Gold-covered acacia wood box measuring 2.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 cubits that for the Israelite people symbolized the presence of God. It is first mentioned in Exodus 25:10-22 among the furnishings of the tabernacle. The ark's top cover supported two winged creatures called cherubim. They faced each other across the top of the ark and their outstretched wings touched at the tips. The mobility of the ark was insured by two permanently attached carrying poles, reflecting the fact that the people of Israel and their God had no fixed dwellingplace. Even when the ark was permanently located in the Holy of Holies, the poles remained ( 1 Kings 8 ), a visible reminder that God was "tenting" among his people, but that his presence could be withdrawn.
The practical function of the ark was to protect and preserve various sacred objects. In the early accounts of the ark only the Mount Sinai covenant tablets are so protected, giving rise to the common epithet, the "ark of the covenant" ( Exod 25:16 ; 1 Kings 8:9 ), or a variant, "ark of the Lord's covenant" ( Num 14:44 ). Later traditions also mentioned a portion of preserved manna and Aaron's rod as being in the ark ( Heb 9:4 ). The ark also had a military role, leading the march of the people of Israel in the wilderness ( Num 10:33 ), circling the walls of Jericho ( Jos 4:6 ), and going forth to battle against the Philistines ( 1 Sam 4:5 ).
Scripture associates God's physical presence with the ark. Moses addressed the ark as "the Lord" in the wilderness ( Num 10:35 ). The ark was sacred, indeed, dangerous to friends and foes alike. The Philistines recognized its holiness, and to neutralize its power they placed it in the temple of Dagon, to Dagon's distress ( 1 Sam 5:8 ). The awesome holiness of the ark was demonstrated when Uzzah was killed for touching the ark when he tried to prevent it from falling ( 1 Ch 13:10 ).
In the temple, the ark occupied the Holy of Holies. With a permanent location, the theological understanding of the ark changed. The cover of the ark was seen as the throne of God with the cherubim supporting him and setting aside the space between their wings as his seat. Interestingly, Solomon placed huge cherubim to flank the ark in the temple, thus setting apart the entire ark and its surrounding space as God's seat. Solomon aimed to make a place where God could "dwell forever" ( 1 Kings 8:13 ). Hezekiah, seeking divine aid against the Assyrians, called on the "God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim" ( 2 Kings 19:15 ).
The ark disappears from post-Solomonic biblical history except for a passing reference in 2 Chronicles 35:3, where the Levites are charged by Josiah no longer to carry the ark about. This may be as much a reflection of a postexilic understanding of Josiah (the new David who would correct the behavior of the Levites) as that of the actual ark itself.
In the return, according to the prophet Jeremiah, the ark would not be remembered or replaced, because Jerusalem would be "The Throne of the Lord" (3:16; the only prophetic mention of the ark). In the new temple envisioned by Ezekiel, no ark is mentioned. There will be no ark because in the new kingdom God will no longer be just a God of Israel, dwelling in a limited space, but will reveal himself as the God of all nations ruling with a new covenant. In Revelation 11:19 (the only New Testament mention) the ark has returned to the direct care of God, sacred, but no longer functional. In the New Testament, Christ himself is the bearer of the new covenant and the focus of God's presence.
Thomas W. Davis
Bibliography. R. G. Boling and G. E. Wright, Joshua; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel; M. Haran, Temple and Temple Service in Ancient Israel.
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Noah's ark, a building of gopher-wood, and covered with pitch, 300 cubits long, 50 cubits broad, and 30 cubits high ( Genesis 6:14-16 ); an oblong floating house of three stories, with a door in the side and a window in the roof. It was 100 years in building ( Genesis 5:32 ; 7:6 ). It was intended to preserve certain persons and animals from the deluge which God was about to bring over the earth. It contained eight persons ( Genesis 7:13 ; 2 Pet. 2:5 ), and of all "clean" animals seven pairs, and of "unclean" one pair, and of birds seven pairs of each sort ( Genesis 7:2 Genesis 7:3 ). It was in the form of an oblong square, with flat bottom and sloping roof. Traditions of the Deluge, by which the race of man was swept from the earth, and of the ark of Noah have been found existing among all nations.
