Ark of the Covenant
Listen to the Audio post

Intro

The Ark of the Covenant, also known as the “Ark of Testimony” or “Ark of GOD,” is the holiest artifact according to the Biblical narrative. It was built by the Israelites and described as a wooden chest covered with pure gold, with an elaborately designed lid called a propitiatory. According to the Book of Exodus, the Ark contained the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

The Ark was located in the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple. To this day, having been lost for centuries, it is not known where it was hidden, and whether it still exists, yet Jewish tradition believes it was hidden until the day the Moshiach (Messiah) comes.

The Ark structure

The biblical account tells that about a year after the Israelites exodus from the land of Egypt, the Ark was built according to instructions given to Moses by GOD himself when the Israelites were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai.

The ark represents GOD’s love for his people, the Covenant precisely, and was built by the chief architect of the Tabernacle, Betzalel. The LORD ordered the ark to be built of acacia wood and gave very specific dimensions (2.5 cubits long and 1.5 cubits high and wide.) There were two other boxes, both made of gold, enclosing the wooden box. In all, the ark comprised three layers: gold, wood, and gold again. The top of the outer box was covered with a golden decorative border called a zeir.

The ark had no feet, and rested directly on the ground. Rings were attached to each of its four corners, through which gold-plated wooden poles were threaded. The poles, which were never to be removed, were used by the priests of the house of Kehot to transport the ark, since it was forbidden to carry it on a chariot.

The “kaporet,” a golden cover one hand thick, covered the outer box. Atop the cover, fashioned from the same piece of metal, sat the ” keruvim,” or cherubim, sculptures facing each other, their wings towering above the Ark.

The Biblical account

According to the Book of Exodus, GOD commanded Moses to build the Ark during his 40-day stay on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20 & 24:18) He was shown the model for the tabernacle and furnishings of the Ark, and told that it would be made of a wood called “shittim” (plural of “shittah” and also called acacia wood) to house the Tablets of Stone. Moses ordered Bezalel and Aholiab to build the Ark.

The Book of Exodus gives detailed instructions on how to build the Ark. It is to be 2 1/2 cubits long, 1 1/2 cubits wide and high (about 131 × 79 × 79 cm or 52 × 31 × 31 inches), and made precisely of acacia wood. Fully gilded with gold, and an all-gold crown or frame should be placed around it. Four gold rings are to be attached to its four corners, two on each side, and through these rings wooden slats covered with gold are to be inserted to enable the Ark to be carried, and they are not to be removed. A golden cover, the kapporet (translated as “mercy seat” or “cover”), which is adorned with two golden cherubim is to be placed over the Ark.

Ark’s placement

In the Holy Temple, the location of the ark was in the holiest chamber, the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter it, and once a year, on Yom Kippur, when he would be allowed to enter to perform the annual service before the Ark.

When King Solomon later built the first Temple, he carved out a small place to hide the Ark. Toward the end of the first Temple period, King Josiah, foreseeing, under the obvious circumstances, the destruction of the Temple, had the Ark hidden (2Chronicles 35 & Yoma 53B), remaining hidden to this day. Jewish tradition says that when Moshiach comes and rebuilds the Third Temple, he will also bring the Ark back to its place in the House of GOD.

In the Temple, the Ark rested directly on the “Even Hashetiyah,” the Shetiya stone, which is the foundation point of the whole world. In the second Temple, there was no ark, only the Shetiya stone.

מַתְנִי׳ מִשֶּׁנִּיטַּל ָרוֹן, ֶבֶן הָיְתָה שָׁם מִימוֹת נְבִיִים רִוֹנִים, וּשְׁתִיָּה הָיְתָה נִקְרֵ, גְּבוֹה מִן מִן הָרֶץ שָׁלֹשׁ ֶצְבָּעוֹת וְעָלֶהָ הָה נוֹתֵן. נָטַל ֶת הַדָּם מִמִּי שֶׁהָיָה מְמָרֵס בּוֹ, נִכְנַס לַמָּקוֹם שֶׁנִּכְנַס, וְעָמַד בַּמָּקוֹם שֶׁעָמַד, וְהִזָּה מִמֶּנּוּ לְמַעְלָ לְמַעְלָה וְשֶׁבַע לְמַטָּה

