. The Ark of the Covenant
by Steven L. Johnson

The following is the article that was published in the Baptist Bulletin November 1984. This article can be copied and posted freely as long as the entire contents are posted as is with no modifications.

Since I wrote the article, there is a book that goes into further detail, and is furthered researched, that agrees with my general conclusion. It is "In Search of Temple Treasures" by Randall Price, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon ISBN 1-56507-127-1,(1994).

Graham Hancock also has a book on the subject that is referenced in the above book - he comes to a different conclusion, from what I have been told. This book has been recommended to me a couple of times, but I haven't had a chance to read his book yet. It is "The Sign and the Seal: Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant" (New York: Crown Publishers, 1992).

Copyright: Steven L. Johnson 1984 (stevejohnson@engineer.com)

The Ark of the Covenant: Whether is still exists is speculation. What it signified is solemn truth.

By: Steven Johnson

Spawned primarily from a recent movie, a renewed interest developed concern- ing the ark of the covenant. This has given opportunities to talk about spiritual matters. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the Scriptural teach- ing and the historical aspect of the ark. My own study was to understand the ark and its significance; also to answer the lingering question: Is it possible the ark exists today ?

The known history of the ark spans almost a millennium. Moses was instructed to build the ark during the time of the wilderness journeys. The ark itself was part of a larger plan, that of the tabernacle, which was a portable place of worship to be used by the Israelites (see reference 1).

The ark was constructed from specifications given by God. It was a cabinet approximately three feet eight inches long, two feet four inches wide and two feet four inches high. The ark was constructed of shittim wood and then completely overlaid with gold. Around the perimeter of the ark was a gold molding. A ring of cast gold was placed on each corner to hold the staves utilized in its transportation. After the completion of the ark, Moses placed the tablets of the Ten Commandments inside as God had commanded (see reference 2).

To cover the ark, serving the function of a lid, the mercy seat was con- structed. This was a work of solid gold with cherubim on each end facing each other and their wings touching. The cherubim are a type of angel, the physical appearance now unknown except that they have a face and two wings. From the mercy seat, more specifically from between the cherubim, God would meet with the Israelites. The ark was then placed in an area known as the Holy of Holies, which was separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a veil (see reference 3).

The book of Numbers gives explanation that many of the items in the Tabernacle were considered holy; those unauthorized who touched them would die. A certain family of the Levites, the Kohathites, were to transport these items when necessary. Even this family could not touch the items directly, and it was necessary that the priests cover each item before the Kohathites entered the Tabernacle (see reference 4).

The Tabernacle was dedicated on the first day of the first month in the second year of the Jewish calendar, one year after the Israelites left the bondage of Egypt. On the day of dedication the Shechinah Glory, the visible presence of Jehovah, filled the Tabernacle. At this time God reaffirmed His promise to the Israelites and gave them a visible sign of His presence. The Shechinah Glory was in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God's presence, in this form was with the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings, going before them as a guide (see reference 5).

Later history reveals that the instructions given by God were not always carried out. The significance associated with these errors is a matter of Scriptural record. Scripture relates some of these incidents, and we find further comment from some of the ancient Jewish writings.

The first incident that quickly reinforced the grave responsibility associated with the system of worship set up by God came shortly after the Tabernacle was dedicated. In Leviticus, we read how Aaron properly brought a number of offerings before the Lord. These offerings were consumed by fire, but not a fire that Aaron had initiated. On the other hand, Aaron's sons, Abihu and Nadab, carelessly went before the Lord with improper offerings for which they were punished, speciffically by fire. The phrase is used in both cases as to the origin of the fire: "there went out fire from the Lord." (see reference 6)

Where did this fire come from? One idea is found in the comments pertain- ing to the destruction of Aaron's sons found in the Midrashim: "Abbi Yossi saith, 'Two threads of fire came out from the Holy of Holies, and they were disparted into four: two entered the nostrils of the one, and two entered the nostrils of the other, and thus consumed them. Thier souls were burned, but not their garmets, for it is said, "so they went near and carried them in their coats" ' (verse 5)." (see reference 7)

A further comment on this idea of fire emanating from the ark is found in another passage that refers to the time of the wilderness journeys. When the Israelites traveled, the Ark of the Covenant traveled first. (see reference 8) "Two fiery jets issued from between the cherubim above the ark, burning up snakes, scorpions and thorns in its path and destroying Israel's enemies." (see reference 9)

After the children of Israel arrived in the Promised Land, we find little mention of the ark until the reign of King David. He moved the ark from Kirjath-jearim, where it had been since its return from the Philistines, to Jerusalem, and replaced it in the Tabernacle. (see reference 10)

David's son, Solomon, built a temple to the Lord on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem after David's death. This temple was an architectural wonder that required seven years for construction. (see reference 11) When the ark was placed in the temple, the staves were removed, signifying the permanence of its location. (see reference 12)

Even with this area of worship and outward show of devotion to God, the Jewish people turned from God and exhibited apathy in serving Him. After Solomon's death, the kingdom was divided into two parts and a long succession of kings turned from God. There were a few sporadic revivals, but each was short-lived.

