The Ark of the Covenant series (post #4)
Let me be clear about something: There is no guarantee that the Ark of the Covenant still exists. However, with that said, there is no fun in figuring that it got destroyed somewhere along history’s way. So, assuming the Ark does still exist somewhere on planet Earth, where could it be? One potential site is Iraq. Our modern day Iraq, as you might know, is the land the Old Testament calls Babylon.
My previous post explained how the Babylonians became an integral part of the story of the Ark. Over a period of about twenty years, between 605 B.C. and 587/586 B.C., they conquered Israel’s southern kingdom (Judah), carried thousands of its citizens back to Babylon, killed scores of others, laid waste to the capital city of Jerusalem, looted Jerusalem’s Temple, and destroyed the Temple.
All this damage was done under the leadership of the legendary Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Chronicles 36:15-21 is a summary passage of those events, and the passage’s 18th verse says:
And all the articles from the house of God, great and small, the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and his leaders, all these he (Nebuchadnezzar) took to Babylon. (N.K.J.V.)
The double use of the word “all” in this verse certainly makes it sound like the Babylonians looted everything from Jerusalem’s Temple, including the Ark of the Covenant.
In addition to this, we also have a passage from the book of 2 Esdras, which is one of the books of the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is a collection of 15 books that were written in Greek but were nevertheless attached for centuries to the Hebrew Old Testament. These books are not included in our current English translations of the Bible, but they were positioned between the end of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament for the King James translation in 1611 and for approximately 275 years afterward. Also, the books are still included in the Vulgate (the Roman Catholic Church’s Latin translation of the Bible) by way of an Appendix. With all this background in place, 2 Esdras says of Babylon’s looting of Jerusalem’s Temple:
So I spoke again to her, and said, “Do not say that, but let yourself be persuaded by the troubles of Zion, and be consoled because of the sorrow of Jerusalem. For you see that our sanctuary had been laid waste, our altar thrown down, our temple destroyed; our harp had been laid low, our song has been silenced, and our rejoicing had been ended; the light of our lampstand had been put out, the ark of our covenant has been plundered, our holy things have been polluted, and the name by which we are called has been profaned; our freemen have suffered abuse, our priests have been burned to death, our Levites have gone into captivity.”
Obviously, that line “the ark of our covenant has been plundered” matches up perfectly with the double use of the word “all” in 2 Chronicles 36:18. So, case closed, right? The Ark was taken to Babylon and could still be somewhere in Iraq today.
No, hold on a minute. The case isn’t closed that easily. 2 Kings 25:13-15 is a parallel passage to 2 Chronicles 38:18, and it provides a list of the items the Babylonians took from Solomon’s Temple. The passage reads as follows:
The bronze pillars that were in the house of the Lord, and the carts and the bronze Sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonians) broke in pieces, and carried their bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, the shovels, the trimmers, the spoons, and all the bronze utensils with which the priests ministered. The firepans and the basins, the things of solid gold and solid silver, the captain of the guard took away. The two pillars, one Sea, and the carts, which Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these articles was beyond measure. (N.K.J.V.)
That’s a pretty extensive list, I must say. But did you notice what item was conspicuously absent from it? The Ark of the Covenant. Surely if the Babylonians had confiscated the Ark and taken it to Babylon there would have been a mention of it. Likewise, yet another parallel passage — Jeremiah 52:12-20 — provides virtually an identical item-by-item list, and yet there is no Ark mentioned on it either. Therefore, I agree with all the Bible scholars and historians who confidently attest that the Ark never saw Babylon. And if it never saw Babylon, there’s no reason to believe that it is in Iraq today.
If we need further proof that the Ark was not a part of the loot the Babylonians stole from Solomon’s Temple, we find it in Daniel 5:1-4. That chapter tells the story of how the Babylonian king Belshazzar, who was a direct descendant of Nebuchadnezzar, threw a great feast for a thousand of his lords. As part of the feast, Belshazzar ordered that the gold and silver vessels that had been plundered from Solomon’s Temple be brought out and used for the feast. The story provides a perfect setting for the Bible to casually drop in a word about the Ark being in Babylon with the rest of the treasures from the Temple, but no such mention is made.
You say, “Okay, but what do we do with the Apocryphal account from 2 Esdras?” Like all the words found in any of the Apocryphal books, we simply cannot allow their accuracy and reliability to go unquestioned. We must, instead, view them through the lens of the universally accepted Hebrew scriptures. And, upon doing that, we find that the passages from 2 Kings 25:13-15, Jeremiah 52:12-20, and Daniel 5:1-4 conclusively invalidate the one disputable passage from 2 Esdras. For that matter, even among the Roman Catholic and Greek churches who for the most part accept the Apocryphal books as being holy scripture, the books of 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras are not typically accepted.
As long as I am passing through here, let me mention seven good reasons why we are right to reject any Apocryphal book as being inspired by God and thus authoritative:
- Romans 3:1-2 teaches that God committed the holy scriptures to the Jews, and the Jews rejected the books of the Apocrypha from being included in the canon of holy scripture.
- The books of the Apocrypha were written in Greek, not the classic God-inspired Hebrew of the Old Testament.
- The books of the Apocrypha were not received as God-inspired scripture by the early churches during the first four centuries of the church age.
- The writers of the books of the Apocrypha do not claim that their words are the inspired words of God. Unlike the holy scriptures, the Apocryphal books do not contain statements such as “Thus says the Lord ” or “These are the words of God.”
- In some places the books of the Apocrypha contain teachings that run blatantly contrary to the Bible’s teachings. For example, the book of II Maccabees teaches that deceased saints are interceding in heaven for people on earth. Similarly, the book of Tobit promotes the use of magic and teaches that almsgiving will deliver from death and purge away every sin.
- Some of the Apocryphal books, though written to be taken as historical, are in fact purely fiction. These books are: Tobit, Judith, Bel and the Dragon, and Susanna.
- Jerome, the man who translated the Bible into Latin for the Roman Catholic Church’s Vulgate translation, vigorously opposed including the Apocryphal books in the Vulgate, but he was overruled.
Suffice is to say that one line from an invalidated book in an invalidated collection of books doesn’t make much of a case for the Ark of the Covenant ever being in Babylon (Iraq). Certainly the idea is far from ludicrous, but the evidence is scant at best. That’s why I feel very safe in saying that we can rule out Iraq as a current location for the Ark. So, in my next post we’ll leave Iraq behind and consider the case for another potential site.