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Bible Dictionaries
Ark of the Covenant

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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a small chest or coffer, three feet nine inches in length, two feet three inches in breadth, and two feet three inches in height; in which were contained the golden pot that had manna, Aaron's rod, and the tables of the covenant, Numbers 17:10; Hebrews 9:4 . This coffer was made of shittim wood, and was covered with a lid, called the mercy seat, Exodus 25:17-22 , &c, which was of solid gold, at the two ends whereof were two figures, called cherubim, looking toward each other with expanded wings, which, embracing the whole circumference of the mercy seat, met in the middle. The whole, according to the rabbins, was made out of the same mass, without any of the parts being joined by solder. Over this it was that the Shechinah, or visible display of the divine presence in a luminous cloud rested, both in the tabernacle, and in the temple,

Leviticus 16:2; and from hence the divine oracles were given forth by an audible voice, as often as God was consulted in behalf of his people. Hence it is that God is said in Scripture to dwell between the cherubim, on the mercy seat, because there was the seat or throne of the visible appearance of his glory among them, 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Psalms 80:1 , &c; and for this reason the high priest appeared before the mercy seat once every year, on the great day of expiation, at which time he was to make his nearest approach to the divine presence, to mediate and make atonement for the whole people of Israel.

On the two sides of the ark there were four rings of gold, two on each side, through which staves, overlaid with gold, were put, by means whereof they carried it as they marched through the wilderness, &c, on the shoulders of the Levites, Exodus 25:13-14; Exodus 27:5 . After the passage of the Jordan, the ark continued for some time at Gilgal, from whence it was removed to Shiloh. From this place the Israelites carried it to their camp, where, in an engagement with the Philistines, it fell into their hands. The Philistines, having gotten possession of the ark, carried it in triumph to one of their principal cities, named Ashdod, and placed it in the temple of Dagon, whose image fell to the ground and was broken. The Philistines also were so afflicted with emerods, that they afterward returned the ark with various presents; and it was lodged at Kirjath-Jearim, and afterward at Nob. David conveyed it to the house of Obededom, and from thence to his palace at Zion; and lastly, Solomon brought in into the temple which he had built at Jerusalem. It remained in the temple till the times of the last kings of Judah, who gave themselves up to idolatry, and even dared to place their idols in the holy temple itself. The priests, being unable to bear this profanation, took the ark and carried it from place to place, to preserve it from the hands of those impious princes. Josiah commanded them to bring it back to the sanctuary, and it was accordingly replaced, 2 Chronicles 35:3 . What became of the ark at the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, is a dispute among the rabbins. Had it been carried to Babylon with the other vessels of the temple, it would, in all probability, have been brought back with them at the close of the captivity. But that this was not the case, is agreed on all hands; whence it is probable that it was destroyed with the temple.

The ark of the covenant was, as it were, the centre of worship to all those of the Hebrew nation who served God according to the Levitical law; and not only in the temple, when they came thither to worship, but every where else in their dispersions through the whole world; whenever they prayed, they turned their faces toward the place where the ark stood, and directed all their devotions that way, Daniel 6:10 . Whence the author of the book of Cosri, justly says, that the ark, with the mercy seat and cherubim, were the foundation, root, heart, and marrow of the whole temple, and all the Levitical worship performed therein; and, therefore, had there been nothing else wanting in the second temple but the ark only, this alone would have been a sufficient reason for the old men to have wept when they remembered the first temple in which it stood; and for the saying of Haggai 2:3 , that the second temple was as nothing compared with the first; so great a share had the ark of the covenant in the glory of Solomon's temple. However, the defect was supplied as to the outward form, for in the second temple there was also an ark of the same dimensions with the first, and put in the same place; but it wanted the tables of the law, Aaron's rod, and the pot of manna; nor was there any appearance of the divine glory over it; nor any oracles delivered from it. The only use that was made of it was to be a representation of the former on the great day of expiation, and to be a repository of the Holy Scriptures, that is, of the original copy of that collection of them made by Ezra after the captivity; in imitation of which the Jews, in all their synagogues, have a like ark or coffer in which they keep their Scriptures.

For the temple of Solomon a new ark was not made; but he constructed cherubim in the most holy place, which were designed to give additional state to this most sacred symbol of God's grace and mercy. These cherubim were fifteen feet high, and were placed at equal distance from the centre of the ark and from each side of the wall, so that their wings being expanded, the two wings which were extended behind touched the wall, and the other two met over the ark and so overshadowed it. When these magnificent cherubim were finished, the ark was brought in and placed under their wings, 2 Chronicles 5:7-10 .

The ark was called the ark of the covenant, because it was a symbol of the covenant between God and his people. It was also named the ark of the testimony, because the two tables which were deposited in it were witnesses against every transgression.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Ark of the Covenant'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​a/ark-of-the-covenant.html. 1831-2.
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