“After the Ark was taken into exile, there was a rock in the Holy of Holies from the days of the first prophets, David and Samuel , who laid the foundation for the building of the Temple, and this rock was called the foundation rock . It was three fingers higher than the ground and the High Priest would put incense on it . After leaving the Holy of Holies, the High Priest took the blood of the bull immolated as a sin offering from the one who stirred it up,so it did not coagulate. He entered the place where he had entered before, the Holy of Holies, and stopped at the place where he had stopped before to offer incense, between the staves. And he sprinkled blood, once on the top and seven times on the bottom.”

(Yoma 35B)

Contents

Jewish tradition reports that the Ark contained the tablets (engraved with the Ten Commandments) that Moses brought back coming down from Mount Sinai, the broken pieces of the first set of tablets, and a Torah scroll. A jug of manna and Aaron’s miraculous staff were placed in front of it.

References in the Abrahamic religions

Tanakh

The Ark is first mentioned in the Book of Exodus and then numerous times in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, I Kings , I & II Chronicles, Psalms and Jeremiah.

In the Book of Jeremiah there is an interesting passage which, speaking concerning the days of Josiah (Jer. 3:16), prophesied about a future time when the Ark will no longer be spoken of or used:

“And it shall come to pass that when you multiply and become fruitful in the land, in those days, says the LORD, they will no longer say, ‘The Ark of the Covenant of the LORD,’ and it will no longer come to mind; they will not mention it or remember it or use it.

Rashi comments on this verse by saying that “The whole people will be so imbued with the spirit of holiness that the Presence of GOD will rest upon them collectively, as if the congregation itself were the Ark of the Covenant” (Jeremiah 3:16, Tanach . Brooklyn, New York: ArtScroll. p. 1078.).

The Second Book of Maccabees

According to 2Maccabees , at the beginning of chapter 2:

“Acts shows that it was the prophet Jeremiah who . prompted by a divine message … gave orders that the Tent of Meeting and the Ark should go with him. Then he left for the mountain from the top of which Moses saw the land promised by GOD. When he reached the mountain, Jeremiah found a cave; he took the Tent, the Ark and the Altar of Incense there, then barred the entrance. Some of his companions came to mark the way, but they could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of this, he rebuked them. “The place will remain unknown,” he said, “until GOD finally gathers his people and shows them mercy. The LORD will bring these things to light, and the glory of the LORD will appear with the cloud.”
(2 Maccabees 2:4-8)

The “mountain from the top of which Moses saw the promised land of GOD” would be Mount Nebo, located in what is now Jordan.

In the New Testament

In the New Testament, the Ark is mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews and in the Revelation of St. John. Hebrews 9:4 states that the Ark contained “the golden vessel that had the manna, and the rod of Aaron that budded, and the tables of the covenant.” Revelation 11:19 says that the prophet saw the temple of GOD in heaven opened, “and the Ark of his Covenant was seen in his Temple.”

The Ark in Islam

It is believed that Chapter 2 ( Sura 2) of the Qur’an (verse 248) refers to the Ark:

And their Prophet said, “The sign of the Sovereignty will be that it will come to you with the Ark, and it will contain the Divine Presence* that comes from your LORD, as well as what is left of what the family of Moses and the family of Aaron left. It will be the angels who will carry it, verily this will be a sign for you, if you are believers.”

The Arabic word sakīna (variously translated “peace of assurance” or “spirit of tranquility”) is related to the Hebrew shekhinah , which means “dwelling place or presence of GOD.”

Islamic scholar Al Baidawi stated that shekhinah could be the Tawrat (the Torah), the books of Moses. According to Al-Jalalan , the relics in the Ark were the fragments of the two tablets, the rods, the robes, the shoes, Moses’ mitre and the jar of manna.
Also according to Uri Rubin , the Ark of the Covenant has a solid religious foundation in Islam.

Where is today

Since its disappearance from the biblical narrative, there have been numerous claims to have discovered or possessed the Ark and several possible locations have been suggested, yet no one actually knows where the Ark is today.

 

Bibliografia

Translate into your language
Main Topics
ASH’s Newsletter