The tabernacle was at Gibeon

Having been accepted into the nation of Israel and given an important role as “hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of Yahweh”, it is possible to trace the impact these Hivites and their cities had in the history of the covenant people.

Location, location, location

There were four identifiable cities of this group of Hivites who sought to ally themselves with Israel under Joshua: Gibeon, Beeroth, Chephirah and Kirjath-jearim. When Joshua divided the land of Canaan into tribal allotments, three were allocated to Benjamin (Gibeon, Chephirah and Beeroth, Josh 18:25-26) and Kirjath-jearim became a border town but given to Judah (Josh 15:9,60). 1The fact that Hivites were living in cities allocated to Benjamin was later to become a problem for some in Israel.

The place which the Lord your God shall choose

When Moses was addressing Israel as they were assembled on the plains of Moab, he reached a point in his discourse when God’s instruction becomes directed specifically to the land (Deut 12:1). They were informed that when they reached “the land” a specific place was to be chosen to become the centre of worship. This was to be the location of the tabernacle. In the first instance Shiloh was that place (Josh 18:1; Jer 7:12) but eventually God made David aware that His chosen place was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite on Mount Moriah (1 Chron 21:18). Whilst the tabernacle was never at this site, the temple was, and this “exceeding magnifical” structure (1 Chron 22:5) was to eventually replace it and become the centre of worship. In Joshua 9 the Gibeonites were tasked with serving the “altar of the Lord…in the place which he should choose” (v27).

Temporary ‘homes’

In the years following the demise of Shiloh and the completion of the temple, we read of two places where the tabernacle was found. The first at Nob, a city of the priests (1 Sam 22:19) near to Jerusalem and later, Gibeon, the chief Hivite city. Scripture recognises both these places as being acceptable interim locations for His sanctuary2 but does not describe how they came to be there. So, in the absence of direct revelation, we may cautiously make some suggestions.

The glory is departed

With the loss of the ark of the covenant to the Philistines, the glory departed from Israel. Psalm 78:58-64 is a commentary on these sad times and the historical narrative reveals the name given to the child that Phinehas’ wife delivered before her life ended (1 Sam 4:21-22). Ichabod means, “Where is the glory” or “There is no glory” (KJV margin). The words of Ichabod’s mother are recorded twice within two verses, “the glory is departed from Israel”, emphasising the impact of this tragedy on the nation.

Nob and the tabernacle

When Eli and his sons all died suddenly, Samuel, whose responsibility towards the people of Israel then increased markedly, realised the need for a new place for the tabernacle. Things were not, and would not, be the same because the ark and the tabernacle were never brought together again. Nevertheless, the tabernacle service carried on at Nob. Ahimelech, the high priest was there, and through David’s visit to Nob, we learn that the regulation pertaining to the shewbread was being followed as set out in the law. Tragically, David’s visit coincided with Doeg’s spell at Nob too, and this was to lead to the slaughter of 85 priests and sacking of the whole city:

“And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.” (1 Sam 22:18-19)

Although the record does not specifically state that this evil work was carried out in two phases, there is enough room for there to be an interpretation which would fit the possibility that the Gibeonites, who must have been at Nob serving at the tabernacle, removed it to their own city. In between the slaying of the priests and the ransacking of the city there appears to have been a window of opportunity to rescue the tabernacle and place it in their safe keeping.

Gibeon and the tabernacle

From our consideration of Joshua 10 we discovered the strategic importance of Gibeon, described as “a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty” (10:2). The Gibeonites must have considered that the slaughter at Nob should not be repeated and became the loyal defenders of God’s sanctuary. What better way to protect the tabernacle than to take it to their own city so that during the remainder of Saul’s reign it could be subject to constant surveillance. This nurturing continued right through the 40 years of king David’s reign and also during the early years of king Solomon, whilst the temple was being built.

