The Ark of the Covenant series (post #5)
It is well known that the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar, finished off the kingdom of Judah, left the capital city of Jerusalem in ruins, and plundered the Temple before destroying it. What isn’t so well known is that the Egyptians hit Jerusalem and did some plundering of their own long before the Babylonians ever did. This raises the possibility that the Egyptians might have taken the Ark of the Covenant to Egypt.
Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was in his fifth year on Judah’s throne when God set about to punish him and his citizens because of their idolatry, sins, and abominations. God’s chosen weapon of punishment was King Shishak of Egypt, and the Bible’s account of the Egyptian plunder is recorded in 1 Kings 14:25-26:
It happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. And he took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house; he took away everything. He also took away all the gold shields which Solomon had made. (N.K.J.V.)
The event is also described in 2 Chronicles 12:2-4, 9. Those verses say:
And it happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the Lord, with twelve hundred chariots, sixty thousand horsemen, and people without number who came with him out of Egypt — the Lubim and the Sukkiim and the Ethiopians. And he took the fortified cities of Judah and came to Jerusalem….So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house; he took everything. He also carried away the gold shields which Solomon had made. (N.K.J.V.)
Historians tell us the name Shishak is the Hebrew version of the Egyptian name Sheshhonq. Sheshonq founded the 22nd dynasty in Egypt, ruled from 945 B.C. until 924 B.C., and established Tanis as the capital city of Egypt. If that name Tanis sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably seen the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which in my opinion is on a short list of the greatest films ever made.
In the movie, the Nazis discover the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis and excavate it in their attempt to find the Ark of the Covenant. They want the Ark because Adolph Hitler believes that an army that marches with it would be invincible. Evidently he had never read 1 Samuel 4:1-11, where the Philistine army defeats Israel’s army, captures the Ark, and takes it back to Philistia.
Anyway, Indiana Jones makes his way to the Nazi dig site at Tanis, figures out they are digging in the wrong part of the site, and finds the Ark himself in an unexcavated snake-filled room (hence the classic line: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”). The Nazis then steal the Ark from Indy and leave him and his girlfriend for dead inside the room with all the snakes. I’ll stop there with the retelling of the movie because I don’t want this blog post to turn into a movie review.
Right now the question we need answered is: Did Shishak really remove the Ark of the Covenant from Solomon’s Temple and take it to Tanis? And the answer to that question is an emphatic, NO. You say, “But how can we be so sure?” We can be so sure because of something that another of Judah’s kings, Josiah, did approximately 300 years later. The verse is 2 Chronicles 35:3, which says of Josiah:
Then he said to the Levites who taught all Israel, who were holy to the Lord: “Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built. It shall no longer be a burden of your shoulders. Now serve the Lord your God and His people Israel.” (N.K.J.V.)
Evidently, at some point in Judah’s recent history surrounding Josiah’s reign, the Levites (the Jewish priests) had removed the Ark from Solomon’s Temple for a time. Various suggestions have been offered as to the reason. Perhaps they had removed it while the Temple had undergone the repairing that is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 34:8. Or, perhaps they had removed it when a previous king, the wicked Manasseh, had erected a false image to a false god literally inside the Temple (2 Kings 21:4-8).
At any rate, whatever the reason for the removal was, King Josiah ordered the Levites to put the Ark back inside the Temple. This, then, is clear Biblical proof that the Ark was still in Jerusalem and inside Solomon’s Temple some three centuries after the deaths of Judah’s King Rehoboam and Egypt’s King Shishak. In other words, the Ark was never in Egypt.
Of course someone might ask, “But if King Shishak took away all the treasures of the Temple, how was the Ark of the Covenant left to still be a part of the Temple in Josiah’s day?” That’s a good question, one for which I’ll offer two possible answers. #1: Since the Ark sat concealed behind a thick curtain inside the Temple’s Holy of Holies room, perhaps the Egyptians simply didn’t see it and therefore didn’t know it was back there to loot. I myself don’t believe this to be the reason, but the logic isn’t completely implausible. #2: Maybe the Levites removed the Ark and hid it in advance of the approaching Egyptian army. This, I think, is the most likely answer. It’s also one that we’ll explore in greater detail in a later post concerning another possible location for the Ark.
Whichever answer is correct, or if the right one is some other explanation, it’s clear that the Egyptian plunder of the Temple didn’t include the Ark of the Covenant. If it had, Josiah and his Levites wouldn’t have had to concern themselves with getting the Ark back into the Temple centuries later. And so we’ll have to keep looking in our search to find the current whereabouts of the Ark because, with all due respect to Indiana Jones, the Egypt theory just doesn’t wash.