Summary: The Ark of the Covenant, its contents and their significance
In our examination of the Tabernacle, as described in Hebrews 9, we now come to the heart of the Tabernacle – the Holy of Holies or the Holiest of All. This area was hidden away from inquisitive eyes. First there was the outer fence, next the thick, four layered coverings of the tabernacle itself and then the curtain that divided the holy of holies from the holy place so that even the priests could not see what was inside this most secret place. (We’ll come back to this curtain or veil later as this chapter and the next have lots to say about its significance.)
The Ark of the Covenant
If you had entered this most holy place, and had not died as a result, what would you have seen? Outshining all the other wonders was the Ark of the Covenant, the most glorious and mysterious item in the tabernacle. It was the first thing God told Moses to make (Ex 25:10, 11), indeed the whole sanctuary was designed around the Ark. The Ark was the symbol that God Himself was present among His people and that His blessing was upon them.
Heb 9:4 the Ark of the Covenant overlaid on all sides with gold
Ex. 25:10 “Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood––a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. 11 Overlay it inside and outside with pure gold, and run a moulding of gold all around it. 12 Cast four gold rings and attach them to its four feet, two rings on each side. 13 Make poles from acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings at the sides of the Ark to carry it. 15 These carrying poles must stay inside the rings; never remove them. [NLT]
The Ark was basically a simple wooden chest, or box which was completely covered with gold. As far as we know it wasn’t elaborately decorated like some of the other items, eg the lamp-stand. A golden moulding ran around the top and it had rings and poles in its sides so that it could be carried as they journeyed to the Promised Land. It had a golden lid, called the mercy-seat or, more accurately, the atonement cover.
There I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the Ark of the Testimony Ex 25:22
As we have seen previously the Tabernacle and its contents were all designed to illustrate Christ and God’s dealings with us, through His beloved Son. The Ark provides an outstanding illustration of the incarnate Son of God. The wood of which it was made, as we have seen, reminds us of His sinless humanity. Shittim wood had a reputation that it never rotted and the Septuagint translation of the O. T. translates it incorruptible wood. The gold overlay reminds us of Christ’s Divine glory.
The use of these two materials illustrates the union of the two natures in Christ, the God-man, that we are reminded of in the Christmas story – But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law Gal 4:4. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh 1Tim 3:16.
The history of the Ark
The Ark survived the journey through the wilderness, the battles of Joshua’s time and the dark years of the Judges, when it was treated as a magic talisman to bring victory and was even captured by the Philistines. (1 Sam 4) At the dedication of the temple it was placed in the Holy of Holies by Solomon, where it remained for many years. (1 Kings 8)
The subsequent history of the Ark has resulted in much speculation. St. Mary’s of Zion church in Axum, Ethiopia, is claimed to be the resting place of the Ark, but as the only person allowed to see it is the ‘Guardian of the Ark’ it is hard to say.
My favourite story is that the Ark is hidden beneath Jerusalem, in a tunnel beneath Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion. According to this story, the earthquake that followed Christ’s death (Mt 27:50-54) split the rocks, forming a crack that connected the site of the crucifixion and the chamber containing the Ark of the Covenant. Christ’s blood then dripped 60 feet down this crack falling onto the mercy seat of the hidden Ark –just like that of the animal sacrifices hundreds of years earlier. Is it true? I doubt it, the discoverer is dismissed by the authorities and experts as a fraud. (You can read it for yourself at www.wyattmuseum.com.) Of course, if it had been discovered and reported to the authorities, as claimed, then they would have certainly have suppressed the discovery as it would lead to dramatically increased tensions between Islam and Israel as the old temple site is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock.