Understanding What the Word "Shiloh" means in Genesis 49:10

A very detailed and worthwhile study of the Word "Shiloh"

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary; 1866-1891 

“A young lion is Judah; from the prey, my son, art thou gone up: he has lain down; like a lion there he lieth, and like a lioness, who can rouse him up!” Jacob compares Judah to a young, i.e., growing lion, ripening into its full strength, as being the “ancestor of the lion-tribe.” But he quickly rises “to a vision of the tribe in the glory of its perfect strength,” and describes it as a lion which, after seizing prey, ascends to the mountain forests (cf. Son_4:8), and there lies in majestic quiet, no one daring to disturb it. To intensify the thought, the figure of a lion is followed by that of the lioness, which is peculiarly fierce in defending its young. The perfects are prophetic; and עָלָה relates not to the growth or gradual rise of the tribe, but to the ascent of the lion to its lair upon the mountains. “The passage evidently indicates something more than Judah's taking the lead in the desert, and in the wars of the time of the Judges; and points to the position which Judah attained through the warlike successes of David” (Knobel). The correctness of this remark is put beyond question by Gen_49:10, where the figure is carried out still further, but in literal terms. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, till Shiloh come and the willing obedience of the nations be to him.” The sceptre is the symbol of regal command, and in its earliest form it was a long staff, which the king held in his hand when speaking in public assemblies (e.g., Agamemnon, Il. 2, 46, 101); and when he sat upon his throne he rested in between his feet, inclining towards himself (see the representation of a Persian king in the ruins of Persepolis, Niebuhr Reisebeschr. ii. 145). מְחֹקֵק the determining person or thing, hence a commander, legislator, and a commander's or ruler's staff (Num_21:18); here in the latter sense, as the parallels, “sceptre” and “from between his feet,” require. Judah - this is the idea - was to rule, to have the chieftainship, till Shiloh came, i.e., for ever. It is evident that the coming of Shiloh is not to be regarded as terminating the rule of Judah, from the last clause of the verse, according to which it was only then that it would attain to dominion over the nations. כִּי עַד has not an exclusive signification here, but merely abstracts what precedes from what follows the given terminus ad quem, as in Gen_26:13, or like אֲשֶׁר עַד Gen_28:15; Psa_112:8, or עַד Psa_110:1, and ἕως Mat_5:18.
But the more precise determination of the thought contained in Gen_49:10 is dependent upon our explanation of the word Shiloh. It cannot be traced, as the Jerusalem Targum and the Rabbins affirm, to the word שִׁיל filius with the suffix ה = וֹ “his son,” since such a noun as שִׁיל is never met with in Hebrew, and neither its existence nor the meaning attributed to it can be inferred from שִׁלְיָה, afterbirth, in Deu_28:57. Nor can the paraphrases of Onkelos (donec veniat Messias cujus est regnum), of the Greek versions (ἕως ἐὰν ἔλθη τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτῷ; or ᾧ ἀπόκειται, as Aquila and Symmachus appear to have rendered it), or of the Syriac, etc., afford any real proof, that the defective form שִׁלֹה, which occurs in 20 MSS, was the original form of the word, and is to be pointed שֶׁלֹּה for שֶׁלֹּו = לֹו אֲשֶׁר. For apart from the fact, that שׁ for אֲשֶׁר would be unmeaning here, and that no such abbreviation can be found in the Pentateuch, it ought in any case to read הוּא שֶׁלֹּו “to whom it (the sceptre) is due,” since שֶׁלֹּו alone could not express this, and an ellipsis of הוּא in such a case would be unparalleled. It only remains therefore to follow Luther, and trace שִׁילֹה to שָׁלָה, to be quiet, to enjoy rest, security. But from this root Shiloh cannot be explained according to the analogy of such forms כִּידֹור קִימשׁ For these forms constitute no peculiar species, but are merely derived from the reduplicated forms, as קִמּשׁ, which occurs as well as קִימשׁ, clearly shows; moreover they are none of them formed from roots of ה.ל שִׁילֹה points to שִׁילֹון, to the formation of nouns with the termination ôn, in which the liquids are eliminated, and the remaining vowel וֹ is expressed by ה (Ew. §84); as for example in the names of places, שִׁלֹה or שִׁלֹו, also שִׁילֹו (Jdg_21:21; Jer_7:12) and גִּלֹה (Jos_15:51), with their derivatives שִׁלֹנִי (1Ki_11:29; 1Ki_12:15) and גִּלֹנִי (2Sa_15:12), also אֲבַדֹּה (Pro_27:20) for אֲבַדֹּון (Pro_15:11, etc.), clearly prove. Hence שִׁילֹון either arose from שִׁלְיֹון (שָׁלָה), or was formed directly from שׁוּל = שָׁלָה, like גִּלֹון from גִּיל. But if שִׁילֹון is the original form of the word, שִׁילֹה cannot be an appellative noun in the sense of rest, or a place of rest, but must be a proper name. For the strong termination ôn loses its n after o only in proper names, like שְׁלֹמֹה, מְגִדֹּו by the side of מְגִדֹּון (Zec_12:11) and דֹּודֹו (Jdg_10:1). אֲבַדֹּה forms no exception to this; for when used in Pro_27:20 as a personification of hell, it is really a proper name. An appellative noun like שִׁילֹה, in the sense of rest, or place of rest, “would be unparalleled in the Hebrew thesaurus; the nouns used in this sense are שֶׁלֶו, שַׁלְוָה, שָׁלֹום, מְנוּחָה” For these reasons even Delitzsch pronounces the appellative rendering, “till rest comes,” or till “he comes to a place of rest,” grammatically impossible. Shiloh or Shilo is a proper name in every other instance in which it is used in the Old Testament, and was in fact the name of a city belonging to the tribe of Ephraim, which stood in the midst of the land of Canaan, upon an eminence above the village of Turmus Aya, in an elevated valley surrounded by hills, where ruins belonging both to ancient and modern times still bear the name of Seilûn. In this city the tabernacle was pitched on the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua, and there it remained till the time of Eli (Jdg_18:31; 1Sa_1:3; 1Sa_2:12.), possibly till the early part of Saul's reign.
