The Ark of the Covenant

What Is the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant. Getty Images

The Ark of the Covenant was a sacred chest built by the Israelites, under exact specifications given to them by God. It included a pledge by God that he would dwell among his people and give them guidance from the mercy seat on the top of the Ark.

Made of acacia wood, the Ark was covered inside and out with pure gold and measured two and a half cubits long by a cubit and a half wide by a cubit and a half high (45" x 27" x 27").

Near its four feet were gold rings, through which wooden poles, also covered with gold, were inserted, for carrying the Ark.

Special care was taken on the lid: solid gold with two hammered gold cherubim, or angels, on it, facing each other, with their wings overshadowing the lid. God told Moses:

"There, above the cover 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." (Exodus 25:22, NIV)

God told Moses to place the tablets of the Ten Commandments inside the Ark. Later, a pot of manna and Aaron's staff were added.

During the Jews' wanderings in the desert, the Ark was kept in the tabernacle tent and was carried by priests of the Levite tribe as the people moved from place to place. It was the most important piece of furniture in the wilderness tabernacle. When the Jews entered Canaan, the Ark was usually kept in a tent, until Solomon built his temple in Jerusalem and installed the Ark there with a solemn ceremony.

Once a year the high priest made atonement for the people of Israel by sprinkling the mercy seat on top of the Ark with the blood of sacrificed bulls and goats. The term "mercy seat" is associated with the Hebrew word for "atonement." The lid of the Ark was called a seat because the Lord was enthroned there between the two cherubim.

In Numbers 7:89, God spoke to spoke to Moses from between the cherubim:

When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.

The last time the Ark is mentioned in the Bible is 2 Chronicles 35:1-6, although the non-canonical book 2 Maccabees states that the prophet Jeremiah took the Ark to Mount Nebo, where he hid it in a cave and sealed the entrance.

In the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones tracked the Ark to Egypt. Today, theories place the Ark at Saint Mary of Zion Church in Axum, Ethiopia, and in a tunnel under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Yet another theory says the copper scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is a treasure map which gives the location of the Ark. None of these theories has been proven true.

Speculation aside, the Ark was an important foreshadowing of Jesus Christ as the sole place of atonement for sins. As the Ark was the only place Old Testament believers could go (through the high priest) to have their sins forgiven, so Christ is now the only way to salvation and the kingdom of heaven.

Bible References to the Ark of the Covenant

Exodus 25:10-22; the Ark is mentioned more than 40 other times in Scripture, in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Psalms, and Revelation.

Also Known As:

Ark of God, Ark of God's Strength, Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, Ark of the Testimony.

Example:

The Ark of the Covenant was connected with several Old Testament miracles.

(Sources: The New Topical Textbook, Rev. R.A. Torrey; and www.gotquestions.org.)

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Zavada, Jack. "The Ark of the Covenant." ThoughtCo, Feb. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/ark-of-the-covenant-700738. Zavada, Jack. (2017, February 12). The Ark of the Covenant. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ark-of-the-covenant-700738 Zavada, Jack. "The Ark of the Covenant." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ark-of-the-covenant-700738 (accessed November 25, 2017).