Elon, North Carolina
This is the digging Deeper Sunday School class. Today, we want to go deep. We want to try to to solve one of the mysteries of the universe today. Few items in the Bible has produced as much interest, curiosity and speculation as the Ark of the Covenant. It is a religious relic that has fascinated people for a very long time. It has been the subject of some Hollywood movies. There are some strange ideas about this ark among some Christians.
What does the Bible actually say about the Ark of the Covenant? Who made it? What is so special about it? What happened to this object? Has it ever been found? These are some of the questions we will be looking at today but first I want to review what we covered last week.
The final section of Exodus deals with worship. It deals with the Tabernacle. Last week, we saw several things about the Tabernacle. One, we saw that the Tabernacle was a place where God was worshiped through the shedding of blood.
Why is God so obsessed with blood? Death has to occur because the wages of sin is death. The punishment for sin is death. The problem is that we do not see how bad sin is. It does not seem that bad to us. God looks on sin differently than we do.
Two, we saw that the Tabernacle was a place where people could worship God. It was not just a big tent. It was a place of worship. Three, we saw that it was a place where God manifested His presence.
Is God’s presence manifested in church today? In some churches it is. As soon as you walk into the building, you can tell that God is present (I Corinthians 14:24-25). There are plenty of other churches where God is not present at all. They are dead. Jesus said that some churches have a reputation that they are alive but are dead (Revelation 3:1).
There are some churches that have dead men in the pulpit and dead men in the pews. They have dead men preaching, delivering dead sermons. They have dead men leading worship. Some churches have Ichabod written on the door (cf. I Samuel 4:21-22).
Ichabod was the name of one of Eli’s grandsons. It means “the glory is departed.” God can remove his glory from a church. It is one of the worst things that can happen to a church. Many churches have seen God do great things but in some churches he has stopped working. In fact, He is no longer present. We never want to be that kind of a church, a God-forsaken church.
God dwelt in the Tabernacle. God lived with people. Where he dwelt with the people is interesting. We know from the Book of Numbers that the Tabernacle was right in the MIDDLE of the camp (Numbers 2:17). God’s presence was right in the middle of the camp with three tribes on each side of the Tabernacle.
The last part of the Book of Exodus deals with the Tabernacle. Exodus 25-30 deal with INSTRUCTIONS for the Tabernacle and Exodus 35-40 deal with CONSTRUCTION of the Tabernacle.
Stages of a Building Project
Building the Tabernacle was a big ordeal. Building projects have several stages. It requires a vision, finances, a plan and actual construction. The same was true of the Tabernacle.
First, there is a VISION to build something it. Someone comes up with the idea. In this case, God was the one who came up with the idea. He gave the vision to Moses on the mountain when he was with God for forty days and forty nights.
Second, MONEY has to be raised. You can’t build a building without money. How was the money for the Tabernacle raised? Did they have a big fund-raising campaign like most churches do when they have a building campaign? Did preachers try to twist people’s arms and get them to give and use pledge cards? No. No one was forced to give anything. They gave voluntarily.
Exodus 25:1-7 says, “The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.” (NIV)
The money did not come from a tithe but from a free will offering. It was not a tax. Different people brought different things. Some brought expensive things, like gold and silver and some just brought yarn and goat hair.
This principle is still true today. It is called the voluntary principle. II Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (NIV)
Third, you have to have a PLAN. You have to have some design proposals. God came up with the plan. He gave everyone the blueprints. He told people how to build it and what materials to use. Fourth, the building has to be BUILT. You have to hire some contractors. The last five chapters of Exodus deal with construction of the Tabernacle.
Now this is interesting. God had the vision and the plan but the people provided the materials. They did not fall out of the sky. The people also built the Tabernacle. God did not build the Tabernacle for them. They built it. He told them how to build it but they did the building and they built it precisely according to plan. They followed the divine design for it.
