Genesis 49:10—Who or what is “Shiloh” in this verse?

Problem: The word “Shiloh” is often understood to be a reference to Jesus Christ as the coming Messiah. The word appears in a phrase which is part of the prophetic pronouncements of Jacob upon his son Judah. It is through the tribe of Judah that the Messiah will come (cf. 2 Sam. 7; Mic. 5:2), so it seems appropriate to understand this verse as a reference to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. However, the NT does not make any reference to this prophecy as being fulfilled in Christ, nor to the name Shiloh.

Solution: The solution to this problem involves the vowel pointing of the Masoretic Text (MT) of the OT (see Appendix 1). The New King James Version translates this portion of verse 10 as follows: “Until Shiloh comes.” This version follows the vowel pointing of the MT and translates the Hebrew word shylh as the proper name “Shiloh.” Shiloh was the name of a town situated approximately ten miles northeast of Bethel. Although some interpreters take the statement in Genesis 49:10 as a reference to this town, others have taken it to be a proper name for Messiah.

However, the majority of scholars propose a different vowel pointing and understand the word to mean “to whom it belongs.” This proposal has the support of ancient translations, such as the Greek and Syriac versions of the OT, and others. These ancient versions, being much older than the MT, also render the phrase, “he to whom they belong.” This reading is also supported by Ezekiel 21:27 which states, “Until He comes whose right it is.” When this part of verse 10 is taken this way, the passage reads, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver’s staff from between his feet, Until He comes to whom it belongs, And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” In light of this, the Messianic significance of the verse is much clearer. For it is fulfilled in the NT Messiah (Christ), as indicated by such passages as Matthew 2:6, Luke 1:30–33, Revelation 5:5, and 19:11–16.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.