The Ark of God – Eli to David

Author:  Joshua Meadowcroft

Many ideas have circulated about the reign length of King Saul and for good reason.  The verse of Scripture found in 1 Sam 13:1 telling of Saul’s reign details appears to have misplaced the figures in the Hebrew text.  Every bible translation ever compiled has written in this verse what they believe to be true.  The range given by all these translations will claim Saul began his reign at the age of 1 year old to 50 years old and actually reigned between 2 years and 42 years.

It is my best understanding that Saul reigned closer to 12 years with Samuel being about 60 when the Ark was brought back to Jerusalem.

Rather then attempting to strictly focus on King Saul, it’s better to look at the whole situation surrounding the Ark of God.   When we weigh all the gathered information concerning the Ark during this period of time we’ll find Saul as well as the Philistines, Eli, Samuel and a place called Kiriath-Jearim.

1 – The Ark was captured before Saul began to reign in the days when Samuel was prophet (1 Sam 4:1-10:1).

2 – Samuel was dedicated to the House of the Lord, under Eli, when he was weaned from his mother.  Dake’s Study Bible says that this could have been at 3, 5 or even 12 years old.  I’ve chosen to use 3 years old.    (1 Samuel 1:1-24)

3.  Samuel was getting old when he anoints Saul for kingship (1 Sam 8:1-4).  Since his sons were old enough (though not moral enough) to be judges, they must be presumed to be around 20 and Samuel at least 40.  He lived to anoint David as well but died before the battle at Gilboa.

4 – The capture of the Ark of God by the Philistines seems to have caused the death of Eli.  Eli lived 98 years and judged Israel 40 years.   (1 Samuel 4:10-18)

5 – After the Philistines had the Ark for 7 months it remained in Kiriath-Jearim for around 20 years.   (1 Samuel 6:1, 7:2)

6 – We’re not told how long of a time there was between the death of Eli and the start of Saul’s reign.  If we can except Saul’s reign being 12 years and the surrounding information concerning King David and the Ark it would appear to reveal that Saul began his reign the same year the Ark was delivered into Kiriath-Jearim.  The means the gap between the death of Eli and Kings Saul’s reign is around 6 months.

7 – The Ark returned to Jerusalem under King David in the early part of his reign. (2 Sam 6:1-15).   David could have only brought the Ark back to Jerusalem after he started reigning over Jerusalem.  This could have been as early as 7.5 years into his reign.  This year would be 2897.  The entry of the Ark of God into Kiriath-Jearim, 20 years earlier, would have been around 2877 and we also know that the Philistines had the Ark of God for 7 months.  So 2876 is being considered the year the Ark was captured and also being the year Eli died.   Of the 20 years the Ark was in Kiriath-Jearim, seven and a half are already accounted during David’s reign.  This means 12.5 years remain.  After the Ark was captured by the Philistines there was roughly 13 months before Saul became King and he reigned about 12 years.

8 – 1 Sam 14:18 says that while Saul was in Gibeah he told Ahijah to bring the Ark of God to him because they were in an intense battle.  The verse goes on to say ‘the Ark of God was with the children of Israel’.  This seems to cause a problem because, as we have thought, the Ark hadn’t been brought back to Jerusalem until David and he said himself in 1 Chron 13:3 that the Ark of God was not inquired of at all ‘in the days of Saul’.  The answer is simple. Even though Saul initially asked for the Ark he immediately said to Ahijah, ‘withdraw your hand’.  In other words, ‘stop, don’t do it’ or ‘never mind’ as the New Living Translation states.  And so the words of David stand true. The Ark was not sought at all during the days of Saul.  Something else that should be noted is that Israel wasn’t divided into two tribes yet.  Israel meant ALL of the tribes.  The location of Kiriath-Jearim is close to 9 miles north of Jerusalem.  Gibeah, the location from which Saul first desired the Ark to be brought to him, is about 2 miles north of Jerusalem.  So at the time that Saul requested the Ark it was only 7 miles away on the borders of Dan, Benjamin and Judah.  The very fact that Saul would even consider having the Ark brought to him (quickly, I might add, they were in a war) must have meant it was possible.  The Ark wasn’t in Jerusalem but it WAS with the children of Israel.  There is no reason whatsoever for any translation to replace the Hebrew phrase ‘Ark of God’ for the Hebrew word for ‘ephod’ in 1 Sam 14:18.  They are very different Hebrew words and there is no justifiable reason to do so.