How did they know how to build it? Not everyone has carpentry skills. Not everyone has to have carpentry skills. There were over two million people among the Jews. Some of them were very gifted and had some construction skills. Exodus mentions the names of two skilled craftsmen who were involved in the building of the Tabernacle. Bezalel was filled with the Spirit of God and he was not a preacher. He was a carpenter. He was a master craftsman.
Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen BEZALEL son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts.
34 And he has given both him and OHOLIAB son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers. (Exodus 35:30-35 NIV)
The Tabernacle and the Sabbath
In Exodus 35, construction of the Tabernacle began but before it did we are told something very interesting. Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of Sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. 3 Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” (35:1-3 NIV)
Why is that mentioned? The Fourth Commandment is to keep the Sabbath. That was one of God’s top ten rules. Moses wants to make sure everyone to understand that they cannot work on the Sabbath and that includes working on the Tabernacle.
Anyone who worked on the Sabbath was to be put to death and that includes working on the Tabernacle. Even if you are working on the construction of a Tabernacle for God to dwell in, you could not do it on the Sabbath. Moses says that the seventh day is holy.
Last week, we said that the Tabernacle had three parts. It was divided into three sections. It had an OUTER COURT. It had an INNER COURT and it had a MOST HOLY PLACE. There were two things in the outer court – a bronze altar and a bronze basin. Everything in the other courts was gold. The altar in the outer court was for sacrificing animals and if you are dealing with dead animals, you need to wash your hands. God wants His people clean, as Warren Wierbse points out.
There were three things in the inner court. It had a table of bread (twelve loaves). Every Saturday, a priest would come in and put in twelve more loaves. It had a golden lampstand and it had another altar, an altar of incense. This altar was golden. It was not for sacrificing animals but for burning incense. John the Baptist’ dad burned incense on this altar in the holy place when he received a vision about his wife having a baby. There was only one thing in the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant
“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it.
13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.
17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth.18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20
The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 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. (25:10-22 ESV)
Questions about the Ark of the Covenant
1) What was the ark?
It was a small wooden box or chest about three and a half feet long and two and a half feet wide and high. It was made of shittim wood which was acacia wood. It is a special type of hard wood. Floors are made of this today (acacia wood flooring).
It was not only made of wood but was covered in gold inside and out. It was gold plated and it had a top that was made, not of wood, but of pure gold and it had some decoration on the top of it. It had two angels carved on the top of it.
2) What was in the ark?
Hebrews 9:3-4 answers that question. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant (NIV).
This box contained three things. It contained some sacred relics. These relics represented God’s Law (Ten Commandments), God’s Miracle (Aaron’s rod) and God’s provision (Manna)
3) What was so special about this box?
It was a sacred piece of furniture. God’s presence and glory filled this box. This box was not magical. The Israelites learned that. They were fighting the Philistines in I Samuel 4. They lost a battle to the Philistines. Four thousand people died and thought if they went and brought the ark, they might win.
They brought it into the camp and there was a great shout but they lost the next battle and thirty thousand people died (I Samuel 4:1-11). The ark was not magical. It didn’t have special powers but it was supernatural. It symbolized the very presence of God. It was the place of presence.
The ark was so holy that it could NEVER EVER touched by human hands. They could not even touch it accidentally. In fact, if you did touch it, you would die. It did not even touch the floor. It had feet (25:12).
There is a dramatic scene at the end of the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Nazis get possession of the ark. They take the lid off of the ark. One of them reaches their hand inside it and pulls some dust out of it and they all die. Their faces begin to melt.
II Samuel 6 describes how the ark was being transported by thirty thousand people. They were having a big celebration. There was music and dancing. The ark was being transported on a cart and it started to fall. A man reached out to grab it before it fell and he dropped dead. The Bible says that God was angry with him and killed him on the spot. This seems strange. Why did he die? King David was furious. First He was angry and then the text says that he was afraid of God.
Apparently, it is not enough to mean well, even in worship. It is not enough to have great intentions. Uzzah was sincere. He had great zeal. They were just trying to love the ark to Jerusalem so they could worship. Uzzah was trying to grab it before it fell to the ground. This sounds like he was doing a good deed and no good deed goes unpunished.
