April 4, 2012
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes. Genesis 49:10
This week is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Shiloh, fought in Tennessee on April 6 and 7, 1862.
Shiloh National Military Park commemorates this Civil War engagement with a slew of activities: caravan tours, which take visitors to important points along the battlefield; in-depth hikes to follow the movement of the troops; the debut of a new interpretive film, “Fiery Trail;” and a Grand Illumination, scheduled from dusk to 10 p.m. on April 7, with about 24,000 luminaries placed around the battlefield, each representing casualties from the battle (see details on these events here).
That number of men killed, wounded or missing in just this one battle is more than America had suffered in all previous wars. My cousin Sue sent me this link to a group of Civil War photos from The Atlantic magazine, and while there aren’t any photos of Shiloh among them, they’re a solemn reminder of the war’s devastation.
Side note: Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Georgia is also commemorating the 150th anniversary of its Civil War battle. Activities will be held April 10-15, and include a special boat tour. And the National Park Service has a website devoted exclusively to the Civil War, since its sesquicentennial runs through 2015. It’s information about the war all in one place—history, battlefield locations, events calendar, and even a soldiers and sailors database.
But back to Shiloh. In the Bible, Shiloh is the place where the Israelites first set up the tent of meeting, the tabernacle (Joshua 18:1). Within the tabernacle was, among other things, the Ark of the Covenant, which held the tablets of the Law—the covenant—given to Moses by God. Those tablets had been sprinkled with the blood of young bulls as a peace offering, a kind of ritual ratification of the agreement between God and the people (Exodus 24:5, 6; Hebrews 9:18-21).
Exodus chapters 25 through 31 detail God’s instructions for the tabernacle’s construction and contents, while chapters 35 through 40 describe how the people carried them out. After all was done, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34). So when the tabernacle was set up in Shiloh, that city became the religious center of the nation, where God’s presence and power resided.
Shiloh means peace, and indeed many visitors find the Shiloh battlefield a very peaceful place. The National Park Service calls it one of the Civil War’s most pristine battlefields. But on those long ago April days, it was anything but peaceful.
Easter is a nice holiday in our culture. The weather usually is balmy, full of hope for warmer weather to come. Cute bunnies and chicks, bright springtime colors and lots of chocolate predominate.
But the getting to the first Easter wasn’t any prettier than the road to Shiloh was.
This week leading up to Easter, we reflect on the real reason for the season, Jesus’ sacrifice and death. Reading the accounts of His trial and especially His crucifixion at the end of the Gospels (the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) do not paint a rosy picture. Jesus was whipped, spit upon, mocked and nailed to a cross to die an agonizing death. Like those young bulls whose blood sealed the covenant in the tabernacle, Jesus’ blood sealed the new covenant (Matthew 26:28). As Charles Ryrie puts it in his Study Bible’s Introduction to the New Testament, “The Old Covenant revealed the holiness of God in the righteous standard of the Law and promised a coming Redeemer; the New Covenant shows the holiness of God in His righteous Son.” Jesus came “to minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man…Not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
620,000 people gave up their lives during the Civil War. That was the price of conserving the Union, of making peace. But it took just one Man to bring us our Shiloh, to take on the punishment for all our sins, be our Prince of Peace (Romans 5:12-19, 1 John 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:21, Isaiah 9:6), the One whom Scripture pointed to from the opening book of Genesis.
Something to celebrate not only at Easter, but all year ‘round!