The Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Covenant.
This year we have been looking together at the tabernacle – why? Did it seem like an interesting topic, I have to pick some theme, something a bit obscure and different? No, the whole point, is to get closer to יְהוָה! [P] We have journeyed progressively closer – and last time we were there at the very threshold of where יְהוָה is! At the golden altar! [P] Just behind that curtain was the most holy place, the holy of holies, the inner sanctum, forbidden to men. Only the high priest could go there, and that only once a year. That is where the presence of יְהוָה is! We have come to the presence of God. A place we should approach with shoes removed and on bended knee. Behind that curtain, what do we find but the ark! [P] This is the very first item described, the first thing that יְהוָה commanded to be made. [Exodus 25:10-22 “They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. “You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold moulding (or crown) around it. “You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, (where are they in the picture? Feet are at the bottom so that when carried on the shoulder the ark was exalted) and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. “You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. “You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. “The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. “You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. “Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. “The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. “There I will meet with you; (do you want to meet with יְהוָה?) and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you (Do you long to hear from God!) about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.] How wonderful! יְהוָה will meet with man! Where? At the place of covenant. With reverence and holy awe we step beyond the veil into the holiest place, where יְהוָה dwells, and gaze upon the Ark of the Covenant [P] – something the OT saints could never do. Only on one day in the year did the high priest enter, dropped incense on His censer causing a cloud of perfumed smoke to dim the vision. The Ark of the Covenant – here it is just called an “ark” and “Ark of the testimony” – it is not called “ark of the covenant” until (Num 10:33). “Ark”, it sounds very spiritual and holy, but the word simply means a box – the same word is also used for a coffin; it is simply a chest. Moses was commanded to make a box! You sometimes hear people say that you cannot put God in a box – and neither can you. Unfortunately, that is what some tried to do with this box – which is really idolatry – we will have a look at that tragedy a bit later on. I have done things in reverse order – the very first instruction יְהוָה gave about the tabernacle concerned this object. The tabernacle was built around the ark – it is the heart, the centre, the raison d’être. The tabernacle was the dwelling of יְהוָה among His people – this is where the presence of God was! That is the heart of the issue – that is what we need, what we need to seek above all else: the presence of God! [P] The Shekinah! Here you enter through the veil to the most holy place, before the glorious presence of יְהוָה Himself! There is a box – gold inside and out [P] – that is the glory of יְהוָה! [P] There is gold, the cherubim, holy, glorious angelic creatures – that is what you expect in this inner sanctum. But it is made of acacia wood! Here in the very presence of God what do we find? A wooden box! The very last thing we would expect to find! Wood is what? [P] Humanity in the most holy place – It is astounding – God took on human form! It is a foundational doctrine, we are so familiar with it – but it is utterly staggering! Here is יְהוָה! And we find a human form! Who is that? We find JESUS! [P] Overlaid with gold inside and outside – completely God! Divine! Glory! It had a moulding of gold around it – what the KJV calls a “crown” – a crown of gold – man crowned Jesus with thorns, now He is crowned with glory. “The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now” Here we are, right there in the presence of יְהוָה! And there is Jesus! Jesus is יְהוָה – He is God! If you want a Biblical proof to show the J.W.s read [Isaiah 6:5 For my eyes have seen the King, יְהוָה of armies.] then John 12 which quotes that passage in Isaiah 6 [John 12:41 These things Isaiah said because he saw His (that is Jesus’) glory, and he spoke of Him.] Yes, the Sunday school interpretation is right again – the ark is Jesus [P]. On the box was a lid – called in the translation I read a “mercy-seat” – that is a huge topic in itself so, God willing, I will speak about it next time. So, leaving that aside for now, let’s look at what was in the box: [P] [Hebrews 9:4 the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant;]
Contents of the Ark:
The testimony, [P] the 10 commandments written by the finger of יְהוָה on stone [Deuteronomy 10:1-5 “At that time יְהוָה said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. ‘I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.’ “So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. “He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which יְהוָה had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and יְהוָה gave them to me. “Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as יְהוָה commanded me.”] These were the terms of the covenant. The ark is the “ark of the testimony” – these terms testified whether Israel was keeping the terms of the covenant or not. It is also the “ark of the covenant” – here is the presence of God, you are near to Him, in relationship with God! And יְהוָה only relates to man by a covenant – a binding agreement of loyalty and faithfulness by two parties. God made a covenant with Abraham (different to this covenant – based on a promise not on a law), He made a covenant with Noah and with David – both different to this one. We come to God’s presence only on the basis of a covenant – not this covenant, a covenant of law but a covenant of promise – the new covenant. A covenant relationship was extremely serious and binding, it was always made with the shedding of blood, a death [Hebrews 9:11-10:22 Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (that is the new covenant) Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near.] – right into יְהוָה’s presence! We only enter into the holy presence of יְהוָה by a covenant, through the death of Jesus. Not a law written on stone tablets but a law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The basis of covenant is חֶסֶד – loving-kindness, loyalty and faithful commitment. If you are not in covenant relationship with יְהוָה you are not one of His people, you cannot come near.