The problem was that they were doing the right thing in the wrong way. God said that the ark could never be touched by human hands. He also gave very specific instructions about this box. He told them who was to move it and how it was to be moved. It was to be carried on a pole and it was to be carried only by Levites. The Jews disregarded these instructions and did it their own way.
This box was holy. It represented God’s manifest presence. It had angels on top of it because the cherubim are associated with God’s presence. Is God’s presence manifest in the ark today? No. There are some important lessons that we can learn.
Three Lessons from the Ark
1) There is a barrier between God and sinful people.
Exodus 26:31-35 says that there was a thick veil or curtain that divided the two rooms. It separated the Holy Place form the Most Holy place. There has to be a barrier between God and people. Sinners cannot have access to the Most Holy Place.
After Jesus died, the veil was split in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51), which shows that God, not man, was the one who tore it. We have access to God that Jews did not have in the OT. We have boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19).
2) God presence is tied to His Word.
His presence was represented right above this box. This box contained his Word. The two stone tablets written with the finger of God were in this box (I Kings 8:9). God’s presence is manifest right above His revelation. God’s presence permeates the Bible. It is a holy book. There is another lesson here. God said, “I will meet with you … on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you” (25:22).
3) God cannot have communion with sinful people without atonement.
That is why there was a mercy seat on top of the ark. It was made of pure gold. 11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself.
12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die.
14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.
16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. (Leviticus 16:11-16 NIV)
The high priest had to kill two animals, one for his sins and the sins of his family and one for the sins of the nation. He had to go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on this gold mercy seat (which was never washed) to make atonement for those sins and this was good for only one year. Next year, he had to do the same thing.
Jesus made atonement for us with his own blood. In fact, the NT says that Jesus is our mercy seat. The word “mercy seat” in Hebrews means to cover or make propitiation. Jesus is called our propitiation in the NT (Romans 3:25; I John 2:2; 4:10).
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12 NIV)
Some Christians clearly teach that teach that Jesus brought blood into heaven. They teach that Jesus took his blood to heaven and that the blood of Jesus is in heaven on the mercy seat
In fact, the NLT says, “With his own blood–not the blood of goats and calves–he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” The only problem is that the Greek word does not mean “with” his own blood but “through” his own blood (διὰδὲτοῦ ἰδίου αἵματος). He did not have to present blood in heaven.
4) What happened to the Ark?
That is the million dollar question. Many think no one knows where it is and that this is one of the mysteries of history. Let’s trace the history of the ark. It was made by Bezalel and put in the Tabernacle. Bezalel was the master craftsman.
When Solomon built the Temple, the ark was placed in the Temple. In 587 BC, the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. They put a siege around the city so no one could get in or out. God told the king to surrender but he refused to do so.
Jeremiah knew that the Babylonians were going to invade the country and he had two choices. He could just let them come in and defile the Temple or he could hide some of the objects in the Temple. The rabbinic view is that the priests hid the ark beneath the Temple Mount in an underground chamber.
That is what the Apocrypha teaches as well. II Maccabees 2:4-8 says that Jeremiah took the ark and hid it from the Babylonians before the city was destroyed. All of this makes perfect sense. The Babylonians when they invaded never claimed to find the ark.
The problem is that the area cannot be excavated because it is controlled by Muslims. It is under the Dome of the Rock Mosque but several people claim to have seen it. Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz, who was Rabbi of the Western Wall claimed to see it in 1981. Ron Wyatt claims to have found it in 1982 in a cave in the north side of Jerusalem. He dug at the site for about eight years.
The Temple Institute in the old city Jerusalem is dedicated to rebuilding a future Jewish temple. They have already made some of the garments and over sixty sacred vessels according to the biblical requirements. They say that they know exactly where the Ark of the Covenant is located and one day will reveal it to the world.  Most people think that the Ark of the Covenant is lost but Jews in Jerusalem know exactly where it is.