And the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn; but, inasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; but the genealogy is not registered according to the birthright, for Judah prevailed among his brethren, and of him was the prince, but the birthright was Joseph’s)
(1 Chronicles 5:1--2)
There is some significance to the inter-relationships between the tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. The first couple verses of 1 Chronicles 5 give us a glimpse into these relationships. We're told that Reuben forfeited his birthright to Joseph by dishonouring his father; but that the Prince is to come from Judah. And we recall that Joseph's younger son, Ephraim, actually received the inheritance in preference to Manasseh, according to Jacob's blessing in Genesis 48:18--20.
We see Ephraim and Judah begin to distinguish themselves in the Exodus: it was Caleb (from Judah) and Joshua (from Ephraim) who brought back the good report from the land at Kadesh-Barnea. And as a result, those two were allowed to enter the land after 40 years.
As an aside, it's noteworthy that the Levites were apparently exempted from that ban. Eleazar was certainly of age at Kadesh-Barnea: he had been ordained as a priest at Horeb. But Eleazar entered the land as high priest, in place of his father Aaron. It is significant that Levi sent no spy into the land at Kadesh-Barnea, and were in fact excluded from the numbering of the Israelites at Horeb. Ada Habershon sees their exemption at Horeb as being the reason they're not under the ban on entering the land. I think Numbers 14:29 lends credence to this notion:
In this wilderness shall your carcases fall; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number from twenty years old and upwards, who have murmured against me
When the people came into the land, they came in under Joshua (the spy from Ephraim). Initially the Tabernacle was set up in Gilgal, but once the land was divided it was settled in Shiloh, which is in Ephraim (Joshua 18:1). Shiloh was the location of the Tabernacle until Eli, when the Ark was taken by the Philistines.
Here it gets a little murky. The Ark was taken under Eli, and when the Philistines returned it, it ended up in the house of Abinadab. 1 Samuel says it was there 20 years, and David went to Abinadab to get it. So it must have been during Saul's time that it went to Kirjath-jearim.
The Scripture asserts several times that the Tabernacle was in Gibeon in David's time, and it was still there when Solomon ascended the throne.
And the tabernacle of Jehovah, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt-offering, were at that time in the high place at Gibeon.
(1 Chronicles 21:29--30)
So David brought the Ark from Kirjath-jearim to Jerusalem while the Tabernacle was in Gibeon.
The Scripture tells us a few things about Gibeon:
- Joshua made peace with the Gibeonites when they deceived him about their origin. As a result, Gibeon wasn't conquered by the Israelites (Joshua 9).
- Gibeon was one of the "great cities" in Canaan (Joshua 10:2).
- Gibeon was one of the priests' cities in Benjamin (Joshua 21:17)
- In David's time, the Gibeonites were still identifiably Amorites (2 Samuel 21:2).
- Gibeon was where "the great high place" was (1 Kings 3:4).
So the Tabernacle went from Gilgal to Shiloh, (to Nob?), to Gibeon; and the Ark went from Gilgal to Shiloh, to Kirjath-jearim, to Jerusalem.
Psalm 78 gives us the Divine commentary on this:
And he forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tent where he had dwelt among men...
And he rejected the tent of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim,
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved;
And he built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which he hath founded for ever.
(Psalm 78:60, 67--69)
According to Psalm 78, the Lord "forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh". The Ark then leaves Ephraim and goes to Kirjath-jearim, in Judah. But the Tabernacle takes a different route: it goes to Gibeon in Benjamin and stays there.
We notice too that the leadership of Israel transitions from Ephraim to Judah, by way of Saul, a Benjamite. So where the Ark is moved from Shiloh to Kirjath-jearim, the Tabernacle follows the king and goes to Gibeon.
And in Gibeon, the Tabernacle (without the Ark) is apparently set up in the "great high place," and the priests continue the ceremonial order there, without the Ark:
And Zadok the priest, and his brethren the priests, before the tabernacle of Jehovah in the high place that was at Gibeon, to offer up burnt-offerings to Jehovah on the altar of burnt-offering continually, morning and evening, and according to all that is written in the law of Jehovah, which he commanded Israel;
(1 Chronicles 16:39--40)
And, in fact, when Solomon took the throne, he went to Gibeon to sacrifice at the high place in Gibeon:
and Solomon, and all the congregation with him, went to the high place at Gibeon; for there was God’s tent of meeting which Moses the servant of Jehovah had made in the wilderness. But the ark of God had David brought up from Kirjath-jearim to the place that David had prepared for it; for he had spread a tent for it at Jerusalem. And the brazen altar that Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, had made, was there before the tabernacle of Jehovah; and Solomon and the congregation sought unto it. And Solomon offered there upon the brazen altar before Jehovah which was at the tent of meeting; and he offered up a thousand burnt-offerings upon it.
