22-24).
The sons of Eli were also involved when the Ark of the Covenant was taken out of Shiloh in an attempt to turn the tide in their battle with the Philistines. And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save usout of the hand of our enemies. So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God(1 Samuel 4:3-4).
We note that Yahweh was not called upon or inquired of, neither was His prophet consulted. The elders and the sons of Eli felt that the Ark alone would save them; they took the matter into their own hands.We note that the Ark of the Covenant at that time was considered their protector and was used in the way people would use a good luck charm today as a false sense of security. Removing the Ark from the tabernacle in Shiloh was their crowning act of wickedness, resulting in a national tragedy,And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain (1 Samuel 4:10-11). The Ark was captured by the Philistines, and Shiloh was finished as a city and center of worship for the Israelites.
How hard must it have been for those in Judah to hear from the mouth of Jeremiah that they and their situation were being compared to the likes of Shiloh and the two disobedient priests whom God put to death?But this inference by the prophet of what had happened at Shiloh was not just directed to the priesthood; it was toward all the people concerning how they thought, acted, and lived their lives with disregard for the laws of Yahweh.
The Ruin of Shiloh
The ruin of Shiloh as Israel’s center of worship is spoken of inPsalm 78 as a witness to the idolatry that prevailed in Israel after the death of Joshua, For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images. When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men; And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand (vss. 58-61). The next three verses describe who the destruction fell upon,He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance. The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage. Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation(vss. 62-64).
Tradition holds that after defeating the Israelites, the Philistines took advantage of their victory to press on up to the hills and burn Shiloh to the ground. However, there is no actual first-hand description in the Scriptures of what happened to Shiloh regarding its ultimate fate.There have been archaeological discoveries that confirm Shiloh was indeed destroyed and the ruins of it were surely evident in Jeremiah’s day as a witness to its destruction. Excavations of Shiloh began in the 1920’s and have continued off and on through the present. Israel Finkelstein, an Israeli archaeologist and academic, has written extensively on the excavations of Shiloh. In 1986, he wrote this about its destruction:
“These buildings were destroyed in a fierce conflagration. Burnt floors were found all over. Collapsed burnt bricks accumulated on these floors to a height of more than three feet. Some of the bricks had been baked by the blaze that had raged here. Roof collapse was discernible in many places. All this dramatic evidence of fire must be associated with the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines after they defeated the Israelites near Ebenezer in the mid-11th century B.C. Jeremiah knew what he was talking about when he later threatened the people with destruction like Shiloh’s.” (Israel Finkelstein, “Shiloh Yields Some, But Not All, of Its Secrets,” Biblical Archeology Review, Jan/Feb 1986)
Curse Like unto Shiloh
We read later in Jeremiah where he again compares the ruin of Shiloh to the coming destruction of Jerusalem,And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, To hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth(26:4-6).
This prophecy aroused the indignation of the people, Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the LORD(vs. 9). They were so angry that they wanted Jeremiah to be put to death, Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears(vs. 11).
God had this message delivered to Judah by the mouth of Jeremiah because they had come to trust more in the physical existence of the temple in their midst than they did in the God of their salvation, just as the people did with the tabernacle and the Ark in Shiloh.Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. Therefore, now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you(vss. 12-13).
Yahweh prophesied through Jeremiah of:
1. The future destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, as He had destroyed Shiloh, and…
2. The carrying away of Judah, just as He had already deported the whole seed of Ephraim.
This destruction of Shiloh, where the God of Israel was once worshiped, would reflect one of the greatest failings of the Jewish people at that time; for they foolishly believed that God was committed to the preservation of that place along with themselves, regardless of how low their moral state might fall. Yahweh wanted the people to consider what He had done to Shiloh, even though this was where the tabernacle was set up in the land, and where their fathers had worshipped for generations. However, this would not secure them, nor would it protect their tribes from being rejected and punished when they sinned against Him and perverted His ways.
The tribes of Judah and Benjamin shouldn’t have thought themselves secure just because the temple was in Jerusalem.The only thing they reasonably might have expected was that GOD would do to them exactly as he had done to Israel before them for their sins. The tabernacle in Shiloh that was once so favored and sanctified by God as His residing place had become a scene of misery and ruin. These were the ruins that the inhabitants of Jerusalem could actually go to and see; and this, says God, have I done because of thewickedness of my people Israel (Jeremiah 7:12). As God spared not Shiloh, but made it the symbol of His wrath, so He said He would do to Jerusalem and her temple: and would cast off Judah for their wickedness.
Jeremiah wrote later in chapter 52 that the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and burnt with fire, as had been the fate of Shiloh, Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, which served the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem, And burned the house of the LORD, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, and all the houses of the great men, burned he with fire (vss. 12-14).
The lesson to be taken here is that no building, object, or place of worship will save us, and just a mere form of religion without personal faith and works in Yahweh is a pattern for disaster. The lesson of Shiloh applies to all generations. No matter how careful people are to observe the outward forms of religion, they cannot be found acceptable to God unless their spiritual and moral character corresponds to, and is driven by Yahweh’s Word. No mere formal observances of worship and devotion can take the place of true repentance manifested in a humble and sincere worship of Him.
Ed Davis, Geneva, FL