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I recently heard a pastor building his sermon around the 'fact' that Obed-Edom was a Gentile (a precursor to Acts 15:16 - the full inclusion of Gentiles), who became a Levite after the 'possession' of the ark.

On the other hand, most commentators claim that he was a Levite from the beginning, though a Gittite obviously being a Philistine, the same camp that Goliath the enemy of David came from.

Has anyone studied this in-depth and come to a balanced conclusion?

2 Sam 6:10

So David would not remove unto him the ark of Yahweh, unto the city of David, - but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom, the Gittite.

Barnes:

Obed-edom was a Levite of the family of Merari, being 1Ch_15:18-24; 1Ch_16:38 a son of Jeduthun [Barnes does not mention the preceding verse 1Chr 13:13 where Obed-Edom was still called a Gittite while he received the ark], who was a Merarite. [...] He is called a Gittite perhaps from Gath-Rimmon, in Manasseh, which belonged to the Kohathites Jos_21:25. Marriage with a Kohathite, or some other cause, would account for his dwelling in a Kohathite city.

Geneva Bible:

Who was a Levite, and had dwelt in Gittaim, (1Ch_15:21).

Gill:

... this man was a Levite, as appears from his being afterwards appointed to be doorkeeper for the ark, and to sing praise before it, and so a proper person to commit the care of it to, 1 Chronicles 15:18; he is called a Gittite, either because he had sojourned in Gath some time, or rather because he was of Gathrimmon, a city of the Levites, Joshua 21:24.

KingComments:

Later we see that Obed-edom gets a special service as gatekeeper at the temple (1Ch_26:4-8). He is a Levite, but born in a city of the Philistines. His name means ‘servant of Edom’, that is to say servant of the flesh, the sinful nature, someone who does the will of the flesh (Eph_2:3). But in him we also see what God can do in such a person and what His grace can make of him.

Matthew Henry:

He lodged the ark in a good house, the house of Obed-edom a Levite, which happened to be near the place where this disaster happened, and there, (1.) It was kindly entertained and welcomed, and continued there three months, 2Sa_6:10, 2Sa_6:11. Obed-edom knew what slaughter the ark had made among the Philistines that imprisoned it and the Bethshemites that looked into it.

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I don't find a strong biblical basis for believing Obed-Edom the Gittite was a Gentile who became a Levite. However, critical scholars suggest the Levites as a class were generally local priests who were adopted into Israel rather than being literally descended from Levi.

The biblical arguments in favor Obed-edom being a non-Israelite are primarily his names. Obed-Edom means "servant [of] edom/red" and Gittite may indicate residence in Gath, famed as the Philistine home town of Golitath.

Here are the problems with this evidence:

1. He is listed as a descendant of Levites in 1 Chronicles 15:

6 Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives as the singers, with musical instruments, harps, lyres, and cymbals, playing to raise sounds of joy. 17 So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel, and from his relatives, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and from the sons of Merari their relatives, Ethan the son of Kushaiah, 18 and with them their relatives of the second rank... Mikneiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, the gatekeepers. (2 Chron 15)

2. His name does not imply that he was an Edomite or a Philistine.

Rabbinical tradition holds that his name "Obed" means "the servant who honors God in the right way." Edom, meanwhile, implies that his family served God's altars in what was called "Edom" (red-land) prior to his move to Gath. This would indicate the lands east of the Jordan River characterized by red earth, from whence the later nation-state of Edom derived its name. Tribal areas where Levites served east of the Jordan include Manasseh, Gad and Reuben. In other words, Obed maybe have served in the land called Edom but he was not an Edomite.

Similarly his apparent residence in Gath is no argument against his birth as a Levite, since two towns named Gath are listed as Levitical cities in Joshua 19, namely Gath-rimmon and Gath-hepher. Even if his residence were in the Philistine Gath, this does not preclude the possibility that he supervised sacrifices to the Israelites' deity at shrines nearby, a short distance from Judah. See large map of the Levitical cities

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Critical view

On the other hand, biblical critics posit the idea that the Levites were not actually lineal descendants of Levi but were non-Israelite priests adopted into service after the emergence of the Israelite confederacy:

... The reason for the Levites' not receiving an inheritance with the other tribes is that they were actually already living in the land when the Aaronic priesthood migrated to Canaan. In this scenario they would represent the native proto-Israelite traditions of worship at local shrines and high places, while the Aaronic priesthood represented the "Jerusalem only" tradition...

Thus, if we go strictly by the Bible, Obed-Edom was a lineal Levite whose family may have served God's altars in the "redlands" and who himself may have resided in one of the Levitical towns known as Gath. If we take the view of some historians of religion, then he - along with virtually all the "Levites" - could have been a non-Israelite who was adopted into service at the tabernacle after the establishment of the Israelite monarchy.

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