Reference: Ark Of The Covenant
The sacred chest or coffer in which the tables of the law were deposited, written by the finger of God, and witnessing to his covenant with his people, Ex 25:22; 34:29. It was of shittim-wood, covered within and without with plates of gold, nearly four feet in length, and two feet three inches in width and height. On the top of it, all around, ran a kind of gold crown. It had four rings of gold, two on each side, through which staves were put, by which it was carried. These also were overlaid with the finest gold, and were not to be removed from the rings, Ex 25:10-22. The lid of the ark, all of gold, was called the mercy-seat; and upon its opposite ends were two golden cherubim, fronting each other and the mercy-seat, which they covered with their outspread wings, Ex 37:1-9. Here God especially dwelt, 2Ki 19:15; 1Ch 13:6, and shone forth, perhaps by some sensible manifestations, Le 16:2; Ps 80:1. Here he received the homage of his people, and dispensed his living oracles, Nu 7:89. The great yearly sacrifice of expiation was here offered by the high priest, Heb 9:7, in the Holy of Holies. Hence there was no object held more sacred by the Jews than "the ark of God." During their journeys in the wilderness, it was borne by the priests under a purple canopy and with great reverence before the host of Israel, Nu 4:5-6. Before it the Jordan was divided, and behind it the waters flowed on again, Jos 3-4. The walls of Jericho fell down before it, Jos 6:4-12.
After this, the ark continued some time at Gilgal, whence it was removed to Shiloh, Jos 4:19; 10:43; 18:1. Hence the Israelites took it to their camp; but when they gave battle to the Philistines, it was taken by the enemy, 1Sa 4. Th Philistines, oppressed by the hand of God, returned the ark, and it was lodged at Kirjath-jearim, 1Sa 7:1. It was afterwards, in the reign of Saul, at Nob. David conveyed it from Kirjath-jearim to the house of Obed-Edom, and from thence to his palace on Zion, 2Sa 6; and lastly, Solomon brought it into the temple at Jerusalem,
2Ch 5:2. It remained in the temple, with all suitable respect, till the times of the later idolatrous kings of Judah, who profaned the Most Holy place by their idols, when the priests appear to have removed the ark from the temple. At least, Josiah commanded them to bring it back to the sanctuary, and forbade them to carry it about, as they had hitherto done, 2Ch 35:3. The ark appears to have been destroyed at the captivity, or perhaps concealed by pious Jews in some hiding-place afterwards undiscoverable, as we hear nothing more of it; and the want of it made the second temple less glorious than the first.
Besides the tables of the covenant, placed by Moses in this sacred coffer, God appointed the blossoming rod of Aaron to be lodged there, Nu 17:10; Heb 9:4; a golden vase of manna gathered in the wilderness, Ex 16:33-34, and a copy of the book of the law, De 31:26.
(aron, not teebah). An oblong chester shittim wood (acacia), two and a half cubits long, one and a half broad and deep. F. W. Kolland measured acacias nine feet in girth, in the region of Israel's wandering; he attributes their being usually stunted there to the Arabs cutting off the young shoots for the she goats. Thus Colenso's cavil that "not a single acacia" is to be seen where the ark is said to have been constructed is answered. It is a propriety characteristic of the truth of the Scripture narrative that it represents the ark as not made of oak or cedar, the best woods of the Holy Land, but of acacia, the wood of the wilderness. Cedar actually was the wood used for the Jerusalem temple. In the thorn of man's curse appeared the angel of the covenant to Moses, to bless man; and out of its wood was formed the ark of the covenant, the typical source of his blessing. Overlaid with gold within and without.
The mercy-seat supporting the cherubim, one at each end, was on the lid, with a crown or raised border, and was Jehovah's mystical throne. It had rings at the four grainers for the two staves to pass through, wherewith the Kohathite Levites or priests carried it. The staves were permanently in the rings. Within e veil was its proper place, the ends of the staves, however, being visible, in Solomon's temple, in the outer holy place. When carried about, the ark was wrapped in the veil, the badger's skin, and blue cloth. Its title, "the ark of the testimony," implies its purpose, namely, to keep intact God's "covenant" written by God on the two stone tables (Ex 34:28), as the sacred deposit of the Israelite church (Ex 25:22; Nu 10:33).
