Obed-Edom is one of those biblical figures who is moderately well-known for his connection with King David, but whose ancestry as a member of the Sons of Korah has been largely neglected among those who study the Bible and seek explanation for his conduct concerning the Ark of the Covenant. As with so much else about the Sons of Korah, the identity of Obed-Edom has been largely neglected because it is found in one of the most reviled and neglected books of the Hebrew scriptures, 1 Chronicles. Only a careful attention to this book of the Bible provides a fuller and more complete picture of the service of the Levites, including the Sons of Korah, in the temple and tabernacle establishment of God.
The Background Of Obed-Edom
From an examination of Obed-Edom in 1 Chronicles 26, it is clear that he was an immensely important person as one of the chief gatekeepers of the temple of Solomon . Obed-Edom, listed among the sons of Kore [Korah], right along with his relative Meshalamiah (who appears to have been called Shallum the Korahite elsewhere in scripture , of the sons of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, was a particularly notable member of the Levite gatekeepers of the sons of Korah.
Like his less famous relative Shallum the Korahite, Obed-Edom considered the service to the people of God in the tabernacle and temple to be a family affair, providing a godly example for his many children and grandchildren, sixty-two at the time of 1 Chronicles 26:8. This large family meant a lot of sons of Korah serving within the temple of Solomon before the people of Israel. The responsibilities of Obed-Edom and his family included the South Gate of the temple as well as the storehouse for that gate (asuppim in Hebrew).
The Importance Of Obed-Edom As Gatekeeper
It was the fact that Obed-Edom was a notable gatekeeper in Jerusalem that explains his role in keeping the Ark of the Covenant after David’s initial failed first attempt to bring it into Jerusalem . It should be noted that the only reason Obed-Edom is remembered at all by many is because the incident where David attempts to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jeruslaem using the Philistine expedient of an ox-cart (contrary to the biblical law, which specified that it was to be carried about on foot via poles, in Numbers 4:4-15) is mentioned in 2 Samuel 6, which means it is in a part of the Bible that Christians are somewhat likely to read in the context of David’s reign without being fully aware of who Obed-Edom in fact was.
2 Samuel 6:9-11 reads: “David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” So David would not move the ark of the Lord with him into the City of David; but David took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite three months. And the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his household.” Here we notice that as is customary in the historical books, 2 Samuel 6:10-11 refers to Obed-Edom as a Gittite (a Gittite is someone from Gath, perhaps Moresheth Gath, the city of the prophet Micah), using the political identity of Obed-Edom, while 1 Chronicles (like Ezra and Nehemiah) refer to the ethnic identity of Obed-Edom as a member of the sons of Korah, a Levite of the branch of Kohath, a common problem in understanding the relationship between 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Chronicles when it refers to members of the Sons of Korah like Obed-Edom and Elkanah the father of Samuel .
Because Obed-Edom was a gatekeeper, his house would be at the very outside part of the City of David, meaning that when David despaired at bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem that he was at Obed-Edom’s gate and placed the ark within his house to avoid bringing judgment into his capital city. As it happens, Numbers 4:15 specified that it was to be the Kohathites (like Obed-Edom) whose job it was to carry the ark on its journeys, and so taking care of the Ark of the Covenant was part of the religious duties of Obed-Edom, who by all accounts was a godly man.
We may judge the blessing of God for Obed-Edom in large part because he was doing his job–both as a gatekeeper and as a guardian of the “holy things” as a Levite. Rather than being presumptuous, it was Obed-Edom’s obedience to God’s role for him within the religious establishment of Israel that put him at the right place in the right time to take care of the Ark of the Covenant, as opposed to those who had advised David foolishly and contrary to God’s law to bring the Ark of the Covenant on an ox-cart, as if it were a mere shipment of cabbages for the market instead of the Ark of the Living God. For three months Obed-Edom took care of the Ark and he was blessed for doing so.
It was this blessing to the loyal and godly Levite Obed-Edom that convinced David that God was not angry at him and that it was acceptable to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Israel, provided it was properly taken care of. Once David did so, he was able to bring the Ark of the Covenant safely into Jerusalem into what became the temple mount. And there Obed-Edom and his family served generation after generation as faithful gatekeepers in the temple, no doubt treasuring the stories of their family’s long and faithful service to God’s people.
Obed Edom’s story, like many stories of the Bible, is one of those rich stories that repays a study of several parts of scripture. Most people know him for his taking care of the Ark of the Covenant in his house for three months, but because they do not fully understand who Obed-Edom was, or his family’s role as Levite gatekeepers of the Sons of Korah, whose job it was to make sure that the holy things of God were carried with respect and reverence to God, they fail to understand the full implications of God’s blessing of this godly Levite. With a proper understanding of Obed-Edom’s identity as a member of the Sons of Korah, as a Kohathite gatekeeper with a large family devoted to service in the tabernacle and temple establishment of God, we can better understand why Obed-Edom’s faithful service by fulfilling his God-given responsibilities earned him such blessings. Knowing that, we are better equipped to appreciate his righteousness and the proper example of showing respect to the Ark of the Covenant that he taught King David and his role as yet another prominent and godly member of the Sons of Korah.