The Ark of the Covenant series (post #3)
When last we left the Ark of the Covenant it was sitting safely within the confines of the Holy of Holies inside the newly built Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon was on the throne of Israel, the glory of God was settled all over the Temple, and Israel was at its pinnacle spiritually. If only life could remain so good!
The problems started with Solomon himself as he drifted further and further away from God over the course of his forty-year reign. He took for himself 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). These women were from races (Egypt, Moab, Edom, etc.) who worshiped false gods, and it wasn’t long before even Solomon’s own heart was turned to their other gods as he built worship sites (“high places”) for each of the false gods of the wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:4-8). With Solomon’s new penchant for idolatry came a steep descent into chasing pleasure, riches, and just about anything else life had to offer. He describes this descent in the book of Ecclesiastes.
After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam became the King of Israel. Rehoboam inherited a kingdom that was sitting squarely under the hand of God’s judgment because of Solomon’s sins, and he only made matters worse. The fragile unity of Israel’s twelve tribes was already hanging by a thread when Rehoboam ascended to the throne, and it was only a matter of days before his arrogance and foolish actions created a civil war that formally split the nation into two separate kingdoms as the ten northern tribes broke away from the two southern tribes (1 Kings 12:1-24; 2 Chronicles 10:1-17). The northern kingdom elected a man named Jeroboam as their king, took the name Israel, and established a new capital at Samaria. The southern kingdom came to be known as Judah, kept the family of David as its kingly line, and continued to have Jerusalem as its capital.
With the two kingdoms now firmly entrenched in the land, each having a king, a long line of kings began for both Israel and Judah. You can read about all of them in 1 Kings, 2 Kings, and 2 Chronicles. The fact is, though, that God was never pleased with the northern kingdom, no matter who was on its throne.
That kingdom’s problem was that it was founded upon idolatry. As proof of this, Jeroboam’s first act was to erect two golden calves — one in Bethel and one in Dan — as alternatives to keep his citizens from taking their sacrifices down south to the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:25-29). He also established worship shrines in other places and instituted not only a counterfeit priesthood but also counterfeit holy days for the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:31-33). Of course what the northern kingdom never had was the presence of God by way of the Ark of the Covenant.
With such an idolatrous foundational beginning we shouldn’t be surprised that the northern kingdom never had a godly king in its 200 years of existence. The worst of its kings was Ahab, who married the wicked queen Jezebel and built a temple to the false god Baal in Samaria (1 Kings 16:29-33). In the wake of such rank blasphemy and idolatry, God eventually allowed the Assyrians to march into Samaria and lay siege to it for three years. At the end of those years the entire northern kingdom fell, and the kingdom’s inhabitants were carried away by the thousands to be resettled in other parts of the Assyrian empire. Thus ended the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.
As for the southern kingdom of Judah, from the beginning its kingly line was a hit-or-miss proposition consisting of some kings who served the Lord, some who didn’t, and a couple who did a little of both. The worst of them was Manasseh (2 Kings 21:1-18). On the whole, though, these kings presided over a generally downhill slide spiritually for the kingdom. With God’s supernatural help Judah was able to survive the Assyrian threat that had taken down the northern kingdom (2 Kings 19:1-35), but it would be another foreign power — the Babylonians — that would prove to be Judah’s undoing.
Judah’s struggles with Babylon were drawn out over a period of approximately twenty years as the kingdom became a pawn in the power plays and military maneuvers between the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians. First, Babylon’s army marched into Judah in 605 B.C. That resulted in a first round of royal captives being deported to Babylon as Judah came under Babylon’s rule. The prophet Daniel was part of that group (Daniel 1:1-7). Second, in 597 B.C., Babylon reasserted its rule over Judah by laying siege to Jerusalem again and forcing another round of deportations. The prophet Ezekiel and Judah’s King Jehoiakim were part of that group (2 Kings 24:8-16). Third, in 587/586 B.C., after a long siege of Jerusalem, the Babylonians tore down Jerusalem’s walls, destroyed the city, burned the palaces, burned the Temple, slew many, and deported a last round of captives back to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21).
Here is where the story of the Ark of the Covenant goes silent, at least in terms of history’s voice. 2 Chronicles 36:18 says that all the articles from the Temple, articles great and small, were taken to Babylon. That word “all” might seem to indicate that the Babylonians took the Ark of the Covenant, which was the crowning jewel of the Temple, back to Babylon with them. However, it is highly unlikely that Judah’s priests would have allowed that to happen. After all, the final siege and fall of Jerusalem took place over a period of approximately two years, and that would have allowed those priests plenty of time to remove the Ark from the Temple’s Holy of Holies and hide it somewhere. And so begins the debate as to what became of the Ark. In the next post we’ll start looking at the possible candidates for where the Ark might be today, if it does still exists. So, until then, stay tuned….