There is an interesting anomaly that took place while David was king. It is found in the list of the men who were his advisors or, perhaps we might say, his cabinet.
“So David reigned over all Israel, administering justice and righteousness for all his people. Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was court historian; Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were priests; Seraiah was court secretary; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and David’s sons were chief officials” (2 Samuel 8:15-18 CSB).
You may have missed it in that reading, but there are two men who were designated as “priests” – these men were both, at that time, serving as high priest. You might wonder how that happened. This seems to be the story.
The Ark of the Covenant was captured in battle by the Philistines, while Eli was high priest and a judge of Israel, but eventually, it was sent back and ended up in a home in Israel. As we read in 2 Samuel 6, David began to move the Ark to Jerusalem but it ended up in another home before eventually being properly carried to Jerusalem.
Although there was no Ark, the Tabernacle continued to be the center of sacrifices. After Eli’s sons were killed in battle and Eli died, there seems to have been no one to serve as high priest and it wasn’t until Samuel grew up that he took on this role until the next in line was able to serve. The next priest was Ahitub, son of Eli’s son Phinehas and grandson of Eli – this may be the same child as the one born as his mother died when learning the news of the capture of the Ark, whom she named Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21).
The line continued through Ahimelech (identified as “the son of Ahitub”) – he was the high priest at the time of King Saul when the King had him executed for helping David (see 1 Samuel 21-22). When we arrive in the time of David, there ended up being two serving as high priest: Zadok, son of Ahitub, and Abiathar, son of Ahimelech.
There were then two places of worship: one in Jerusalem, near David, and the other in Gibeon, where the Tabernacle was set up. Zadok was assigned to be the high priest in Gibeon at the Tabernacle “to offer burnt offerings regularly, morning and evening, to the Lord on the altar of burnt offerings and to do everything that was written in the law of the Lord, which he had commanded Israel to keep” (1 Chronicles 16:40). With Zadok were other priests and Levites to serve as gatekeepers, musicians, and to assist with the sacrifices.
It would seem that Abiathar was the high priest at the Ark of the Covenant in its tent in Jerusalem. Although he isn’t listed with those serving at the tent, he is always mentioned as being with David so this would be a valid conclusion. There were other Levites assigned to serve in this tent.
Although an anomaly in Israel’s history, we can see two important lessons for us. The first is the need to worship according to what God wants. David had Zadok at the Tabernacle to do just this.
The second is the need to consult God. David wanted access to the Ark, representing the presence of God, knowing his need to rely on God to be a good ruler. We need to have this same reliance on the Lord. We can know what God wants us to do because he revealed it through Jesus to the apostles and writers, who wrote it down – ultimately for us. May we come to rely more and more on God as we better know his will.
Readings for next week:
1 October – 1 Chronicles 15; Psalm 2
2 October – 1 Chronicles 16; Psalm 4
3 October – 1 Chronicles 17; Psalm 19
4 October – 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 24
5 October – 2 Samuel 8; Psalm 33