Home » Blog » Theology » Tracing the Covenant Ark VI – The ark Exits Philistine Exile by way of Philistine Levite Worship Leader

Tracing the Covenant Ark VI – The ark Exits Philistine Exile by way of Philistine Levite Worship Leader

Start at Part 1.  Back to part 5. This is part six of a talk I gave at Beit Yeshua in January 2017, or at least I got through what I could in the time limits available, and what I did get through was well received.  (The above image is of Beth Shemesh, where the ark of the covenant crossed from Philistine to Israelite territory, and is from this website.)

1 Samuel says nothing of this, but, as we have seen, it follows the ark, which the Philistines took as a trophy to their cities and placed it in the Temples of their gods, but they gained nothing but trouble – plagues and the idols of their gods falling in pieces before the ark.  God’s priests may have been unholy, leading to disaster, but even in that disaster the ark of the covenant was powerful and holy and bore witness to unbelievers about the power of the one true God of Israel.  After 7 months, the rulers of the Philistine cities consulted with their pagan priests and shamans and sent the ark back to Israel with gifts of gold, on a cart pulled by mother cows who had never done such duty, and they pulled the cart away from their penned up calves straight into Israelite territory.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh spot the cart with the ark and celebrate by sacrificing the cows and burning them on the wood of the cart.  But some of the men of the town looked into the ark and were killed by God, so the people asked for the nearby town of Kiriath Jearim to take it, and there it stayed for several decades.  All this is recounted in 1 Samuel 5 through to 7.2.  By the way Beth Shemesh is about 10km west of Jerusalem, and Kiriath Jearim is about half way between the two.

1 Samuel 14 tells us that King Saul called for the ark to be brought out for battle with the Philistines, and it also tells us that at that time priests from the disgraced and judged family of Eli were with Saul.

Now, in 2 Samuel 6, King David brings up the ark from Kiriath Jearim, also called Baalah.  He does not do it according to the way God prescribed, but the same way that the Philistines had done – on an ark.  Now, we don’t know exactly why he chose to do that – perhaps, as some suggest, people had forgotten the commands of the Lord, but it is also interesting to note that David had spent a considerable amount of time serving the Philistines, specifically the ruler of Gath, the very city whose champion Goliath he had earlier slain.  The king of Gath had been impressed, and in fact, a good many of David’s men were Philistines from Gath – labelled Gittites in the bible.  Anyway, an Israelite called Uzzah reached out to steady the ark when the oxen stumbled and died touching it.  This terrified David, and he didn’t want the ark to come to him lest he and all his court be similarly killed, so he sent it to the home of one of those very Philistines from Gath, one Obed-Edom, where it resided for three months, and where this Philistine who was now the keeper of the ark was blessed mightily by God.

David’s response is to complete the moving of the ark to Jerusalem, but this time carrying it in the proper prescribed manner and with sacrifices.  But, he also does something else – he makes Obed Edom an official gatekeeper of the sanctuary.  He puts a Philistine in the role of a Levite.  In fact, Obed Edom the Philistine – unless there were multiple individuals with the same name at the same time – is listed in multiple roles as a Levite.  From being captured by the Philistines, the ark goes to being blessed and looked after by a Philistine, so much so that at least one, and possibly many, Philistines are made Levites.   Let’s have a look and see what’s going on here.

Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” (2 Sam 6.12).

And again, in 1 Chronicles 13.14:

The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months, and the Lord blessed his household and everything he had.

Now, we don’t know the make-up of Obed Edom’s family – he could possibly have married an Israelite, but it is also quite possible that his household was made up of Philistines, and certainly his children would have been half Philistine by blood at least, yet the ark stays with the family of this Philistine, and they are all blessed.

1 Chronicles 15 gives us more information as to how David organized the Levites for the moving of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.   V13-15 tell us David what David said and did:

It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.” So the priests and Levites consecrated themselves in order to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel.  And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord.

But v16 continues as David organized the Levites to do this work:

David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals.

So, the Levites do this in v17-18

So the Levites appointed Heman son of Joel; from his relatives, Asaph son of Berekiah; and from their relatives the Merarites, Ethan son of Kushaiah; and with them their relatives next in rank: Zechariah,Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom and Jeiel, the gatekeepers.

Obed-Edom is recorded as a Levite, as one of their relatives, and yet – unless this is someone else with the same, very unusual name – he was a Philistine from Gath, the same city as Goliath, the city of the enemies of God’s people.  He is described as one of the gatekeepers, who is also called to be a musician, a worship leader.  Actually, v21 tells us specifically that he was a harpist, like David.  V24 tells us that he was also appointed not just as a gatekeeper, but specifically as a doorkeeper for the ark, whatever that role entailed.  Now, how can he be simply called a Levite?  I suspect that at least in part it was because after an Israelite was killed touching the ark, the Levites recognized that God’s blessing of this Gentile through the same ark was a sign.  God had approved his role in caring for the ark, and so they followed God, probably by having a Levite legally adopt Obed Edom into their family as a son.  There is, I suppose, the possibility that such an adoption had happened earlier, which was why the canny David, after the disaster involving Uzzah the Israelite, left the ark with a loyal foreigner who was also already a Levite.  We don’t know for sure how it came to be, but the bible is quite clear that this Philistine was counted a Levite.

In chapter 16, David appoints some of the Levites to minister before the ark as a permanent role as worship leaders, and the account seems to specifically list the leaders in rank in v5 – and Obed Edom was included in those leaders – he was not just a Levite but a leader of Levites.  In v38 it says that Obed Edom was the son of Juduthun, which suggests Juduthun was the Levite who formally adopted him.  It also says that as well as the famous Asaph and his team, Obed Edom and his 86 associates ministered with Asaph’s team.  Now it isn’t explicit, but I think it is quite possible that these associates could be fellow Philistines, perhaps including his own household.  If that is the case, then David actually put a team of Gentile Philistines (at least Gentile in origin) in co-charge of worship before the holiest object in the Israelite worship system, alongside a team of Jews.  At the very least, he put a Philistine in charge of one of the teams.  Jew and Gentile ministered together.  Of course, technically that might not be true, in that we could reasonably assume that to take this role, the Philistines had to be circumcised and converted, but it is also possible that that reasonable assumption might turn out to be wrong, in which case this would be a prophetic picture of the future kingdom of the Davidic Messiah where Jew and Gentile would worship side by side as equals.  If that’s the case, then only two doorkeepers were appointed for the ark, the presumably Jewish Jehiel and the Gentile Obed Edom – equal roles, half and half.

This was not just a one off thing, though, since 1 Chronicles 26.4-8 tells us that his sons and grandsons continued in the work of the Levites as gatekeepers, and were very skilful at it.  Philistines were actually made gatekeepers of Israel’s holy sanctuary at the heart of the kingdom.  In fact, much later on, we are told that he and his family were put in charge of some, if not all, of the treasures of the Temple.  When there was war between Israel and Judah, we are told the king of Israel sacked Jerusalem and took ‘all the gold and silver and all the articles found in the temple of God that had been in the care of Obed-Edom’ among other things, according to 2 Chronicles 25.24.

Part 7.