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The Tabernacle (5): The Ark of the Covenant

A Summers, Mayfield

In the Holy of Holies was the most sacred vessel in the Tabernacle. It was the Ark of the Covenant.¹ Its special status is marked out by its location and the fact that the High Priest was only permitted to appear before it once a year. While other vessels such as the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Laver were replaced when the Temple was built, the Ark was retained.

The Ark was an oblong box made of shittim wood. While the Table and Altar of Incense were overlaid on their exterior with gold, the Ark was overlaid with gold on both the exterior and interior. The lid does not seem to have been regarded as part of the Ark. It had a separate name - the Mercy Seat. Some translations use different language such as "the atonement cover" [NIV], or "the atonement lid" [NET Bible]. The lid of the Ark was the place where the blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). On it were fixed two angelic figures - the cherubims. Depictions of them vary. Sometimes they are shown as kneeling and sometimes standing. In some illustrations their whole body is visible and in others their torso, faces and wings. We do not know exactly what Moses saw in his vision or how the craftsmen represented the cherubims. What we do know is that the cherubims had wings which stretched towards the centre of the Ark and that their faces looked inwards. This posture indicates that angelic attention is focussed on the spot where the blood is shed. If as other Scriptures indicate, the Lord dwelt between these cherubims², they faced the Lord.

Inside the Ark were, in addition to the unbroken Tables of the Law, a pot of manna and Aaron's rod that budded. Exodus 16.33 states the pot was laid up "before the Lord" which some have taken to contradict Hebrew 9.4. But the expression "before the Lord" could easily cover the placing of the pot inside the Ark. If, moreover, this instruction was given before the Ark was made it may have been placed before the Lord until the Ark was completed and then placed inside the Ark. Aaron's rod was similarly placed "before the testimony" (Num 17.10) which Hebrews 9 indicates was in the Ark. It signified God's approval of the Levites as priests after the complaints expressed in Numbers 16. Each tribe placed a rod before the Lord and God miraculously caused Aaron's rod to bud as a sign of His approval.

The Ark is the vessel that most clearly depicts the Lord Jesus. The shittim wood grew out of the soil of earth and speaks of his humanity (Ex 37.1; Heb 2.14). It was overlaid with pure gold (Ex 37.2) which speaks of His deity (Jn 1.1,14). The Mercy Seat is a picture of His death (Rom 3.25), and the Tables of the Law inside the Ark remind us that the law was "within" His heart (Ps 40.8). It was in the midst (Num 2.17) as He was (Rev 1.13; Mt 18.20). The Ark had a triumphal entry (1 Chr 15) as did the Lord Jesus (Mt 21). It crossed Kidron (2 Sam 15.24) and so did He (Jn 18.1). It was taken by the enemy (1 Sam 4.11; Ps 78.60-61) as He was (Mk 14.46), and was abandoned by Israel (1 Sam 4.10-11) in the same way His disciples forsook Him (Mk 14.50). Dagon fell before the Ark (1 Sam 5.3-4) as the Lord Jesus' enemies fell before Him (Jn 18.6). The Ark was brought in to its place at last (2 Chr 5.7; 35.3) as was the Lord Jesus when He was received back to heaven (Heb 1.3; Rev 21.3).

To be continued.

¹ In Exodus it is usually called the "ark" or "the ark of the testimony". Elsewhere in Scripture it is called "the ark of the covenant", the "ark of wood" and "the ark of the Lord".

² 1 Samuel 4.4; 2 Samuel 6.2; 2 Kings 19.15; Psalm 80.1; 99.1.


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