The Mysterious Tabernacle of David

Recently, I have made a few posts concerning elements of Charismatic/Pentecostal theology. This has been brought on by my recent studies of the theology behind Praise & Worship music. In this post, I have another element that I feel needs to be addressed: the so-called Tabernacle of David.

Historical Account

When reading the Scriptures and arriving at II Samuel chapter 6, you will find King David’s desire to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital at Jerusalem. To understand how this came to be, we need to examine the history of the Ark and the Tabernacle of Moses leading up to this point:

  • c. 1150 B.C. – The Tabernacle of Moses and Ark are together at Shiloh, where they had been for over three centuries. – Joshua 18:1, Judges 18:31, I Samuel 1:3, 2:3
  • 1122 B.C. – The Ark is removed from the Tabernacle of Moses and brought to the war camp of the Israelites at Ebenezer, maybe 18-20 miles west of Shiloh. This First Battle at Ebenezer was a terrible defeat of the Jews by the Philistines. The Ark was captured in the battle and in the rout that followed it is believed by some that Shiloh was sacked or destroyed. – I Samuel 4:1-11, Jeremiah 7:12
  • 1121 B.C – The Ark spends seven months in the hands of the Philistines. It is was moved among their capitals of Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. In each of these locations God cursed the inhabitants while they possessed the Ark. – I Samuel 5:1-6:1
  • 1121 B.C. – The Philistines send the Ark back to Israel by placing it on a cart pulled by two untamed milk cows. It arrives in Bethshemesh, where the Israelites there do not respect the Ark by opening it and God punishes their lack of reverence. – I Samuel 6:2-20
  • 1121 B.C. – The Ark is taken to Kirjathhearim, where it stays in the house of Abinidab. – I Samuel 6:21-7:2
  • 1065 B.C. – David flees from Saul’s court and arrives at Nob. He is given shewbread by Ahimelech, implying that at least some of the Tabernacle furniture and setup is present there. The large number of priests and the high priest himself also suggest something special about this site. Based on the evidence, we assume that some form of the Tabernacle of Moses (minus the Ark) existed at Nob when David visited there. When and how it came to be here from its last appearance at Shiloh is unknown. – I Samuel 21:1-9
  • 1046 B.C. – David attempts to bring the Ark to Jerusalem by placing it on a cart. Uzzah is killed when he attempts to steady the Ark on the cart. The Ark is placed in the house of Obededom, where it stays for the next three months. – II Samuel 6:1-11, I Chronicles 13:1-14
  • 1046 B.C. – David brings the Ark to Jerusalem, amid sacrifices and singing. It is placed in a specially constructed tent/tabernacle, the Tabernacle of David. – II Samuel 6:12-19, I Chronicles 15:1-16:37
  • 1046 B.C. – David organizes the service of the Levites to serve in two locations: before the Ark in Jerusalem and at the Tabernacle of Moses which was now in Gibeon. It is assumed that the Tabernacle of Moses moved to Gibeon after the slaughter of the priests at Nob by Doeg in I Samuel 22:6-23 This separation remained until the completion of the Temple by Solomon in 1004 B.C. – I Chronicles 16:37-43, 21:29; II Chronicles 1:3

There are a few great questions that come to mind:

First, why were the Ark and Tabernacle of Moses not reunited? Some speculate that the Tabernacle of Moses was worn out, damaged, or incomplete and thus unable to be moved or possibly even to properly function. It has even been suggested that this was a move by David to force the other tribes to submit to his rule. Some even think that this was David’s self-will not part of God’s design. One person suggests that David kept the Ark like a petulant toddler because he was unable to go in the Tabernacle of Moses himself.

Sometimes, God chooses not to reveal His plans to us and we simply must trust in Him (Deuteronomy 29:29). That could very well be the case here, if it were not for a passage in Psalms that appears to explain God’s purpose.