The outward keeping taught symbolically the moral and spiritual keeping of God's commandments. In the wilderness "the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey to search out a resting place for them; and when the ark set forward, Moses said, Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee. And when it rested, he said, Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel" (Nu 10:33-36; Ps 68:1; 132:8). At the passage of the Jordan it was when the ark was borne by the priests and their feet had touched the water, that an open way was made for Israel. Only when the material ark, apart from obedience, was expected to give that favor of God which only obedience to the law contained within the ark could ensure, did God "deliver His strength" (the pledge of God's strengthening His people) "into captivity and His glory into the enemy's hands" (Ps 78:61; 1Sa 4:11).
When the ark was taken the "glory" was departed (1Sa 4:21-22). The ark and the sanctuary were "the beauty of Israel" (La 2:1). The antitype, Messiah, goes before His redeemed, exploring their way through the wilderness, making clear passage through death's waters into the heavenly Canaan. Like the ark with the Philistines Messiah was the captive of the grave for a brief space, but with triumph He rose again; and as when the ark went up to the tabernacle reared for it by David on Zion, so on Christ's ascending the heavenly mount the glorious anthem arose: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in" (Psalm 24). Every Dagon must fall before Him now; for even in His temporary captivity in death the powers of darkness were crushed before Him (Col 2:14-15; Mt 27:50-54). As the ark blessed the house of Obed Edom, so Christ is the true bestower of blessings (Ac 3:20).
The restriction of the ark's contents to the decalogue implies that this is the central core of all the various precepts, the moral end for which the positive precepts were given. They were in the innermost shrine, to mark their perpetually obligatory nature and the holiness of God; in the ark, the type of Christ, to mark that in Him alone, "the Lord our righteousness," they find their perfect realization. 1Ki 8:9 states there was nothing in the ark of Solomon's temple save the two stone tables of the law; but Heb 9:4 states there were also the golden pot of manna (the memorial of God's providential care of Israel), and Aaron's rod that budded (the memorial of the lawful priesthood, Nu 17:3-10). Probably by the time of Solomon the other two relics had been lost, perhaps when the ark was in the hands of the Philistines. "Before the Lord" and "before the testimony" was where they were directed to be laid up (Ex 16:32-36).
The mercy-seat was not merely regarded as the lid of the ark, but as the most important feature in the holiest place (Ex 25:17; 26:34; Le 16:2), the only meeting place between God and man. It was the (caporeth) or covering, not merely of the ark. but (when sprinkled with the sacrificial blood once a year on the great day of atonement) of Israel's sins against the law contained within the ark. Hence it is called in the Septuagint "the propitiatory" (hilasterion); and Christ, the true mercy-seat (Ps 85:10) and place of meeting between the holy God and guilty man, is called the very same (Ro 3:25), "propitiation," lit. propitiatory. In 1Ch 28:11 the holiest is called" the place of the mercy-seat," so prominent was the latter in symbolical significance.
The ark was never seen save by the high priest; symbol of God whom no man can see, and whose likeness is only to be seen in Christ (Joh 1:18; Heb 1:3), the true Ark, and our High Priest with the Father. Thus every tendency to idolatry was excluded, an ark occupying the central place of holiness, and that seen only once a year by the one religious representative of the people. Even it is to be superseded in the coming temple at. Jerusalem, when "they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord, neither shall it come to mind, neither shall they re. member it"; for Jehovah Jesus, the Antitype, will be there, "at that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it" (Jer 3:16). The absence of the ark after its capture by the Philistines possibly impaired the reverential awe felt toward it (1Ch 13:3,9). But the stroke on Uzza, and the rearing of the tabernacle for it in Zion by David, after its long abode of 20 years in Kirjath Jearim, in Abinadab's house, recovered for it all its sanctity.
