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1 Chr. 15:1-16:36 details King David's efforts to move the Ark of the Covenant Jerusalem, and describes it being brought into the city. Then, 1 Chr. 37, 39-40 states that:

David left Asaph and his associates before the ark of the covenant of the Lord to minister there regularly, according to each day’s requirements. ... David left Zadok the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the Lord at the high place in Gibeon to present burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar of burnt offering regularly ... (NASB)

Surely the primary place of sacrifice would still be where the altar is, with the Tabernacle at Gibeon. However, the text also says that Gibeon, and not Jerusalem, is the proper place to "inquire of God.":

The tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord. (1 Chr. 21:29-30, NASB)

My understanding was that the Ark itself was the dwelling place of God among the Israelites (Ex. 25:22) and that the Tabernacle was holy only by the fact that it contained it. In light of these passages, is this an incorrect interpretation? Why is the place to inquire of God the empty Tabernacle and not the Ark? Is God's presence located in the Ark or the Tabernacle, and then, would God's presence not be with the Ark when it is outside the Tabernacle?

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Interesting and important question! For help in understanding this dilemma, recall that the Tabernacle program entailed the priesthood, and the most important was the High Priest who had the Urim and Thumim, by which men could communicate with God. This was maintained and located up north, even though at times it was sought for and consulted at other locations out of emergency situations.

Also, the Brazen Altar of Sacrifices of Moses was still at the northern location (before the Temple was finally built). Although other sacrifices were offered in different locations (high places), they did not have the prestige of the Mosaic altar. When Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem thousands of offerings were sacrificed there on the new Brazen Altar ministered by legitimate priests.

All of this Gibeon Mosaic ritual was thrown off-kilter when the Philistines captured the Ark of His Presence and took it to their idolatrous temples. But even when David brought it to Jerusalem, it was out of place. Not until Solomon's Temple was built, did all of the Mosaic furnishings come together again, under the supervision of the priesthood. A complete religious system again.

The important aspect of Mosaic worship was not the Ark alone, but the intercessory priesthood highlighted by the possession of the Urim and Thummim, by which men communicated with God. Solomon's Temple brought together the disjointed aspects of worship--disjointed because of Israel's aberrant behavior-- and gave them all a worthy residence in one place where God could "place His Name."

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In David's time, worship was not yet centralized, so there were many altars at various "high places" throughout the nation, not only at the specific location of the Ark. At the time of Samuel we find that:

1 Samuel 7

6 He made a yearly circuit, passing through Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah and judging Israel at each of these places. Then he used to return to Ramah, for that was his home. There, too, he judged Israel and built an altar to the Lord.

Samuel also shared a sacrificial meal with the future king Saul at a high place in the district of Zuph, where Samuel presided (1 Sam. 9:12). Saul himself temporarily joined a band of prophets coming down from the high place at Gibeah with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps. (1 Sam. 10). David was able to inquire of the Lord by means of the ephod when he was pursuing the Amalekite toward the Negev. (1 Samuel 30) Even after the Ark was brought to Jerusalem, King Solomon "went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar." (I Kings 3:4) Later still, the prophet Elijah offered sacrifice on Mount Carmel to powerful effect. (1 Kgs. 18)

So the place where the Ark was located was not the only place where Israelites offered sacrifice at this time. The centralization of worship at the Temple of Jerusalem did not take place until the time of King Josiah, when the Book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy) was found in the Temple (2 Kings 22:8) and the king became aware of these words:

Deut. 12:13-4

13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like, 14 but offer them in the place which the Lord chooses in one of your tribal territories; there you shall do what I command you.

Conclusion: Gibeon was the "most important high place" at the time. Whether if and other high places were truly holy or not depends on whether one believes that Deuteronomy's prohibition already applied. However, priests, kings and prophets alike did offer sacrifices which God apparently accepted in many places where the Ark did not reside.

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  • Thank you for your answer! However, while it is understandable then why the Israelites would offer sacrifices in more locations, I am especially interested in why the Tabernacle would be considered the designated place to "inquire of God." The verse before that quote states that David made sacrifices at his new altar at Araunah's threshing floor, but even so he could not, even while at this altar, "inquire of God," saying that he had to be at Gibeon in order to do so.
    – mwolfe 11
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 2:50
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    The tabernacle was not the only place where one could inquire of God. I Kings 3:4 says that Gibeon was still the "most important high place" in Solomon's time, so perhaps we need a new question as to why David was prevented from going there. I'll construct one. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 3:09
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    @mwolfe ...Looking at the context of 1Chr. 21:29-30, this was a special circumstance. The angel of the Lord had been dispatched to punish Israel for David's sin of calling for a census. To avoid this punishment David was commanded to build the above mentioned altar. He apparently believed that he had to focus on that altar only because the angel of the Lord had order it to be constructed. I see the story as an explanation concerning a transitional phase marking a shift from Gibeon to Jerusalem as the primary altar of sacrifice. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 3:31

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