(2 Chronicles 1:3--6)
The account in 1 Kings is a little different: it seems to indicate Solomon was actually practicing idolatry when he went to Gibeon:
Only, the people sacrificed on the high places; for there was no house built to the name of Jehovah, until those days. And Solomon loved Jehovah, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt-offerings did Solomon offer up upon that altar.
(1 Kings 3:2--4)
So what can we learn from all this history? I suppose we can start by noticing that there is a difference between where the Ark is, and where the Tabernacle is. The Ark was where God's presence was: it was at the Ark that the blood was presented on the Day of Atonement; it was at the Ark that God promised to meet the people (Exodus 25:22). But when the Ark was in Jerusalem, the people went to Gibeon to meet God.
And we might notice that the priests continued to preform the religious ceremonies the Law prescribed when the Tabernacle was in Gibeon, and the Ark was in Jerusalem. So the priests were apparently quite content to continue in their ceremonial duties, even when God's presence was actually gone.
And if we carry this notion of the Ark representing God's presence while the Tabernacle represented the outward observances of religion, we notice that the outward religion followed the political power and settled in Benjamin when a Benjamite was on the throne. But the Ark wasn't there. The Ark was already in Judah, in Kirjath-jearim.
According to Psalm 78, it was actually the Tabernacle that God forsook when the Ark left Shiloh. There was still a religion connected with that Tabernacle, but the Ark itself had left. The Ark and the religious ceremonies weren't reunited until Solomon dedicated the new Temple in Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most chilling feature of the separation of the Ark and the Tabernacle was, that the Tabernacle became mixed up with pagan worship. Without the Ark, the Tabernacle was moved to Gibeon, one of the great Amorite cities; and not only was it a great city of the Amorites, it was the one city with which the Israelites had formed a treaty. Gibeon hadn't ever been conquered: it was the one city which had made peace with Joshua. And in Gibeon, the Tabernacle was set up in "the great high place". And 2 Kings explicitly tells us that the people worshipped the Lord in the high places.
But the Law explicitly forbade sacrificing in the high places:
Ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which ye shall dispossess have served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree; and ye shall break down their altars, and shatter their statues, and burn their Asherahs with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and ye shall destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto Jehovah your God; but unto the place which Jehovah your God will choose out of all your tribes to set his name there, his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come; and thither ye shall bring your burnt-offerings and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and the heave-offering of your hand, and your vows, and your voluntary-offerings, and the firstlings of your kine and of your sheep; and ye shall eat there before Jehovah your God, and ye shall rejoice, ye and your households, in all the business of your hand, wherein Jehovah thy God hath blessed thee.
The Israelites were to have destroyed the high places when they came into the land. They weren't to offer sacrifices whereever they thought was a good place: there was one place where they were to gather to worship. But what they actually did was, to allow some of the pagan practices of the Amorites survive. And then they took the Tabernacle (sans God's actual presence) and set it up right alongside those pagan shrines.
I think the most telling statement about this in the whole Scripture is Rabshakeh's statements to Hezekiah's men:
And if ye say to me, We rely upon Jehovah our God: is it not he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?
(2 Kings 18:22)
Rabshakeh, a pagan, saw what Hezekiah had done in destroying the high places (which ought to have been done hundreds of years before under Joshua) and interpreted it as defiling the Lord's holy places. Jewish worship must have been quite a mess, if even the pagans watching them couldn't distinguish Jewish worship from what they themselves had done. Imagine what it must have been like, if an observer could see Hezekiah ending paganism and think he was stamping out Judaism. It makes me wonder just how many paganisms the Israelites had adopted.
I've probably mentioned this before, but one of the most alarming lessons of idolatry I see in Scripture is, that it gets so mixed into true worship that the people seem to actually think they're worshipping the Lord when they're bowing to their idols.