We’ve never had midweek Advent services at Zion, so I figured, why not start? It’s another chance to preach and for people to hear the Word, and we get to use Evening Prayer. We had 15 people and I was full of joy. You might expect someone to be bummed for only 15 people showing up (we had 75 for Thanksgiving Eve the week before), but I was so happy because God’s Word had drawn those people to His house. We got to sing and pray and hear God’s Word together before we all went home and turned in for the night. What could be better?
I remember hearing a sermon on this text while I was in college. Pastor Wayne Laitinen in New Ulm did his customary excellent job, and it stuck in my memory. This was a chance for me to study it and preach it for myself. And I just kind of like the name Shiloh. Hope you are edified — Jesus be with you!
“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.” (gen 49.10 niv)
“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (gen 49.10 kjv)
When I say “Shiloh”, what comes to mind for you? You might think of an American Civil War battlefield. You might think of a song by Neil Diamond. You might think of a person’s name. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie named one of their children Shiloh, for instance. You might or might not think of our text for tonight. If you still remember the King James Version, you might recall that it has this verse as, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
The reason that the King James says “Shiloh” and the NIV doesn’t has to do with the way each version translated the Hebrew word here. The King James simply gives you the Hebrew word straight across without trying to explain it. They leave it up to the reader to decide who or what Shiloh is. That works fine if you know who this is talking about, or if you can find out. The NIV doesn’t use the word Shiloh, but instead they try to explain what they think it means to you. They look at all the evidence and try to give you the best equivalent in English. Sometimes Hebrew has words that look similar but mean different things. In those cases the translators have to decide which one they think makes the most sense. Neither approach is always better than the other; both ways have their advantages and disadvantages.
These times where it could be one Hebrew word or another never change any of the teachings of the Bible. The Bible is still clear and able to be understood, even without any special knowledge or training. We always can get the main idea of a passage. We always know what God wants us to know. We might talk about the details in different ways, but we can always know what God’s Word says.
With that being said, who or what is Shiloh? There was a town in Judah named Shiloh. The ark of the covenant was there for a while. But that doesn’t seem to fit here. This verse sounds like it’s talking about a person, not a town. If you look at the NIV, it sounds an awful lot like the Messiah. Someone who’s coming, someone who will rule over the nations – that sounds like Jesus.
If you think this verse is pointing ahead to Jesus, you’re right. People have noticed that this prophecy sounds Messianic ever since it was first given. The Jews always understood it as being Messianic. They just don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah. In the Dead Sea Scrolls this verse is pointed to as being Messianic. Lots of Christian teachers have seen this as pointing to the Messiah too. Just the words themselves that you have in front of you lead you to conclude that.
History helps show us that this prophecy is referring to Jesus too. The scepter is a symbol of power and authority in the Bible. Here it says that the scepter wouldn’t go away from Judah until the One came to whom it belonged, the One who should rule. That’s Jesus. It’s true – the nation of Judah lost their power shortly before Jesus was born. When Jesus came into the world, Judah was ruled by a foreigner, someone who wasn’t even Jewish – Herod, and he was backed up by the Romans. The historical circumstances help show us that Jesus is the Ruler, the Messiah, promised in this verse.
What you might not know is Shiloh in Hebrew is related to the word for rest. This is like a title – Shiloh, Rest, the One who is rest. The One who brings rest with him or who gives rest to people. That’s a great title for Jesus. Jesus gives us the rest we need – rest for our souls. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Before Christ comes into a person’s heart, fallen man has only one way to get rest for his soul: he’s got to earn it. In order to have peace and rest within yourself without Jesus, you’ve got to be worthy of it. You need to keep God’s law perfectly – no slipups, no goofs, nothing done wrong intentionally or unintentionally, because only then will God reward you with everlasting life. Only then will you be able to say to God, “Give me eternal life. I deserve to be in heaven, because I’ve been a perfect person. Only perfect is good enough, and I am good enough to get into your heaven.” The thing is, none of us can say that. None of us are able to keep God’s law perfectly. We sin lots, all the time. We don’t even know all the times we sin – but God does. So in order to have rest for our souls on our own, apart from Jesus, we’ve got to work at it – a lot! We need to sweat and strain and push ourselves to keep God’s commands. We need to silence that little voice inside us that whispers, “Did you do enough? Did you do it all?” If we try to earn God’s favor on our own, we will never succeed. That little voice will never be quiet. We’ll have to keep working until we die, and then we’d find out it wasn’t enough.
Contrast that with the rest Jesus gives. Jesus’ rest consists of the forgiveness of sins. He paid for everything you would have to work off before God. Everything you’d have to make up to God, all the sins you’ve committed and mistakes you’ve made, — they’ve all been paid for by Jesus. Jesus’ rest is complete. It is total. It is finished. He said so from the cross, and every word is true. Jesus lived and died and shed His blood to silence that little voice inside you forever. He lives to remind you that you don’t need that little voice anymore, and to show you one day that He has saved you in spite of your sins and your unworthiness. There’s nothing more we need to do to make God happy! Jesus has done it all. Jesus did everything God wanted Him to, perfectly. There’s nothing left to do. It is true and it is yours, every day from now until you go home to heaven – and it will be true in heaven too.
Now Jesus gives you that rest for your soul. Jesus’ rest comes to you through His Word, whenever you hear it or think about it. That’s God’s way of working in your heart and causing that rest to spread and grow in your soul – through His Word. Jesus’ rest comes to you every time you come to His table and He gives you His body and blood. That’s your personal assurance that Jesus’ rest is real and it’s for you.
Jesus reigns as King over all to make sure you never lose the rest He’s given you. He still guides and controls all things for your good. All nations serve Him, whether they know it or not. He has purchased them for God with His blood, and all things are from Him and to Him and through Him, Paul tells us. Jesus rules over everything that happens in the world. Nothing happens without His permission or His approval. Nothing happens that He doesn’t use for your good. Do you understand what that means? Nothing happens that’s not for your good. Nothing. Even when tragedy hits your family or you suffer unjustly and you don’t understand why, Jesus is still in control. He is still your loving King who lives forever. He still is your Rest. He still is Shiloh, and He will be, forever – for you and for me. Thanks be to Christ, our wonderful Rest and our Advent King. Amen.