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The Ark of the Covenant

John Hoole August 11, 2002

Throughout the years of Israel's wanderings, God gave specific directions to Moses to create several sacred objects. This was especially true of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and its furnishings, which were to be constructed after the pattern Moses saw in Heaven. Each of these objects express various parts of God's covenant with His chosen people. Israel carried these through the wilderness until they reached the Promised Land where they could place them in a sanctuary befitting their importance. God gave to Moses explicit instructions to build a sanctuary for Him.

Exodus 25:8-9 NIV

8 Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.
9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

Notice the last half of verse 9. The word translated "pattern" means "model." Moses did not have documented plans, but was to build each object according to the model God showed to him.

The first object Moses was commanded to build was the Ark of the Covenant. Ex 25:10 (NIV) Have them make an ark of acacia wood…..

A number of name variations are used in the Bible to describe this object.

The Ark
Ark of Witness
Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Lord
Ark of the Covenant of God
Ark of the LORD's covenant
Ark of the God of Israel
Ark of the Testimony (testimony is a synonym for covenant)
Ark of God's strength
Ark of God

WHAT WAS THE SIZE OF THE ARK OF THE COVENANT?

The rest of verse 10, which we just read says:

Have them make an ark of acacia wood - two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.

WHAT'S A CUBIT?

A cubit is a measure of length, representing the distance from the elbow to the tip of the fingers. That is about 18 inches. This is sometimes referred to as a standard cubit. Ezekiel 40:25 refers to a non-standard cubit, which is defined as a standard cubit plus a hand's width, or about 21 inches. Assuming the use of a standard cubit, what is the length, width and height of the Ark of the Covenant? At 18 inches per cubit, it was 45 inches long, 27 inches wide and 27 inches tall.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE ARK?

The ark had a lid on it.

WHAT WAS THAT LID CALLED?

Exodus 25:17 calls this lid a "mercy seat." This mercy seat was made of pure gold. The Hebrew words for "mercy seat" could also be translated "place of atonement." This is where the High Priest placed the blood once each year on the Day of Atonement as an atonement for sin. In the New Testament, the word Propitiation is the equivalent of "mercy seat" because it represent the sin offering. 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10 refer to Jesus as our propitiation, or sin offering.

DOES THE BIBLE TELL US ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT THE FEATURES OF THE MERCY SEAT?

Verse 18 tells us that two cherubim, of pure gold, sat on the mercy seat. They were on each end of the mercy seat, facing each other (verse 20)
.

We don't know exactly what the Ark of the Covenant looked like. Some models show the cherubim kneeling. Other show them standing. What we do know is that the wings of the Cherubim were stretched out above and over the Mercy Seat. Some models show the wings touching each other, others with a gap between them.

WHAT ELSE ARE WE TOLD ABOUT THE ARK?

The Two Staves (Exod. 25:12-15) On each side of the Ark two gold rings were constructed. Through these rings two staves made of acacia wood, overlaid with gold were placed for carrying the ark. We don't know if the staves went length-ways or side-ways.

In the wilderness, the staves were always left in the rings while in the Tabernacle. This implies they were ready to carry it when God said it was time to move. Numbers 7:9 says it was to be carried on the shoulders of the Kohathites. These were the priests who were descendants of Aaron.

THE ARK'S CONTENTS

WHAT WAS PLACED INSIDE THE ARK?

1. The two stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments were etched (Ex. 25:16). At the beginning, these two tablets were all that was placed in the Ark

2. Aaron's rod that budded (Numbers 17:10). What did Aaron's rod look like? If you picture it as you would a shepherd's staff, you probably would have a hard time putting it into the ark. It would have been more like a cane or walking stick.

3. A golden pot filled with Manna (Exodus 16:33).

In the New Testament, Hebrews 9:4 mentions all three as being placed in the Ark.

The Ark's Location

WHERE WAS THE ARK PLACED IN THE TABERNACLE IN THE WILDERNESS, AND LATER, IN THE FIRST TEMPLE?

