“in the middle of the tent that David had pitched for it.” David pitched a special tent in Jerusalem for the ark of the covenant. This is enigmatic and unexplained in the Word of God. According to the Law of Moses, the ark of the covenant was to be in the Holy of Holies in Moses’ Tent of Meeting, the “Tabernacle” (Exod. 26:33-35). But at this time in David’s reign as king the Tent of Meeting and all the trappings, priests, and the services that went with it were in Gibeon (1 Chron. 16:39; 21:28-29; see commentary on 1 Chron. 16:39).
Moses’ Tent of Meeting had been in Shiloh during the time of Joshua, the Judges, and the life of Samuel (Josh. 18:1, 8; 19:51; Judg. 18:31; 1 Sam. 1:3, 9, 24; 4:3-4), but before Saul became the king of Israel, during the life of Samuel, the ark was taken from the Tent of Meeting and captured by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:11). The Philistines eventually returned the ark to the Israelites, but it never made it back into the Tent of Meeting. David took it from the house of Obed-Edom and moved it to a special tent he had set up in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:12-17; 1 Chron. 16:1).
There was no explanation given in the Word of God for why David did not either take the ark and place it inside the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting at Gibeon, or bring the Tent of Meeting from Gibeon to Jerusalem. It is possible that at that time in history the priesthood was so corrupt that David wanted the blessing of the ark of God to be in Jerusalem but did not want all the corruption that came with the priesthood and Tent of Meeting to come to Jerusalem. After all, during Samuel’s life Eli the High Priest had been corrupt and his sons were very corrupt (1 Sam. 2:12, 22-25, 27-34). During David’s reign, Abiathar, a descendant of Phinehas the son of Eli, was High Priest (but Zadok also seems to have functioned as High Priest), but Abiathar did not support David. In fact, when David’s son Adonijah rebelled against David, Abiathar sided with Adonijah against David.
It is also possible that the Tabernacle was associated with moving from place to place, and also with conquest, and that by setting up a different tent David was in a sense “rebranding” God, and showing Him to be planted in one place rather than moving from place to place. The moving and conquests were now over and done with. God would live in Jerusalem.
No doubt the fact that the ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem while the Tent of Meeting and the altar of sacrifice were in Gibeon caused confusion in the worship of Yahweh. How could the High Priest go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on the ark on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:14-15) if the ark was not there? And why offer burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the great altar of sacrifice to be reconciled and connected to God if God was not even there residing between the cherubim over the mercy seat? The Bible offers no explanations for the difficulties having the Tabernacle in one place and the ark of the covenant in another place would have caused. It seems that at the time of David there was a division between the worship of Yahweh before His ark in Jerusalem, and sacrifice to Yahweh for sin and for fellowship, which would have had to occur in Gibeon. For example, Solomon had to go to Gibeon to offer sacrifices at the time he started his kingdom (1 Kings 3:4). But David had Asaph and his brothers in Jerusalem, along with Obed-Edom and men from his family, and they ministered before Yahweh in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 16:37-38).
There seems to be a powerful lesson in what David did and what God obviously not only allowed but seems to have blessed—and God did bless David because he was a man after God’s own heart and wrote many Psalms that are an important part of the Word of God. Also, later in the Word of God, the Messiah is called “David” by the figure of speech antonomasia (name-change), an obvious indication that in being like David the Messiah would be a great king (see commentary on Ezek. 34:23).
The lesson seems to be that just as God Himself abandoned His own Temple (Solomon’s Temple) when the political and priestly system became corrupt (see commentary on Ezek. 9:3), and eventually even allowed it to be destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:8-9), so too He understood when David abandoned Moses’ Tabernacle when it had become corrupt. But David recognized that the ark was the dwelling place of Yahweh, so he took it from the corrupt priests (who had no army and could not really stop him) and put it in Jerusalem where he could worship God in a way that was more pure in the eyes of God. We have to recognize that any religious place or institution can become corrupt in the eyes of God, and when that happens, no matter how ancient, traditional, or sentimental it is, God can and will abandon it, and when God leaves, His followers should leave also.
The problems caused by the ark being separated from the Tent of Meeting came to an end when Solomon built the Temple, because Moses’ Tent of Meeting was disassembled and taken to storerooms in the Temple, and the ark was placed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple (1 Kings 8:1-6; 2 Chron. 5:2-6).