In Exodus 25:10, Moses receives the command to build an ark of acacia wood. Within this ark were to be placed the tables of the law which God was about to give to Moses. Upon the top of the ark, probably not as a lid but above the lid, was a golden plate upon which two cherubim, with raised wings and facing each other, covered the ark. From the place between the two cherubim God promises to speak to Moses, as often as He shall give him commands in reference to the Israelites.
The ark was designed to be a symbol of the presence of God in the midst of His people is the common teaching of the Old Testament. This place on the lid was also referred to as the “Mercy Seat”. Once a year a priest would enter the holy tent and sprinkle blood from a sacrificed animal to atone for the sins of Israel. This old covenant on the Day of Atonement is no longer needed as Jesus Christ became a new covenant in which His sacrifice on the cross was a complete atonement for sins.
According to the statements in the Priestly Code, the ark of the covenant was a chest made out of acacia wood, 2 1/2 cubits (about equal to 4 ft.) long, 1 1/2 cubits wide and 1 1/2 high. It was covered with gold within and without, and was ornamented with a moulding of gold running all around it. At its four feet rings were added, through which the gold- covered carrying-staves were put.
Other contents to believed to have been in the ark of the covenant were: a pot of Manna from when Israel was in the wilderness to remind them of God’s love, provision and care; and the rod of Aaron to symbolize God’s given leadership and priesthood.
According to the tradition contained in the Pentateuch the sacred ark was built at Mount Sinai and was taken by the Israelites along with them to Canaan. When Israel had been conquered by the Philistines, the ark was taken from Shiloh in order that Yahweh should aid His people. When Philistines yet conquered and captured the ark, the many misfortunes that overtook them made them think that the possession of the ark was destructive to them and they sent it back. The ark then settled in a holy tent for priests until King Solomon placed the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies of this temple, where it was placed under the wings of two mighty cherubim images. The ark is believed to have been destroyed with the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar.
Image: painting by Bejamin West, Joshua passing the Jordan River with the Ark of the Covenant, 1800