Kirjath-jearim and the ark

Before the tabernacle was moved to Nob and then to Gibeon, the Philistines had seized the ark of the covenant and considered they had captured a great trophy. But then things started to go badly in the Philistine cities so that after seven months it was returned. It was sent back in a most unusual way and ended up at Beth-shemesh—until disaster occurred there too. It may be somewhat surprising to recall that messengers were sent from Beth-shemesh to Kirjath-jearim to come and collect the ark (1 Sam 6:21). Kirjath-jearim was the nearest Hivite town, but there were nearer Israeli towns, so we may conclude that the care shown towards the tabernacle in Shiloh by the Gibeonites was already well recognised. From the judgeship of Samuel until about 10 years into the reign of David, the ark was at Kirjath-jearim,3 cared for by Gentiles and for part of this time (and beyond) the tabernacle was also in a Gentile town.

Beeroth and the Hivites

There is a seemingly insignificant comment relating to Beeroth, but there is nothing in God’s Word that is of no import.

“And Saul’s son had two men that were captains of bands: the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab, the sons of Rimmon a Beerothite, of the children of Benjamin: (for Beeroth also was reckoned to Benjamin: And the Beerothites fled to Gittaim, and were sojourners there until this day.)” (2 Sam 4:2-3)

From the bracketed words above, the Hivites appear to have been under pressure causing them to move away from their territory. Why this occurred we do not know precisely but we do know that the town was occupied by the tribe of Benjamin. This is clear from the above quotation because one of these captains is referred to as a Beerothite. It was within their inheritance but there was no mandate for driving out the original inhabitants from their city. Based on the covenant made with Joshua they had secured a right to remain. When, later in 2 Samuel, we discover that God had brought a famine on the land because of Saul’s house (that is, Benjamin), we are told the reason was that he had slain the Gibeonites (2 Sam 21:1). Taking the description “Gibeonites” as an umbrella term for the inhabitants of all four Hivite cities, we are left to wonder whether the removal of the Beerothites, was a reason for the famine. If this is so, then God waited a long time for there to be some recognition of this sin and appropriate retribution.

For Saul… because he slew the Gibeonites

An even earlier incident provides another possible reason for the famine. The reference to Saul slaying the Gibeonites may indicate that when Doeg slew the priests at the request of Saul and then the city of Nob, some Gibeonites may have been caught up in the massacre.

The record in 2 Samuel 21:2 does inform us of Saul’s behaviour towards “the Gibeonites…the remnant of the Amorites”, but we are left to either speculate from what we know or to conclude that the record is silent on this specific matter.

When innocent blood was shed the law required retribution. The three-year famine that had afflicted the land was the means by which the need for atonement was made public. Whatever and whenever Saul’s encounter with the Gibeonites took place, remedial action was deemed necessary by the Almighty. It is possible to speculate that Saul was unhappy about these Hivites occupying some of his tribe’s inheritance or possibly considered, in another of his miscalculations, that all Hivites needed to be eradicated from the land, thus fulfilling Deuteronomy 7:1-5. His misplaced ‘zeal’ had been witnessed earlier when in battle with the Philistines. As a result of Saul’s foolish vow, Jonathan nearly lost his life! (1 Sam 14:24, 42-45). Saul’s judgment on situations was woefully devoid of godly wisdom and the nation suffered greatly as a result.

Saul may well have resented that the ark and the tabernacle were in Hivite cities, and this may have contributed to his overall dislike of these Gentiles who, by this time, had certainly become such an integral part of the covenant people.

God was intreated for the land

When David realised the reason for the famine in the land he called the Gibeonites and asked, “What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the Lord?”

The men of Gibeon replied to David, “The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did choose.” (2 Sam 21:3-6).

If any are in doubt over God’s view of the Gibeonites, this passage surely reveals that God held them in high regard. They had no doubt proved themselves to be worthy custodians of His sanctuary for many years.

