November 12, 2023

Finding Christ in the Ark of the Covenant


The Ark of the Covenant is perhaps one of the most sacred and well-known artifacts from the pages of the Bible. Countless movies and documentaries have been made discussing its mystical power and supposed whereabouts. While we won’t attempt to answer what may have happened to the Ark over the centuries, we will discuss why this holy object was so significant and how it can teach us about the atoning power of Jesus Christ.

First, it may be helpful to give a bit of context about the ancient Israelite Tabernacle, where the ark was first placed. While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the Lord appeared to him and gave him tablets of stone, upon which were engraved the Ten Commandments. These essential laws represented God’s covenant with Israel. If the people would obey God, he would provide for them, give them his priesthood power, and allow all who were worthy to enter his presence. They would become a “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Moses with the Ten Commandments (photo by Appian Media)

However, seeing the thunderings and lightning on Mount Sinai, the people were fearful and instead asked that Moses speak with the Lord on their behalf (Exodus 20:18–21). In other words, because of doubt and fear, they rejected the opportunity to enter God’s presence. As a temporary solution, the Lord commanded that Aaron, the high priest, would go on their behalf, acting as a mediator between the people and their God.

To facilitate this process, the Lord commanded Moses to build a Tabernacle in the wilderness. It served as a prototype for returning to God’s presence, showing Israel how to symbolically enter into sacred space through the mediation of God’s appointed priests. As worshipers approached the Tabernacle, they could only enter through the colorful gate on the east side. It taught Israel that there was only one entrance to begin their journey back to God. Next was found the altar of sacrifice, where Israel was taught that it was only through the shedding of blood that they could become reconciled with God. In front of the altar was the bronze laver, where the priests ritually washed their hands and feet before entering the Tabernacle, symbolizing the need for spiritual purity.

Upon entering the main structure into the room called the holy place, the priests encountered the beautiful golden menorah, the table of showbread with its twelve loaves of bread, and the golden altar of incense. These objects represented light, nourishment, and the ability to pray and address God before the veil. At the far end of the room was a large veil embroidered with cherubim, or angelic beings, who guarded the presence of God. Only the high priest could go beyond the veil, and only on one day a year, called the Day of Atonement.

 After passing through the veil, the high priest encountered the Ark of the Covenant at the center of a room called the Holy of Holies. This most sacred space is where the Lord would commune with his people, and where the high priest would ritually intercede on their behalf. 

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement

With this background, let’s now talk about the actual Ark itself. The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden box made from acacia (or shittim wood) overlaid with gold. The acacia tree is one of the few trees that grow in the deserts where the children of Israel wandered for 40 years. Because of the harsh climate with little moisture and scorching heat, the acacia wood is extremely durable and is an excellent choice for such a precious piece of furniture. Some writers have suggested that the durable desert acacia wood overlaid with gold could be a symbol of the Savior, who was raised in the dry land of Israel (see Isaiah 53:2) yet overlaid with the divinity of God. (David Levy, The Tabernacle, 26).

The box was rectangular in shape and around the size of a hope chest or seaman’s chest. On the top was the mercy seat, a solid gold lid that had two beautiful cherubim hammered and shaped from the gold. On the sides were four gold rings where two poles could be inserted to carry the ark. These staves, unlike the poles for the other Tabernacle furniture, were never to be removed from the rings (Exodus 25:15).

The Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle

The placement of the Ark at the center of the Holy of Holies hints at its supreme importance. As part of the sacred ritual for the Day of Atonement, the high priest would select two goats, and draw lots on each of them. One, called the scapegoat, would have all the sins of Israel symbolically placed on its head, and then the goat would be driven into the wilderness to die. The other goat was sacrificed, and its blood was taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant seven times. The word atonement comes from the Hebrew word, kaphar, which means to cover or blot out. The ritual taught Israel that it was only through the shedding of blood that one could enter the presence of God.

Inside the box was stored a bowl of manna, the stone tablets, and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed (Hebrews 9:4). It was called the Ark of the Covenant, because these three sacred relics reminded or commemorated the covenant made between the Lord and his people.

The tablets of stone, bowl of manna, and rod of Aaron inside the Ark of the Covenant

The bowl of manna symbolized God’s providence. It was a physical reminder that the Lord had given daily bread to Israel during their time in the desolate wilderness. The Savior, after feeding the 5000, taught that while God had provided manna for Israel, they all had died. He then identified himself as the true and eternally enduring manna from heaven, stating, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger.” (John 6:35). 

The two tablets of stone contained the Ten Commandments, as given to Moses by the Lord. As mentioned, God promised that if Israel would obey his laws, then he would protect them. Recall, however, that these laws—which everyone but Jesus Christ has broken to some degree or another—were covered by the mercy seat. It is almost as if the stone tablets are to remind us that while God’s laws of justice are enduring, they can be superseded or overpowered by his mercy. This was symbolized by the high priest sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, representing the blood of Christ which mercifully protects his true followers from the full punishment of the law. 

The rod of Aaron was placed inside the ark to remind Israel of the priesthood power that came through Aaron. When Israel had questioned the authority of Aaron and the tribe of Levi, God commanded that a staff from every tribe was to be brought to the Tabernacle. Each rod was placed before the ark, but only the rod of Aaron blossomed. It was a powerful witness, showing that only the tribe of Levi, who Aaron represented, was authorized to perform priesthood rituals on behalf of the people.

The rod of Aaron with the other tribal rods placed before the Ark of the Covenant

In a way, the Ark of the Covenant can almost be seen as a type of safety deposit box. It held some of the most significant historical relics of Israel’s past, providing an enduring testament of his covenantal promises. These physical objects, situated at the center of the Holy of Holies, reminded them of God’s law and teachings, of his appointed priesthood authority to govern his people, and of his promise to nourish and protect them if they would only keep their covenants. Perhaps most important of all is that these items were covered by the mercy seat, showing that God’s laws, ordinances, and blessings are all facilitated through the merciful and atoning blood of Jesus Christ—the true Lamb of God. 

In the book of Hebrews, the writer describes in great detail the Tabernacle and ancient rituals. He explains that the high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies each year to make atonement for sin. This showed that this ordnance was not permanent or final, but had to be repeated on a regular basis. He then explains how Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, who only had to enter once and for all (see Hebrews 9:12). When the Savior gave his life, there was no more need for animal sacrifice. Atonement had been made and will cover all who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ. The writer of Hebrews then gives these powerful words regarding entering the Holy of Holies, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

How grateful we all can be, that we have a Great High Priest, even Jesus Christ, who has taken the sins of the world upon him. Like the ancient high priest, the Savior mediates between us and God, and because of his blood that he shed in Gethsemane and on the cross, we can all return to the presence of the Father, purified and without fear!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.