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Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Ark of the Covenant

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(aron , not teebah ). An oblong chester shittim wood (acacia), two and a half cubits long, one and a half broad and deep. F. W. Kolland measured acacias nine feet in girth, in the region of Israel's wandering; he attributes their being usually stunted there to the Arabs cutting off the young shoots for the she goats. Thus Colenso's cavil that "not a single acacia" is to be seen where the ark is said to have been constructed is answered. It is a propriety characteristic of the truth of the Scripture narrative that it represents the ark as not made of oak or cedar, the best woods of the Holy Land, but of acacia, the wood of the wilderness. Cedar actually was the wood used for the Jerusalem temple. In the thorn of man's curse appeared the angel of the covenant to Moses, to bless man; and out of its wood was formed the ark of the covenant, the typical source of his blessing. Overlaid with gold within and without.

The mercy-seat supporting the cherubim, one at each end, was on the lid, with a crown or raised border, and was Jehovah's mystical throne. It had rings at the four grainers for the two staves to pass through, wherewith the Kohathite Levites or priests carried it. The staves were permanently in the rings. Within e veil was its proper place, the ends of the staves, however, being visible, in Solomon's temple, in the outer holy place. When carried about, the ark was wrapped in the veil, the badger's skin, and blue cloth. Its title, "the ark of the testimony," implies its purpose, namely, to keep intact God's "covenant" written by God on the two stone tables (Exodus 34:28), as the sacred deposit of the Israelite church (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 10:33).

The outward keeping taught symbolically the moral and spiritual keeping of God's commandments. In the wilderness "the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey to search out a resting place for them; and when the ark set forward, Moses said, Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee. And when it rested, he said, Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel" (Numbers 10:33-36; Psalms 68:1; Psalms 132:8). At the passage of the Jordan it was when the ark was borne by the priests and their feet had touched the water, that an open way was made for Israel. Only when the material ark, apart from obedience, was expected to give that favor of God which only obedience to the law contained within the ark could ensure, did God "deliver His strength" (the pledge of God's strengthening His people) "into captivity and His glory into the enemy's hands" (Psalms 78:61; 1 Samuel 4:11).

When the ark was taken the "glory" was departed (1 Samuel 4:21-22). The ark and the sanctuary were "the beauty of Israel" (Lamentations 2:1). The antitype, Messiah, goes before His redeemed, exploring their way through the wilderness, making clear passage through death's waters into the heavenly Canaan. Like the ark with the Philistines Messiah was the captive of the grave for a brief space, but with triumph He rose again; and as when the ark went up to the tabernacle reared for it by David on Zion, so on Christ's ascending the heavenly mount the glorious anthem arose: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in" (Psalm 24). Every Dagon must fall before Him now; for even in His temporary captivity in death the powers of darkness were crushed before Him (Colossians 2:14-15; Matthew 27:50-54). As the ark blessed the house of Obed Edom, so Christ is the true bestower of blessings (Acts 3:20).

The restriction of the ark's contents to the decalogue implies that this is the central core of all the various precepts, the moral end for which the positive precepts were given. They were in the innermost shrine, to mark their perpetually obligatory nature and the holiness of God; in the ark, the type of Christ, to mark that in Him alone, "the Lord our righteousness," they find their perfect realization. 1 Kings 8:9 states there was nothing in the ark of Solomon's temple save the two stone tables of the law; but Hebrews 9:4 states there were also the golden pot of manna (the memorial of God's providential care of Israel), and Aaron's rod that budded (the memorial of the lawful priesthood, Numbers 17:3-10). Probably by the time of Solomon the other two relics had been lost, perhaps when the ark was in the hands of the Philistines. "Before the Lord" and "before the testimony" was where they were directed to be laid up (Exodus 16:32-36).

