Lecture #247: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (LVII) – The Prohibition of Bamot (XXXIV)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy


In this shiur we will continue to examine the worship of God during the period that the great bama stood in Nov and in Giv'on. We will consider the battle of Mikhmash, and what was done with the ark, which represented the Urim ve-Tumim.

The Battle of Mikhmash[1]

Achiya the Son of Achituv

Scripture tells us about the priesthood:

And Achiya, the son of Achituv, Ikhavod's brother, the son of Pinchas, the son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shilo, wearing an efod. And the people knew that Yonatan was gone. (I Shemuel 14:3)

The Radak (ad loc.) explains that the phrase, "the priest of the Lord in Shilo," relates to Eli, whereas the words, "wearing an efod," refers to Achiya. He then continues:

And this Achiya was in the camp with the ark of God, wearing an efod, which included the choshen, the Urim ve-Tumim, for it was with them that they inquired:  "Bring the ark of God here" (14:18), "Let us draw near here to God" (14:36). Therefore this story comes to teach that the curse pronounced upon Eli did not yet begin, for among his descendants was one who wore an efod. For the curse did not begin until Tzadok was established as the High Priest.

"Bring the Ark of God Here"

The Radak states that Achiya was there with the ark of God, as is stated later explicitly: "And Shaul said to Achiya, Bring the ark of God here. For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel" (14:18). The Radak explains:

That is to say, the efod, and the Urim ve-Tumim which were with the ark of God to inquire through them about Yonatan.

The expression "Bring the ark of God here" requires examination. In general we find an inquiry of this sort made by way of the Urim ve-Tumim, but in those cases we find no mention of "the ark of God."[2]

The Ralbag explains:

That is to say, the Urim ve-Tumim that were in the ark, to inquire of God about Yonatan and about the trembling in the Pelishti camp, whether they should chase after them or remain where they were.

"For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel." This means that on the day that they came to Gilgal the ark of God came there with the children of Israel. And for this reason it happened that when the people dispersed from before Shaul, the High Priest was left there with the ark of God.

And when Shemuel and Shaul and the people who were with Shaul left to go to Giv'a in Binyamin, the High Priest and the ark of God left with them and went to Giv'a.[3]

The Ralbag understands that the Urim ve-Tumim were stored in the ark.[4] The Torah itself does not specify that the Urim ve-Tumim were kept in the ark, as opposed to other items about which it is mentioned that over the generations they were placed in the ark: the jug of manna (Shemot 16:33-34); Aharon's staff (Bemidbar 17:25-26). According to the Ralbag it is clear why it was necessary to bring the ark in order to inquire by way of the Urim ve-Tumim.

Furthermore, the Ralbag understands that the ark was brought to Gilgal, and that when the leaders, Shemuel and Shaul, left, the ark returned with the High Priest to Giv'a. From here the connection between the High Priest and the ark.

Other Rishonim propose similar suggestions as to the identity of the ark referred to by Shaul:

1. Rashi says that the reference is to the Urim ve-Tumim themselves. According to this opinion, it is interesting that the Urim ve-Tumim themselves should be called an "ark."

2. The Metzudat David writes: "Bring the ark of God here – to inquire before it by way of the Urim ve-Tumim whether we should go up to them… and the ark was with the children of Israel and among them." According to him, bringing the ark made it possible to inquire by way of the Urim ve-Tumim. This is similar to the Rambam's ruling: "How was inquiry made? The [High] Priest would stand facing the ark, and the person making inquiry was behind him" (Hilkhot Kelei ha-Mikdash 10:11).[5]

3. The Radak explains: "That is to say, the efod, and the Urim ve-Tumim which were with the ark of God to inquire through them about Yonatan." Ri Kara writes: "Bring the ark of God here – the Urim ve-Tumim in the ark were there with Achiya the son of Achituv."
In their opinion, the efod and the Urim ve-Tumim were with the ark, or else in the ark itself.