It was placed in the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place. This room was the farthest from the entrance to the tabernacle. And the Ark is the only piece of furniture in this room.

WHAT DID THE ARK OF THE COVENANT REPRESENT TO THE JEWS?

It represented the presence of Jehovah God.

WHERE, SPECIFICALLY, WAS THE PLACE REPRESENTING GOD'S PRESENCE?

Exodus 25:22 NIV

22 There, above the cover [above the Mercy Seat] between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

God's manifest presence was not inside the box, but between the two cherubim above the mercy seat.

WHAT IS THIS MANIFEST PRESENCE OF GOD SOMETIMES CALLED?

The Shekinah, or shekinah glory.

The Ark of the covenant was undoubtedly the most holy piece of furniture ever made, if it can be referred to as such. Its holiness and Divine Presence was so overwhelming that improper handling resulted in death. We know that when Uzzah reached out to keep the ark from falling, he died (1 Chron 13:9-10). On another occasion, after the Ark was recaptured from the Philistines, the men of Bethshemesh, out of curiosity, violated its sanctity by opening it, which caused more than 50,000 people to die of the plague (1 Sam. 6:19).

We know that the Ark was placed in the Temple built by Solomon on the Temple Mount.

1 Kings 8:6, 10-13 NIV

6 The priests then brought the ark of the LORD's covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD.
11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.
12 Then Solomon said, "The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;
13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever."

In the Tanach, also called the Old Testament, the Ark is mentioned 203 times. But it didn't take too long until we start to lose track of the Ark. From Solomon (970 - 930 BC) until now, we have very little information in the Bible as to the Ark's whereabouts.

We know the ark was placed in Solomon's Temple in 959 BC, in the eleventh year of his reign. The last time we read definitively that the Ark of the Covenant was in the Temple, is recorded in 2 Chronicles 8:11. In this passage, Solomon asked his wife, the pagan daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, to leave the area where the Ark of the Covenant was stored because she was not a believer.

Even though that is the last time we can definitively place the Ark in the Temple, it is not the last time it is mentioned.

2 Chronicles 35:3 NIV

3 He said to the Levites, who instructed all Israel and who had been consecrated to the LORD: "Put the sacred ark in the temple that Solomon son of David king of Israel built. It is not to be carried about on your shoulders. Now serve the LORD your God and his people Israel.

The "he" mentioned in this verse is King Josiah. He reigned from 640 to 609 BC, and was the last godly king prior to the Babylonian captivity, which began in 606 BC. We do not, however, have any indication that the Ark was in fact placed back into the Temple. What it does tell us is that there were times when the Ark of the Covenant was not in the Temple. It also tell us that when it had been taken from Solomon's Temple, it was being moved in a manner prescribed by Levitical Law, that is, on the shoulders of the priests.

Some 320 years after Solomon and 3 years after Josiah, when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, we can assume that at the Ark was not in the temple. We know some of the vessels used in temple worship were taken to Babylon, and were used improperly by King Belshazzar.

There are 3 passages in the Bible that give lists of objects taken from Israel to Babylon.

o 2 Kings 24:13
o 2 Kings 25:13-18
o Jeremiah 52:17-23

In these lists, we see that the Babylonians took:

All the bronze instruments
o Bronze pillars
o Movable stands
o Laver
o Pots
o Shovels
o Wick Trimmers
o Dishes

A few things of silver and gold

o Basins
o Sprinkling bowls
o Censors
o Lamp stands
o Dishes

These lists of the articles taken do not include the Ark and some of the other key pieces placed in the Temple (like the altar of incense and table of shewbread). If they had been in the Temple at the time of the siege, undoubtedly they would have been taken along with the other objects.

If the Ark of the Covenant has not been seen since the time of Solomon, or maybe Josiah, what has happened to it? We do know that the Ark was never placed in Temple #2, built originally by Zerubbabel and later expanded by Herod the Great.

WAS THE SECOND TEMPLE THE HOUSE OF GOD, EVEN THOUGH IT HAD NO ARK OF THE COVENANT IN IT?

Yes !!!

