Yahweh was the Architect and Designer of the Tabernacle and Its Furnishings. On Mt. Sinai, He gave Moses detailed instructions for their construction and said in verse 9—
Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
God begins His instructions with the most sacred FURNISHING to be placed in the Tabernacle—THE ARK. It was the only piece of furniture in the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, except on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest took the Altar of Incense inside on that day.
The instructions for the ARK are sandwiched by the two promises made by LORD in Exodus 25:8 and 25:22—“I will dwell among them” and “there . . . I will meet with you.”
The ARK is known as THE ARK OF GOD, THE ARK OF YOUR MIGHT, THE SCARED ARK, THE ARK OF TESTIMONY and THE ARK OF THE COVENANT.
Historically, the ARK had three main functions, which are present in Hebrews 9:4-5—
This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
First, the Ark served as a CONTAINER for three objects. The two STONE TABLETS on which were written the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai; a GOLD JAR OF MANNA that God provided during the desert wanderings, and the STAFF that budded to confirm Aaron’s exclusive call to Israel’s priesthood.
Second, the Ark’s COVER was the place where the sacrificial blood was sprinkled once a year on the Day of Atonement to make atonement “for all the sins of the Israelites.”
Third, the Ark was viewed as the site of God’s presence with His people. Years later, King Hezekiah did not dare to go into the Holy of Holies in the Temple where the Ark rested. Hezekiah prayed to the God of Israel who was ”enthroned between the cherubim.”
The writer of Hebrews is unable to discuss these things in detail with the recipients of his letter. He states his reason in Hebrews 5:11-14—
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
The TABERNACLE and its FURNISHING are SOLID FOOD. My objective is to discuss in some detail things about the ARK that the writer of Hebrews did not. We too will not cover everything!
The history of the ark can be traced for nearly a thousand years, from it construction to the time of the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C. The Ark was carried ahead of the Israelites as they traveled through the desert, as they entered Canaan, and in there march around Jericho.
After the conquest of Palestine, the Ark continued to be placed in the Tabernacle, which was set up first at Shiloh, then at Bethel. In the days of Eli and Samuel, the Ark was lost in battle to the Philistines, but Philistines returned if after God sent a seven-month, mysterious and painful plague of boils upon them. Later the ark was moved back to Shiloh. David brought the Ark to Jerusalem when he made that city capital of a united Israel. When David’s son Solomon constructed the Temple, he placed the Ark in its innermost chamber—the Holy of Holies.
The ARK disappeared around the time Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple in 586 B.C. Archaeologists have searched in Egypt and the Middle East looking for the LOST ARK, thinking that the priests moved it before the Temple was destroyed. There is a popular movie shown on TV called INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Will the searchers like the fictional Indiana Jones ever find the Ark? I don’t think so!
In Chapters 8-11 of Ezekiel, the prophet is lifted up by the Spirit between earth and heaven and in visions of God, the Spirit takes Ezekiel to Jerusalem, where He sees the glory of the LORD depart from the Temple and go to the Mount of Olives to return to heaven. Ezekiel’s description probably describes the ark being taken to heaven in 586 B.C. Christ ascended to heaven in A.D. 33 from the Mt. Olives after Israel rejected Him and the ARK typifies Him. Around A.D. 90, the Apostle John wrote in Revelation 11:19—
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
Notice that John uses the definite article. He saw THE Ark of His Covenant in heaven. However, we must not overlook Hebrews 8:3-5—
Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
It’s possible that John saw the original of which the Ark on earth was only a copy and it is lost or destroyed! Or, John saw Jesus Christ in heaven and described Him as the ARK!
The Israelites confused between symbols of God’s presence and Divine presence itself characterized the decades just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The people reasoned wrongly that because God’s presence dwelt in the Temple when it was dedicated by Solomon, and the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies, God was committed to protect the Temple and its city.
The generation which placed its hope not in the living God, but in a mere symbol of God’s presence was crushed by the Babylonian armies, and the survivors were taken captive to a foreign land.