Some of the Rabbins supposed our Shiloh to refer to the city. This opinion has met with the approval of most of the expositors, from Teller and Eichhorn to Tuch, who regard the blessing as a vaticinium ex eventu, and deny not only its prophetic character, but for the most part its genuineness. Delitzsch has also decided in its favour, because Shiloh or Shilo is the name of a town in every other passage of the Old Testament; and in 1Sa_4:12, where the name is written as an accusative of direction, the words are written exactly as they are here. But even if we do not go so far as Hoffmann, and pronounce the rendering “till he (Judah) come to Shiloh” the most impossible of all renderings, we must pronounce it utterly irreconcilable with the prophetic character of the blessing. Even if Shilo existed in Jacob's time (which can neither be affirmed nor denied), it had acquired no importance in relation to the lives of the patriarchs, and is not once referred to in their history; so that Jacob could only have pointed to it as the goal and turning point of Judah's supremacy in consequence of a special revelation from God. But in that case the special prediction would really have been fulfilled: not only would Judah have come to Shiloh, but there he would have found permanent rest, and there would the willing subjection of the nations to his sceptre have actually taken place. Now none of these anticipations and confirmed by history. It is true we read in Jos_18:1, that after the promised land had been conquered by the defeat of the Canaanites in the south and north, and its distribution among the tribes of Israel had commenced, and was so far accomplished, that Judah and the double tribe of Joseph had received their inheritance by lot, the congregation assembled at Shilo, and there erected the tabernacle, and it was not till after this had been done, that the partition of the land was proceeded with and brought to completion. But although this meeting of the whole congregation at Shilo, and the erection of the tabernacle there, was generally of significance as the turning point of the history, it was of equal importance to all the tribes, and not to Judah alone. If it were to this event that Jacob's words pointed, they should be rendered, “till they come to Shiloh,” which would be grammatically allowable indeed, but very improbable with the existing context. And even then nothing would be gained. For, in the first place, up to the time of the arrival of the congregation at Shilo, Judah did not possess the promised rule over the tribes. The tribe of Judah took the first place in the camp and on the march (Num_2:3-9; Num_10:14), - formed in fact the van of the army; but it had no rule, did not hold the chief command. The sceptre or command was held by the Levite Moses during the journey through the desert, and by the Ephraimite Joshua at the conquest and division of Canaan. Moreover, Shilo itself was not the point at which the leadership of Judah among the tribes was changed into the command of nations. Even if the assembling of the congregation of Israel at Shiloh (Jos_18:1) formed so far a turning point between two periods in the history of Israel, that the erection of the tabernacle for a permanent continuance at Shilo was a tangible pledge, that Israel had now gained a firm footing in the promised land, had come to rest and peace after a long period of wandering and war, had entered into quiet and peaceful possession of the land and its blessings, so that Shilo, as its name indicates, became the resting-place of Israel; Judah did not acquire the command over the twelve tribes at that time, nor so long as the house of God remained at Shilo, to say nothing of the submission of the nations. It was not till after the rejection of “the abode of Shiloh,” at and after the removal of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines (1 Sam 4), with which the “tabernacle of Joseph” as also rejected, that God selected the tribe of Judah and chose David (Psa_78:60-72). Hence it was not till after Shiloh had ceased to be the spiritual centre for the tribes of Israel, over whom Ephraim had exercised a kind of rule so long as the central sanctuary of the nation continued in its inheritance, that by David's election as prince (נָגִיד) over Israel the sceptre and the government over the tribes of Israel passed over to the tribe of Judah. Had Jacob, therefore, promised to his son Judah the sceptre or ruler's staff over the tribes until he came to Shiloh, he would have uttered no prophecy, but simply a pious wish, which would have remained entirely unfulfilled.
