While Moses was in the wilderness near Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia, God commanded him to build the Ark. The Apostle Paul spent three years in the same area after his conversion on the Road to Damascus. It was Constantine’s mother, Queen Helena who mistakenly placed Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Paul wrote in Galatians, “For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” Paul wrote almost 25% of the New Testament and was clearly the most traveled and hardest working apostle. While Paul did not make a big issue about how he became so knowledgeable, it is clear to me that he was taught directly by God, perhaps on the Holy Mountain. He did not get his understanding from teachings by Jewish Scholars although he was an expert in all the ways of the Jews.
This is also the area where Moses fled to from Egypt and married the daughter of the Priest of Median and where he saw the burning bush where God first spoke to him.
The Ark was constructed of acacia wood and plated with pure gold, inside and out. On the bottom, four gold rings were attached, through which two acacia wood poles plated in gold were placed so the family of Kehath, of the tribe of Levi, could safely carry the Ark. The Ark was approximately 45 inches long by 27 inches in height and width. Two pure gold sculpted Cherubs faced one another on the top of the Ark. The top or lid of the Ark was called the Mercy Seat from whence God communicated with His people. It was the seat of mercy much like a county Courthouse is the County Seat or seat of power as opposed to a place to sit down. The Tablets of the Ten Commandments which were broken by Moses and then restored by God were placed in the Ark by Moses himself.
Acacia trees would have been one of the few types of trees growing in the wilderness. There are several species of acacia growing in Arabia today. In addition, acacia wood is dense and extremely strong, making it a great option for any type of enduring wooden construction. It is resistant to decay because the tree deposits many waste substances in the heartwood which serve as preservatives and render the wood unpalatable to insects and making the wood dense and difficult to be penetrated by water and other decay agents.
This is a table made of acacia wood. Perhaps it will last at least a thousand years as the Ark did from its creation until the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians.
The Ark was built by Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, who constructed the entire Tabernacle – the portable Temple used in the desert and during the conquest of the land of Israel. The Tabernacle was the resting place for the Ark, and also contained other vessels that were used in the physical worship of God. The Ark was used in the desert and in Israel proper for a number of spiritual and pragmatic purposes. Practically, God used the Ark as an indicator of when he wanted the nation to travel, and when to stop. In the traveling formation in the desert, the Ark was carried 2000 cubits ahead of the nation. Below is a representation of the Tabernacle with an acacia tree in front.
Spiritually, the Ark was the manifestation of God’s physical presence on earth. When God spoke with Moses in the desert, he did so from between the two Cherubs. Once the Ark was moved into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, it was accessible only once a year, and then, only by one person. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies to ask forgiveness for himself and for all the nation of Israel.
The holiness of the Ark made it dangerous to those who came in contact with it. When Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by a fire that emanated “from the Lord.” During the saga of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines, numerous people, including some who merely looked at the Ark, were killed by its power. Similarly, the Priests who served in the Tabernacle and Temple were told that viewing the Ark at an improper time would result in immediate death.
The Ark accompanied the Jews throughout their time in the desert, traveling with them and accompanying them to their wars with Emor and Midian. When the Jews crossed into the land of Canaan, the waters of the Jordan River miraculously split as the bearers of the Ark arrived. Throughout their conquest of the land, the Jews were accompanied by the Ark. The most dramatic demonstration of its power comes when the Jews breached the walls of Jericho merely by circling them, blowing horns and carrying the Ark.
After the conquest was completed, the Ark, and the entire Tabernacle, were set up in Shiloh . There they remained until the battles of the Jews with the Philistines during the Priesthood of Eli. The Jews, after suffering a defeat at the Philistines’ hands, took the Ark from Shiloh to Even-Ezer in hopes of winning the next battle. But the Jews were routed, and the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Back in Shiloh, Eli, the High Priest, immediately died upon hearing the news.
The Philistines took the Ark back to Ashdod, their capital city in the south of Canaan, where they placed it in the temple of their god Dagon. The next day, however, they found the idol fallen on its face. After replacing the statue, they found it the next day decapitated, with only its trunk remaining, and soon afterward, the entire city of Ashdod was struck with a plague. The Philistines moved the Ark to the city of Gath, and from there to Ekron, but whatever city the Ark was in, the inhabitants were struck with plague. After seven months, the Philistines decided to send the Ark back to the Israelites, and accompanied it with expensive gifts.
King Solomon built the Holy Temple and summoned the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families to Jerusalem. to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David. And all the Israelites came together to the king at the time of the festival in the seventh month.
