“And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long: for it was 20 years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” (1 Samuel 7:2). There are periods if time specified in the Bible that it took to accomplish certain things. It took God seven days to create the world. It took 150 days for the waters to subside after the flood and 14 years for Abraham and Sarah to have a child after Ishmael was born.
The word translated long in 1 Samuel 7:2, râbâh (raw – baw´) means to increase or become great (7235). Jacob spent 20 years in the home of his uncle Laban acquiring wives and flocks. Joseph spent 20 years in Egypt, starting out as a slave and ending up as second in command to Pharaoh. Rabah is used in other instances to mean being in authority, growing up, and the process of time.
Another way to interpret the word rabah would be to make a name for oneself, to establish a reputation or become famous. During the time the ark of God was in Kirjath-jearim, David was being transformed from a shepherd into the king of Israel. The reason why the ark of God was not in the Tabernacle during that time was its importance had diminished. The Israelites no longer lived according to God’s commandments and had made a mockery of his sacrificial system. It wasn’t until David set an example of how to worship and honor God properly that the people began to value the ark of the Testimony.
The ark had a twofold purpose. First, it was a container for the tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been written by God. Second, it was where the mercy seat existed so that God could commune with his people. The mercy seat was not an actual seat, it was the lid of the ark. “This slab of gold represented the throne of God and symbolized His real presence in the worship shrine” (3727). The ark’s 20 year absence from the Tabernacle indicated that God was not speaking to his people during that time period. Although God was not communicating as he had previously, he was still conveying messages through his prophet.
The ark’s 20 year absence from the Tabernacle is significant because it shows that even though God was not speaking to his people, he was still listening. It says in 1 Samuel 7:2 that all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD which means they were crying aloud (5091). During that time period, God was developing David into a leader and a true worshipper that would set a good example for his people. Not only was David the greatest king that ever ruled over Israel, he was a man after God’s own heart who was also loved by many people including Saul’s son Jonathon from whom David took the throne.