Home » Blog » Misc » Tracing the Covenant Ark V – Samuel, the Shiloh Judgement and the Mystery of the Stone Tabernacle

Tracing the Covenant Ark V – Samuel, the Shiloh Judgement and the Mystery of the Stone Tabernacle

Start at Part 1.  Back to part 4. This is part five of a talk I gave at Beit Yeshua in January 2017, or at least I got through what I could in the time limits available, and what I did get through was well received.  (The above image is the archaelogical remains of the ancient Biblical holy site of Shiloh.)

In any case, we find the ark of the covenant in Shiloh when Samuel was a young boy.  1 Samuel 3.3 tells us:

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.

The young Samuel hears a voice – perhaps a bit like Moses, God was speaking to him from between the cherubim over the ark’s mercy seat.

In fact, if we go back a bit, we find something that is a bit of a mystery.  In 1 Samuel 1.9 we are told this:

                Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house.

Now, we are used to hearing that the Ark of the Covenant went around in a tent all the way up until the time Solomon built the Temple, and yet here we have Eli sitting by the doorpost of the Lord’s house.  Now a doorpost isn’t really possible in a Tabernacle – it requires a structure of wood or stone, and yet this is specifically described as the ‘doorpost of the Lord’s house’.

On this issue, the bible, Jewish tradition and archaeology (at least if you get the chronology right, which is another issue), all speak with one voice.   You see, in Jeremiah 7, God warns through the prophet that he was going to do to the Temple exactly what he had done at Shiloh.  After condemning the Israelites of Jeremiah’s day for making the house where God’s name dwelt  – the Temple, into a den of robbers in v11, he continues in v12-15:

Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.

The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, razed to the ground by the invasion of pagan armies.  Jeremiah is saying that the same thing happened to Shiloh, for the same reasons.  If we look back at 1 Samuel we are told that the priest Eli’s sons were committing adultery and also abusing their position as priests to steal people’s sacrificial meat by a ruse and by violence, and that it was for this reason that God determined to punish them, and thus, why Shiloh was destroyed.

But this still leaves a mystery.  If Shiloh was destroyed like the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, how can the Tent of Meeting, and all the associated articles have survived to be installed in Solomon’s temple, as the bible assumes and Jewish tradition explicitly states happened?  We know from the account in 1 Samuel 4 that the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistine army in a great battle.  The elders of Israel had called for the ark after an initial defeat, but the second battle is even more of a rout.  In that battle, Eli’s wicked sons were killed, and when the news of the disastrous defeat reaches Shiloh, Eli falls in shock and breaks his neck and dies, and the now widowed wife of one of his son goes into premature labour and dies giving birth to a son she names ‘Ichabod’ meaning ‘No glory’ because the ark of the Lord had been lost to Israel.  I should note that one of the tragedies here when the senior leaders or priests are wicked, is that when the judgment comes, there isn’t always a distinction between the guilty and the innocent – for instance, Eli’s daughter in law was, as far as we know, as much sinned against as sinner.  Her husband committed adultery and sinned against her – but on the other hand, she would have been a beneficiary of his theft of food from the worshippers.  (Too often, I hear stories of church pastors stealing from their flock or abusing them in one way or another, or milking them for their own advantage: I should point out that Jesus solemnly warned that pastors who abused their flocks would go to hell with the unbelievers – Luke 12.42-6 and Matthew 24.45-51.)

1 Samuel says nothing of what happened to Shiloh, as it follows the ark in exile.  However, Jewish tradition tells us what we could perhaps have guessed – that the same messenger at whose word Eli and his daughter in law died carried word that the Philistine army was coming to attack Shiloh, giving just enough time for the panicked priestly clans to pack away all the moveable tabernacle equipment and materials and flee.  However, Shiloh was a really substantial site of stone, and that they could not save, and it was this that was destroyed.  Mainstream archaeologists tells us that this site was a great shrine before the Israelites came, and that the entire surrounding population must have banded together in its destruction.  Well, I can’t go into detail, but there is a major problem with the chronology mainstream archaeology uses, and they are, I suggest, describing the Israelite shrine of Shiloh, which the bible told us back in Joshua 18 the whole of Israel banded together to build.  It was a stone building and enclosure – thus Eli could be seated at the door post.  It wasn’t counted as a Temple proper, because the Israelites contrived to make a permanent shrine which still retained elements of the Tabernacle Tent.  Now, for those of you who don’t know, there are two different versions of the Jewish Talmud, the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmud’s, and on this point each of them says something similar, but different.  The Jerusalem Talmud says that a stone wall was built that was a couple of feet high, and that the post and beams of the Tabernacle were laid on or in the wall and the Tabernacle tent laid over it.  The Babylonian Talmud said that the posts and beams were put into storage, and a full ‘house’ was built of stone, except that it had no roof – the Tent material of the Tabernacle covered the open gap.  It is possible that both are true – that initially it was built as the Jerusalem Talmud said, but later the wall was built up and things were as the Babylonian Talmud says.  In either case, we can now understand how there could be a stone house of the Lord at Shiloh, and yet it still not be counted as a Temple proper.   The destruction of Shiloh and the capture of the ark is also recorded in Psalm 78, written at the time of King David.

The Philistines destroyed the stone Shiloh, but the holy equipment went with the priests – according to tradition, they went to Nob and remained there until the time of Saul, and indeed, the bible places priests at Nob in Saul’s day with the bread of the presence, indicating that the Tabernacle material was there – you can see this in 1 Samuel 21 and 22.  Saul attacked and slaughtered these priests for helping David.  Jewish tradition says that Nob was destroyed after the death of Samuel, which happened shortly after according to the Bible (1 Samuel 25.1).  After that, the Tabernacle moved to Gibeon, according to Jewish tradition, and this matches further evidence from the bible, as we discover that even after the ark was in Jerusalem, Solomon still went to sacrifice at Gibeon because the Tent of Meeting was there, along with the bronze altar of Moses.

Part 6