Keep in mind that the TABERNACLE and its FURNISHINGS are material symbols, not objects to be worshiped. They are designed to communicate truth about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Salvation and Man. These objects are never to be confused with God Himself, nor must our confidence be placed in them. It is God, not the symbols that we trust and worship.
Now let’s look at God’s detailed instructions to Moses. Exodus 25:10-11—
Have them make a chest of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold moulding around it.
A CUBIT was the distance between one’s elbow to the tip of the middle finger, and was approximately 18 inches. That would make the ARK a rectangular chest 27 inches wide, 45 inches long, and 27 inches deep. The chest was not solid gold, but overlaid with pure gold inside and out. The gold moulding around may have served as a rim for the cover, although it might also have been a decorative band extending around the chest. Some translations call the moulding a crown or wreath.
A picture of an ACACIA is on the bulletin. James Strong who produced the best concordance of the Bible believes based on his research of the ancient words that the burning bush of Moses, was an ACACIA that Moses was forbidden to approach. The ACACIA is firm and durable, but also is an emblem of Yahweh because of its terrific “TOUCH-ME-NOT” THORNS that make the tree a fit emblem of the unapproachable majesty of Yahweh and of all that pertains to Him.
Most pictures of the ARK do not follow verses 12-13—
Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it. The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed.
The rings and poles were for the priests to carry the ARK before the Israelites in their journeys and sometimes to the camp in war. Every picture I have places the rings and poles at the top or middle of the Ark. They belong on its feet. That placement kept the priests from being nonchalant when they carried it.
Numbers 4:5-6 required the ARK to be covered when it was outside the Holy of Holies—
When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place.
The CURTAIN we are told in Hebrews 10:20 typified the perfect humanity of Christ, which was torn for His people by God.
The HIDES OF SEA COWS typified Christ’s outward appearance to man. This tells us that when God’s Son was here in this desert His Divine glory was hidden from the eyes of men by His flesh. He who was in the form of God having humbled Himself took the form of a servant.
The paradox is that the CLOTH OF SOLID BLUE was all the people could see and only what God wanted them to see. Christ bore witness to His heavenly Father in His flesh. We read in John 14:9—
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’?
The four rings with poles piercing through them might represent the nails in Christ’s hands and feet. That’s just a guess!
Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you.
Exodus only mentions within the Ark—THE TESTIMONY—that is the TWO TABLETS OF STONE, on which are written THE TEN COMMANDMENTS by the finger of God. The earliest use of the Ark was a depository for God’s copy of the Covenant made at Mt. Sinai
These functions, however, are overshadowed by the theological implications of the Ark. If you mark your Bible, write “God’s Grace—Romans 3:21-26” beside verses 17-20—
Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upwards, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking towards the cover.
Here trppk (kapporeth) is translated MERCY SEAT or ATONEMENT COVER, which was the solid gold plate of propitiation on which the High Priest sprinkled blood seven times on the Day of Atonement—symbolically reconciling Yahweh and His chosen people. Turn to Romans 3:25, where Christ is called the ATONEMENT COVER.
God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.
SACRIFICE OF ATONEMENT is the English of the Greek for the Hebrew ATONEMENT COVER. In other words, CHRIST is the ATONEMENT COVER.
The slab of gold on top of the ark measured 45 inches long by 27 inches wide. On it and part of it were the two golden CHERUBIM facing each other whose outstretched wings came together above and constituted the throne of God on earth.
The cherubim were winged creatures, possibly with human faces and animal bodies. Chapter 1 of Ezekiel describes Four Living Creatures called Cherubim in Ezekiel 10. The gold CHERUBIM were earthly counterparts to actual heavenly beings. Their faces were to be toward the ATONEMENT COVER, probably bowed in adoration and humility before the presence of the LORD.
The first time CHERIBUM are mentioned in the Scripture is in Genesis 3:24, when God places on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. So they are to be associated with God’s judicial authority and judgment.