In Psalm 78 is a rehearsal of God’s dealings with Israel as means of instruction of spiritual truths. I think A.C. Gaebelein summarizes it well:

“This historical retrospect needs no further comment. It is God speaking to the hearts of His people through their own history from Egypt to David. How graciously He dealt with them all the way! The crowning fact is His sovereign grace in choosing Judah, Mount Zion which he loved, building there His sanctuary, and choosing David His servant to feed Jacob His people and Israel His inheritance. Here we may well think of the Son of David, God’s Anointed in whom God’s sovereign grace is made known and who will yet feed Jacob and Israel His inheritance.”

Let’s examine Psalm 78:56-72:

  • 78:56-58 – The Israelites had turned their back on God. Even a casual Bible study of the events of Judges into I Samuel will show how the Jews continually turned away from God.
  • 78:59-61 – God turned away from His rebellious people and sent judgment in the capture of the Ark by the Philistines and the fall of Shiloh.
  • 78:62-64 – The judgment that fell on Israel is described.
  • 78:65-66 – The judgment that fell on the Philistines is described.
  • 78:67-68 – God rejected the Tabernacle and the powerful tribe of Ephraim that held it, instead choosing to lead through the tribe of Judah from mount Zion in Jerusalem.
  • 78:69 – The temple at Jerusalem is described.
  • 78:70-72 – The reign of David is described.

What does Psalm 78 teach us about the separation of the Ark and the Tabernacle of Moses? That it was a result of God’s judgment on Israel’s sin and that God was reforming their worship by establishing its new center in Jerusalem and the Temple.

Second, why did David place the Ark in its own new tent/tabernacle? Why not build something grander for it?

It appears that David saw this new tabernacle for the Ark (I am calling it the “Tabernacle of David” to differentiate it from the “Tabernacle of Moses”) as only a temporary dwelling. We see in II Samuel 7 that David had every intention of building a grand Temple. Even though God did not allow him to build it, we see his concern and preparation for its construction (I Chronicles 22). David was anxious for the day when God’s presence returned to Israel in a complete Tabernacle/Temple.

But David also realized that day had not arrived yet. The Tabernacle of David was a temporary structure that awaited something grander to replace it. Though they possessed the Ark and some blessing from their respectful keeping of it, God’s presence was not upon it like the days in the wilderness. This is emphasized in the fact that God’s presence fell in such a mighty way at the dedication of the Temple (II Chronicles 5:13-14) but no mention is made of any similar event for the Tabernacle of David.

Third, what actually happened at the Tabernacle of David?

Let’s do a rundown of actions we see there:

  • Sacrifices – II Samuel 6:17-18, I Kings 3:15
  • Gathering of the people – II Samuel 6:19
  • Corporate praise – I Chronicles 16:36
  • Personal Worship – II Samuel 12:20
    • NOTE – I’m honestly not 100% sure “house of the LORD” refers to the Tabernacle of David instead of the Tabernacle of Moses. It makes sense that he would go to the former rather than the latter since it was closer, but the use of the phrase “house of the LORD” generally refers to the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple.
  • Music – I Chronicles 15:16-22, 16:42

Now, let’s look at the roles of the priests that served there:

  • Asaph and his family took care of day-to-day affairs – I Chronicles 16:37
  • Obededom and family were porters/doorkeepers – I Chronicles 16:38

Note that the names and positions that follow in I Chronicles 16:39-42 appear to be associated with the Tabernacle of Moses at Gibeon and not the Tabernacle of David at Jerusalem. It is interesting to find that this is the first reference to incorporating music in to the services at the Tabernacle of Moses.

The position of Asaph is interesting. If this is the same Asaph as in I Chronicles 6:39, 15:17, etc. (and there is little doubt that is the same person) then it is assumed that he must be exercising his musical abilities in this service. But Asaph could be acting in his position as a Gershonite. The Gershonites were the division of Levites charged mainly with carrying and caring for the decorative materials of the Tabernacle of Moses (Numbers 4:24-28). It is also interesting to note that Obededom was a Kohathite (I Chronicles 26:1-5), the division charged with carrying the “most holy things” of the Tabernacle of Moses (Numbers 4:4-14). Regardless, the presence of Asaph suggests but does not prove a musical program.

