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Ark of the Covenant

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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The word here used for ark is, as already explained, different from that which is applied to the ark of Noah. It is the common name for a chest or coffer, whether applied to the ark in the tabernacle, to a coffin, to a mummy-chest (Genesis 50:26), or to a chest for money (2 Kings 12:9-10). Our word ark has the same meaning, being derived from the Latin arca, a chest. The distinction between aron and the present word has already been suggested. The sacred chest is distinguished from others as the 'ark of God' (1 Samuel 3:3); 'ark of the covenant' (Joshua 3:6); and 'ark of the law' (Exodus 25:22). This ark was a kind of chest, of an oblong shape, made of shittim (acacia) wood, a cubit and a half broad and high, two cubits long, and covered on all sides with the purest gold. It was ornamented on its upper surface with a border or rim of gold; and on each of the two sides, at equal distances from the top, were two gold rings, in which were placed (to remain there perpetually) the gold-covered poles by which the ark was carried, and which continued with it after it was deposited in the tabernacle. The lid or cover of the ark was of the same length and breadth, and made of the purest gold. Over it, at the two extremities, were two cherubim, with their faces turned towards each other, and inclined a little towards the lid (otherwise called the mercy seat). Their wings, which were spread out over the top of the ark, formed the throne of God, the King of Israel, while the ark itself was his footstool (Exodus 25:10-22; Exodus 37:1-9).

This ark was the most sacred object among the Israelites: it was deposited in the innermost and holiest part of the tabernacle, called 'the holy of holies' (and afterwards in the corresponding apartment of the Temple), where it stood so that one end of each of the poles by which it was carried (which were drawn out so far as to allow the ark to be placed against the back wall), touched the veil which separated the two apartments of the tabernacle (1 Kings 8:8). In the ark were deposited the tables of the law (Exodus 25:16). A quantity of manna was laid up beside the ark in a vase of gold (Exodus 16:32; Exodus 16:36; 1 Kings 8:9); as were also the rod of Aaron (Numbers 17:10), and a copy of the book of the law (Deuteronomy 31:26).

Nothing is more apparent throughout the historical Scriptures than the extreme sanctity which attached to the ark, as the material symbol of the Divine presence. During the marches of the Israelites it was covered with a purple pall, and borne by the priests, with great reverence and care, in advance of the host (Numbers 4:5-6; Numbers 10:33). It was before the ark, thus in advance, that the waters of the Jordan separated; and it remained in the bed of the river, with the attendant priests, until the whole host had passed over; and no sooner was it also brought up than the waters resumed their course (Joshua 3; Joshua 4:7; Joshua 4:10-11; Joshua 4:17-18). The ark was similarly conspicuous in the grand procession round Jericho (Joshua 6:4; Joshua 6:6; Joshua 6:8; Joshua 6:11-12). It is not wonderful therefore that the neighboring nations, who had no notion of spiritual worship, looked upon it as the God of the Israelites (1 Samuel 4:6-7), a delusion which may have been strengthened by the figures of the cherubim on it. After the settlement of the Jews in Palestine, the ark remained in the tabernacle at Shiloh, until, in the time of Eli, it was carried along with the army in the war against the Philistines, under the superstitious notion that it would secure the victory to the Hebrews. They were, however, not only beaten, but the ark itself was taken by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3-11), whose triumph was, however, very short lived, as they were so oppressed by the hand of God, that, after seven months, they were glad to send it back again (1 Samuel 5:7). After that it remained apart from the tabernacle, at Kirjath-jearim (1 Samuel 7:1-2), where it continued until the time of David, who purposed to remove it to Jerusalem; but the old prescribed mode of removing it from place to place was so much neglected as to cause the death of Uzzah, in consequence of which it was left in the house of Obededom (2 Samuel 6:1-11); but after three months David took courage, and succeeded in effecting its safe removal, in grand procession, to Mount Zion (2 Samuel 6:12-19). When the Temple of Solomon was completed, the ark was deposited in the sanctuary (1 Kings 8:6-9). The passage in 2 Chronicles 35:3, in which Josiah directs the Levites to restore the ark to the holy place, is understood by some to imply that it had either been removed by Amon, who put an idol in its place, which is assumed to have been the 'trespass' of which he is said to have been guilty (2 Chronicles 33:23); or that the priests themselves had withdrawn it during idolatrous times, and preserved it in some secret place, or had removed it from one place to another. But it seems more likely that it had been taken from the holy of holies during the purification and repairs of the temple by this same Josiah, and that he, in this passage, merely directs it to be again set in its place. What became of the ark when the Temple was plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians is not known, and all conjecture is useless. It is certain, however, from the consent of all the Jewish writers, that the old ark was not contained in the second temple, and there is no evidence that any new one was made. Indeed the absence of the ark is one of the important particulars in which this temple was held to be inferior to that of Solomon. The most holy place is therefore generally considered to have been empty in the second temple.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Ark of the Covenant'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​a/ark-of-the-covenant.html.
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