American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
Ark of the Covenant
The sacred chest or coffer in which the tables of the law were deposited, written by the finger of God, and witnessing to his covenant with his people, Exodus 25:22 34:29 . It was of shittim-wood, covered within and without with plates of gold, nearly four feet in length, and two feet three inches in width and height. On the top of it, all around, ran a kind of gold crown. It had four rings of gold, two on each side, through which staves were put, by which it was carried. These also were overlaid with the finest gold, and were not to be removed from the rings, Exodus 25:10-22 . The lid of the ark, all of gold, was called the mercy-seat; and upon its opposite ends were two golden cherubim, fronting each other and the mercy-seat, which they covered with their outspread wings, Exodus 37:1-9 . Here God especially dwelt, 2 Kings 19:15 1 Chronicles 13:6 , and shone forth, perhaps by some sensible manifestations, Leviticus 16:2 Psalm 80:1 . Here he received the homage of his people, and dispensed his living oracles, Numbers 7:89 . The great yearly sacrifice of expiation was here offered by the high priest, Hebrews 9:7 , in the Holy of Holies. Hence there was no object held more sacred by the Jews than "the ark of God." During their journeys in the wilderness, it was borne by the priests under a purple canopy and with great reverence before the host of Israel, Numbers 4:5,6 . Before it the Jordan was divided, and behind it the waters flowed on again, Joshua 3:1-4:24 . The walls of Jericho fell down before it, Joshua 6:4-12 .
After this, the ark continued some time at Gilgal, whence it was removed to Shiloh, Joshua 4:19 10:43 18:1 . Hence the Israelites took it to their camp; but when they gave battle to the Philistines, it was taken by the enemy, 1 Samuel 4:1-22 . Th Philistines, oppressed by the hand of God, returned the ark, and it was lodged at Kirjath-jearim, 1 Samuel 7:1 . It was afterwards, in the reign of Saul, at Nob. David conveyed it from Kirjath-jearim to the house of Obed-Edom, and from thence to his palace on Zion, 2 Samuel 6:1-23 ; and lastly, Solomon brought it into the temple at Jerusalem,
2 Chronicles 5:2 . It remained in the temple, with all suitable respect, till the times of the later idolatrous kings of Judah, who profaned the Most Holy place by their idols, when the priests appear to have removed the ark from the temple. At least, Josiah commanded them to bring it back to the sanctuary, and forbade them to carry it about, as they had hitherto done, 2 Chronicles 35:3 . The ark appears to have been destroyed at the captivity, or perhaps concealed by pious Jews in some hiding-place afterwards undiscoverable, as we hear nothing more of it; and the want of it made the second temple less glorious than the first.
Besides the tables of the covenant, placed by Moses in this sacred coffer, God appointed the blossoming rod of Aaron to be lodged there, Numbers 17:10 Hebrews 9:4 ; a golden vase of manna gathered in the wilderness, Exodus 16:33,34 , and a copy of the book of the law, Deuteronomy 31:26 .
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