In Matthew 21:13 (NIV) we find these words of Christ.

13 "It is written," he said to them, "`My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a `den of robbers.'"

This tells me that even though the second temple did NOT have the Ark in it, God still looked at it as His House.

SO WHERE IS THE ARK OF THE COVENANT TODAY?

The disappearance of the Ark is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. There is no report in the Bible that the Ark was carried away or destroyed or hidden. There is not even a comment such as "And then the Ark disappeared and we do not know what happened to it" "And no one knows where it is to this day." This possibly most important object in the world, in the biblical view simply ceases to be a story.

There have been a number of theories put forward as to its location. Some people claim to actually have found it, but no one has provided definite proof as to where it is. The mystery of the location of the Ark of the Covenant has inspired many expeditions to hunt for it. Thus far, all have failed.

Here are some of the theorized locations.

1. Irish Isles

2. The Vatican

3. Mount Nebo

4. Near the Dead Sea

5. It has been raptured to Heaven

6. In a cave under the Temple Mount

7. Ethiopia

Public awareness in our times as to the whereabouts of, or search for, the lost Ark, probably increased with the Movie: Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. If I remember what I saw on television correctly, this movie takes place during World War II, and Indiana Jones was in a race with the Nazis in trying to locate the lost Ark. Much of the action in the movie takes place in Egypt.

What about the theorized locations for the ark? Are any of them credible? I could find little information on the first two, the Irish Isles, or the Vatican.

Those who hold the Irish Isle theory are, by an large, made up of fringe groups of Christians who believe the so called 10 lost tribes of Israel are traced to the British Commonwealth. Most of these groups are also anti-Semitic, and believe modern day Israel is NOT the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Each of the other theories have vocal and noteworthy advocates.

1. Mount Nebo

There is one Jewish traditional legend concerning the Ark of the Covenant from the apocrypha.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE APOCRYPHAL BOOKS ARE?

These are books purported to have been written between the last book of the Old Testament and the Gospels in the New Testament. Books like: Baruch, 1 & 2 Esdras, Judith, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Maccabees, Tobit, and others. The 2nd book of Maccabees was written about 90 BC. Chapter 2, verses 1 - 8, says that Jeremiah took the Tabernacle, Altar of Incense, and the ark and hid them near Mount Nebo.

Mt. Nebo is located on the Jordan East Bank. It is part of the Mount Pizgah mountain range - probably the highest peak. It is from Mount Nebo that Moses was allow to look over the Promised Land, since God did not allow him to go into the land. Mount Nebo is located in the Country of Jordan today.

Deuteronomy 34:1-4 NIV

1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land--from Gilead to Dan,
2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea,
3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar.
4 Then the LORD said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, `I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."

According to this story, Jeremiah was given a vision by God where he saw the impending Babylonian siege. This theory says he took some of the objects, including the ark, to a safe place.

2nd Maccabees 2: 5-8 read:

5 After Jeremiah came to the mountain, he found a big cave, where he hid the tent, the chest, and the altar for burning incense. Then he blocked the entrance to the cave. 6 Meanwhile, a few of our people had followed Jeremiah, hoping to mark the path to the cave, but they could not. 7 Jeremiah got angry with them when he discovered what they had tried to do, and he said: No one can know about the cave until the Lord God has pity on us again and brings our people back home. 8 At that time, he will show where these things are hidden. A cloud will appear, blazing with God's own dazzling light, just as it did when he came to Moses.

We know that Jeremiah lived at the time of the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity. He died approx. 20 years into it. He is the person who prophesied these 70 years of Babylonian rule. He knew these events were coming several years before they happened. Did he possibly do what he could to save the major sacred articles in the temple? We don't really know. There are some archeologists who have been digging around in this area for decades without results.

2. Near the Dead Sea

Some believe that the Ark is to be found on the west bank of the Jordan River, near the Qumran Caves are located. The Qumran caves is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. A number of caves in this region have been excavated, including some of the same caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found A number of interesting artifacts have been found - but no ark.

