Lecture #238: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XLVIII) – The Prohibition of Bamot (XXV)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy


In the previous shiur we examined the various stations of the ark. Among other things, we dealt with the ark's stay in the land of the Pelishtim, and with the encounter of the people of Beit-Shemesh with it. In this shiur we will complete our examination of the other stations.


With regard to the ark's transfer to Kiryat-Ye'arim, Scripture says as follows:

And the men of Beit-Shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiryat-Ye'arim, saying, “The Pelishtim have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down, and fetch it up to you.” And the men of Kiryat–Ye'arim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Avinadav on the hill, and sanctified Elazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. (I Shemuel 6:20-7:1)

The people of Beit-Shemesh understand that they cannot stand before the ark – "this holy Lord God" – and therefore they turn to the people of Kiryat-Ye'arim, without detailed explanations. The first significant action taken by the people of Kiryat-Ye'arim is to bring the ark to the house of Avinadav and to dedicate his son "to keep the ark of the Lord." The very watching over of the ark by a person dedicated for that purpose is certainly an important lesson relating to the appropriate honor that must be shown to the ark.

Why do the people of Beit-Shemesh choose to bring the ark specifically to Kiryat-Ye'arim?

First, it should be noted that the appeal to their fellow tribesmen, the members of the tribe of Yehuda, is natural and understandable. Second, Kiryat-Ye'arim is located in a mountainous area, as opposed to Beit-Shemesh which is in the lowlands of Yehuda. Kiryat-Ye'arim seems to have been a central location, as Scripture attests with regard to the members of the tribe of Dan who visit the idol of Mikha:

And from there went out of the family of the Dani, out of Tzor'a and out of Eshta'ol, six hundred men girded with weapons of war. And they went up, and pitched in Kiryat–Ye'arim, in Yehuda: therefore they called that place Machana'im to this day: behold, it is behind Kiryat–Ye'arim. (Shoftim 18:11-12)

In addition to the geographical proximity to Beit-Shemesh and the tribal territory of Dan, we are dealing with a place through which it is natural to pass when traveling to Mount Efrayim in the north. It is reasonable to assume that the ancient road from the lowlands to the mountainous region passed close to Kiryat-Ye'arim, and therefore it served as a way station (note the term: "the camp of Dan").

Third, in addition to its traffic-related centrality, Kiryat-Ye'arim sits on the border between the tribal territories of Yehuda and Binyamin. In the previous shiur, we suggested that the people of Beit-Shemesh wanted to build a kind of border temple by setting up a pillar on the border of the tribal territory of Yehuda. Following this line of thought, Rav Yoel Bin-Nun has argued that it is possible that the people of Beit-Shemesh brought the ark up along the border of the territory of Binyamin, which as we know, was singled out as the sanctified territory of the Shekhina, because of this same erroneous plan.

What is the ark's purpose in Kiryat-Ye'arim? The place does not appear to have been visited during the twenty years that the ark rested there; in the context of the account of the transfer of the ark from Kiryat-Ye'arim in I Divrei Ha-yamim, David notes: "And let us bring the ark of our God to us: for we did not inquire at it in the days of Shaul" (13:3). The ark is not visited by anybody all the days of Shaul's reign! From here we see that the primary importance of resting the ark in Kiryat-Ye'arim lay in safekeeping its sanctity. It is very possible that all that happened in connection with the ark, from the battle of Even-ha-Ezer until the great plague in Beit-Shemesh, instilled grave concern in the hearts of the people, and deterred them from visiting it.

We saw in previous shiurim that the great bama, both in Nov and in Giv'on, was also not visited, so that during this period the attitude toward the ark and the Mishkan was one of total neglect.

David's Bringing the ark from Kiryat-Ye'arim to the city of David[1]

After establishing his kingdom in Jerusalem, David decides to bring the ark from Kiryat-Ye'arim to the City of David.

This is David's first royal-national spiritual action as king over all Israel in the aftermath of his conquest of the fortress of Zion and the consolidation of his power in the City of David. This attests to the great importance that David attached to the necessity of the ark's being located in Jerusalem.

David's actions are founded on two major innovations. First, against the background of Israel's refraining from paying attention to the ark while at Kiryat-Ye'arim throughout the reign of Shaul and that of David in Hebron, owing to the fear it evoked in them, David demonstrates daring, taking the ark and bringing it up to Jerusalem. Let us mention that even Shemuel the prophet, throughout the years of his leadership and prophecy, did not relate to the ark and return it once again to the Mishkan. He might have believed that the people of Israel had not yet corrected their attitude towards the ark, and he was concerned about the possible consequences that this flawed attitude would have.