Historical Inaccuracies

The information above is the most concrete information we have on the Tabernacle of David. I have been quite surprised to see other claims with no basis in Scripture or history. Let’s examine a few:

1. The Tabernacle of David had only one compartment that corresponded with the Most Holy Place [source]

There is nothing mentioned in Scripture of the design or layout. This is pure conjecture.

2. There was unrestricted access for many/all into the presence of the Ark. [source]

Again, no basis for this claim. It actually goes against the way the Jews revered the Ark, even covering it when it was moved (Numbers 4:5-6).

3. There was constant, 24/7 praise, worship, and music before the Ark. [source]

The only basis for this claim is two assumptions. First, that Asaph and those under him were operating in a musical role. We simply have no concrete evidence of if or how music played a part in what they were doing. Second, that their ministry “continually, as every day’s work required” was 24/7/365. This can also be understood that they regularly did the requirements of each day. The similar language found in passages such as II Chronicles 8:14 and Ezra 3:4 supports this as a better interpretation.

4. David dwelt in his Tabernacle. [source]

The references cited for this claim are Psalms 23:6 and 27:4. However, in both of these David is speaking longingly of something he desired but did not possess.

5. God’s presence was in the Tabernacle of David. [source]

As we looked at before, there is no evidence for this claim. It is an assumption that God was present because the Ark was there. But God is not bound to one place or one piece of furniture. The strictest interpretation of Scripture would support the presence of God departing when the Philistines took the Ark (see I Samuel 4:21) and its return when Solomon dedicated the Temple.

6. The worship was marked by spontaneity. [source]

No evidence for this whatsoever.

7. The worship was marked by dancing. [source]

The only dancing that could be referred to was David’s dancing for joy before the Ark as it was carried to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:16). First, this is in connection with bringing the Ark and not with it resting in its new home. Second, David’s joyful expressions are wonderful in themselves but not a prescriptive command for others. Third, there is no reference to others emulating David’s action in that day.

8. The Tabernacle of David was open so all could see the Ark. [source]

No evidence for this. The sacred nature of the Ark would have most likely inspired them to keep it covered.

9. David initiated a new form of worship marked by singing, physical expression, etc. [source]

This assumption is based on many other assumptions about the sort of worship that went on in the Tabernacle of David. David did in fact do much to reorganize the priesthood and prepare for an expansion of the services of the Temple. Part of this does appear to be the introduction of music in to the Tabernacle/Temple services. But to insinuate that dancing, spontaneous singing, etc. were integrated into worship at this time and place is without sound Biblical basis.

The Prophetic Element

Having examined the historical background of the Tabernacle of David, let us move on the prophecy that some claim is related to it.

The first reference we will look at is in Isaiah chapter 16. This chapter and the previous one are together one prophecy against the nation of Moab. In the midst of this message to Moab, we find a striking prophecy in 16:5: “And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.”

The second reference is in Amos 9. This chapter deals with the fall of the kingdom of Israel into captivity with a promise that they will later be restored. We see in 9:11-12: “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.”

The third reference is in Acts 15. The Apostles and the church at Jerusalem debated whether or not Gentile Christians were subject to the ordinances of the Law of Moses. There is much debate with testimonies from Peter, Paul, and Barnabas with no resolution. James the delivers a speech, declaring that the God had declared that He would save the Gentiles and not just the Jews. James quotes the prophecy from Amos 9 as proof of God’s plan of bringing salvation to the Gentiles. Let’s read his speech in full from Acts 15:13-21:

“And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: (14) Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. (15)  And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, (16)  After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: (17) That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. (18) Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. (19) Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: (20) But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (21) For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”

A few observations:

First, it was assumed by some interpreters that this prophetic tabernacle must be the physical Tabernacle of David that held the Ark. However, on closer examination there is no relation between these prophesies and Tabernacle of David.

Someone will surely object at this: “But it says the ‘tabernacle of David’! What other tabernacle did David have?” I’ll answer that in the next point.