3. Raptured to Heaven

Another theory regarding the fate of the Ark is that it was translated or raptured - that is, taken up to Heaven to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Chaldeans. This theory is based on what we read in Revelation 11:19, which says:

19 Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

This passage is a flash-forward to the end of the Tribulation, when Heaven opens and the wrath of God is about to be unleashed. John says that he saw the temple with the ark in it. This opinion seems to be quite factual. But are we really seeing all the facts?

WHAT IS THIS ARK SEEN IN HEAVEN BY JOHN?

We actually answered this question in the first few minutes of this lesson. The first Scripture Passage we read today helps us understand this issue. Let's look at it again.

Exodus 25:8-9 NIV

8 Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.
9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

God gave explicit instructions to build a sanctuary for Him. He also instructed Moses concerning each object to be placed in the Tabernacle. Moses did not have documented plans but was to build each object according to the model God showed to him. We find this corroborated in the New Testament as well.

Hebrews 8:5 NIV

5 They (The priests) serve at a sanctuary (Tabernacle/Temple) that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."

Dr. David Reagan - founder of the Lamb and Lion Ministries believes the ark was raptured to heaven. Most biblical scholars, however, believe that what John saw in heaven was the model shown to Moses, from which the original Ark of the Covenant on earth was built. Also notice that what John sees in Revelation 11:19 is not only the Ark. What John sees is the Temple, with the ark in it.

Without a doubt, God did not rapture the temple to heaven. No, this temple and ark seen by John were there when Moses received his orders to build.

4. Under the Temple Mount

Probably the most popular theory as to the present location of the Ark of the Covenant, is that it is in a secret chamber or cave beneath the Temple Mount. We know there are a number of tunnels and chambers under the mount. We do not know for sure if the ark is actually there.

The Temple Mount, being about 35 acres in size, is no small parcel of ground. If it were perfectly square, it would be 1250 feet on each side. So there is a lot of room for a number of lengthy tunnels and chambers. Some of them are open to tourists.

Many of the underground tunnels are attributed to Solomon and possibly King Josiah. The Ark's presence in this secret hiding place is widely believed by most of the Orthodox Jewish groups. These are the groups that are actively today preparing to rebuild the temple. The Temple Institute in Jerusalem's Old City, an ultra-orthodox organization dedicated to rebuilding the Jewish Temple, says the Ark is under the temple mount and will be revealed at the proper time.

5. The Ark is located in Ethiopia

Another theory as to the present location of the Ark of the Covenant is that it is in Ethiopia. According to this view, the Ark of the Covenant was taken from Jerusalem and transported to Ethiopia. While there are several variations in this theory, the common thread centers around the relationship Solomon had with the Queen of Sheba. According to this story, a son was born to the two of them, named Menelik I. Although the Bible makes no mention of this union, it has a very long tradition in Ethiopia.

According to the story, Menelik I was born after the Queen of Sheba returned to Ethiopia. After a few years, the Queen sent him to Solomon to learn the Jewish religion. He lived there until age 19. At that time, he was seeing what was occurring in Israel, with a split between the tribes, and many turning to other gods. So, according to the story, Menelik I takes the Ark to Ethiopia for safe-keeping. This account is recorded in the Ethiopian royal chronicles.

This story has been bolstered by the airlift conducted by Israel, beginning in 1984. A few years earlier, a group of black Ethiopians requested immigration to Israel, claiming to be orthodox Jews. After much investigation by Israel, they were approved as true Jews.

By this time, Haile Sellassie, the former Ethiopian emperor, was dead, and a Communist regime had taken over the country.

Israel carried out a air-lift, called Operation Moses, from November 18, 1984 until January 5, 1985. Almost 8,000 black Jews were taken to Israel. Another secret airlift, called Operation Joshua, occurred shortly thereafter, resulting in another 800 taken to Israel. In 1991, the local forces from two provinces began a concerted attack on the Communist forces. Meeting with some early success. Israel jumped into action, with the Likud government authorizing a special permit for El Al Airlines to fly on the Jewish Sabbath. Beginning on Friday, May 24, and continuing non-stop for 36 hours, a total of 34 El Al jumbo jets and Hercules C-130, with all seats removed, began what was called Operation Solomon. As a result, 14,324 more Ethiopian Jews are now living in Israel.

