Free Bible Study Magazine
This implies that the ark was of first importance, and that the rest of the items of worship revolved around it. When a man designs and builds a house, he leaves thought of the furniture till afterwards, but the fact that the ark was considered first reveals that God’s beloved Son, and that “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17).
Such was the importance of the ark that it was to be placed in an area called the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest was allowed to enter, once a year, and even then not without presenting the blood of the sin offering made on the Day of Atonement.
The ark was the symbol and sign of God’s presence among the people of Israel. God told Moses: (Exodus 25:8) let them make for me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them. And the center of that sanctuary was the Ark of the Covenant.
So much did the idea of God’s presence among them being represented by the ark, sank so deep into the minds of the Hebrews, that when the ark was captured by the Philistines, it was taken as the sign the God, their glory, had departed from them (1 Samuel).
Yet again, this was a mere symbol. God allowed the ark to be captured as a sign of his disfavor concerning the sinful practices of the nation, and especially the priesthood led by the immoral Hophni and Phinehas, whose sin Eli the high priest failed to challenge.
But when the ark was in captivity, it held its captors captive!
For everywhere the ark went, God commanded plagues and destruction on the people until it was returned. Even when the ark was brought back to Israel, the people of Beth Shemesh showed disrespect to God by opening the lid, and above 50,000 of them died.
These vents are probably the inspiration behind the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Starring Harrison Ford, the film depicted a fictional adventure revolving around the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant. Actors speak of the ark “leveling mountains” and destroying the enemies of God’s armies.
In reality of course, this never happened. When the enemies of Israel were defeated before them, it was because of God’s presence not the ark.
The ark was intended by God to be rich in its symbolic teaching for us as Christian believers.
The ark was a chest made of acacia wood, overlaid within and without of pure gold. At the top was a crown of gold which held the mercy seat and cherubim. Two rings on each side, with staves, made the ark portable.
Inside the ark were four items of supreme importance: the two tables of the law (Exodus 25:16), the book of the covenant (Exodus 24:7), the pot of manna (Exodus 16:33; Hebrews 9:4), and Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17:10; Hebrews 9:4).
The ark and all its contents speak of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the acacia wood we see His perfect humanity, while in the pure gold His perfect divinity. The ark was fashioned with a crown of gold at the top. Men crowned the Lord Jesus Christ with thorns; but God crowned Him with glory and honor (Hebrews 2:9) and set Him at His own right hand far above all principality and power. The name of Jesus is the name above every name.
The four rings of gold and the two staves are what linked the ark to the people. Because of them, they could know that the ark was meant to accompany them wherever they went.
The staves were never to be removed, revealing the constancy of Christ’s commitment to his people. He is always available to them He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
The golden pot that had manna” (Hebrews 9:4).
Moses was commanded to “lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for [future] generations” (Exodus 16:33). This manna was the bread with which God fed his people for 40 years in the wilderness, and in John 6:31-38 Christ used it to illustrate his own claim to be “the bread of life.” The manna, although supernaturally provided, did not impart spiritual life, for Jesus said “Your fathers ate manna, yet are dead.” By partaking of Christ the bread of life, “a man may eat and live forever.”
Aaron’s rod that budded (see Hebrews 9:4).This situation arose where Aaron was challenge by the people as to his election by God to the office of high priest. God answered the grumblers by inviting them to leave one rod in the tabernacle overnight, each rod representing one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Next morning, Aaron’s rod had not only blossomed, but produced almonds (see Numbers 17:8), thus vindicating God’s choice of the house of Aaron to be High Priests before Him.
The Lord Jesus Christ, although not born to the house of Aaron, is made our High priest forever, by the power of His own endless life. Unlike Aaron, he will never die, and so does not have to pass on the priesthood to others.
The budding rod is a picture of His incarnation, crucifixion (Isaiah 53:2, 8) and resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:4). The fruit which he produces is in the lives of those he has redeemed and who share in that resurrection life of Christ, and one day he shall present these before God his father (see Hebrews 2:13; Psalm 22:30).
“The tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:4).
These two tablets of stone contained the moral law, the Ten Commandments, detailed in Exodus 20:1-17. Jesus was the only One who kept the whole law. In the words of prophecy it is recorded: “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the Book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:7-8).
When He appeared in the flesh He said, “I did not come to destroy [the Law] but to fulfill [it]” (Matthew 5:17).
Paul reminds us: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).
The book of the covenant (see Exodus 24:7 and Deut. 31:25-26).
At one time the ark contained the book of the covenant, which contained the scriptures which had been received up to that point, containing not only the moral law (as was written on the stone tablets) but also the other civil laws which God commanded Moses to give the people.
Even this book was sprinkled with blood, as were all the people who heard it read to them, (Hebrews 9:19-20) revealing that another covenant would come, and be ratified by the blood of Christ, and involved the blotting out of our sins and transgressions of the law committed under the first covenant.
Most scholars have considerable difficulty in assigning a reason for each of the measurements of the ark (2½ cubits long and 1½ cubits high and wide).
We must admit that some details of scripture reveal that the fullness of the divine mind is unknown to us
: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)
The contents of the ark reveal Christ to be: our wisdom – the Book of the Covenant; our righteousness – the tablets of testimony; our eternal life and satisfaction – the pot of manna; and our enduring and faithful High Priest – the rod that budded. Indeed, Christ is all things to us.
The mercy seat was made from one slab shaped piece of solid gold (2½ by 1½ cubits), which fitted exactly inside the crown of the Ark of the Covenant.
Two cherubim were hammered into shape at the two ends of the mercy seat, not separately, but from the same one piece of gold as the mercy seat.
Their wings were raised to cover the mercy seat; and the faces were bent downwards, gazing at it.
Unlike the ark, the mercy seat was made of pure gold (see Exodus 25:17-18). No wood was used in its manufacture. The mercy seat points to Christ in his nature as divine and able to forgive our sins and show mercy.
Only by shedding his blood on the cross could Christ make grace and forgiveness available to guilty men.
Every year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the blood of propitiation was sprinkled upon the mercy seat.
Paul speaks of Christ as our Propitiation, or Mercy Seat. He says:
“God set Him forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God has passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25).
Jesus has made “propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).
John has the same thought when he says: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
The mercy seat is a symbol of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which we can know reconciliation, forgiveness, justification and peace.
Cherubim in scripture often speak of God’s justice. We first see them in Garden of Eden with “a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).
They are often depicted as messengers of God’s judgment (see Ezekiel). Some suppose them to be above the mercy seat, ready to pour out the judgment of God, unless atonement is made.
When God passed through Egypt in judgment, He first warned His own people to sprinkle blood upon the doorposts and lintels of their homes, for he said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13).
God’s judgment holds back its sword because the blood has been shed and sprinkled. The flaming sword of God’s wrath was sheathed in Christ (Psalm 85:10). In John ,we see two angels in white one at the feet, the other at the head where the body of Jesus had lain, indicating to us, that atonement had been both made and accepted (John 20:12).
The mercy seat appears to provide part of the crown of the ark, and indeed Jesus would never have been crowned with glory and honor had He not fulfilled God’s perfect plan of redemption.
Because he is crowned, we can be sure that the mercy seat will never become for us a throne of judgment, but is forever a throne of grace.
In the Ark of the Covenant and its mercy seat we see a glorious picture of our exalted Lord, who reaches out to us in mercy on the basis of the finished work of Calvary. Reader, have you trusted Christ to forgive and cover all your sins? Do so today! You will find a righteousness, eternal life and satisfaction in Him alone.