The altar of burnt offering where the sacrifices were offered continued separate from it at Gibeon, the "great high place" (1Ki 3:4) (in the tabernacle of the ark on Zion the service was song and praise alone) until the two were reunited in the temple of Solomon, a type of the gospel separation of the spiritual service of prayer and praise going on here below, from the priestly intercession being carried on above by our Lord Jesus. The spiritual and the literal priestly services will perhaps be reunited in Ezekiel's millennial temple at Jerusalem, one antitype to Solomon's temple. Compare Ac 15:16-17. Manasseh set up an idol, a carved image, instead of the ark which contained the testimony against him. Josiah restored it to its place in the house of God (2Ch 33:7; 35:3).
The ark was wanting in the second temple, having been probably burnt with the temple (2Ch 36:19); compare (apocryphal) 2 Esdras 10:22, "the ark of our covenant is spoiled." Its absence was one of the points wherein the second was inferior to the first temple. (See ALTAR.) There must have been some substitute for it, on which to sprinkle the blood, in the holiest, on the great day of atonement; the Jews mention an altar stone, slightly raised from the floor. Pagan nations too had their mystic arks (whence arcanum is the term for a mystery), but so distinct in use from the Mosaic that the differences are more prominent than the resemblances.
The Egyptian arks (on their monuments) were, like the Hebrew ark, carried by poles on men's shoulders. Some had too on the cover two winged figures like cherubim; but between these was the material symbol of a deity, and the arks were carried about in procession to make a show before the people. The ark of the covenant on the contrary was marked by the absence of any symbol of God. It was never carried in procession. When moved it was carefully covered up from the ey
Ark of the Covenant.
The first piece of the tabernacle's furniture, for which precise directions were delivered. Exod 25. I. Description.-- It appears to have been an oblong chest of shittim (acacia) wood, 2 1/2 cubits long by 1 1/2 broad and deep. Within and without gold was overlaid on the wood, and on the upper side or lid, which was edged round about with gold, the mercy-seat was placed. The ark was fitted with rings, one at each of the four corners, and through these were passed staves of the same wood similarly overlaid, by which it was carried by the Kohathites.
The ends of the staves were visible without the veil in the holy place of the temple of Solomon.
The ark, when transported, was enveloped in the "veil" of the dismantled tabernacle, in the curtain of badgers' skins and in a blue cloth over all, and was therefore not seen.
II. Its purpose was to contain inviolate the divine autograph of the two tables, that "covenant" from which it derived its title. It was also probably a reliquary for the pot of manna and the rod of Aaron. III. History.--Before David's time its abode was frequently shifted. It sojourned among several, probably Levitical, families,
in the border villages of eastern Judah; and did not take its place in the tabernacle, but dwelt in curtains, i.e. in a separate tent pitched for it in Jerusalem by David. Subsequently the temple, when completed, received, in the installation of the ark in its shrine, the signal of its inauguration by the effulgence of divine glory instantly manifested. It was probably taken captive or destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, 2 Esdr. 10:22, so that there was no ark in the second temple.
