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Zevachim 118b-119a is discussing the heter bamos during the period when the Mishkan was in Nov and Giv'on, for 57 years. It mentions a fact that I found astonishing (I suppose many others knew it already!): during that entire period, the Aron Hakodesh was not in the Mishkan at all. It was returned by the Plishtim and stayed in Kiryas Yaarim. It was moved to Ir David when David became king over Israel, and remained there until Shlomo Hamelech built the Beis Hamikdash, when it was finally returned to its place.
קיט• רד"ה כיון דארון לא הוה ־ דכל ימי נוב וגבעון היה הארון בקרית יערים כ' שנה ובעיר דוד עד שנבנה הבית
Its absence has certain halachic ramifications; see the gemara.
They just left it there, never returned it to the Mishkan. Why?

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  • Wasn’t the Mishkan destroyed a few times before the 1st B”M? Apr 29 '20 at 23:19
  • In Gilgal the aron was there (?) and bamos were also allowed
    – Heshy
    Apr 29 '20 at 23:20
  • Yeah, I wasn't saying that the Aron was never in the Mishkan, just that it wasn't there during Nov and Giv'on and no one seems bothered.
    – MichoelR
    Apr 30 '20 at 3:31
  • R' Daniel, see the beginning of the Rambam Hilchos Beis Habechira for a capsule summary of the history. Or the first mishnah in the last perek of Zevachim.
    – MichoelR
    Apr 30 '20 at 3:32
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This isn't an full answer, but might be information pointing toward an answer. [See update below.] It's really like: Some more amazing things I found out about bamos, that help me to feel that my question maybe isn't so bad.
1) Though the gemara in Megillah 9b talks about R' Shimon, actually four of five tanaim (according to Rashi and Tos.) on Zevachim 117a hold that you can't bring any korbon yachid even on the bamah gedolah (i.e., Gilgal, Nov, or Giv'on), except olos and shlamim. R' Yehudah is the daas yachid who says that you can bring all korbonos on the main bamah. All other tanaim hold that you can't bring a chatas or asham at all. No bechoros, no maaser beheimah...
2) According to Tosefos there (117b, td"h v'rabanon), you couldn't bring a mincha or birds either (for most tanaim) or a korbon for nazirus. Not anywhere. No one could finish their nazirus - see Tosefos about Avshalom.
3) The main bamah was not called "לפני ה'" according to one opinion in the gemara (119a).
4) The gemara on 119b, one meaning of "המנוחה" is "where the Aron Hakodesh finally came to rest" (if מנוחה means Yerushalayim, see there).
My conclusion from all this: The time of heter bamos was a little bit (forgive my exaggerated language) pathetic. Pardon me, but they couldn't bring a chatas for 57 years? Brings new meaning to the phrase in the haggadah, Beis Habechirah l'chaper al kol avonoseinu. During the previous time, no one could get kapparah through a korbon.
We are used to looking at that time from a world where we can't bring anything, and they had so much more. But in their world, it was kind of like not having a Beis Hamikdash at all. They had not reached the place "where the Aron would rest"; there just wasn't any point to moving it to bring it to a temporary location.

Update: Now I see that the Radak asks my question, and answers it too, Shmuel II 6:17,
ולמה לא הביא דוד את הארון לגבעון שהיה שם אהל מועד לפי שידע כי אהל מועד היה עתיד לבא לירושלים...
This should go at the top, but I'm leaving the discussion above it since I ב"ה was מכוון a little bit.

Btw, I'm still somewhat bothered: David says to the navi (ibid, 7:2) אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּבֵית אֲרָזִים וַאֲרוֹן הָאֱלֹהִים ישֵׁב בְּתוֹךְ הַיְרִיעָה "I sit in a house of cedar, and the Aron of G-d sits within curtains." (See the Radak there for why he's mentioning the Aron, instead of the Mishkan.) As you can see from the navi's answer, this is a question on the entire history, including Shiloh, not just Nov and Giv'on: even Shiloh had curtains above. David doesn't seem concerned with the temporary problem of Nov and Giv'on, just with the ultimate fix.
And indeed, when the navi tells him to wait and his son will build the Bayis, David doesn't rethink it and isn't bothered; everything is left where it is until the Beis Hamikdash is built. Shiloh is gone, Yerushalayim is not yet; I guess there is no way to improve matters until Hashem gives the okay.

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