Indeed, when the ark falls to the ground and Uzza dies trying to prevent it, this teaches us that even David himself had not yet reached the proper attitude toward the ark. Only after the ark's stay in the house of Oved-Edom the Gittite, and the blessing that rested there, did David completely change his attitude toward the ark; with respect to the way it was transported (on the shoulders, and not in a cart), and with respect to the priestly guard and offering of sacrifices all along the way of the ark's advancement to the City of David.

The second innovation lies in the understanding that removing the ark from Kiryat-Ye'arim would only be possible if the ark is returned to its natural place, back to the Mishkan. One would have expected David to take the ark to Giv'on, so that the ark and the great bama would once again function as a single entity, thus prohibiting bamot in all other places. Bringing the ark up to the City of David reflects the understanding that the site of the resting of the Shekhina should be joined to the royal capital. The city of Jerusalem was not to be only a city of government and rule, and the monarchy not only a tool of government – both were to serve as a foundation for the resting of the Shekhina upon all of Israel.

Another expression of this idea is found in the words of Chazal in tractate Yoma (12a), according to which the border separating between the tribal territories of Binyamin and Yehuda passes through Mount Moriya; the various chambers, including the Chamber of Hewn Stone, and so too the southern corner of the altar are located in the territory of Yehuda (Zevachim 53b), while the structure of the Temple itself and the major part of the altar are located in the territory of Binyamin (Yoma 12a). Chazal wish to say with this that the monarchy as well has a connection to and a hold on the Temple, and that the site of the Temple creates an essential connection between Yehuda and Binyamin, between the descendants of Lea and those of Rachel.

As for the supreme importance that David attaches to bringing the ark to Jerusalem, it must be noted that during the rebellion of Avshalom, David leaves the ark in Jerusalem despite the fact that he himself is forced to flee. Avshalom, who began his rebellion in Hebron, makes his way to Jerusalem, and David who is unwilling to confront him in Jerusalem flees to Machanayim.

Scripture describes the disagreement between Tzadok the priest and David on the matter of the fate of the ark:

And lo Tzadok also came, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Evyatar went up, until all the people had finished passing out of the city. And the king said to Tzadok, “Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favor in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me back, and show me both it, and His habitation; but if He thus says, I have no delight in you; behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seems good in His eyes.” (II Shemuel 15:24-26)

Tzadok's position is that the king brought the ark to the city, and so if the king leaves the city, the ark should leave with him and go wherever he goes, and when he returns he will then restore the ark to the city.


In contrast, David maintains that the king must follow the ark, rather than the ark following the king. His position is that the ark's place is in Jerusalem, and even though this means that for the time being he must leave the ark with Avshalom, if he continues to find favor in God's eyes, God will restore him to his kingship and show him "Him and His habitation"; and if not, He will do as seems good in His eyes. It was clearly in David's personal interest when he was fleeing from Avshalom that the ark, which symbolizes the Shekhina, should be with him, but nonetheless his decision is clear, that the monarchy must be closely connected to the resting of the Shekhina, and therefore the ark must remain in Jerusalem.

This decision carries another message; leaving the ark in the City of David even after David's departure from the city expresses David's decisive choice of Jerusalem and the eternal connection between the royal city and the resting of the Shekhina.

The Ark in the City of David

            In II Shemuel we read:

And they brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord. (6:17)

Going beyond this description, it may be assumed that this tent was pitched in a central location in the heart of the City of David. II Divrei Ha-yamim offers a much more detailed account:

And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to invoke, and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel. Asaf the chief, and next to him Zekharya, Ye'i'el, and Shemiramot, and Yechiel and Matitya, and Eliav, and Benayahu, and Oved-Edom: and Ye'i'el with lutes and with lyres; but Asaf was to sound the cymbals; and Benayahu and Yachazel the priests with trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first delivered his psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaf and his brothers. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 16:4-7)

So he left there before the ark of the covenant of the Lord Asaf and his brothers, to minister before the ark continually, as every day's work required: and Oved-Edom with their brothers, sixty eight; and Oved-Edom the son of Yeditun and Chosa to be doorkeepers. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 16:37-38)

David distinguishes between the Levites and priests who stand guard and minister before the ark of God in the tent in the City of David, and those who serve at the fixed service at the great bama at Giv'on.

