Shiloh is a geographical location
The first position that we will examine is the understanding that Shiloh is simply a geographical location. This is the position of the Hertz Pentateuch which uses the Jewish Publication Society version of 1917. That version reads, “As long as men come to Shiloh.” Support for this position comes from a number of lines of evidence. We will examine each strand of evidence and reply to it.
The first statement of support is the position that the passage is fulfilled in Joshua 18:1, when Israel set up the tabernacle at the town of Shiloh. As the religious center of the nation, Shiloh would be the preeminent destination of all Israel. Men would have to come to Shiloh in order to worship at the Tabernacle in accordance with the Mosaic Law.
The second line of evidence is the contention that Shiloh is always a town in the Bible. Every time it is mentioned, 33 times in the NASB, the word is always a reference to a geographical location. The word Shiloh does not refer to the Messiah, but to a city.
This position is rather shallow and is incorrect for the following reasons. 1) Judah’s rulership did not start until long after Judah reached Shiloh. David didn’t become king until long after Judah reached Shiloh in Joshua 18:1. 2) Judah’s rulership denotes royal power, not just tribal authority. Joshua 18:1 does not mention this. 3) Royal authority resides in Jerusalem, not Shiloh. No king was ever crowned at Shiloh. Israel’s first king, Saul, was crowned at Mizpah (I Sam. 10:17 ff). 4) Shiloh was not the place where David was crowned. David was crowned king in Hebron (II Sam. 2:1-4; I Chron. 11:1-3). From then on, his successors were anointed in Jerusalem. 5) Shiloh did not mark the obedience of the people of Judah. This did not happen in Joshua 18:1 but rather in I Chronicles 11:1-3. 6) If all this happened when men came to Shiloh, then where is the prosperity mentioned in verses 11-12?
The passage is fulfilled by Rehoboam and the events of his lifetime
This position is found in the Artscroll Tenach Commentary on Genesis, volume 6, page 2153 (our paraphrase in parentheses).
Another interpretation of the passage is that of Rashbam… (When Solomon’s successor becomes king, Judah’s sovereignty will end.) Rehoboam, son of Solomon, will come to establish the monarchy at Shiloh – which is near Shechem, as is evident from I Kings 12:1; II Chron. 10:1… It was then that the Ten Tribes seceded and crowned Jeroboam, leaving Rehoboam with only Judah and Benjamin.
The point of Rashbam’s position is the idea that these events are fulfilled by Rehoboam and the events of his lifetime. However, the very same paragraph summarizing Rashbam’s understanding concludes with this remark by the editor.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming consensus of Rabbinic commentary interprets the verse to allude to the Messiah.
The Artscroll Tenach Commentary does the refutation for us. Rashbam holds a definite minority opinion. The verses refer to the Messiah. Judah’s superiority did not end during the rebellion under Jeroboam. Judah remained the dominant tribe in the Southern Kingdom, swallowing up the tribe of Simeon and outstanding the Northern Kingdom by 136 years. In the first century, the tribe of Judah was identifiable and the Davidic king was anticipated from this tribe.
Shiloh means gift
This is a non-Messianic position expressed in the Midrash and found in the JPS Tanak version of 1985. The Midrash rendition reads:
UNTIL SHILOH COME: This indicates that all the nations of the world will bring a gift to Messiah the son of David, as it says, “In that time shall a present be brought (yubal shay) unto the Lord of hosts (Isa. XVIII, 7).” Transpose “yubal shay‘ and expound it, and you find that it reads Shiloh.
The footnote in the Soncino Midrash Rabbah explains the rabbinic analysis:
The Hebrew yavoh shiloh is similar to yubal shay, if some letters in the former are transposed. The Midrash renders: Until he cometh to whom the present belongs.
This analysis appears to be the basis for the Tanak rendering:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; so that tribute shall come to him and the homage of peoples be his.
The Tanak rendering would have us believe that gifts will be brought to Judah because of the tribe’s royal prominence. This position is the result of fanciful rabbinic exegesis that consists of picking out two words in the Hebrew text, rearranging their letters to form a new word or words, then expounding the meaning of the newly created words and declaring that this new meaning is the sense of the text. Hardly a good exegesis, indeed.
