ESSAY
Death and Resurrection of the Tabernacle
POSTED
February 27, 1999

James Jordan has pointed out in Through New Eyes and elsewhere that the Mosaic system of worship comes to an end with the dismemberment of the tabernacle in 1 Samuel 4-6. Because of the sins of Eli and his sons, that priestly family is cut off and the ark is taken into exile in Philistia, never to be restored to the Mosaic tabernacle. Instead, it remains in the house of Abinadab on the hill through the entire reign of Saul and some years into David’s reign. The sequence of events in this story can be summarized as follows:

A. Ark taken (house of Eli removed), 1 Samuel 4:1-22.
    B. Ark exiled in Philistia, 1 Samuel 5:1-6:9.
        C. Ark returned on cart (sin regarding ark), 1 Samuel 6:10-21.

D. Ark with Abinadab, 1 Samuel 7:1-2. The restoration of the ark to the center of Israel’s religious and national life does not take place until after David’s conquest of Jerusalem. Strikingly, the sequence of events in the ascension of the ark to Zion exactly reverses the events of the ark’s removal from the Mosaic tabernacle:

        C’ Ark returned on cart (sin regarding ark), 2 Samuel 6:1-9.
    B’ Ark housed with a Philistine, 2 Samuel 6:10-11.
A’ Ark Restored (house of Saul removed), 2 Samuel 6:12-19.

As Hebrews 9 implies, every covenant has its sanctuary and its system of worship. What we see in 2 Samuel is thus a covenantal transition: The ark’s arrival at Zion is the coming of a new covenant, as the disruption of the tabernacle is the end of an old covenant. Fittingly, once the ark is installed in Jerusalem, the Lord comes to David and delivers the promises known as the "covenant with David" (2 Samuel 7; cf. Psalm 89:34).

Several details of 2 Samuel 6 strengthen this pattern of reversal and restoration and help pinpoint some of the features of the new, Davidic order. First, Obed-edom (B) is a "Gittite," a convert from the Philistine city of Gath. Just as the ark is exiled among the Philistines for seven months (1 Samuel 6:1), so during its return the ark remains in the house of a Philistine for three months. The Lord’s treatment of the Philistines, however, is very different in the two cases. When the ark is in Philistine territory, Egyptian plagues devastate the land, but when the ark is in the house of the Gittite Obed-edom, the Lord blesses. David takes this as a sign that it is safe to carry the ark to Zion. Though Israel has acted like Philistia in transporting the Yahweh’s throne on a cart, the blessing upon Obed-edom gives David confidence that Yahweh is not going to break out with plagues upon the city of David, as He did upon the Philistine cities. Blessing to a Gentile "provokes David to jealousy" (Deuteronomy 32:19-22).

Moreover, the blessings upon Obed-edom reveal that the Davidic covenant will be a covenant of blessing to Gentile nations, a promise fulfilled especially in Solomon’s reign, when the nations came to learn wisdom from Israel’s king (1 Kings 10:24), but also seen earlier as many foreigners come to join David and become mighty men (like Uriah the Hittite). Though one cannot be dogmatic about his identity, an Obed-edom appears in the list of singers assigned to worship before the ark of Yahweh in the tabernacle of David; perhaps this is a Philistine incorporated into semi-priestly service at David’s tent, an earnest of the later incorporation of the Gentiles (cf. 1 Chronicles 15:18, 21, 24; 16:37-38). Even if this Obed-edom is not the Gittite who housed the ark, it is still evident that the ark now, in contrast to the earlier exile, is at home among Gentiles.

Even under the Mosaic order, Israel was to be the priestly nation among the nations, yet the accent during the earlier period of Israel’s history was on the Lord’s judgment of the nations. Under the Mosaic economy, Egypt was judged, the Canaanites eliminated, foreign invaders assassinated by judges, and Philistines judged with plagues. In an unprecedented turn of events, at the outset of the Davidic covenant, the ark of God is placed among Gentiles and brings blessing. 2 Samuel 6 thus provides important background for the prophecy of Amos 9:11-12, which James quotes at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:16-18 to justify the incorporation of uncircumcised Gentiles into the new Israel.

