Lessons From Ancient Shiloh

Archaeologists are uncovering biblical Shiloh and bringing to life some of the Bible’s greatest history.
Aerial view of the excavations at Shiloh
From the September 2021 Watch Jerusalem Print Edition

Over the past few years, archaeologist Scott Stripling and his team have conducted some important excavations at ancient Shiloh in central Israel. Dr. Stripling has reported on his excavations and has revealed that he has uncovered numerous finds that support the biblical history associated with Shiloh.

Among the artifacts that prove this is biblical Shiloh, there is a ceramic pomegranate (a fruit associated with the tabernacle, as well as priestly garments), a trio of rare altar horns, and thousands of animal bones related to the sacrificial service at the tabernacle. All these have been dated to the time period when the tabernacle was in Shiloh.

Stripling also uncovered a large building or platform. This edifice has remarkably similar dimensions to the tabernacle, it is dated to the same period as the tabernacle, and it is oriented east-west, just as the tabernacle was. Dr. Stripling will continue to excavate this large platform in the next season of excavation, and he is optimistic that he will fully reveal the foundation of the biblical tabernacle in Shiloh. This would be a sensational discovery! (Watch Jerusalem interviewed Dr. Stripling in December 2019. You can read this interview in our March 2020 issue or simply Click Here!)

As archaeologists resurrect the history of ancient Shiloh, it is a good time to recall what the Bible says about this city.
CC BY-NC 2.0/flickr/flavio~

As archaeologists resurrect the history of ancient Shiloh, it is a good time to recall what the Bible says about this city. What role did Shiloh play in ancient Israel during the time period of the judges? Which biblical figures featured prominently in Shiloh? And most importantly, what lessons does this history have for us?

The history of Shiloh contains a lot of calamity and despair. But it also contains a lot of hope, much more than most people know. In fact, some of the greatest prophecies God has ever inspired were delivered to people living in Shiloh!

Israel’s Spiritual Headquarters

Shiloh is situated 43 kilometers north of Jerusalem. It is spoken about several times in the books of Joshua and Judges. After the Israelites conquered the Promised Land and divided the land according to the tribes, Joshua 18 tells us, “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them” (verse 1). Before that point, when they were still conquering the land, the ark of the covenant was set up in Gilgal. When they finally subdued the Canaanites, they moved the ark to Shiloh.

Dr. Scott Stripling
Brent nagtegaal/watch jerusalem

The ark symbolized God’s presence in Israel. Inside it were three objects: the two tables of stone with the Ten Commandments; Aaron’s rod—symbolizing the government to apply, implement and enforce the Ten Commandments; and the golden pot of manna, representing spiritual food from God. All three items were crucial to Israel’s religion.

Because it hosted the ark of the covenant, Shiloh was the spiritual headquarters of the nation. Unger’s Bible Dictionary calls it “the site of Israel’s early sanctuary in the time of the judges,” and says, “It was the focal point of Israel’s tribal organization before the establishment of the kingdom.”

The “time of the judges” occurred after Joshua and the elders who served under him died. The book of Judges starts out with Judah being strong, on commission from God to go and drive the Canaanites out of the land (Judges 1:1-2). In the first part of the chapter, they were on the attack, and God was blessing their efforts with victories. But conditions deteriorated quickly. The nation got away from God’s law and descended into terrible idolatry and other sins. What followed was the bloodiest period in Israel’s history.

Compromising With the Law

Judges 1:19 gives the first sign of trouble. It says that Judah “could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” This shows a certain faithlessness. If they were using the power of God, no weapons of the enemy would have stopped them!

In verse 21, we read, “And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem, unto this day.” That was a serious mistake. When David came along some years later, the Jebusites were still there creating problems. But David handled the situation very differently (2 Samuel 5).

Judges 1:27 shows that the tribe of Manasseh also left some of the inhabitants rather than driving them out. God told the Israelites to get rid of all the people living in the Promised Land. Verse 28 shows that the Israelites decided to ignore God’s command and put them to forced labor instead! The rest of the chapter shows similar compromises throughout the nation.

It is very difficult for human beings to simply do as God commands. We tend to lack faith, and so simply reason for ourselves how things should be handled. But if God says do it, our job is just to do it—and do it the way God says to do it! How rare such an attitude is on Earth today. Today, Israel’s descendants (America, Britain and the Jewish state) seem to excel in this weakness of not doing what God says!

During that awful period, there were a few good judges, like Jephthah and Samson. Yet even they had major sins. Samson had some problems and really let those overwhelm him. His life shows how one problem can really bring a person down if he fails to get it under control and conquer it!

God used Gideon in a powerful way (Judges 6-8). That is a particularly interesting story because Gideon was such a coward. God calls the lowly of the world—we are cowards! Yet God used that man mightily and made him very courageous! That is what God wants to do with all of us.

