The Ark of the Covenant has been made famous in recent times by the huge box office film ‘raiders of the lost ark’ where Indiana Jones follows various archaeological clues to locate the missing ark, before the Nazi’s get their evil hands on it.
The Ark of the Covenant was the central part of the tabernacle, but actually, at the time, no Israelite got to see it, except one, the High priest. He was allowed only once a year into the innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of holies, where God dwelt. He would enter with reverence and great fear and sprinkle blood to atone for the people’s sins. When the tabernacle was taken down and moved around with the Israelites it was carefully wrapped in the veil and then with a covering made from badger’s skins.
The ark is the first item mentioned in the instructions God gives for the tabernacle in Exodus 25 onwards. Here is the relevant passage;
They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you. (Exodus 25:10-16)
The ark was constructed out of natural Acacia wood which speaks of Jesus’s humanity. It was overlaid with gold which signified his deity. It couldn’t be described as a wooden box because of the gold and it wasn’t a golden casket because it was made of wood. It required both to perfectly represent Jesus who is the ‘God-man’ inhabiting both natures fully and at the same time. This wonderful doctrine is called the hypostatic union.
The fact that Jesus is God has been hotly debated throughout history, but the bible is quite clear about His divinity.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9)
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. (John 14:1)
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)
The bible, on many occasions, also confirms his humanity; He grew tired, He slept, He ate and drank and He laughed and cried.
The ark was not an empty box, but contained 3 items which further symbolise aspects of Jesus;
1. The two tablets of the law which Moses brought down from the mountain (the first two he broke during the golden calf incident) these unbroken tablets signified Jesus keeping the law fully and indeed fulfilling it.
2. A pot containing some Manna. As we saw a few weeks ago, God in His grace and mercy provided sustenance for His people for 40 years while they were in the wilderness. This signifies God providing Jesus by His grace to satisfy and sustain us. He is of course ‘The bread of life’ (John 6:35).
3. Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17) This was the occasion when a dead object came to life, an amazing picture of the resurrection of Jesus.
The ark was to remain portable (Exodus 25:15). The poles were to remain in the rings. Jesus leads us as pilgrims through this world. We do not belong here. We should never settle but be continually on the move. Jesus is with us wherever we go, moving us further and deeper into God’s purposes.
Just to finish, by referencing the film I mentioned at the beginning. We no longer need to search for a physical ark as some sort of trophy of God’s presence with us or something that holds special power in itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if the physical ark was destroyed centuries ago as it is no longer necessary. It was a symbol and a shadow of the reality that we now possess and that is that God dwells within us through His spirit. The ark that houses His presence is our Physical bodies. What an amazing thought!