Shiloh means peace
Shlomo Riskin brings out Sforno’s understanding of the verses.
The commentator Sforno takes the word Shilo as being synonymous with shalom or peace, and writes that it refers to the ultimate peace.
Actually, Riskin’s analysis appears to be incomplete. Sforno’s summary of the phrase “until Shiloh does come” reads:
The prophecy (of Jacob) that Judah will be ruler and judge only among his brothers will be so until Shiloh comes (i.e., Mashiach)… But when Mashiach appears, and there will be shalom basof, peace at the end,… Those who remain, … will be obedient to (and subjugated) to Shiloh (Mashiach)…
Actually, Sforno connects the coming of the Messiah with the institution of worldwide peace. When Shiloh (peace) comes so will the Messiah, and vice-versa. This indissoluble link between the two makes the verse Messianic in nature.
Shiloh means womb
This minority position is the understanding of Ibn Ezra. Shlomo Riskin explains:
An even more interesting nuance appears in the commentary of the Ibn Ezra, where he explains Shilo in terms of the word shilya, which means “womb”. In making the connection, the Ibn Ezra is insisting that the ultimate Messiah-ruler will be naturally born of man and woman. In so interpreting, he is clearly denying the Christological notion of a messiah born by immaculate conception.
This position is not an interpretation of the passage but a polemic against the opinion that the Messiah spoken of in Genesis 49 is none other than Yeshua of Nazareth. Eventhough Ibn Ezra states that the word Shiloh means womb, he actually possesses a Messianic understanding of the verse. However, he does not like who the Messiah is. By the way, Riskin’s understanding of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception appears to be faulty. This Roman Catholic doctrine takes the non-Biblical position that Mary was born without original sin. The WordNet dictionary explains:
The Roman Catholic dogma that God preserved the Virgin Mary from any stain of original sin from the moment she was conceived.
The faulty Immaculate Conception doctrine does not concern the Messiah at all, but rather the human mother of the Messiah. the fact that this doctrine has no Biblical basis is found in Mary’s personal evaluation of herself. She makes this statement in Luke 1:47
And my spirit has rejoice in God my Savior.
Mary clearly calls God her “Savior.” The only type of people that need a savior are sinners. Mary does not see herself as free from sin. There is no basis for this dogma in the Bible. The testimony of the New Testament is that Yeshua was sinless due to the fact that God was His father and the overshadowing ministry of the Holy Spirit was present at His conception.
- Luke 1:35
The angel answered and said to her, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
The expression “overshadow” is admittedly a mysterious term, as are many terms that describe the supernatural work of God. However, it is this expression that describes that which enabled Mary to conceive the God/man.
Ibn Ezra’s understanding is only half-true. The Messiah will have a human mother, but His father will be God. It is interesting to note that while a human mother of the Messiah is mentioned in the Bible and rabbinic literature, a human father of the Messiah never is.
In fact, Rabbi Moses HaDarshan states emphatically that the Messiah will not have a human father. Here is his evaluation of Zechariah 6:12.
The redeemer whom I shall raise up from among you will have no father, as it is written, ‘Behold the man whose name is Zemach [branch], and he shall branch up out of his place’ (Zech. vi. 12); and so Isaiah says, ‘And he came up like a sucker,’ etc.
Rabbi Joden agrees with Moses HaDarshan. Rabbi Joden writes this evaluation of a similar comment made by Rabbi Moses HaDarshan:
“Truth shall spring out of the earth.” R. Joden, saith he, notes upon this place, that is not said, Truth shall be born, but shall spring out; because the generation and nativity of the Messiah is not to be as other creatures in the world, but shall be begot without carnal copulation; and therefore no one hath mentioned his father, as who must be hid from the knowledge of men till himself shall come and reveal him.
Finally, other rabbinic comments supporting the idea that the Messiah will not have a human father are recorded by Raymond Martin.
Says R. B’rekhyah, the Holy One said to Israel, you have spoken before me, saying, we are orphans and have no father (Lam. v. 3): the redeemer whom I shall raise up out of your midst will have no father also, as it is said, ‘Behold the man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch up out of his place (Zech. vi. 12); and similarly by Isaiah, and he shall come up as a sucker before him.