Aaron’s rod that budded [P] – The leader of each tribe had a rod – it was the symbol of his authority to lead. You recall how Moses did signs in Egypt and the wilderness through the rod he carried, through the authority of יְהוָה vested in him. There was a time when the people rebelled against Moses and Aaron, they thought that they had just as much right to be leaders as them. When יְהוָהkilled the ringleaders of the rebellion the people complained. יְהוָה was angry and sent a plague which killed 14,700 people. יְהוָה then told the leaders of each tribe to bring out leaders’ staff, mark it with his name and put it in front of the ark of the covenant. The next day the rods were there, but Aaron’s rod had budded, blossomed and produced almonds. We know from Jeremiah 1 that this means יְהוָה is watching! יְהוָה demonstrated convincingly that Aaron was His appointed priest. He did this to stop the people complaining and wanted it to be remembered. [Numbers 17:1-10 But יְהוָה said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.”] God appoints His leaders, gives them authority. It is not for man to put himself forward or choose. Having observed church life for a few years and the problems that sometimes arise – nearly all of the difficulties I have seen can be traced back to someone going against the authority that God set in place. If you want to be near God, the authority structure must be there and you dare not rebel or grumble against it. We were rebels, but now we have come near in covenant relationship and submit to יְהוָה’s will and rule.
Bowl of manna [P] – In the wilderness יְהוָה miraculously fed His people with bread from heaven, He commanded that a bowl of this manna be kept: [Exodus 16:31-34 The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey. Then Moses said, “This is what יְהוָה has commanded, ‘Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ ” Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omerful of manna in it, and place it before יְהוָה to be kept throughout your generations.” As יְהוָה commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept.] In God’s presence there is complete provision – you lack no good thing. יְהוָה provides for His own, those who are in covenant relationship with Him. It is not a natural provision but supernatural. We look not to the world, this wilderness we are in, to supply our needs – we need provision from heaven to sustain us – feeding on Jesus and His word, depending on the revelation that the Holy Spirit gives. So that is what we find in יְהוָה’s presence: covenant relationship based on the blood of Jesus; Divine authority and rule; and supernatural provision of all we need.
Treatment of the Ark: I want to close with looking at a bit of the history of Israel which shows their treatment of the ark. There are some lessons for us in how we approach the presence of יְהוָה.
Putting יְהוָה in a box: [P] The people of Israel were now settled in the land יְהוָה gave them and they turned away from Him. They still carried out the religious ceremonies but they had embraced the gods of those they lived among. To discipline His people יְהוָה caused enemies to defeat them – at this time they were at war with the Philistines: [1 Samuel 4:3-11 when the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has יְהוָה defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of יְהוָה, (removed it from the Holy of holies, touched it, displayed it for all to see! What happened to the only the high priest seeing it once a year?) that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” (they thought that the ark itself had magical power) So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of יְהוָה of armies who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. As the ark of the covenant of יְהוָה came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth resounded. (they psyched and hyped themselves up but it didn’t do any good) When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of יְהוָה had come into the camp. The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. “Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? (the heathen had more fear of God than His own people!) These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. “Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight.” So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.] A man came back with news of the battle: [1 Samuel 4:16-18 The man said to Eli, “I am the one who came from the battle line. Indeed, I escaped from the battle line today.” And he said, “How did things go, my son?” Then the one who brought the news replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.” When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years.] His daughter-in-law gave birth prematurely at that time due to the shock of the news: [1 Samuel 4:21-22 And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.”] It is a tragic story! The presence of יְהוָה was lost! They took the ark into battle as a good luck charm. They thought God was in the box. [P] It is idolatry! Reducing God to something tangible, something we can see, touch, handle, control. It cannot be done! People have spiritual good luck charms – things like St. Christopher’s medals or gold crosses. We wouldn’t wear them but what about “I cover that in the blood of Jesus” (“claim the blood”) – what do you mean? It is just religious superstition. “I bind such and such in the Name of Jesus” – does it do anything? There is power in that Name! How dare we use it just as an expression and without the power and the presence! “Be healed in the Name of Jesus” – if the person isn’t healed then you have just taken the Name of the LORD in vain! – that is used it to no effect. It is good if the reality is there – but sometimes what we do is just words, superstition. We take the ark into battle but do not have the presence of יְהוָה. We need to look at our heart and not just go through the religious motions.