The mercy-seat was not merely regarded as the lid of the ark, but as the most important feature in the holiest place (Exodus 25:17; Exodus 26:34; Leviticus 16:2), the only meeting place between God and man. It was the (caporeth ) or covering, not merely of the ark. but (when sprinkled with the sacrificial blood once a year on the great day of atonement) of Israel's sins against the law contained within the ark. Hence it is called in the Septuagint "the propitiatory" (hilasterion ); and Christ, the true mercy-seat (Psalms 85:10) and place of meeting between the holy God and guilty man, is called the very same (Romans 3:25), "propitiation," lit. propitiatory. In 1 Chronicles 28:11 the holiest is called" the place of the mercy-seat," so prominent was the latter in symbolical significance.

The ark was never seen save by the high priest; symbol of God whom no man can see, and whose likeness is only to be seen in Christ (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:3), the true Ark, and our High Priest with the Father. Thus every tendency to idolatry was excluded, an ark occupying the central place of holiness, and that seen only once a year by the one religious representative of the people. Even it is to be superseded in the coming temple at. Jerusalem, when "they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord, neither shall it come to mind, neither shall they re. member it"; for Jehovah Jesus, the Antitype, will be there, "at that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it" (Jeremiah 3:16). The absence of the ark after its capture by the Philistines possibly impaired the reverential awe felt toward it (1 Chronicles 13:3; 1 Chronicles 13:9). But the stroke on Uzza, and the rearing of the tabernacle for it in Zion by David, after its long abode of 20 years in Kirjath Jearim, in Abinadab's house, recovered for it all its sanctity.

The altar of burnt offering where the sacrifices were offered continued separate from it at Gibeon, the "great high place" (1 Kings 3:4) (in the tabernacle of the ark on Zion the service was song and praise alone) until the two were reunited in the temple of Solomon, a type of the gospel separation of the spiritual service of prayer and praise going on here below, from the priestly intercession being carried on above by our Lord Jesus. The spiritual and the literal priestly services will perhaps be reunited in Ezekiel's millennial temple at Jerusalem, one antitype to Solomon's temple. Compare Acts 15:16-17. Manasseh set up an idol, a carved image, instead of the ark which contained the testimony against him. Josiah restored it to its place in the house of God (2 Chronicles 33:7; 2 Chronicles 35:3).

The ark was wanting in the second temple, having been probably burnt with the temple (2 Chronicles 36:19); compare (apocryphal) 2 Esdras 10:22, "the ark of our covenant is spoiled." Its absence was one of the points wherein the second was inferior to the first temple. (See ALTAR.) There must have been some substitute for it, on which to sprinkle the blood, in the holiest, on the great day of atonement; the Jews mention an altar stone, slightly raised from the floor. Pagan nations too had their mystic arks (whence arcanum is the term for a mystery), but so distinct in use from the Mosaic that the differences are more prominent than the resemblances.

The Egyptian arks (on their monuments) were, like the Hebrew ark, carried by poles on men's shoulders. Some had too on the cover two winged figures like cherubim; but between these was the material symbol of a deity, and the arks were carried about in procession to make a show before the people. The ark of the covenant on the contrary was marked by the absence of any symbol of God. It was never carried in procession. When moved it was carefully covered up from the eyes even of the Levites who bore it (Numbers 4:5-6; Numbers 4:19-20): "they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die." Compare 1 Samuel 6:19. In the tabernacle the ark was withdrawn from view in the mysterious holy of holies.

It was not moved from its "rest" (Psalms 132:8; Psalms 132:14) when once Jerusalem became the fixed capital, and the hill of Zion God's chosen seat, until its forcible removal under Nebuchadnezzar; God giving up the apostate Jews to the pagan world power. Previously it had a few times accompanied the army (1 Samuel 4:3; 1 Samuel 14:18; 2 Samuel 11:11). But from the first rest was appointed as its final condition, and under David it obtained that "rest" (Deuteronomy 12:10-11; 1 Chronicles 6:31; 1 Chronicles 16:1). Its simple and grand purpose was to be the casket containing the precious tables of stone written with the moral law by God Himself. The originality of the tabernacle furniture and arrangements is more striking than the superficial resemblances which have been traced to pagan usages.


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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Ark of the Covenant'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/fbd/a/ark-of-the-covenant.html. 1949.

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