Ministry Resources

The Ark of the Covenant

Author: Jim Thornber

Exodus 25:10-16; Numbers 4:4-6

The ark was a container, or chest, that was made to the exact specifications given to Moses by the Lord, and was primarily a storage place for the testimony, or Ten Commandments.

It was 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. It was made of acacia wood, covered with gold inside and out, and had a gold molding around the top. The mercy seat, with the two golden cherubim, was the cover for the ark and, though they were separate items, together they made up the one article commonly known as “the ark of the covenant.” However, each item carries its own particular significance and will be considered in separate articles.

Exodus 25:22 says, “‘There I will meet with you,

and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel'” (ESV). The ark was both the throne of God (Psalm 18:9-10; 80:1; 99:1; Ezekiel 1:26; 9:3; 10:19) and the meeting place of God and man (Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 26:11-12; 1 Samuel 4:4).

Four gold rings were fastened to the corners, and two poles made of acacia wood covered with gold were placed in the rings so the Kohathites could carry the ark. The poles were to remain in place, never to be removed. The ark, along with its cover, the mercy seat, was the only item in the Holy of Holies and was seen only once a year, by the high priest, on the Day of Atonement.

Only the Kohathites were permitted to carry the ark (compare 1 Chronicles 13:7-10 with 1 Chronicles 15:1-2), which was covered by the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. They were to cover the veil with the hides of sea cows, and finish by spreading a blue cloth over the top of the ark.

The ark was a symbol of protection, preservation, and deliverance

as can be seen in the two other arks mentioned in Scripture: Noah’s ark and the ark of Moses (Exodus 2:3)–and contained the Ten Commandments, the Law of God. Hebrews 9:4 says that Aaron’s rod and a golden pot of manna were later added, but upon entering Solomon’s Temple, only stone tablets remained (1 Kings 8:9).

These items–the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and the pot of manna–are three pictures of our Lord Jesus Christ. First, He was the fulfillment of the Law of God (Matthew 5:17), who said, “‘I have come to do your will, O God'” (Hebrews 10:7; see also Psalm 40:8). In Matthew 5:17, He said, “‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.'” Second, He is the Bread of Life (John 6:31-35, 48-58), whose body (manna) was given for the world, but whose nature is divine (golden pot). Third, Christ has been given power over death. Aaron’s rod–a symbol for the chosen priesthood of God (Numbers 16 and 17)–was a dead stick until God made it produce leaves and almonds, and it presents a picture of the risen Christ, who said, “‘I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold Iam alive for ever and ever!'” (Revelation 1:18, NIV). Like the rod, He was “a root out of dryground” (Isaiah 53:2, NIV). Furthermore, He was also “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8, ESV). When God caused the rod to blossom and produce fruit, it pointed to Christ, who was once a dead body in the ground, but who was resurrected and blossomed, and who finally produced fruit, which is the Church.

The ark is given preeminence among all the tabernacle furnishings in two significant ways.

  • First, when God gave directions regarding the construction of the tabernacle, the first item He described was the ark and the mercy seat.

God always starts with the heart of a matter, and then proceeds outward. In studying the tabernacle furniture, we started with the outer court and worked our way into the Holy of Holies, concluding our journey where God begins. God, however, begins His story where He desires us to finally end up. Perhaps that is why the story of man begins in a garden called Eden, a place created by God especially for man. At the end, man will live in heaven, a place created by God for man to live for eternity.

  • Second, whereas the other vessels point to some aspect of the work of Christ and what He has done, the ark points to the person of Christ and who He is.

This can be seen in the way the high priest approached the ark on the Day of Atonement. The first item he brought before God was incense (Leviticus 16:12), only later to return with blood. In other words, the sweet fragrance of the person of Christ came before the presentation of His work. When John the Baptist (John 1:29, ESV) announced Christ’s presence, he said, “‘Behold, the Lamb of God [His person], who takes away the sin of the world[His work]!'” Paul reflects this same attitude in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ [His person] and him crucified[His work].” Once again, John says in Revelation 5:6 (NIV), “Then I saw a Lamb[His person],looking as if it had been slain[His work].” This truth is also reflected in the Lord’s description of the vessels: First, He speaks of the ark, the person of Christ, and then He describes the mercy seat and the other vessels, which describe His work.

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