So the two sons of Rizpah4, Saul’s concubine, Armoni and Mephibosheth and the five sons of Merab5 were delivered to the Gibeonites and their bodies were hanged in “the hill before the Lord” (that is, before the tabernacle in Gibeon). Whatever we may think about this request it does appear to be in conformity with the divine will.6 The sequence of events is concluded with, “And after that God was intreated for the land” (v14) which put an end to the famine conditions.

Strange happenings at Gibeon

During the civil war that occurred after the death of Saul a very perplexing incident took place at the pool in Gibeon (2 Sam 2:12-16). In the aftermath of this event Scripture records many word-links which take us back to the account of the time when the men of Gibeon were saved by Joshua. The following table simply highlights these for private study.

Joshua 2 Samuel
10:12-13 (the sun) stood still 2:23,28 (people) stood still
10:2 (Gibeon = the hill city) 2:24 hill
10:2 Gibeon 2:24 Gibeon
10:13 the sun stood still 2:24 the sun went down
10:5 gathered themselves together 2:25 gathered themselves together
10:9 went up…all night 2:29 walked all night

2:32 went all night

9:11 make ye a league with us 3:12 make thy league with me

3:21 make a league with thee

10:5 before Gibeon, and made war against it 3:30 at Gibeon in the battle
10:14 no day 3:37 that day

3:39 this day

Exiles returned to Gibeon, Beeroth, Chephirah and Kirjath-jearim

From the records of those who returned from captivity in Babylon it is evident that the Gibeonites were with the Israelites, faithfully seeking to execute their duties in very trying times. The latter end of the kingdom of Judah would have proved to be very challenging times when many of God’s principles were being set aside. Jeremiah’s prophetic warning that the temple in Jerusalem would be forsaken like Shiloh would have been taken very seriously because their ancestors had experienced this, many years earlier. In Nehemiah 7:25,29 the numbers of the inhabitants of Gibeon, Kirjath-jearim, Chephirah and Beeroth who returned are supplied. And when Jerusalem’s walls were being repaired, men of Gibeon are included in the workforce who achieved this remarkable feat in just 52 days.

The Nethinim

It is widely suggested that the Nethinim (lit. “ones given”) who feature extensively in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, are the Gibeonites because the work assigned to each group is one and the same—temple servants. Conversely, it may be noted that David, not Joshua, appointed the Nethinim (Ezra 8:20) and also, they are referred to as “brethren” in Ezra 8:17 suggesting that they are of Israel. For these reasons it is not possible to be certain about this link.


Within days of entering the land of Canaan, the Gibeonites had secured with God’s people a covenant that was to last for many centuries. What eventually happened to this people is not revealed but it is certain that when Yahweh makes up his jewels there will be a number of Hivites shining forth reflecting the divine glory and once again working in the house of God that His name may be honoured in that day.


  1. In Josh 18:28 Kirjath-jearim is listed as one of the cities of Benjamin. It was also known as Kirjath-baal and Baalah and it may be that these were areas of the town that encroached into the territory of Benjamin.
  2. At Nob “the house of God”, Mark 2:26; at Gibeon “the tabernacle of Yahweh”, 1 Chron 16:39.
  3. There was an occasion when Saul requested the ark to be brought to him but the record informs us that while Saul was in conversation with the priest about this, the Philistines attacked and he was led into a battle (1 Sam 14:18-19). It is most likely therefore that the ark continued to be in Kirjath-jearim.
  4. Rizpah’s vigil in 2 Sam 21:10-11 has some similarities with the incident when Abram prepared sacrifices at God’s request and fought off the fowls of heaven who swooped down upon the carefully arranged carcases.
  5. The text has Michal but elsewhere we are told that Michal had no children so the KJV marginal alternative “Merab, Michal’s sister” appears to be correct.
  6. A similar comment is made in 2 Sam 24:25 and the record explicitly states that the problem at that time was solved so that the “plague was stayed from Israel”