Another notable judgeship was that of Deborah (Judges 4). She was a prophetess, and the Israelites could see that God was using her and revealing truths to her (verses 4-5). But this reveals much about the state of Israel at the time: The only reason God was using this great woman was that there were no men strong enough to lead!

God wanted to use Barak to deliver Israel. Deborah gave him God’s instructions on how to do so. But Barak was so weak that he wouldn’t do it unless Deborah went with him and held him by the hand! (verse 8). Deborah chided him for his lack of manliness (verse 9). Israel had 10,000 soldiers, yet here was a woman running everything, and she was apparently the only one capable of doing it!

After God gave Israel the victory in this battle, Deborah and Barak sang a victory song. It is beautiful poetry describing God’s power. But it is also a prophecy about the problems that tend to arise within Israel, and how they get away from God. “I Deborah arose … I arose a mother in Israel,” this great woman sang (Judges 5:7; King James Version).

The overarching point of the book of Judges is repeated for emphasis: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25; see also Judges 18:1). This history vividly shows the terrible results of such lawlessness. When God’s government isn’t in place and when His law is being ignored—when everyone is doing whatever is right in their own eyes—you have miserable anarchy.

This is exactly the state of affairs in the modern nations of Israel! Everybody wants to do it his own way:

whatever is right in his own eyes. That is prophecy for right now in the nations of Israel! People talk so much about freedom—but the freedom they seek is actually just the freedom to wreck their lives! Who can lead these people into anything constructive or profitable?

The wonderful thing about this prophetic history, though, is to see how God set the course of Israel back on track. The priesthood was degenerate, but God determined to make some changes. The government was in disarray, but God was going to establish a king!

Look how God began the process of turning things around anciently. It started with one family—and it all centered around Shiloh.

The Solution

A man named Elkanah had two wives. “And this man went up out of his city from year to year to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh”(1 Samuel 1:3). God had shut the womb of one of Elkanah’s wives, Hannah (verse 5). To a woman who passionately desires children, as most women do, that is a real crisis. It certainly was to Hannah, perhaps more than most. But God did it for a purpose, and it motivated her far more than it would most women.

Hannah cried about this trial. “And Elkanah her husband said unto her: ‘Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?’” (verse 8). Elkanah realized that the foundation of a marriage is the husband and the wife. Still, Hannah was grieved because she didn’t have children, although it appears she had a wonderful husband.

The wonderful thing about this prophetic history, though, is to see how God set the course of Israel back on track.

Hannah went to the tabernacle in Shiloh and prayed there, imploring God to give her a man child! And she made a vow that if He answered her prayer, she would give that child to God “all the days of his life” and that he would take the Nazarite vow (verses 9-11). She was rather radical in the way she approached this. And when she left, she had faith that her prayer was answered (verse 18).

God did answer her prayer (verse 19). When her child was born, she called him Samuel, which means heard of God. God really did respond to Hannah. It’s amazing what He did for this woman. What was His plan? Why was it so important?

Hannah had to be quite a mom because she delivered on that vow. She looked after Samuel diligently and was determined that when the time came to bring him back to the tabernacle in Shiloh, she would leave him there—“that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever” (verse 22). And then she did exactly that (verses 26-28). What a mother!

Hannah’s Prophecy

Right there in Shiloh, Hannah delivered a prayerful psalm of prophecy. I think it is one of the most profound prophecies in the Bible! You can read it in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

“The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up” (verse 6). People don’t give God credit for that, but He does bring people up from the grave! How many people really believe that? Hannah certainly knew it.

“He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, He lifteth up the needy from the dung-hill, To make them sit with princes, And inherit the throne of glory; For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He hath set the world upon them” (verse 8). This is what God is doing with His people today. He has called a group of people and brought them out of the lowest parts of this world, and one day soon He will set the whole world upon these people who dedicate themselves to God.

The end of verse 10 reads, “The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; And He will give strength unto His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.”

What was Hannah talking about here? That is a direct, specific prophecy about King David!

David hadn’t even come on the scene! God began revealing His plan for King David, and the throne and house of David, right here in Shiloh many decades before David was even born!

Hannah’s prophecy shows that David’s throne and the house of David are tied to the whole world! We must think big! Hannah was talking about the promise of the coming Messiah! And she was prophesying about this in Shiloh.

In this prophecy, Hannah didn’t even speak about Saul. God led her mind straight to David. Hannah prophesied about the house of David ruling forever. This is about the house of David and God setting kings on David’s throne.

Hannah’s son ended up anointing David as king. As I will show you, I believe Hannah even foresaw that event. She must have known about the events that were coming soon after. Samuel was honored to be a part of that, and he never would have been if not for his outstanding mother.

Hannah was highly specific in what she said, and it encompasses so much of God’s plan!