With this result we ought not to rest contented; unless, indeed, it could be maintained that because Shiloh was ordinarily the name of a city, it could have no other signification. But just as many other names of cities are also names of persons, e.g., Enoch (Gen_4:17), and Shechem (Gen_34:2); so Shiloh might also be a personal name, and denote not merely the place of rest, but the man, or bearer, of rest. We regard Shiloh, therefore, as a title of the Messiah, in common with the entire Jewish synagogue and the whole Christian Church, in which, although there may be uncertainty as to the grammatical interpretation of the word, there is perfect agreement as to the fact that the patriarch is here proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. “For no objection can really be sustained against thus regarding it as a personal name, in closest analogy to שְׁלֹמִה” (Hoffmann). The assertion that Shiloh cannot be the subject, but must be the object in this sentence, is as unfounded as the historiological axiom, “that the expectation of a personal Messiah was perfectly foreign to the patriarchal age, and must have been foreign from the very nature of that age,” with which Kurtz sets aside the only explanation of the word which is grammatically admissible as relating to the personal Messiah, thus deciding, by means of a priori assumptions which completely overthrow the supernaturally unfettered character of prophecy, and from a one-sided view of the patriarchal age and history, how much the patriarch Jacob ought to have been able to prophesy. The expectation of a personal Saviour did not arise for the first time with Moses, Joshua, and David, or first obtain its definite form after one man had risen up as the deliverer and redeemer, the leader and ruler of the whole nation, but was contained in the germ in the promise of the seed of the woman, and in the blessing of Noah upon Shem. It was then still further expanded in the promises of God to the patriarchs. - “I will bless thee; be a blessing, and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” - by which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (not merely the nation to descend from them) were chosen as the personal bearers of that salvation, which was to be conveyed by them through their seed to all nations. When the patriarchal monad was expanded into a dodekad, and Jacob had before him in his twelve sons the founders of the twelve-tribed nation, the question naturally arose, from which of the twelve tribes would the promised Saviour proceed? Reuben had forfeited the right of primogeniture by his incest, and it could not pass over to either Simeon or Levi on account of their crime against the Shechemites. Consequently the dying patriarch transferred, both by his blessing and prophecy, the chieftainship which belonged to the first-born and the blessing of the promise to his fourth son Judah, having already, by the adoption of Joseph's sons, transferred to Joseph the double inheritance associated with the birthright. Judah was to bear the sceptre with victorious lion-courage, until in the future Shiloh the obedience of the nations came to him, and his rule over the tribes was widened into the peaceful government of the world. It is true that it is not expressly stated that Shiloh was to descend from Judah; but this follows as a matter of course from the context, i.e., from the fact, that after the description of Judah as an invincible lion, the cessation of his rule, or the transference of it to another tribe, could not be imagined as possible, and the thought lies upon the surface, that the dominion of Judah was to be perfected in the appearance of Shiloh.
Thus the personal interpretation of Shiloh stands in the most beautiful harmony with the constant progress of the same revelation. To Shiloh will the nations belong. וְלֹו refers back to שִׁילֹה. יִקְּהַת, which only occurs again in Pro_30:17, from יְקָהָה with dagesh forte euphon., denotes the obedience of a son, willing obedience; and עַמִּים in this connection cannot refer to the associated tribes, for Judah bears the sceptre over the tribes of Israel before the coming of Shiloh, but to the nations universally. These will render willing obedience to Shiloh, because as a man of rest He brings them rest and peace.