Finally, Lightfoot records this comment supporting the same idea that the Messiah will not have a human father, but rather that His father will be the Holy Spirit.
R. Simeon Be Jochai upon Genesis more plainly; viz. “That the Spirit, by the impulse of a mighty power, shall come forth of the womb, though shut up, that will become a mighty Prince, the King Messiah.
The rabbinic understanding that the Messiah will have no human father is totally in accord with the testimony of the New Testament in regard to Yeshua of Nazareth.
The passage refers to the tribe of Judah
This position tries to blunt or eliminate the Messianic impact of Genesis 49 by removing the Messianic element as much as possible. In doing so, the statement is made that the passage refers to the tribe of Judah only. Rabbi Hertz’s comments on “till Shiloh come” blatantly expose his anti-Jesus prejudice.
“Till Shiloh come.” This is the rendering of the Authorized Version, and assumes that Shiloh is a personal name or a Messianic title. Although this assumption finds support in rabbinic literature, it is only a homiletic comment without official and binding authority. Despite the fact that nowhere in Scripture is that term applied to the Messiah, Christian theologians assume that Shiloh is a name of the Founder of Christianity. In this sense, “Till Shiloh come” is a favorite text of Christian missionaries in attempting to convert illiterate Jews or those ignorant of Scripture.
This author has discovered that the last sentence in the above quotation is a typical anti-missionary tactic. The rabbis don’t deal with the text, instead they try emotional intimidation. Here, Rabbi Hertz stigmatizes any Jewish person who dares to believe in Yeshua as “ignorant,” or “illiterate.”
The questions that should be asked of Rabbi Hertz are these, “Are the translators and expositors of Targum Onkelos, Targum Palestine, Midrash Rabbah and Midrash Mishle ignorant illiterate Jews? Is Rashi ignorant and illiterate? Are the rabbis of the Talmud ignorant or illiterate? Are the rabbis who wrote the Artscroll Commentary illiterate Jews and ignorant of Scripture? Are the rabbis that say Genesis 49 constitutes ‘the primary Torah source for belief that the Messiah will come’ illiterate Jews and ignorant of Scripture?”
Dear readers, the rabbis who take the Messianic position are not ignorant, illiterate Jews and neither are you. Whether you be a Jewish believer or a Gentile believer, to hold that this verse is Messianic does not make you ignorant or illiterate. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by comments like these, whether in written form or personally stated to you face to face. You are in good company when you say the verse is Messianic. You are even in better company when you say that it is fulfilled in Yeshua.
In summary, Genesis 49:10-11 teaches us that 1) the Messiah will come from the Tribe of Judah. 2) The Messiah will be the final ruler of Judah’s line and the apex of that leadership. 3) The Messiah had to come before 70 AD. 4) The Messiah will bring ultimate blessings to all the earth.
- ^ Lapides, Louis, “The Rabbinic and Hebrew Christian Views on Messianic Prophecy Outline,” Ariel Ministries
- ^ Scherman and Zlotowitz, Gen. Eds., Artscroll Tanach Series,” Bereishis Volume 6, (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1977), p. 2153
- ^ Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures: A new translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the traditional Hebrew text. Title facing t.p.: Torah, Nevi’im, Kethuvim = Torah, Nevi’im, Kethuvim. (Gen 49:10), (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1997, c1985).
- ^ Riskin, Shlomo, The International Jerusalem Post, “Awaiting the Messiah,” January 12, 2001, p. 39
- ^ Pelcovitz, Rabbi Raphael, Sforno, Commentary on the Torah, (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1987), p. 234
- ^ Riskin, Shlomo, The International Jerusalem Post, “Awaiting the Messiah,” January 12, 2001, p. 39
- ^ WordNet® 2.1, © 2005 Princeton University
- ^ Driver, S.R., Neubauer, A., The Suffering Servant of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, (Eugene: Wipf ad Stock Publishers, 1877), p. 33
- ^ Lightfoot, John, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 3, (Hendrickson, 1859), p. 26
- ^ The Suffering Servant of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, p. 33
- ^ A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol 3, p. 27
- ^ Hertz, Dr. J.H., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, (London, England: Soncino Press, 1987), p. 184
- ^ Ibid., p. 202