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Shiloh - Ben Volman
July 16, 2018

By Ben Volman, Messianic Rabbi and Toronto Ministry Team Leader.

Written during Chosen People Ministries' 70th Anniversary Tour of Israel.

There’s a saying in old Gaelic that’s translated into English as “thin places”—a phrase to describe a setting where heaven somehow seems to be closer to earth.  Israel abounds with such places, and we caught that feeling numerous times, especially in Jerusalem.

Another striking “thin place” we encountered was at the ancient site of Shiloh, the designated place of worship for Israel after they had entered the land.  For hundreds of years, Israel worshiped God in the midst of these converging hills and valleys at the final resting place of the tabernacle, sheltering the ark of the covenant.  This was Israel’s first “spiritual capital,” the centrepiece of their thrice-yearly gatherings, worship, celebrations, feasts and fasting for hundreds of years until David brought the ark up to Jerusalem. So many of the great turning points of Israel’s first centuries in the land happened here.

This is where Joshua sent out the last seven tribes to finish what they had started in conquering the land (Joshua 18). This is also where the nation made the decision to punish the tribe of Benjamin for evil done to a concubine.  When the battle was finished and Benjamin decimated, this is where the other tribes allowed the remnants of the tribe to take new wives and replenish their numbers (Judges 19-21).  The resulting day became what our Israeli guide, Michael, refers to as the “Jewish Valentine’s Day,” Tu B’Av, when the young men in Jerusalem traditionally seek out a wife from among the young maidens, dressed in white, dancing in the vineyards.

Looking out at the horizon of hilltops and endless valleys, one wonders if the wondrous beauty of the setting drew Israel to this place or if what we feel is the lingering presence of the spirit that infused Moshe’s “meeting place” with God.

The exact location of the tabernacle is still being discussed by archaeologists. Leading us around the site, Dr. Randall Price mentioned how a few deep holes have been discovered which might have held the tabernacle’s peripheral posts.  However, these didn’t seem conclusive to all the experts. But as our guide says, “If it’s not here, it’s near.”  This is indeed, as he says, “the heart of the heartland.”

This was a site of some interest from the earliest years of archaeological exploration in the 19th century. A Danish excavation of the site in the 1930s worked on the local Byzantine churches that date from the early centuries of Christianity. These have some beautifully colourful mosaic floors, including one with a striking blue “Magen David,” the Star of David. Later examination by archaeologists identified some of the stones used for the church building as having come from an ancient altar.  The Danes built a building over the older church and this is now pockmarked with bullets from succeeding wars.  Once again, we’re reminded that the peace we enjoy was bought with a price.

High on a hilltop with a wonderful view of many valleys below is an excellent theatre and orientation centre telling the story of this place through the ages.  The centre is a gift from an American family who experienced a miracle, very similar to the one that blessed a barren woman, Hannah as told in 1 Samuel 1. She came here three thousand years ago seeking God’s help and the High Priest of the tabernacle, Eli, blessed her with the assurance she would have a child. As he promised, her prayers were answered and Hannah named the young lad Shmuel (“God has heard” or “asked of God”).  After the tabernacle was destroyed, he became the spiritual leader of the nation destined to anoint the first kings of Israel.  The American couple who came here to pray for a son also had one born within a year.  Today he serves in the IDF.  

Filed under: Jewish Festivals, Special Days, Israel, Jewish History


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