Second, the use of the ‘tabernacle’ here is figurative for the kingdom and household of the royal line of David. That’s why Isaiah said it had a throne, which the physical Tabernacle of David did not have. That’s why Amos speaks of it possessing or ruling over foreign people and lands. It is speaking of a kingdom and its authority.

Third, note that the three prophetic verses (Isaiah 16:5, Amos 9:11, Acts 15:16) that speak of the “tabernacle of David” are the only verses in the Bible that use that exact phrase. That term is never actually applied to the tent that house the Ark. To be honest, it is somewhat anachronistic and indeed inappropriate to apply the term to the tent David used since this name appears here in a very different context. [Please recall that I have only used term “Tabernacle of David” to describe David’s tent for the Ark in order to differentiate it from the Tabernacle of Moses and because that is what others have called it.]

Fourth, someone, I believe in the past century or so, conflated the prophetic “tabernacle of David” with the physical “tabernacle that David had pitched for [the Ark]” (II Samuel 6:17). I can understand how it could be easily done, but any contextual analysis should show that two very different meanings are found between the physical and the prophetic. This is essentially the same as confusing Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant. Two very different things that are called the same name (in English, at least).

Fifth, these prophesies do not apply directly to the church at all. When James references Amos he is not saying, “The prophecy of Amos is fulfilled!” Instead, he is saying, “This is like a greater truth I see in the prophecy of Amos.” He is saying that Christ intends to bring the Gentiles into His Kingdom, so who were they to deny their entrance?

Sixth, the prophecies are clearly pointing to Christ’s future kingdom. He will reign upon the restored house/throne/kingdom/tabernacle of David. See Psalm 132:11-12, Isaiah 9:7, Jeremiah 17:25, etc.

The Source of the Confusion

The fountainhead for the confusion about the Tabernacle of David is most certainly in Pentecostal/Charismatic theology from the mid-20th century. Yes, there are those that did relate the prophetic and physical Tabernacles of David previous to them, as seen in the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary on Amos 9:11. But the propagation and proliferation of studies on the Tabernacle of David we see today come directly from Pentecostal/Charismatic sources and influences.

The claim that is made is that the Tabernacle of David is a true model for worship that was lost/forgotten/neglected for centuries upon centuries. That model of worship is said to have been loud, animated, spontaneous, and musical. This model is further proposed as the only true way of worshipping God.

The next claim is that the prophecies, seen especially in Amos and Acts, are of a restoration of this lost form of worship that will appear in the “latter days”. It is proclaimed that through this restoration of true worship and royal authority that will reach the nations and ready the Bride of Christ.

Yes, if you have never been exposed to these teachings (and there are many variations) some people out here are literally teaching that God withheld the method for true and powerful worship for over 3,000 years and just recently decided to give it back to His people. The first group to start making these connections was likely the Latter Rain movement (See p. 46-47 of A History of Contemporary Praise and Worship). Now these teachings are infiltrating mainline denominations.

How did this happen? I think largely because it began with such an obscure reference in Biblical history that there was not a good counter to their claims. There was not (and is still not as far as I can tell) a well developed understanding of what exactly happened at that tent that David that can be used as a defense. From my study I find only miniscule references to the Tabernacle of David in older commentaries, dictionaries, and such. Even Jewish resources seem to gloss over it.

So they begin from obscurity, then start connecting dots to other re-interpretations of commands for terminology for worshipping and praising God. Through the use of typology or application of definitions (mostly redefinitions), these lines between the dots weave a facade of doctrine that appears formidable but is empty when examined. Before long it is difficult to tell if the Tabernacle of David is the legitimate basis for their beliefs or something that was reinterpreted based on other positions. Likely there as so many individuals with differing methodologies that we may never discern the actual roots.

A Final Word

I am amazed at how widespread these teachings are and how little material has been produced to counter them or to inoculate against them. But I think this is how so much of the Charismatic influence has taken root in orthodox institutions. On the surface it appears they are using Scripture to back their positions, but all the proof texts and Biblical imagery belie the fact that their arguments constantly fail to stand up to careful scrutiny. Sadly, too many undiscerning believers are falling prey to their charlatanism.