The Ark of the Covenant has an interesting and rather enigmatic history. Its fabrication was commanded by God to Moses at the time that Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. God issued very specific instructions as to how it was to be constructed. It had an intimate connection to the tabernacle in the wilderness and to Solomon’s Temple, where it occupied the Holy of Holies in both temples. It was above the ark that the Shekinah Glory indwelt both houses of the Lord.

Details of the ark of the covenant are presented in Exodus 24:15-18, 25:1-22:

“And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount. And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and got up into the mount; and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

“And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. And this is the offering which ye shall take of them: gold, and silver, and bronze, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ hair, and rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins, and acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for anointing oil and for sweet incense, onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate.

“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furnishings thereof, even so shall ye make it.

“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a rim of gold round about. And thou shalt cast four fings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it. And thou shalt make staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put the staves into the fings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them. The staves shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee. And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof. And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will communewtih thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.”

The testimony referred to in this passage consists of the stone tablets upon which God had written the Ten Commandments. According to Hebrews 9:4, the ark also contained the golden pot of manna and Aaron’s rod. These artifacts spoke of the intimacy of God’s relationship with mankind, and of His power in fulfilling His Word. According to 2 Chronicles 5:10, the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod were later removed.

The ark was captured by the Philistines during one of Judah’s frequent fallings away from God. During its return, it was touched with the result that the offender died. Some Christians speculate that the man died not because of the touching, but because he was filled with sin.

The ark’s fate becomes murky after that; Isaiah was said to have buried it at the time that the ten northern nations of Israel were assaulted by Assyria and dispersed. Other legend has it that King Menelek of Ethiopia, who was the offspring of Solomon’s romance with the Queen of Sheba, stole it after having replaced it with an imitation and took it with him back to Ethiopia. To this day either the real ark of the covenant or its duplicate is under heavy guard in the Ethiopian city of Axum. The ark is mentioned in the Bible a final time in Revelation 11, but this ark is probably a much different one, the nature of which will be explored in the next posting.


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