ARK OF THE COVENANT, a small chest or coffer, three feet nine inches in length, two feet three inches in breadth, and two feet three inches in height; in which were contained the golden pot that had manna, Aaron's rod, and the tables of the covenant, Nu 17:10; Heb 9:4. This coffer was made of shittim wood, and was covered with a lid, called the mercy seat, Ex 25:17-22, &c, which was of solid gold, at the two ends whereof were two figures, called cherubim, looking toward each other with expanded wings, which, embracing the whole circumference of the mercy seat, met in the middle. The whole, according to the rabbins, was made out of the same mass, without any of the parts being joined by solder. Over this it was that the Shechinah, or visible display of the divine presence in a luminous cloud rested, both in the tabernacle, and in the temple, Le 16:2; and from hence the divine oracles were given forth by an audible voice, as often as God was consulted in behalf of his people. Hence it is that God is said in Scripture to dwell between the cherubim, on the mercy seat, because there was the seat or throne of the visible appearance of his glory among them, 2Ki 19:15; 1Ch 13:6; Ps 80:1, &c; and for this reason the high priest appeared before the mercy seat once every year, on the great day of expiation, at which time he was to make his nearest approach to the divine presence, to mediate and make atonement for the whole people of Israel. On the two sides of the ark there were four rings of gold, two on each side, through which staves, overlaid with gold, were put, by means whereof they carried it as they marched through the wilderness, &c, on the shoulders of the Levites, Ex 25:13-14; 27:5. After the passage of the Jordan, the ark continued for some time at Gilgal, from whence it was removed to Shiloh. From this place the Israelites carried it to their camp, where, in an engagement with the Philistines, it fell into their hands. The Philistines, having gotten possession of the ark, carried it in triumph to one of their principal cities, named Ashdod, and placed it in the temple of Dagon, whose image fell to the ground and was broken. The Philistines also were so afflicted with emerods, that they afterward returned the ark with various presents; and it was lodged at Kirjath-Jearim, and afterward at Nob. David conveyed it to the house of Obededom, and from thence to his palace at Zion; and lastly, Solomon brought in into the temple which he had built at Jerusalem. It remained in the temple till the times of the last kings of Judah, who gave themselves up to idolatry, and even dared to place their idols in the holy temple itself. The priests, being unable to bear this profanation, took the ark and carried it from place to place, to preserve it from the hands of those impious princes. Josiah commanded them to bring it back to the sanctuary, and it was accordingly replaced, 2Ch 35:3. What became of the ark at the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, is a dispute among the rabbins. Had it been carried to Babylon with the other vessels of the temple, it would, in all probability, have been brought back with them at the close of the captivity. But that this was not the case, is agreed on all hands; whence it is probable that it was destroyed with the temple.
The ark of the covenant was, as it were, the centre of worship to all those of the Hebrew nation who served God according to the Levitical law; and not only in the temple, when they came thither to worship, but every where else in their dispersions through the whole world; whenever they prayed, they turned their faces toward the place where the ark stood, and directed all their devotions that way, Da 6:10. Whence the author of the book of Cosri, justly says, that the ark, with the mercy seat and cherubim, were the foundation, root, heart, and marrow of the whole temple, and all the Levitical worship performed therein; and, therefore, had there been nothing else wanting in the second temple but the ark only, this alone would have been a sufficient reason for the old men to have wept when they remembered the first temple in which it stood; and for the saying of Hag 2:3, that the second temple was as nothing compared with the first; so great a share had the ark of the covenant in the glory of Solomon's temple. However, the defect was supplied as to the outward form, for in the second temple there was also an ark of the same dimensions with the first, and put in the same place; but it wanted the tables of the law, Aaron's rod, and the pot of manna; nor was there any appearance of the divine glory over it; nor any oracles delivered from it. The only use that was made of it was to be a representation of the former on the great day of expiation, and to be a repository of the Holy Scriptures, that is, of the original copy of that collection of them made by Ezra after the captivity; in imitation of which the Jews, in all their synagogues, have a like ark or coffer in which they keep their Scriptures.
For the temple of Solomon a new ark was not made; but he constructed cherubim in the most holy place, which were designed to give additional state to this most sacred symbol of God's grace and mercy. These cherubim were fifteen feet high, and were placed at equal distance from the centre of the ark and from each side of the wall, so that their wings being expanded, the two wings which were extended behind touched the wall, and the other two met over the ark and so overshadowed it. When these magnificent cherubim were finished, the ark was brought in and placed under their wings, 2Ch 5:7-10.
The ark was called the ark of the covenant, because it was a symbol of the covenant between God and his people. It was also named the ark of the testimony, because the two tables which were deposited in it were witnesses against every transgression.