The two cherubim on the cover of the Ark were symbols of the unapproachableness of the LORD. Their looking at the atonement cover makes it the focal point of God’s plan of redemption. I wonder if Peter had this scene in mind when he wrote in 1 Peter 1:12—
It was revealed to [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
These CHERUBIM might picture the angels’ fascination with God saving man. Salvation is the picture to be seen in verse 21 —
Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you.
Although Hebrew word used here for THE ARK (Nwra ‘arown) is not the Egyptian loan word hbt (tebah) used for Noah’s Ark or Moses’ Ark, the same Greek word kibotov (kibotos’) is used for ARK throughout the Scriptures in the Greek language. It is significant that there are THREE ARKS in the Bible.
In the ARK OF NOAH, a family of eight were kept safe and secure from judgment and brought through the Flood, in which all others perished. God said to Noah in Genesis 6:14—
So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.
Noah’s Ark was weatherproof and storm proof. No storm could harm those within the Ark, for they were shut in BY God, and were shut in WITH GOD.
The second Ark was made by Jochebed, the mother of Moses. Judgment had been decreed upon little Moses, as the sentence of death had been pronounced by Pharaoh, king of Egypt, upon all male children of Israel, and he had commanded them to be drowned in the river Nile. But Moses was kept safe in an ark. We read in Exodus 2:3—
But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket [literally ARK] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.
Both the Ark of Noah and the Ark of Moses, were made waterproof by being covered with pitch. The Hebrew word for PITCH is rpk (kaphar). It means to cover, pacify, propitiate, purge, make atonement, make reconciliation, or cover over with pitch. We have already encountered a derivative for PITCH (trppk kapporeth) with the third Ark in verse 17, where it is translated ATONEMENT COVER.
The word for PITCH is the Bible is KAPHAR and is the OT word for ATONEMENT. But atonement was always made with blood. Salvation depends upon the blood of atonement of an innocent sacrifice. Typically, then, both the Ark of Noah and the Ark of Moses were made safe by the application of the TYPICAL blood, represented by the PITCH OF ATONEMENT, which lined both arks. Both these arks were a preparation for the third ark, which was the center of the Tabernacle worship.
The KAPHAR saved Noah and Moses from judgment and death. Likewise, the ATONEMENT COVER (PITCH) saves Israel from God’s judgment and death because of the blood sprinkled on the KAPPORETH. For it also was a place of shelter and refuge and safety from judgment.
In verse 22, KAPPORETH is simply translated COVER—
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.
Within the ARK was THE TESTIMONY, the Ten Commandments, broken by Israel, which placed them under the CONDEMNATION and the SENTENCE OF ETERNAL DEATH. That’s the BAD NEWS. But the GOOD NEWS is that over THE TESTIMONY was the ATONEMENT COVER, stained with blood, and so the ARK, under the blood, becomes the place of safety from judgment and becomes the symbol of security and redemption in Christ. 1 John 2:2 declares of Christ—
He is the atoning sacrifice [atonement cover] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Because Christ fully satisfied the holy demands of God for our sin, God is completely just is extending righteousness to the one who places faith in Christ. God did not overlook sin; rather, His demands were fully satisfied in the Person of Christ.
The whole of the Ark—chest and covering—symbolized for Israel the LORD’s presence, assuring Israel of the LORD’s revelation and His provision of atonement.
The TABLETS OF STONE placed in the ARK were the foundation of God’s Covenant or Promise to Israel, but also they were stood as a TESTIMONY for or against Israel if they failed to keep the Covenant with God at Mount Sinai. Of course, it is impossible for man in his and her depraved state to keep the Ten Commandments. Once broken, we are alienated and separated from God because of our sin.
Mankind needed a Kinsman-Redeemer, who was sinless, who could pay the penalty of sin for the whole world. Jesus announced that He was that Person in the Sermon on the Mount—
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17).
Christ’s perfect life stands as a testimony against those who reject Him. Without Christ’s righteousness, a person already stands judged by God and condemned to eternal death.