Looking in the ark: the ark did nothing for the Israelites but it caused grief for the Philistines so they returned it to Israel on a cart pulled by two cows. The cart came to the town of Beth-shemesh [1 Samuel 6:19 He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of יְהוָה. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because יְהוָה had struck the people with a great slaughter.] [P] The ark should never have been removed from the Tabernacle – only the high priest was permitted to see it. Not only was it in the open for all to see, they lifted the lid and looked in! There are secret things that belong to God alone. But presumptuously man looks in – plenty of curiosity, intellectual interest, but there is no fear of God! – a delight in knowledge without covenant relationship. Bible colleges are full of it! Some seek after deep spiritual things, boast of their great revelations and spiritual experiences, looking into deep spiritual things – it is modern day Gnosticism - mysticism. But we walk by faith and not by sight. All the time man wants to see before he will believe – but if you see, it is not faith.
Saul’s reign: There passed some decades and we hear no more of the ark. I don’t want to build an argument on silence but all through the reign of Saul the ark is not mentioned. [P] Saul had no spiritual interest, he fought the battles, went through the religious motions, but he had no heart after יְהוָה. He left the ark where it was. There is the idolatry of reducing God to a box, having religion as a good luck charm; there is the intellectual curiosity about God; then there is ignoring God altogether and just getting on with the things that need to be done – practical, worldly, secular. That is pretty much our society today. God is irrelevant – pushed to the sideline.
Ark on a cart: It was not until David’s reign that the ark was sought after again. David wanted to bring it back to Jerusalem. He had a heart after יְהוָה, wanted His presence – but he went about it the wrong way. [2 Samuel 6:3-5 They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before יְהוָה with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals.] They put the ark on a cart – exactly what the Philistines had done! [P] They copied the methods of the world. Their heart was right, they were enthusiastic, were worshiping and praising God, but they used the methods the world did. Unfortunately there is much of this in the church today. We are so conditioned by the world and its concept of success that we embrace its methods. We use exactly the same techniques the world uses: their publicity and advertising, their music and ideas of entertainment, their humanistic concept of love and concern, their preoccupation with numbers, their idea of success. That is why you have a church growth movement based totally on business methods – the purpose driven church concept came from a non-Christian businessman who analysed the situation and devised a plan to make the church “succeed”! Tell me, what ever came of being led by the Holy Spirit?!
Uzzah: – Well they put the ark on the cart but the world’s methods don’t work in spiritual endeavours – the cows stumbled [2 Samuel 6:6-7 But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of יְהוָה burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.] [P] Have you ever thought God needs a bit of a hand?! Many think that the church is a bumbling disorganised bunch of incompetents. What they need is a mission statement and a purpose statement, a sound business plan and organisation. But the church is not an organisation, it is the body of Christ! It is holy, not some secular organisation! It is born of God and Christ Himself is building it! Where is the reverence for that which is of God?! We are the temple of God! Uzzah was executed for his irreverence – I guess this was what was behind the whole undertaking of shifting the ark by cart – they did not regard it as a holy undertaking. How do you view the church, יְהוָה’s temple? Many talk of coming into God’s presence – but יְהוָה is holy! Where is the reverence and awe? We dare to touch that which should not be touched because we regard God as something on the same plane as ourselves.
Welcoming the Ark: For a while David left the ark alone, but his heart longed after יְהוָה and His presence. Once more he sought to bring the ark to Jerusalem, to dwell in their midst. But this time he studied and found out what יְהוָה required and did it right: [1 Chronicles 15:1-3 Now David built houses for himself in the city of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. Then David said, “No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for יְהוָה chose them to carry the ark of God and to minister to Him forever.” And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of יְהוָה to its place which he had prepared for it.] David was determined to have the presence of יְהוָה, the ark – he found out what they had done wrong and set things right. [1 Chronicles 15:13-16 “Because you did not carry it at the first, יְהוָה our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of יְהוָה God of Israel. The sons of the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles thereon, as Moses had commanded according to the word of יְהוָה. Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.] So they brought up the ark with praise and joy. [P] They worshipped, took delight in the presence of יְהוָה. [1 Chronicles 15:25-29 So it was David, with the elders of Israel and the captains over thousands, who went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the יְהוָה from the house of Obed-edom with joy. Because God was helping the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of יְהוָה, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers. David also wore an ephod of linen. Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of יְהוָה with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres. It happened when the ark of the covenant of יְהוָה came to the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and celebrating; and she despised him in her heart.] At last here is the right attitude to the ark – the presence of יְהוָה. Not religious superstition, or presumptuous curiosity, not disregarding Him, nor using worldly methods, nor with irreverence – but with a genuine heart, submitting to יְהוָה’s ways – delighting and rejoicing in Him. Coming before יְהוָה with praise, worshipping Him exuberantly with all your heart. In the presence of יְהוָה is fullness of joy, if we come in the appointed way.