Question: "What is the meaning of the term ‘Shiloh’? Is it a Messianic prophecy?"
Answer: The word Shiloh appears 33 times in the Old Testament and all but one usage refer to an area of Palestine. The verse in which Shiloh is used as a Messianic prophecy is Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. And the obedience of the peoples to him” (NKJV). This verse is part of Jacob’s blessing of his 12 sons in which he portrays the future history of each son and each of the 12 tribes of Israel.
The blessing on Judah and his tribe contains several elements. For one thing, his descendants would be strong and receive the praise of the other tribes of Israel (v. 8-9). This was fulfilled in David, a strong and mighty warrior and king, and ultimately by the Messiah who came from the line of Judah. Verses 11 and 12 are somewhat obscure in that they contain poetic, hyperbolic language. Generally, this language describes prosperity so great that people will be able to tie a donkey to a choice vine and let it eat its fill because there is such abundance. This is likely a prophecy concerning the millennium. It will be a time of peace (Micah 4:2-4; Isaiah 32:17-18), joy (Isaiah 61:7, 10), comfort (Isaiah 40:1-2), and no poverty or sickness (Amos 9:13-15; Joel 2:28-29).
In verse 10, we find the reference to Shiloh and His future coming. This obscure word is variously interpreted to mean “the sent” (John 17:3), “the seed” (Isaiah 11:1), the “peaceable or prosperous one” (Ephesians 2:14), that is, the Messiah (Isaiah 11:10; Romans 15:12). Prior to Shiloh’s coming, the tribe of Judah would continue to maintain power and strength, signified by the scepter—the symbol of authority and rule of law. This first began in David, who was of the tribe of Judah, and continued to the Babylonian captivity, when another sort of government took place, described in the next part of the verse. A ‘lawgiver’ can be any ruler who has jurisdiction over others, and from the Babylonian captivity through the time of Christ, Israel was under the rule of other lawgivers.
When Shiloh—the Messiah—came, the scepter of rule over Israel departed from Judah and rested in the hand of the King of Kings, where it remains today, although many still reject Him. He is the Lawgiver at whose feet we now sit for teaching in truth and righteousness through His Word, the Bible. The “obedience of the peoples” was and still is offered to Him, replacing obedience to the law of Moses. From the beginning, there were great gatherings of people who heard Him preach and saw His miracles. Multitudes witnessed His death and His post-resurrection appearances. Multitudes more were converted to Christ, embraced His doctrines, professed His religion, and have lived in Him ever since. Here is the meaning of the “obedience of the peoples to him” (v. 10), which will continue until Shiloh comes again to rule and reign over all during the millennium. At that time, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).