The second object in the Ark was the GOLDEN POT OF MANNA. Although the manna spoiled when the Israelites endeavored to keep it a day longer than they should have, God miraculously preserved this jar of manna so it could be kept inside the Ark.
Since the MANNA had sustained the lives of the Israelites in the desert, it was a fitting symbol of Jesus Christ, who sustains our life spiritually. It was a sign of Christ’s faithfulness in caring for His own. When Jesus emphasized that He was the BREAD OF LIFE in John 6, He contrasted Himself with the manna that came down in the desert.
Those who ate that manna eventually all died, but those who partake of Jesus Christ live forever. Thus, the manna in the Ark presented Christ as the Great Provider and Sustainer of Life.
The third object in the Ark was AARON’S STAFF THAT BUDDED. Numbers 17 records the incident when Aaron’s authority was questioned and God caused his STAFF to produce blossoms and almonds as proof that His blessing was on Aaron and his descendants.
This STAFF represents Christ as our High Priest and all believers enter into His priesthood.
The MANNA represents Christ as THE PROPHET, who speaks the Word of God. Jesus answered the Devil’s temptation in Matthew 4:4—
“It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Manna sustained physical life whereas Christ as the Word of God sustains eternal life.
THE STONE TABLETS represent Christ as King and Lord because He did not break them. The first set of TABLETS OF STONES that were broke represents man’s continual breaking of the Law. Mankind is completely guilty before God “because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Yahweh told Moses in Deuteronomy 10:2—
I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the chest.
The second set of stone tablets represents Christ, who did not break the Law when He came to earth to live among men. His perfect life qualified Him to be Lord and King of all. On the Great Day of Judgment, Christ will sit the Great White Throne as King of kings and Lord of lords and judge everyone not covered by His atonement.
Man’s attempt to lower God’s standards to match his behavior simply does not work. God’s standards are prescribed in the Law, and He does not lower for anyone. No person will be saved by keeping the Law because no one can ever keep it completely. James 2:10 asserts—
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
So the Law represents God’s perfect standard of government and judgment, and Christ Himself is this holy standard. Hebrews 12:14 declares—
Without holiness no one will see the Lord.
It is impossible for a person to attain the holiness of God on his own, but he can have the holiness of God imputed/credited to him by believing in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The Good News is that Christ’s atonement makes it possible for a person to receive the holiness of God and enter into His very presence. Romans 5:1-2—
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
THE ARK OF THE TESTIMONY shows the need for MERCY on God’s terms. It is the most scared and important furnishing in the Tabernacle because it shows the only conditions by which God would live with His people. It also pictures Jesus who said in John 14:6—
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
THE WAY is THE ATONEMENT COVER
THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE is THE CONTENTS OF THE CHEST. Christ fulfilled the Testimony; He is the Staff that was dead and came to life; and He is the Manna—the Bread of Life that came down from heaven.
The chest pictures the heart of GOD. The laws of God’s heart are as sure and reliable as the laws of nature. They tell us much about His desires and character. They define His expectation for us. His laws make clear the reason for His actions. His words reveal His desire to bring us into a relationship with Himself, and to enable us to enjoy Him forever.
And of course, the chest represents the heart of Christ. Hebrews 10 tells us that Christ is the One speaking in Psalm 40:6-8 —
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
There is not doubt that the ARK with its TABLETS OF STONE picture our Lord Jesus Christ. In His life, He magnified the Law and made it honorable by keeping it perfectly. In His death, He became the atonement which allowed God to extend mercy to mankind. Therefore, the Ark pictures John 1:14—
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The GOLD pictures His deity and the ACACIA WOOD His humanity.
Psalm 99:1-3 declares—
The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name—he is holy.
The inhabitants of the earth have cause to tremble, but the Redeemer still waits to be gracious. Let all who hear, take warning, and seek His mercy. Let us humble ourselves before God and be reverent, for He is holy.