The Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant
by Wayne D. Turner
The components of the tabernacle were made in seven months. On the first day of the first month of the second year after the Exodus, it was formally set up, and the cloud of God's presence descended upon it in Exodus 40 (see notes). At that time the ark of the covenant was placed inside in the Holy of Holies.
The tabernacle was portable. It was constructed in such a way that it could be taken down and transported by the Levites during the wanderings in the wilderness. The tabernacle's first home after crossing the Jordan was at Gilgal, where Israel established their camp in Joshua 4 (see notes). After several years, it was moved to Shiloh in Joshua 18 (see notes). The tabernacle itself remained there during the time of the Judges. It's still there in I Samuel 4 (see notes) during the days of Eli. That's when the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant parted company. The Israelites decided they could prevail over the Philistines in battle if they carried the ark of the covenant with them. The plan failed; they lost the ark. From that point forward, the ark of the covenant never resided in the tabernacle built by Moses again.
We see the tabernacle the next time in Nob (an unidentified city close to Jerusalem) in I Samuel 21 (see notes) - no details on how it got there. After Saul has the city and the priests destroyed (I Samuel 22, see notes), we later see the tabernacle has been set up in Gibeon (approximately 5 miles northwest of Jerusalem) during Zadok's tenure (I Chronicles 16:39-40, see notes). It appears that with two high priests serving at that time, Zadok seems to have been fulfilling his duties at the original tabernacle built by Moses in Gibeon while Abiathar served in Jerusalem. Even after Abiathar was relieved of his duties as high priest by Solomon, we see King Solomon going to Gibeon to sacrifice there at the original tabernacle in II Chronicles 1:3 (see notes). Moses' tabernacle is last mentioned in I Chronicles 21:29, and still resides at Gibeon at that point in time.
The ark of the covenant, after being separated from the tabernacle, went from the Philistines to Beth-shemesh where people began dying at its arrival. They convince the people in Kirjathjearim to come and take it off their hands. For the next twenty years it stayed in storage in Kirjathjearim at the house of Abinidab who had sanctified his son, Eleazar, to be the keeper. Finally, David decided to move the ark to a place he had prepared for it in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the men did not carry it as prescribed and one of the men, Uzziah, was killed as he attempted to steady the ark on the cart in II Samuel 6:1-12/I Chronicles 13 (see notes). The ark was left there in the house of Obededom the Gittite while David had an opportunity to regroup. The place was named Perezuzzah as a result of this incident. Finally, after consecrating the priests and arranging to have the ark transported properly, David sent the priests to Perezuzzah to bring the ark on into Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:13-23; I Chronicles 15, see notes).
When the ark arrived in Jerusalem, it occupied a new tabernacle that had been built by David according to II Samuel 6:17 (see notes). As mentioned previously, now there existed the original tabernacle located in Gibeon without the ark, and this new tabernacle erected by David that housed the ark. Later, the ark was moved into the place prepared for it in Solomon's Temple. After the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. the ark was never seen again. In Herod's Temple, we are told by extra-scriptural sources that a rock occupied the ark's place in the Holy of Holies. There are many in Jerusalem today who believe that the ark is safely secured in a cavern built by Solomon under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.