The Ark of the Covenant

God's presence among His people.

The Holy of Holies contained but one item: the Ark of the Covenant. The most sacred furnishing of all, it was located in the holiest place on earth. The Ark was topped by the Mercy Seat (see War Cry November 2017) but was essentially a wooden chest about the size of a small trunk. It measured three feet nine inches long, two feet three inches wide and high. Made of acacia wood, the entire Ark was overlaid with gold.  Four gold rings allowed for staves to be inserted for transport. 

The Ark was symbolic of Christ.

Acacia wood is highly resistant to decay, a product of the desert. As the tree grows from the earth, it reminds us of Christ’s human earthly nature. With gold representing divinity, the Ark was overlaid with it both inside and out. The two different elements used to make the Ark represent Christ, who possessed both a fully divine nature and a fully human one. Both the gold and the wood retained their attributes, not blending, yet existing together. The same is true of our Savior, who had a dual nature, but fully retained each aspect of His character to give us what we need for salvation.


If we were buying a house, we would first buy the house, then choose the furnishings. But God worked differently. He began by ordering that the Ark be made, then the Tabernacle. This reminds us that the initiative of our salvation was not humanity crying out to God for His mercy, but the Lord’s anticipation of our need. God reached out to us first. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NIV). 

The approach to God was through the single opening to the Tabernacle Court, then to the Brazen Altar symbolic of the cross of Christ, on to the Laver for a further cleansing before entry into the Holy Place and then into the presence of God symbolized by the Ark. We come by way of the blood to the gleaming glory of a holy God.

The Ark contained three items in it: the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai, a jar of manna from the wandering of the Children of Israel and the budding rod of Aaron. 

The tablets were given to Moses by God, written by His own hand on Mount Sinai. They were the second set. The first set was destroyed by Moses when he discovered the Children of Israel worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32). The tablets remind us of what God requires. Obedience to His will is one of the hallmarks of the redeemed life.

Manna was the daily provision of food given by God to the Israelites as they moved through the trackless wilderness (Exodus 16:1-36). Each morning they awoke to find it scattered across the ground. They were to gather enough for one day only except before the Sabbath when they gathered a two-day supply. If they gathered too much it soured, creating a strong odor. The Israelites were to trust God to provide what they needed each day. The jar of manna reminds us that God knows our needs and will supply them proportionately. 

When some of the Israelites challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron, God instructed the leaders to place their rods in the Tabernacle overnight. In the morning when they collected them, Aaron’s rod was the only one different. Overnight it had bloomed (Numbers 17). Aaron’s rod was a dead branch, but when God touched it, it was alive again. The budding of Aaron’s rod teaches us that God can take a dead thing and make it alive again. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) but through the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, God has breathed life into us again.

What happened to the Ark of the Covenant? There are several theories.

  1. It was stolen when the Babylonians looted the Temple. But this is not likely. Belshazzar brought the furnishings of the Temple out to desecrate them (Daniel 5). The Ark, by far the most valuable treasure, is not mentioned, which it surely would have been if the Babylonians had it.
  2. A more likely fate of the Ark comes from Jewish legend that says priests buried it under the floor of the Temple to hide it from the Babylonians. Orthodox Jews to this day will not walk on the Temple Mount for fear they might tread upon the site where the Ark is buried.
  3. The apocryphal book of 2 Maccabbees says that Jeremiah took the Ark out of Jerusalem to hide it in a cave somewhere in the countryside, but that the location has been lost to us (2:4-5). 
  4. Ethiopian Jews claims that the Ark is in their safekeeping in a shrine constructed to house it. This cannot be confirmed because no one is allowed in to disturb the location.
  5. Some believe that the Ark was transported to Heaven based on Revelation 11:19: “Then, in heaven, the Temple of God was opened and the Ark of His covenant could be seen inside the Temple.”

In the end it does not matter. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s presence among His people. But in the last day we will not need any symbol because as children of God we will be in His real presence.

It is common to see on television a military parent reuniting with his/her family. Imagine one of the children carrying a picture of his or her parent. The two-dimensional picture would be thrown away in a moment when the three dimensional, living, breathing mom or dad comes through the door. 

In the same way, we will not need any symbols when we stand before God in His Heaven.  We will behold Him as He is. That will truly be glory. 

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief & National Literary Secretary.


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