Kiriath Jearim was one of four towns that belonged to the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:17). The Gibeonites were a group of people who lived in the region of Gibeon. Although they did not originally belong to Israel, they joined Israel by the peace agreement in Joshua chapter 9.
For about 400 years, Shiloh had been the most important place in Israelís religion. Here, the sacred tent called the tabernacle stood. The sacred box called the ark was in its most holy room. The chief priest remained in Shiloh. People brought their gifts to God to Shiloh. Everyone who was loyal to God went there regularly.
For the next 100 years, all these things happened at different places. People offered their sacrifices (gifts to God; usually animals) on the hills (1 Kings 3:2-4). The priests moved the tabernacle to a town called Nob (21:1). They carried out some ceremonies there - for example, they still offered the sacred bread to God. However, they could not carry out all the ceremonies, because the ark was not there.
During all this time, the ark was in a private house at Kiriath Jearim. It was there for most of Samuelís life. (The 20 years in 1 Samuel 7:2 seems to refer just to the beginning of this period of time.) It was there for all of King Saulís rule, which lasted about 40 years. It even remained there when Saul cruelly killed many of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1). It was still there when King David decided to bring the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 13:5-7).
Perhaps by then people had even forgotten where the ark was. Psalm 132:6 seems to describe how David had to search for the ark. He found it in Abinadabís house in Kiriath Jearim. For all those years, members of Abinadabís family had loyally carried out their sacred duty to guard the ark of God.
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© 2014, Keith Simons.