As previous promises prepared the way for our prophecy, so was it still further unfolded by the Messianic prophecies which followed; and this, together with the gradual advance towards fulfilment, places the personal meaning of Shiloh beyond all possible doubt. - In the order of time, the prophecy of Balaam stands next, where not only Jacob's proclamation of the lion-nature of Judah is transferred to Israel as a nation (Num_23:24; Num_24:9), but the figure of the sceptre from Israel, i.e., the ruler or king proceeding from Israel, who will smite all his foes (Gen_24:17), is taken verbatim from Gen_49:9, Gen_49:10 of this address. In the sayings of Balaam, the tribe of Judah recedes behind the unity of the nation. For although, both in the camp and on the march, Judah took the first place among the tribes (Num_2:2-3; Num_7:12; Num_10:14), this rank was no real fulfilment of Jacob's blessing, but a symbol and pledge of its destination to be the champion and ruler over the tribes. As champion, even after the death of Joshua, Judah opened the attack by divine direction upon the Canaanites who were still left in the land (Jdg_1:1.), and also the war against Benjamin (Jdg_20:18). It was also a sign of the future supremacy of Judah, that the first judge and deliverer from the power of their oppressors was raised up to Israel from the tribe of Judah in the person of the Kenizzite Othniel (Jdg_3:9.). From that time forward Judah took no lead among the tribes for several centuries, but rather fell back behind Ephraim, until by the election of David as king over all Israel, Judah was raised to the rank of ruling tribe, and received the sceptre over all the rest (1Ch_28:4). In David, Judah grew strong (1Ch_5:2), and became a conquering lion, whom no one dared to excite. With the courage and strength of a lion, David brought under his sceptre all the enemies of Israel round about. But when God had given him rest, and he desired to build a house to the Lord, he received a promise through the prophet Nathan that Jehovah would raise up his seed after him, and establish the throne of his kingdom for ever (2Sa_7:13.). “Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I (Jehovah) will give him rest from all his enemies round about; for Solomon (i.e., Friederich, Frederick, the peaceful one) shall be his name, and I will give peace and rest unto Israel in his days...and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever.” Just as Jacob's prophecy was so far fulfilled in David, that Judah had received the sceptre over the tribes of Israel, and had led them to victory over all their foes; and David upon the basis of this first fulfilment received through Nathan the divine promise, that the sceptre should not depart from his house, and therefore not from Judah;so the commencement of the coming of Shiloh received its first fulfilment in the peaceful sway of Solomon, even if David did not give his son the name Solomon with an allusion to the predicted Shiloh, which one might infer from the sameness in the meaning of שְׁלֹמֹה and שִׁילֹה when compared with the explanation given of the name Solomon in 1Ch_28:9-10. But Solomon was not the true Shiloh. His peaceful sway was transitory, like the repose which Israel enjoyed under Joshua at the erection of the tabernacle at Shiloh (Jos_11:23; Jos_14:15; Jos_21:44); moreover it extended over Israel alone. The willing obedience of the nations he did not secure; Jehovah only gave rest from his enemies round about in his days, i.e., during his life.
But this first imperfect fulfilment furnished a pledge of the complete fulfilment in the future, so that Solomon himself, discerning in spirit the typical character of his peaceful reign, sang of the King's Son who should have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth, before whom all kings should bow, and whom all nations should serve (Ps 72); and the prophets after Solomon prophesied of the Prince of Peace, who should increase government and peace without end upon the throne of David, and of the sprout out of the rod of Jesse, whom the nations should seek (Isa_9:5-6; Isa_11:1-10); and lastly, Ezekiel, when predicting the downfall of the Davidic kingdom, prophesied that this overthrow would last until He should come to whom the right belonged, and to whom Jehovah would give it (Eze_21:27). Since Ezekiel in his words, “till He come to whom the right belongs,” takes up, and is generally admitted, our prophecy “till Shiloh come,” and expands it still further in harmony with the purpose of his announcement, more especially from Psa_72:1-5, where righteousness and judgment are mentioned as the foundation of the peace which the King's Son would bring; he not only confirms the correctness of the personal and Messianic explanation of the word Shiloh, but shows that Jacob's prophecy of the sceptre not passing from Judah till Shiloh came, did not preclude a temporary loss of power. Thus all prophecies, and all the promises of God, in fact, are so fulfilled, as not to preclude the punishment of the shins of the elect, and yet, notwithstanding that punishment, assuredly and completely attain to their ultimate fulfilment. And thus did the kingdom of Judah arise from its temporary overthrow to a new and imperishable glory in Jesus Christ (Heb_7:14), who conquers all foes as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev_5:5), and reigns as the true Prince of Peace, as “our peace” (Eph_1:14), for ever and ever.