Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God. —John Newton (1779)
Israel’s eschatology always focused on David, not Solomon, and Zion, not Moriah.
—Peter Leithart, From Silence to Song (2003)
The Ascension of the Ark
After its brief sojourn in the land of the Philistines, the Ark of the Covenant came home to Israel. But it was never restored to its place in the Tabernacle. Rather, it stayed in the Gibeonite city of Kirjathjearim in the house of one Abinadab for nearly a century. The Gibeonites were Canaanites who, through trickery, had made peace with Israel in the days of Joshua. They were servants to the Tabernacle, but they were still Gentiles.
David conquered Jerusalem early in his reign, and he wanted to bring the Ark there (2 Sam. 5-6). He rightly understood that Israel’s true King ought to be enthroned in Israel’s new capital (Ps. 132). But David made a terrible mistake. He ignored God’s explicit command as to how the Ark was to be transported… on the shoulders of the Levites. Instead, David had the Ark set on an ox cart driven by two non-Levites, Ahio and Uzzah. Along the way, the oxen shook the cart, and the Ark started to tumble. Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark, and God immediately killed him. David was angry and had the Ark taken aside to the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite (another Gentile).
Three months passed, and David received word that God was blessing the household of Obed-Edom. David reconsidered. He came to understand that he had provoked God’s anger and occasioned Uzzah’s death by his disregard for God’s order (1 Chron. 15:13). And so he set out again to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.
This time Levites bore the Ark in the proper manner. Accompanying them was a great procession attended by sacrifice, music, and dancing. David himself danced before LORD with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14). The procession wound its way to Jerusalem and to the fortress area on the crag called Zion. There David had pitched a tent for the Ark until he could build a grand and permanent palace for Yahweh. That palace he would never build. God assigned the Temple project to David’s son, Solomon.
So for the rest of David’s reign the Ark rested in a tent: it was called the Tabernacle of David. Its use marked a turning point in God’s covenant dealings with Israel and the nations.
The Tabernacle of David
First, David had immediate access to the Ark. He could not only come and stand before it: he could sit before it, as one enthroned (2 Sam. 7:18). The Levites ministered within or just outside the tent (1 Chron. 164-6, 37). There was no formal courtyard and no Holy Place. That is to say, there was a freedom of access to Yahweh’s presence that hadn’t existed at the Mosaic Tabernacle and that wouldn’t exist at Solomon’s Temple.
Second, the worship at David’s Tabernacle was infused with singing and instrumental music. The Mosaic Law authorized the use of trumpets in connection with sacrifice and certain festivals, but it didn’t provide for any wide scale use of music, either vocal or instrumental. But David, under inspiration, applied the law in a new way. In the past the Levites had carried the Ark about on their shoulders; that was finished. Yahweh had ascended to His earthly capital: His throne rested in Zion. From here on the Levites would lift up Yahweh in musical praise, for God inhabits the praises of His people (Ps. 22:3).
Third, public worship picked up a new theme: the salvation of the Gentile nations. Given how much time the Ark had spent with Gentiles in the previous hundred years, this shouldn’t have been a great surprise. The first psalm that David wrote for the new liturgy spelled out this Messianic vision:
Sing unto the LORD, all the earth; shew forth from day to day his salvation.
Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvelous works among all nations.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised: he also is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens,
Glory and honor are in his presence; strength and gladness are in his place.
Give unto the LORD, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice: and let men say among the nations, The LORD reigneth.
Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof: let the fields rejoice, and all that is therein.
Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the LORD, because he cometh to judge the earth. (1 Chron. 16:23-33)
Fourth, the Psalms use this worship on Mt. Zion as an image of true gospel worship then and in the ages to come. “Zion” becomes synonymous with the House of God and the kingdom of Messiah. When the Ark finally moved into Solomon’s Temple, it carried the name “Zion” with it, for the Temple mount was properly known as Mt. Moriah (2 Chron. 3:1).
The Tabernacle of David in Prophecy
The prophets don’t have much to say about the Tabernacle of David: most of their prophecies are phrased in terms of Solomon’s Temple and its liturgies. Amos, however, does speak of it, and his prophecy is particularly significant since James makes part of it a proof-text for the decision reached by the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
In the end of his book, Amos describes the restoration of Israel and their victory over the heathen with these words:
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. (Amos 9:11-12)
On the surface, the prophet seems to be saying that one day Jewish worship would be recast after the forms and liturgy of the Davidic Tabernacle and that Israel would achieve political domination over the Gentile nations, beginning with her cousins, the Edomites.
James has a very different take on the prophecy, however. The historical context is this: there was a strong party in the early Church that taught that Gentiles could be admitted to full membership only if they were circumcised; that is, they insisted that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to become Christians. A council assembled at Jerusalem to discuss the matter (Acts 15). James, the Lord’s half-brother, chaired the meeting. The elders of the Jerusalem church were there. So were the apostles Peter and Paul. There was a great deal of discussion.
In the end, James announced the Council’s decision. The Gentiles were free from the ceremonies of the Jewish law. To underscore this decision, James appealed to the prophecy of Amos, though he altered its wording as he quoted it. This is what he said:
And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 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: 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. (Acts 15:15-17)
In other words, James believed that the Tabernacle of David had reference to the New Covenant Church. The worship at David’s Tabernacle had been reborn and glorified in the worship and mission of the Christian Church. Israel’s conquest of the Gentiles spoke of the Church’s obedience to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). The Wars of Yahweh would henceforth be fought with the gospel, with truth and grace.
The biblical doctrine of linear time allows for the development of God’s covenant and kingdom at different rates and in different ways in different eras of history. The brief history of David’s Tabernacle shed a renewed and brilliant light on Yahweh’s plan to win all nations to Himself, not by violence, but by grace (Gen. 12:3). David’s Tabernacle also initiated on a grand scale the use of vocal and instrumental worship in divine worship. As this liturgical revolution has found ongoing expression in the worship of the Church, it has altered Western music and culture in profound ways. And the name “Zion” has found a permanent place in the Psalms, in the New Testament, and in the music of the Church as shorthand for the City of God, the international, trans-temporal community where God’s worship and God’s universal rule come together in perfect harmony.