The ark of bulrushes in which the infant Moses was laid ( Exodus 2:3 ) is called in the Hebrew teebah , a word derived from the Egyptian teb , meaning "a chest." It was daubed with slime and with pitch. The bulrushes of which it was made were the papyrus reed.
The sacred ark is designated by a different Hebrew word, 'aron' , which is the common name for a chest or coffer used for any purpose ( Genesis 50:26 ; 2 Kings Genesis 12:9 Genesis 12:10 ). It is distinguished from all others by such titles as the "ark of God" ( 1 Samuel 3:3 ), "ark of the covenant" ( Joshua 3:6 ; Hebrews 9:4 ), "ark of the testimony" ( Exodus 25:22 ). It was made of acacia or shittim wood, a cubit and a half broad and high and two cubits long, and covered all over with the purest gold. Its upper surface or lid, the mercy-seat, was surrounded with a rim of gold; and on each of the two sides were two gold rings, in which were placed two gold-covered poles by which the ark could be carried ( Numbers 7:9 ; 10:21 ; Numbers 4:5 Numbers 4:19 Numbers 4:20 ; 1 Kings 8:3 1 Kings 8:6 ). Over the ark, at the two extremities, were two cherubim, with their faces turned toward each other ( Leviticus 16:2 ; Numbers 7:89 ). Their outspread wings over the top of the ark formed the throne of God, while the ark itself was his footstool ( Exodus 25:10-22 ; 37:1-9 ). The ark was deposited in the "holy of holies," and was so placed that one end of the poles by which it was carried touched the veil which separated the two apartments of the tabernacle ( 1 Kings 8:8 ). The two tables of stone which constituted the "testimony" or evidence of God's covenant with the people ( Deuteronomy 31:26 ), the "pot of manna" ( Exodus 16:33 ), and "Aaron's rod that budded" ( Numbers 17:10 ), were laid up in the ark ( Hebrews 9:4 ). (See TABERNACLE) The ark and the sanctuary were "the beauty of Israel" ( Lamentations 2:1 ). During the journeys of the Israelites the ark was carried by the priests in advance of the host ( Numbers 4:5 Numbers 4:6 ; 10:33-36 ; Psalms 68:1 ; 132:8 ). It was borne by the priests into the bed of the Jordan, which separated, opening a pathway for the whole of the host to pass over ( Joshua 3:15 Joshua 3:16 ; Joshua 4:7 Joshua 4:10 Joshua 4:11 Joshua 4:17 Joshua 4:18 ). It was borne in the procession round Jericho ( Joshua 6:4 Joshua 6:6 Joshua 6:8 Joshua 6:11 Joshua 6:12 ). When carried it was always wrapped in the veil, the badgers' skins, and blue cloth, and carefully concealed even from the eyes of the Levites who carried it. After the settlement of Israel in Palestine the ark remained in the tabernacle at Gilgal for a season, and was then removed to Shiloh till the time of Eli, between 300 and 400 years ( Jeremiah 7:12 ), when it was carried into the field of battle so as to secure, as they supposed, victory to the Hebrews, and was taken by the Philistines ( 1 Samuel 4:3-11 ), who sent it back after retaining it seven months ( 1 Samuel 5:7 1 Samuel 5:8 ). It remained then at Kirjath-jearim ( 1 Samuel 7:1 1 Samuel 7:2 ) till the time of David (twenty years), who wished to remove it to Jerusalem; but the proper mode of removing it having been neglected, Uzzah was smitten with death for putting "forth his hand to the ark of God," and in consequence of this it was left in the house of Obed-edom in Gath-rimmon for three months ( 2 Samuel 6:1-11 ), at the end of which time David removed it in a grand procession to Jerusalem, where it was kept till a place was prepared for it (12-19). It was afterwards deposited by Solomon in the temple ( 1 Kings 8:6-9 ). When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple, the ark was probably taken away by Nebuchadnezzar and destroyed, as no trace of it is afterwards to be found. The absence of the ark from the second temple was one of the points in which it was inferior to the first temple.
And they shall make an ARK of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. ( Exodus 25:10 )