The Bible gives us several close and friendly ties between Israel and Ethiopia. We have already mentioned the Queen of Sheba and Solomon.

MIRIAM AND AARON WERE VERY UNHAPPY WITH MOSES, AND GOD BECAME ANGRY AT THEM. ABOUT WHAT WERE THEY ANGRY AT MOSES?

Numbers 12:1 NKJV

1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.

Moses had married an Ethiopian woman, and for some reason she made them angry. With such a marriage, it is easy to see that a line of Mosaic descendants would make an ideal place of refuge for the Ark.

Let me ask you a question. Do you remember the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch? The Ethiopian eunuch was a man of much authority, and was in charge of all the treasures of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia. (Acts 8:27).

WHY WAS THIS EUNUCH IN ISRAEL? Most likely, he was a Jew, who had come to Israel to observe some holy day or to worship in the temple. He was reading the Jewish Law while he was returning home.

There definitely is a friendly link between Israel and Ethiopia. Is that where the ark is presently located? We don't know. But one cannot ignore it.

The Forgotten Ark

Let me give you one more possibility as to the what has happened to the Ark of the Covenant. Let me begin by asking a question.

DO THE JEWS REALLY HAVE TO FIND THEIR ARK AT ALL?

DO TEMPLES #3 AND #4 HAVE TO HAVE THE ARK IN IT TO BE THE HOUSE OF GOD?

We have already discussed that Temple #2 did not, at any time, have the Ark of the Covenant residing in it. And yet, Christ called that temple the house of God. Is it possible that the Ark will never be found again? Let's go to the end of time and work back.

In the New Jerusalem, our eternal dwelling place, there will be no Ark of the Covenant, for there will not even be a Temple. John, record his vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21

In verse 22, he says, "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple."

Moving backwards, the Scriptures also indicate that there will be no Ark in Temple #4, which is the Millennial Temple.

Jeremiah 3:16 NKJV

16 Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those days," says the LORD, "that they will say no more, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore.

The context of this verse is the reign of Christ during the Millennium.

Jeremiah says point blank that "the ark of the covenant of the Lord…..shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again. This does not rule out the finding of the original ark prior to Temple #4. Conceivably, it could be found. But the important point to keep in mind is that the rediscovery of the Ark is not essential to the rebuilding of the Temple - even the Tribulation Temple.

Earlier we mentioned that Temple #2 did not have the ark in it. That means there was no ark in the Holy of Holies during the time when Jesus worshiped in the Temple.

As we have just seen a moment ago, we know it will not be resident in Temple #4. In Ezekiel 40 - 48, God gives great detail regarding Temple #4, but nowhere is the Ark of the Covenant mentioned. The Holy of Holies is mention in Ezekiel 41:4, but it is empty.

During the Millennium, there will be no need for a human high priest or an Ark with a mercy seat. Jesus will continue to function as mankind's High Priest, just as He will continue to serve as humanity's Mercy Seat (Haggai 2:20-23).

Let me give you an example of the mercy seat from the New Testament. When Mary went to the tomb of Jesus, what did she see?

John 20:12 NIV

12 And [they] saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

WHERE WERE THE ANGELS LOCATED IN THE TOMB?

One was sitting at each end of the slab where Jesus' body had been.

WHERE WERE THE ANGELS LOCATED ON THE ARK?

One was located at each end of the Mercy Seat. That slab where Jesus' broken body laid, was typified by the Mercy Seat. Where Jesus had lain was the perfect Mercy Seat. There really is no more need for the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus has fulfilled all that the ark stood for.

Just as the Ark was designed to be a symbol of the presence of God in the midst of His people, Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's love and care and presence. He is our Ark. He is our Law. He is our Manna. He is our Budded Rod. And, thank God, He is our Mercy Seat.

   
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