In this framework, David institutes that a Levite guard comprised of Asaf and his colleagues should play on instruments before the ark "continually, as every day's work required," and corresponding to them a Levite guard comprised of Heman and Yedutun should praise God at the great bama at Giv'on.[2]

It is clear that the daily offerings were sacrificed by the priests at the great bama at Giv'on. It may be suggested[3] that the Levite singers in Jerusalem sang the daily song every morning and every afternoon, while their brothers were bringing the daily morning and afternoon offerings at the bama at Giv'on. It turns out that bringing the ark to the City of David is not merely an act which joins the monarchy to the resting of the Shekhina. Rather, the tent that was pitched for the ark in the City of David served as an important ritual center before which the daily song was sung paralleling the offering of sacrifices at the bama at Giv'on. It stands to reason that setting the Levites around the ark bestowed on this increased meaning and respect.

In any event, it appears that the ark becomes an important spiritual center in the heart of Jerusalem which was established as a royal city for all of Israel. While it seems to us that David still does not know the precise location of the Temple, this is certainly a type of preparation in anticipation of its building.

What is unique about David's action is that he created a new ritual center in addition to the great bama in Giv'on. The idea that underlies David's action is his desire to join, already at this stage, the site of the monarchy to the site of the resting of the Shekhina, even before the building of the Temple. This is a significant innovation in the establishment of the kingdom of David over all of Israel in Jerusalem. 

Bringing up the ark from the city of David to the house of the Lord by King Shelomo

The matter of the ark comes to an end after twenty years of construction of the house of God and the house of the king. At the dedication of the house of God the ark and the structure of the Mishkan are once again reunited; the ark is brought from the City of David to Mount Moriya, and the vessels that had been at the great bama at Giv'on (the table, the candelabrum, the incense altar, the laver and its stand and the rest of the vessels of the Mishkan) are also brought to Mount Moriya and set in the new and permanent structure that was built by King Shelomo.

This festive event is described in I Melakhim 8:

Then Shelomo assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chiefs of the fathers of the children of Israel, to King Shelomo in Jerusalem, that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the City of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled themselves to King Shelomo at the feast in the month of Etanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, and the Tent of Meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent, even those did the priests and the Levites bring up. And King Shelomo, and all the congregation of Israel that were assembled to him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing sheep and oxen that could not be told nor numbered for multitude. And the priest brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, into the sanctuary of the house, to the most holy place, under the wings of the keruvim. For the keruvim spread out their two wings over the place of the ark, and the keruvim covered the ark and its poles above. And they drew out the poles, so that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place, before the sanctuary, though they were not seen outside: and there they are to this day. There was nothing in the ark save the two tablets of stone, which Moshe put there at Chorev, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord. (8:1-11)

Scripture describes the gathering of the elders of Israel, the heads of the tribes, the princes and all the people of Israel to Jerusalem - "that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the lord out of the City of David, which is Zion" – to the house of God. Later Scripture emphasizes that the priests bear "the ark" and together with it "the Tent of Meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent"; as we have emphasized, the ark they bring up from the tent in the City of David to the house of God, whereas the Tent of Meeting and all the holy vessels in the Tent they bring up from the great bama at Giv'on. In addition, Scripture mentions that the dedication of the house of God is accompanied by a huge quantity of sacrifices.

The ark is brought into the Holy of Holies under the wings of the keruvim which Shelomo added in the construction of the Holy of Holies. Scripture emphasizes that inside the ark there were only the two stone tablets that were placed there by Moshe. At the end of this incident, the glory of God fills the house of the Lord.

The event takes place in the seventh month, in accordance with the idea that the house of the Lord is meant for all the nations of the world, and therefore it is the fitting month for its dedication.

The event is described also in II Divrei Ha-yamim (5) with the addition of details relating to the priestly and Levite singers. With this we complete the description of the state of the Mishkan from the destruction of Shilo until the dedication of the Temple on Mount Moriya.

On the one hand, we have now reviewed the stations of the great bama at Nov and Giv'on, and on the other hand, the stations of the ark from the land of the Pelishtim through Beit-Shemesh, Kiryat Ye'arim, the house of Oved-Edom the Gittite, the City of David and Mount Moriya.

Now that we have a certain picture of the great bama and the ark which were separated during this time period, in the coming shiurim we will examine various different expressions of the Divine service outside the great bama and try to understand their significance.

(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] We dedicated two shiurim to this issue in the framework of our shiurim on Jerusalem. In this shiur we will only comment on several fundamental points that are important for understanding the succession of events.

[2] When the verse states: "So he left there before the ark of the covenant of the Lord Asaf and his brothers, to minister (le-sharet) before the ark continually, as every day's work required," it is reasonable to assume that the meaning of the word le-sharet in this context is la-shir, to sing.

[3] See Da'at Mikra commentary to I Divrei Ha-yamim 16:37.