Second, the two A sections in the above outline are linked not only because of the "ark taken/ark returned" dynamic but because each section records the end of a dynasty. On the same day that the ark is taken into captivity, Eli and his sons die, definitively ending the house of Eli as a priestly house (though this is not finally carried out until the time of Solomon, 1 Kings 2:26-27). When the ark is returned, a royal dynasty comes to an end — the dynasty of Saul. Michal, we recall, sees David rejoicing before the ark, despises him in her heart, and is punished with barrenness. And Michal is Saul’s daughter, so that her barrenness means that Saul’s blood will never run in the veins of Davidic kings. With the closing of the Mosaic tabernacle, a priesthood ends; with the erection of David’s tent, a royal house is cast down.

This dynastic and covenantal transition is an Old Testament type and image of the transition from Old to New Covenant. Along with the implications for Gentile participation in the worship of Yahweh brought out by Amos and James, this type also has practical liturgical significance. The most evident difference between the Mosaic worship described in Leviticus and the Davidic worship set up in 1 Chronicles is the role of music and song. If Leviticus is taken as a complete account, the Mosaic worship was a wholly silent affair. Nowhere in the sacrificial laws are priests instructed to say or sing anything. I imagine that in fact the priests did speak during the course of their sacrificial rites, but even if they did, word and song did not play a prominent role. In the worship prescribed by David in 1 Chronicles 15-16, song and instrumental music are massively emphasized. Sacrifice is still performed at the Davidic tent, conducted by Zadok and his priestly house (1 Chronicles 16:39-40), but it is almost incidental to the Levitical orchestra and Psalm-singing.

This provides a strong line of argument against Reformed liturgists who would reject the use of instruments in worship. Instrumental music is not merely "not forbidden"; on the contrary, it should be a central part of Christian worship. According to the very first church council, we do not worship at a silent Mosaic tent; we worship at the restored tent of David, and our praise in Psalms should be accompanied by an orchestra at least as robust as that of the Levites (1 Chronicles 15:16-24).

Additional Notes on Musical Instruments

by James B. Jordan

As Peter points out in his essay, the coming of musical instruments is in connection with the coming of the Kingdom. A few additional thoughts along these lines:

1. As I showed in my essay on the Fourth Book of the Psalter, in Biblical Horizons No. 100, this entire book is concerned with the coming of the King and of the Kingdom. It is structured chiastically, and the central Psalm is Psalm 98, which celebrates the fact that the King has finally come. Psalm 98 is also structure chiastically, and at the heart and transition point of the psalm, the people are exhorted to take up musical instruments and praise Him. Here is that center section:

Shout joyfully to Yahweh, all the earth;

Break forth

and sing for joy

and make music.

Make music to Yahweh with the lyre;

With the lyre

and the voice of song.

With trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn

Shout joyfully before the King, Yahweh.

2. Similarly, in Revelation 4-5, we see that the heavenly worship is spoken until the King (the Lamb) comes to the throne. Then we read that the angels take up instruments and sing.

3. Thus it is a pretty fair conclusion that singing without instruments is not an adequate way to praise the King. The transition from the priestly phase to the kingly phase in the Former Days (from Moses to David) means that instruments are now to be used in the praise of God. Similarly, the transition from the Old Adamic Creation to the New Creation shows the same thing.

4. A final observation: There is no example of a cappella singing (singing without instruments) in the Bible. We are told on occasion that people sang, and instruments are not mentioned, but never are we told that people sang without instruments. Thus, any strict construction of worship based on the simplistic notion that anything not commanded is forbidden, will have to assert that it is wrong to sing without instruments. Clearly that would be going too far, of course. Singing without instruments is not forbidden, but for the full expression of worship, instruments are necessary.

Peter Leithart is the president of Theopolis Institute. This post originally appeared on Biblical Horizons.

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis.

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