The following is another theory from 1 Sam 7:2-3 about the journey of the Ark.  The theory is that “the 20 years didn’t end with David bringing the ark back to Jerusalem but rather before Samuel spoke against the idolatry of the Israelites in the next verse.  In the Kiel and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament the verse is read as: ‘And it came to pass, when the days multiplied from the time that the ark remained at Kiriath-Jearim, and grew to twenty years, and the whole house of Israel mourned after Jehovah, that Samuel said …’ They explain it this way: ‘The single clause of 1 Sam 7:2 and 1 Sam 7:3 are connected together by a vav consec., and are not to be separated from one another.  There is no gap between these verses; but they contain the same closely and logically connected thought…’ The letter vav is often times translated as ‘and’.  In the NASB it says, ‘Then Samuel spoke …’ indicating that he spoke after the events in verse 2. So it was twenty years that the Israelites continued in their sin after the ark was returned that.  Then they lamented their predicament; then Samuel spoke.”

When this theory first came to my attention I was quite interested because it offers the opportunity to stick with Paul saying that King Saul reign 40 years (Acts 13:21).  Another question arises then:  if the twenty years that 1 Sam 7:2 mentions started in at least the 7th year of David’s reign (27th year) then how long did the ark remain at Kiriath-Jearim? The only answer would be to say a ‘long time’ as it says in verse 2.   This ‘long time’ would appear to be roughly 67 years; the 40 years of Saul’s reign plus the 27 years into David’s reign.

So far there is no reason to see why this isn’t a possibility.   However, when we look at the general knowledge of points 1-6 as above we find our first red flag.  The estimated year Samuel would have been born is pushed back to 2809.  This means that when Samuel spoke to the Israelites in the 27th year of David, he was about 107 years old and 7:13-17 would suggest more years of ministry time throughout Israel before he settled in his home town of Ramah.

There are more reasons to believe that a much shorter reign for Saul is probable.

For more on King Saul’s Reign see footnote ‘Dating Saul’ in the download page.   The only area of disagreement with the material in ‘Dating Saul’ is number 6 in Assumptions and Inferences.  The age that Samuel was when he anointed Saul is suggested to be 50 years old with his sons being 30.  However, we know that Saul began his reign 1 year after Eli died and that Eli’s judgeship lasted the final 40 years of his life.  If Samuel was indeed 50 when he anointed Saul then Samuel was dedicated 9 years before Eli began his judgeship.  The problem arises when we consider 1 Sam 1:9-28.  Clearly, Samuel must have been dedicated under Eli at least 4 years into Eli’s judgeship.   It would change the Assumption of Samuel being 50 when he anointed Saul to 40 and his sons from 30 to 20 years old.  It’s really no big deal.  It doesn’t affect anything else except itself and it’s a minor change.  The question must be asked, how old is ‘old’ in the bible?  We’re told that Samuel was ‘old’ when he anointed Saul.   Samuel was around 40 when he anointed Saul and 60 when the Ark of God was brought back to Jerusalem and it would appear that he had some more traveling ministery to do from 1 Samuel 7:13-17.   So how old is old in the bible?  It’s definitly a relitive term.  Afterall, from Adam to Noah man lived to be over 900.  Unfortunitly, one thing is for sure, noone really knows.  From the all the information gathered revolving around this subject I believe the presented position is the most probable.