Rav Yoel Bin Nun[6] argues that the choshen, the efod, the Urim ve-Tumim, and the other priestly garments were not left out in the open, but rather were kept in an ark. There was no special command about this, as we are dealing with a technical matter of finding an appropriate place to store and preserve the priestly garments.[7]

Among other things, Rav Bin Nun cites the verses mentioned above to prove that there was a special ark for the Urim ve-Tumim, and it was that ark that Shaul ordered to be brought to him.

The second proof is connected to the efod in the hand of Evyatar that is mentioned in the story of his flight to David: "And it came to pass, when Evyatar the son of Achimelekh, fled to David to Ke'ila, that he came down with an efod in his hand" (I Shemuel 23:6). There seems to be a reference to this efod also in I Melakhim: "And to Evyatar the priest the king said, Get you to Anatot, to your own fields; for are worthy of death: but I will not at this time put you to death, because you did bear the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you have been afflicted in all my father's afflictions." (2:26). Nowhere is it mentioned that Evyatar bore the ark before David, which at the time was in Kiryat-Ye'arim. It therefore seems that we are dealing with the ark for the efod.[8]

It is important to note that Rav Bin Nun's proposal is exceedingly novel. We do not find explicit mention of a separate ark for the efod in Scripture or in the words of Chazal. One might have expected that in the event that there was another ark, this would have been mentioned somewhere, even if the logic underlying the need for such an ark is very strong and sensible.

Is it reasonable and possible that such an ark existed but was not mentioned in Scripture or in the words of Chazal? There is no doubt that is very reasonable to argue that the Urim ve-Tumim must have been stored in some container and that they did not just lie around in some undefined place, but were they stored in an ark, and was that ark called "the ark of God"?

Furthermore, is it reasonable that the term "ark of God" was used in some places to describe the usual ark that was located in the Holy of Holies, while in other places that same term was used in reference to the ark that contained the Urim ve-Tumim (see, for example, II Shemuel 6:2)?

It should be mentioned that, as noted above, according to Ri Kara and the Radak the Urim ve-Tumim were stored in the regular ark or alongside it, and thus there is no need to introduce this special ark. As for the verses regarding Achiya and Evyatar, therefore, the existence of an additional ark is possible, but by no means necessary.[9]


(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Regarding the sacrifice offered in Gilgal by Shaul, see the previous shiur.

[2] Thus, for example, when David inquires through Evyatar whether the people of Ke'ila will hand him over (I Shemuel 23:9), and when he asks whether he will defeat the troop of his enemies (I Shemuel 30:7-8).

[3] The Ralbag continues: "However, the place of the ark of God then was in Nov," even though according to the plain sense of the verses the ark was then in Kiryat-Ye'arim, and even though the ark's presence in Nov would have prohibited the offering of sacrifices on bamot.

[4] It is important to emphasize that it is clear that at the time of the inquiry the Urim ve-Tumim were positioned over the priest's heart. The discussion here relates to the question where the Urim ve-Tumim were stored when not in use.

[5] The wording of the Gemara (Yoma 73a) is: "Our Rabbis taught: How was inquiry made? The inquirer had his face directed to him who was consulted, and the latter directed himself to the Shekhina." Rashi explains: "The king or the Av Bet Din – his face was directed to him who was consulted – to the priest. To the Shekhina – to the Urim ve-Tumim and to the explicit Name in the Choshen." The Rambam explains the words: "To the Shekina" – to the ark, whereas Rashi understands them as referring to the Urim ve-Tumim. See Kesef Mishneh (ad loc.)

[6] In his article, "Aron Berit u-Ma'amado be-Sefer Shemuel," in Be-Ikvot Aron Ha-Shem, Orot Yisrael, pp. 21-24.

[7] We bring here part of the discussion that appeared in our shiur concerning additional arks.

[8] See, however, what is mentioned in connection with Avshalom's rebellion (II Shemuel 15:24): "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 finshed passing out of the city."

[9] It is, of course, reasonable to assume that the ark was covered and that it was possible to store the Urim ve-Tumim in it alongside the tablets and the broken tablets that rested in it. This is connected to the Tannaitic dispute concerning the contents of the ark and the number of arks, but this is not the forum in which to expand on the matter.