The Downfall of Shiloh

The Downfall of Shiloh in the Bible

The Downfall of Shiloh in the BibleAs we continue through the book of 1 Samuel, we see Hannah and her family going to Shiloh. This yearly pilgrimage by Elkanah and company was to the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, which was housed in Shiloh. Shiloh becomes an important location in the story of Samuel, the son promised to Hannah. To better understand how Shiloh fits into the storyline of 1 Samuel, we need to look at the history of Shiloh in the Bible.

Location of Shiloh

Shiloh was part of Ephriam’s territory, in the northern hill country of Israel. It is south of Shechem, Mount Gerizim, and Mount Ebal, and to the north of Mizpah and Bethel. Shiloh was situated on a road between Bethel and Shechem, used by travelers in this hill country (Judges 21:19).

Shiloh in Joshua

In Joshua 18:1, Shiloh is first mentioned as a centralized meeting place for Israel during the northern conquest. They set up the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, making Shiloh the first center of worship in the Promised Land. Shiloh is where Israel met to divide up the land among the tribes (18:10) and make further war plans (22:12).

Shiloh in Judges

In the book of Judges, the events at Shiloh take a turn for the worse. In the first few generations of Israelites living in the land, a rival worship site has already been established. Located in Dan to the north, this rival site housed idols carved by Micah. In Judges 18:31, this site is said to last as long as Shiloh housed a temple. Just as Israel created an idol while in the presence of the Lord (Exodus 32), so too this generation creates a false worship center to rival the true one at Shiloh.

Shiloh makes another, more tragic appearance in Judges. After the tribe of Benjamin is nearly decimated during a civil war (Judges 20), the rest of Israel looks to provide wives for the remaining men. So they turn to Shiloh, where virgin women had gathered to celebrate a festival of the Lord (Judges 21:19). The men from Benjamin kidnap the virgins celebrating at Shiloh and marry them, thus keeping the tribe of Benjamin alive.

Shiloh in 1 & 2 Samuel

At the beginning of 1 Samuel, we are introduced to Eli and his sons, who are the priests ministering before the Lord. The Ark of the Covenant remains in Shiloh, though a more permanent temple structure may have been built to house it1. This is where Samuel is taken when he is weaned from his mother (1 Samuel 1:24). He is left under the care of Eli, who serves as a surrogate father.

It is at Shiloh that the Lord first speaks to Samuel (1 Samuel 3). He gives word to Samuel about the pending judgement against Eli and his sons. This is not the only time the Lord would speak to Samuel at Shiloh, and word spread of this throughout Israel (1 Samuel 3:19–21).

Shiloh is where Eli dies. During the battle of Aphek (1 Samuel 4), Israel wanted to use the Ark of the Covenant as a talisman against the Philistines. So Hopni and Phinehas brought the Ark from Shilo to the battlefield. When they were killed, the Ark was captured by the Philistines, and Eli dies back in Shiloh when he hears of its capture (1 Samuel 4:18). When the Ark is returned by the Philistines, it is stored in Kiriath-jearim instead of Shiloh (1 Samuel 7:1–2).

Shiloh in Later Stories

Once the Ark of the Covenant is removed by Hopni and Phinehas, Shiloh falls out of the biblical narrative. All during the stories of Saul, David, and the later kings, and not one mention of Shiloh. It is as if it fell off the face of the earth.

At some point, Shiloh was destroyed. Some think it was by the Philistines, with a date of destruction around 1050 BC2 This destruction is used by both a psalmist (Psalm 78:60–72) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9) as an example to the rest of Israel. If God would destroy Shiloh—the first center of worship in the Promised Land—because of sin—could not the same happen to the rest of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem?

Summary of Shiloh in the Bible

For a brief moment in Israel’s early history, Shiloh was a central place of worship for the nation. It was where the Ark of the Covenant was housed, and where the Lord first spoke to Samuel. Yet the sins of Eli, his sons, and others—unnamed and forgotten to history—led to the destruction of Shiloh. What was once a center of worship became but a memory in Israel’s history.

  1. 1 Samuel 1:9 mentions doorposts 

  2. “Shiloh” in New Bible Dictionary, p. 1094. 

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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