What Is the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant series (post #1)

Sometime back a reader requested that I do a post on the current location of the Ark of the Covenant. Finally now I feel the leading of the Lord to fulfill that request. But rather than attempt to cover the information in a single post, I’m going to break it down into manageable portions and make a series of it. In this series, I’ll describe how the Ark became lost, explore the competing theories as to where it might be today, and talk about the Ark’s potential relevance going forward in history. With this opening post I’ll answer the question: “What is the Ark of the Covenant?”

I once read about a man who mercilessly ridiculed the Bible. He just couldn’t understand how any rational thinking human being could take the Bible seriously in any way. Once, when he was asked to offer evidence that the Bible was the nonsense he claimed it to be, he replied, “Take the ark for example. How can anyone believe that Noah built a boat big enough to accommodate two of every species in the world, and then the Israelites carried such a massive object around with them everywhere they went?” Yes, the ignorant, uninformed skeptic had made the mistake of thinking that Noah’s ark and the Ark of the Covenant were one and the same.

The description of the Ark of the Covenant is found in Exodus 25:10-22, as God gives Moses the highly specific instructions for how to build it. The Ark was a wooden chest made from acacia wood. It was two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Most scholars estimate a cubit to have been 18 inches, which would have made the Ark just under four feet long, a little over two feet wide, and a little over two feet high. Basically, it was an oblong, rectangular chest.

The Ark’s wood was overlaid inside and outside with pure gold. On each outer corner was a ring of gold — two rings per side, four in total. Two large poles made from acacia wood and overlaid with gold were inserted into these rings. These poles allowed the Israelite priests to carry the Ark on their shoulders without actually touching the chest itself.

The lid to the chest was an intricately designed slab of solid gold — not acacia wood covered with gold — that matched the Ark’s length and width. Atop the slab, at each end of it, was a hammered gold depiction of a cherub angel with two wings. The two angels faced each other, and their wings were positioned so as to overshadow the lid. The tips of the wings either touched or almost touched over the lid’s center, and the figurative “seat” created was called “the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:17; Leviticus 16:2). The slab itself as well as the cherubim depictions atop it were all one solid piece of forged gold.

God promised that He would meet with the Israelites “from above the mercy seat” and speak to them “from between the two cherubim” (Exodus 25:22). This means that the lid of the Ark of the Covenant served as nothing less than God’s throne upon the earth. Because of this the Israelites referred to God as “The Lord of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:4; Isaiah 37:16). They also referred to the Ark as “the holy ark” (2 Chronicles 35:3).

Inside the Ark were kept the two tablets of stone upon which God had written out — on the front and back — the ten commandments that served as not only the beginning of His body of law to Israel but also that law’s moral heart and center (Exodus 20:1-17). Actually, this was the second such set of tablets, Moses having broken the original two in a fit of righteous indignation because of Israel’s idolatry (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:1-19; 34:1-4; Deuteronomy 10:1-5). The two stone tablets were known collectively as “the Testimony” (Exodus 25:16; 31:18), which explains why the Ark was also known as “the Ark of the Testimony” (Exodus 25:22; 26:33; 30:6; 31:7).

We know for sure that the two tablets of stone were always kept inside the Ark (1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chronicles 5:10). However, two other items were kept either literally inside it or at least in very close proximity to it. One item was a golden pot filled with some of the manna that God had used to feed the Israelites during their forty years of journeying in the wilderness (Exodus 16:1-35). The other item was Aaron’s rod, the rod that had once budded as undeniable proof that God had chosen Aaron to be Israel’s first High Priest (Numbers 17:1-8). Exodus 16:32-34 says that Aaron placed the pot of manna “before the Testimony, to be kept” (N.A.S.V.). That seems to indicate that the pot sat just in front of the Ark of the Covenant. Likewise, Numbers 17:10 indicates that Aaron’s rod also sat just in front of the Ark. According to Hebrews 9:3-4, though, at some point the pot and the rod spent some time actually inside the Ark alongside the two tablets.

The Ark of the Covenant was housed inside a room called The Holy of Holies (also known as The Most Holy Place). In the early centuries following Israel’s exodus from Egypt this special room was a part of the Tabernacle that God instructed Moses and the Israelites to build (Exodus chapters 26-30). The Tabernacle was a large portable tent that was supported by a frame of acacia wood. Its walls were made from goat-hair coverings, and its roof was made from rams’ skins and badgers’ skins, dyed red. The inside of the tent was marked by violet, purple, and scarlet tapestries that were sewn together into two sets of five curtains. The tent itself was divided into two sections: The Holy Place and The Holy of Holies (The Most Holy Place). Only Israel’s priests were allowed inside the Tabernacle. Non-priest Israelites could only approach as far as the Altar of Burnt Offerings that was located just outside the entrance to the tent.

As for the Holy of Holies, it was a small, cube-shaped room with a length, width, and height of 15 feet equally. It was the innermost room of the Tabernacle and was separated from the tent’s other section (The Holy Place) by a “veil” that was actually a thick curtain made of fine linen as well as yarn that was blue, purple, and scarlet in color. Israel’s High Priest was the only person who could ever pull back the curtain and enter into the Holy of Holies, and even he could only go in there once a year, annually on the Day of Atonement.

During King Solomon’s reign Israel built a permanent Temple to replace the portable Tabernacle. Still, even though Solomon’s Temple was much more elaborate than the Tabernacle, the basic sections of it essentially followed the same layout as the Tabernacle’s, especially in regards to the Most Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. So, the Ark of the Covenant was moved from the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies to the Holy of Holies inside Solomon’s Temple. This is the room from which it ultimately went missing from history.

In my next post, I’ll trace the Ark’s movements from the time it was built until the time it pulled that vanishing act from mainstream history. Also, I’ll describe the supernatural effects the Ark was known to produce and cite scriptural examples for these effects. So, until then, stay tuned. This series is just getting warmed up.

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