The last revival in Judah, the Southern Kingdom where the temple was, came during the reign of King Josiah (see reference 13). He destroyed the places of idol worship and repaired the temple. The ark was once more placed in the temple and the observance of Passover was reinstated. ( To add to the mystery, see 2 Chronicles 35:3, which relates the ark being placed in the temple. Where was it until that time ?)

Because of King Josiah's repentance, he was given the promise of peace during his lifetime. God told him the kingdom would be invaded and ultimate- ly defeated because of the nation's sin, but this would come after the king's death (see reference 14).

After the death of King Josiah, a series of kings were under the subjection of another nation that invaded Judah. These invasions were primarily Babylonian, and when they invaded the country for the last time, in the year 587 B.C., they totally destroyed the temple (see reference 15).

Later some of the Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem from captivity. After the return, the second temple was built, on a much smaller scale than the original one (see reference 16). There is no mention of the ark in the second temple, and Jewish writings tell only of a "foundation stone: in the Holy of Holies. The second temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by Titus and the Roman army. Since that time there has not been a temple in which the Jewish people could worship.

There are three main theories as to the ultimate end of the ark. The first places the ark in Babylonian hands during one of their invasions, where it would have been destroyed for the gold (see 2 Choronicles 36:19). A careful study of Scriptures shows the punishment for touching the ark, even with good intentions. From this some scholars feel the ark could not have been destroyed in this manner.

The second theory credits the disappearance of the ark to the prophet Jeremiah, who supposedly hid it in a cave on Mount Nebo. The incident is found in the apocryphal book of Second Maccabees (see reference 17).

Lastly, the ark could have been hidden in a chamber underneath the temple (see reference 18). These chambers could have been placed there by Solomon as a precautionary measure to protect the sacred vessels during the original construction. Some attribute these chambers to King Josiah, who could have added them during the renovation after he had been told by God that Judah would be destroyed as a nation after his death.

In regard to the view that Pharaoh Shishak took the ark, refer to 1 Kings 14:25-28. This invasion took place around 956 B.C., 350 years before the reign of King Josiah, who definitely had possession of the ark.

Can we say that the ark's existence is possible? Does the Scriptural teaching bring us to no other conclusion but that the ark could not have been destroyed? At any rate, its discovery is not required for prophetic truths to come to pass. While the ark is not essential in order to rebuild the temple, since the second temple did not have it, there is no proper place for the ark except in a temple dedicated to the Lord.

A group known as the Institute for Restoring Ancient History claims the ark of the covenant was discovered on October 30, 1981, in a cave on Mount Nebo in modern Jordan. There is much skepticism about these claims since no concrete evidence has been presented.

On the other hand, the temple site in now within Israeli control and exploration of this site could become possible. At this time, with the close proximity of the Dome of the Rock, the Israeli governement officially is not allowing archaelogical exploration of the area.

We may remember King Josiah was in a rather unique position. He knew before his death that the nation he loved would be destroyed and later restored. He loved the Lord; and it was within his nature to want the ark and other important instruments of worship preserved for future generations. King Josiah was in a position to take the measures needed for this to be carried out.

If so, why didn't the builders of the second temple find the ark? During this period the common practice was not to remove the rubble but to build on top of it. A period of seventy years had transpired from the destruction of the first temple to the dedication of the second. Much destruction and decay had set in by then.

The exact location and the possibility of the recovery of the ark is just speculation at this time. The ark of the covenant is not necessary for God to fulfill His promises to the Jewish people. However, the study of the ark is a useful tool for a Bible study of the early period of the Jewish nation since it was such an integral part of their worship.

References: 1. Exodus 25:8,9 2. Exodus 25:10-16 3. Exodus 25:17-22 4. Numbers 4:4-20; to see the result of disobedience of this commandment, refer to 2 Samuel 6:1-19 5. Exodus 40 6. Leviticus 9:22- 10:7 7. Torath Cohanim Sec. Shemin, "Midrashim, Hebraic Literature", trans. Mitt. Harry (New York: Tudor Publishing Co. 1901), p. 252 8. Numbers 10:33-36 9. Midrash Tillin Terumah, Vayakhel, "Midrashim, Hebraic Literature", et. al. p. 249 10. The ark was lost to the Philistimes, then returned; for further details see 1 Samuel 4-7:2, Abodah Zarah 24b; 2 Samuel 6:1-19 11. 1 Kings 6 12. 1 Kings 8:4-11 13. 2 Chronicles 34:1-13 14. 2 Chronicles 34:19-28 15. 2 Chronicles 36 16. Ezra 1:1-6; Ezra 3:8-13 17. 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 18. Shekalim 6:2; Shekalim, chap. 3, Hal.1.

Indyfan.com Site Author: Micah Johnson
Page Author: Steven L. Johnson
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Last modified: August 29, 2000

Published in the Baptist Bulletin November 1984. Reprinted with permission.