A Faithful Priest

Hannah prophesied all this in Shiloh, right at the end of the period of the judges. Hannah lived through a disastrous time. This was a terrible period for Israel because of corruption in the priesthood (1 Samuel 2:12-16). It is the same today: So many of our leaders, even our religious leaders, are corrupt. “And the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord; for the men dealt contemptuously with the offering of the Lord” (verse 17).

God was so disgusted with what those evil priests were doing, verse 25 says He “would slay them.” God will see that His adversaries are broken in pieces—just as Hannah prophesied (verse 10). He is a God of judgment. This episode ends with Eli dying because of his terrible child rearing and his terrible leadership.

When her child was born, she called him Samuel, which means heard of God. God really did respond to Hannah. It’s amazing what He did for this woman.
Adolf Hult via Wikimedia Commons

Yet in the middle of all this tragedy, one woman came on the scene and began to change the course of history in Israel! What a lady!

A man of God came and delivered God’s judgment to Eli. In that message, God said this: “And I will raise Me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in My heart and in My mind; and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before Mine anointed for ever” (verse 35).

This is a prophecy about Zadok, the warrior priest who remained loyal to King David. When David’s son Adonijah rebelled, Abiathar the chief priest joined that revolution. Zadok, however, remained faithful. He stayed loyal to David’s throne throughout David’s life!

That occurred 100 years after Eli died, yet this man of God prophesied about the priest who would replace Abiathar. God looked beyond Abiathar and his rebellion, all the way to Zadok, and He said, I will raise me up a faithful priest—one who will be loyal to David and that throne forever!

This is incredible history, and it all happened in Shiloh, which is being uncovered, stone by stone, by Dr. Stripling and his team!

Jeremiah’s Prophecy About Shiloh

Samuel was raised in Shiloh and educated in the tabernacle. This is one reason these archaeological excavations in Shiloh are so inspiring: Dr. Stripling has uncovered the place where young Samuel lived and worked!

While Samuel was in Shiloh, God appeared to him twice (1 Samuel 3:10, 21). Somehow, Samuel had to have seen at least a little sliver of God—two times! This man must have had quite a message, as did his mom.

In 1 Samuel 4, the Philistines went on the attack, and the Israelites—without consulting God—decided to grab the ark from Shiloh and bring it with them into battle, as if that physical object would save them. In the ensuing battle, the Philistines seized the ark. Unger’s Bible Dictionary says, “Shiloh was destroyed … presumably at the hands of the Philistines when the ark was carried away (1 Samuel 4).”

Stripling found evidence of this event in his excavations at Shiloh. He found a burn layer—evidence that Shiloh was destroyed—that was dated to this time period.

God will perform some great and wonderful works to those who fear Him and strive with all their might to obey Him.

Shiloh was desolate, and the ark was gone. This was deeply depressing to Samuel. “The overthrow of Shiloh marked a turning point in the history of that period,” Unger’s continues. It was a watershed event for Israel. And after the Philistines brought the ark back, it was never set up again in Shiloh. Shiloh continued to be inhabited, but was never again the seat of Israel’s government.

God Is Our King!

After the period of the judges, when everyone was doing things their own way, God used Samuel to start building a headquarters work that everybody in Israel would focus on. The Bible says Samuel built a college. At this school, he educated many of Israel’s leaders and institutionalized the truth of God.

Sadly, Samuel’s own sons didn’t turn out well (1 Samuel 8:1-3). The people of Israel held this against Samuel, and it soured their attitude against God’s government. They told Samuel that they wanted to be ruled by a king, rather than by God through His prophet.

The people felt justified in asking Samuel to step aside and wanting a king to lead them. But God—though He was upset at what Samuel’s sons were doing—disagreed with the people. He told Samuel, “[T]hey have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them” (verse 7). That was the reality! The people didn’t want the law and government of God!

This was Israel’s cardinal sin! They rejected God as their King!

Israel rejected God and followed Saul—a physically impressive individual to whom they could look instead of to God—into the depths of ignominy.

After Saul, God made David Israel’s king—and in that moment, the great prophecy made by Hannah in Shiloh was fulfilled. Together, God and David established Israel as a regional powerhouse. God gave “strength unto His king, And exalt[ed] the horn of His anointed.”

In 2 Samuel 7, God made a towering promise to David near the end of his life: “When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (verses 12-13)

Here, and elsewhere in the Bible, God promised King David that He would perpetuate his dynasty right up till the coming of the Messiah, and even beyond!

God will perform some great and wonderful works for those who fear Him and strive with all their might to obey Him. If only more people today would devote themselves to serving God like King David!

Imagine how special it would have been for Samuel to anoint David king! In that moment, the prophecy spoken by his mother was fulfilled: God used Samuel to anoint David king and begin this eternal royal dynasty. And it all began in the city of Shiloh!

After much powerful truth like this, how can anyone ignore or reject biblical archaeology? You can prove that it revolves around the living God—not human beings!