How Long Was the Ark of the Covenant at Abinadab’s House?

Answering 439 Bible Contradictions: #7 & 9

Answer: The ark had been in Abinadab’s house for twenty years when Israel repented and over forty years when King David came to retrieve it.

Problem: 1 Samuel 7:1-2 says that after the ark of the Lord was brought to Kirjath Jearim and into the house of Abinadab, “a long time passed, some twenty years.” King David finally comes to Kirjath Jearim to retrieve it (2 Sam. 6:2-3). But Abinadab first received the ark before Saul even became king (1 Sam. 10:24), his reign alone lasting forty years (Acts 13:21), which was then followed by David’s rise to power and subsequent retrieval of the ark. This time frame cannot possibly fit into the aforementioned twenty-year window.

Explanation: Knowing the context of this amazing story is imperative. Israel loses four thousand men in battle to their archrival the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:2). In the next battle Israel parades the Ark of the Covenant for good luck (v. 3), but lose another thirty thousand men and the ark is captured (vvs. 10-11). Eli and his pregnant daughter-in-law die after hearing the news (vvs. 18-19).

The great missionary John Paton once told how wicked sailors would purposely off load a native with measles in order to infect the entire island. The ark was even worse for Israel’s enemies. It destroyed their god Dagon (5:1-5) and afflicted the towns of Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron with fatal tumors as they played hot potato with the ark.

Things get humorous. After seven months of horror and death, the wise men and sorcerers put their heads together and decide: it’s about time to get rid of this thing. In 1 Samuel 6:2-9 we find the longest recorded speech by the Philistines in the Old Testament because the author wants to highlight the spiritual darkness and sheer stupidity of the Philistine leaders. Thus begins a comedy of errors.

They try to appease Israel’s God by giving an offering, but instead of slaying a ram (Lev. 5:15), they break the Law by forming an idol (Ex. 20:4) and of all the ritually detestable animals they could have chosen (Lev. 11:29)—they pick a rat (6:5)! Then they craft five golden objects of an unclean portion of the human anatomy—a tumor. The Philistines really had a bad PR guy.

But then again, they thought, maybe this was just a string of bad luck. To find out, they boxed up the ark (another violation of the law; Num. 7:7-9) and had it pulled by two female cows that had just birthed calves and had never been yoked (6:7). If the untrained cows could actually work together and not return to the cries of their unweaned calves, and if they could pull the ark to the people of Israel, then they’d know it was Israel’s God that was to blame.

The ark does reach the Jewish town of Beth-shemesh, whose Levite community treat the ark just as badly and more die (6:19). Finally it arrives in Kiriath-jearim at the house of Abinadab where it rests “some twenty years”. But the text doesn’t say the ark was there only twenty years or “some twenty years until it was removed.” If so, then there would be a contradiction since David wouldn’t retrieve it for at least another forty years (2 Sam. 6:2; Acts 13:21).

The twenty-year number does not designate how long the ark was in Kirjath Jearim but how long it was there until Israel repented. The very next phrase is: “and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” (7:2). Though Israel had long ignored the words of Samuel, after twenty years, when Samuel once again implored them to “put away their foreign gods” (v. 3), this time they listened. “So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only” (v. 4).

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