When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the Levites took up the ark, and they brought up the ark and the tent of meeting and all the sacred furnishings in it. The Levitical priests carried them up; and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted.
The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and covered the ark and its carrying poles. These poles were so long that their ends, extending from the ark, could be seen from in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.
The priests then withdrew from the Holy Place. All the priests who were there had consecrated themselves, regardless of their divisions. All the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives—stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good;
his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.
The Ark remained in the Temple until its destruction at the hand of the Babylonian empire, led by King Nebuchadnezzar. The stories are endless about where the Ark was taken or hidden before or after the Temple was destroyed. It is unlikely that the Babylonians took it, as they did the other vessels of the Temple, because the detailed lists of what they took make no mention of the Ark. According to some sources, Josiah, one of the final kings to reign in the First Temple period, learned of the impending invasion of the Babylonians and hid the Ark. Perhaps in a hole dug under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount. Another account says that Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple, and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea, in which Josiah eventually hid the Ark.
One of the most fascinating possibilities is advanced by Ethiopian Christians who claim that they have the Ark today. In Axum, Ethiopia, it is widely believed that the Ark is currently being held in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark,” who claims to have it in his possession. According to the Axum Christian community, they acquired the Ark during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik, whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, stole the Ark after a visit to Jerusalem. While in the not-so-distant past the “Ark” has been brought out for Christian holidays, its keeper has not done so for several years due to the tumultuous political situation in the country. The claim has thus been impossible to verify, for no one but the monk is allowed inside.
Another claim is that of archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who conducted research on the Temple Mount and inside the Dome of the Rock. He claims to have found the spot on the Mount where the Holy of Holies was located during the First Temple period. In the precise center of that spot is a section of bedrock cut out in dimensions that may match those of the Ark. Since I do not believe the Temple was built on the so-called Temple Mount, I discount this story. I will explain why the Temple Mount is not the Temple Mount in a later posting and will also tell you where the Temple was built and why even the foundation of the Temple was completely destroyed.
I promised I would tell you everything you need to know about the Ark of the Covenant. The information comes from the Great Prophet Jeremiah who saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. He also witnessed the death of Josiah, the last devout King of Israel. Jeremiah loved King Josiah dearly and knew what his death meant. Soon afterward, the people reverted to idolatry. Jeremiah strove hard to stem the tide of spiritual depravity which was threatening to undermine their high moral standards. One of the prophet’s famous sayings is the one in which he points out that wisdom, might, and riches, are nothing compared to the happiness that man achieves through real knowledge and understanding of the ways of God: “Thus saith the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord Who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”
Jeremiah prophesied about the Babylonian threat and warned the Jews of the terrible devastation they would incur if they did not stop worshiping idols and mistreating each other. But his gloomy prophecies, recorded in the Book of Jeremiah, went largely unheeded by the Jews, who mocked and persecuted him. Some eighteen years before the destruction of the Temple, Jeremiah was imprisoned by King Jehoiakim for his persistent prophecies foretelling the fall of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah summoned his devoted disciple, Baruch ben Neriah, and dictated to him a heart-rending and graphic warning of the coming doom; the prophecy Baruch wrote down for Jeremiah and read in the Temple is contained in the Book of Lamentations in the Holy Bible. The Temple was destroyed in 586 BC.
Here is what Jeremiah wrote about the Ark and his prophecy for the Ark and the future of Israel as recorded in The Book of Jeremiah Chapter 3:
“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the Lord, “people will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. In those days the people of Judah will join the people of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance.
“I myself said,
“‘How gladly would I treat you like my children
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’
I thought you would call me ‘Father’
and not turn away from following me.
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband,
so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord.
A cry is heard on the barren heights,
the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel,
because they have perverted their ways
and have forgotten the Lord their God.
“Return, faithless people;
I will cure you of backsliding.”
“Yes, we will come to you,
for you are the Lord our God.
Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills
and mountains is a deception;
surely in the Lord our God
is the salvation of Israel.
From our youth shameful gods have consumed
the fruits of our ancestors’ labor—
their flocks and herds,
their sons and daughters.
Let us lie down in our shame,
and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
we have not obeyed the Lord our God.”
The Ark was the Throne of God; as it set in the Tabernacle on Mount Zion it gave King David peace as he could look up to it from the City of David. Jeremiah said The Ark would be forgotten as Jerusalem becomes The Throne of God and the Seat of His Government. Jerusalem will not be trampled down by gentiles forever. One glorious day Jerusalem will once again become that shining city on the Mountains of Moriah.