The Ark of the Covenant (Part 1)

For centuries, much ado has been made about the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is shrouded in wonder, the stuff of legends, folklore fodder, and pop culture promoted in our generation by movies like Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” and Monty Python’s irreverent “Holy Grail”.  Throughout history in both secular and cultic contexts the term ark has differing but similar meanings. The noun “ark” may refer to a box for carrying the dead or it may denote a money box or treasure chest. In secular exchange, ark usually describes a box or container.

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When we think about the Ark of the Covenant, however, we are specifically talking about the article central in Israel’s worship of the Lord. God called on Bezalel, a craftsman, to make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. What’s a cubit equal to? Great question. One cubit measures about 18 inches or-for those of you who prefer the metric system- 45 centimeters (Exodus 37:1-9). Bezalel was filled by the Spirit of God and blessed with skill, ability, and knowledge in a variety of crafts (Exodus 35:30-31). He was set apart; the best of the best.

In Exodus 36:1, we see a beautiful biblical picture of what embarking upon the work of the Lord looks like. Although he was highly skilled, especially gifted and divinely appointed by the Lord, Bezalel did not work alone. He worked alongside other skilled craftsman, like Oholiab and others, who God had imparted the skill and ability to carry out all the work that would be necessary to build the Tabernacle.

However, in Exodus 37, we see that Bezalel is entrusted with the special privilege of building the Ark of the Covenant. When it was finished, it would be set in the Most Holy Place, situated behind the inner veil inside the Holy Place, located inside the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was God’s dwelling place, His abode, where He met with His people. It served as a portable sanctuary, central to the Israelite’s worship of God, prior to the building of Solomon’s temple (Exodus 25-40).The Ark signified God’s holiness and His meeting with His people on the basis of atonement. In short the Tabernacle, and everything in it, existed for the purpose of bringing glory to God.

The Ark of the Covenant was one of several pieces of furniture preserved inside the Tabernacle as spiritual object lessons symbolizing God’s redemptive covenant. The Ark was the special box that housed the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 10:1-2), a jar of manna (Exodus 16:32-34) and Aaron’s staff that budded (Numbers 17:10-11).

Because God’s presence is not something to be taken lightly, access to the Most Holy Place, and thus the Ark, was very restricted (Leviticus 16:2, Joshua 3:3-4). It was where the blood of atonement was applied and forgiveness was granted (Leviticus 16). God gave the Israelites specific instructions on housing it but also how to transport it. The Ark was equipped with poles of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, set inside rings on either side to carry it (Exodus 35:12, 37:5) without being touched. God specifically entrusted the Kohathite clan with the responsibility for caring for the Ark (Numbers 3:31). Whenever it was being transported, Aaron and his sons were instructed to cover it with the Tabernacle’s inner veil (Numbers 4:5).

If you ever encounter someone who tells you that God doesn’t care about details, refer them to the building of the Tabernacle and the making of the Ark of the Covenant. Next time, we’ll take a look at what happened to the Ark after it was built by Bezalel. What a story—can you imagine how Bezalel, a simple craftsman, must have felt being given such a noble privilege? It would not be the last time that God used a craftsman to do great things for His glory and the redemption of His people.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

 

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