Flip a switch in your brain when you hear the term “ark of the covenant” and focus less on the work “ark” and more on the word “covenant.” Now you’re ready to explore and appreciate the significance of this ancient toolbox of God.
Yes, toolbox. A big one. It measured about 3¾ feet in length, 2¼ feet wide, and 2¼ feet high. Made of acacia wood, covered with gold, so heavy, too. That’s why two gold rings were fastened to the ark on each side, near the bottom. Poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold were inserted into these rings so that the ark could be carried. The poles were to remain in the rings at all times so that those who carried the ark would not touch it.
After all, this big, golden toolbox is elsewhere called “the footstool of our God” (1 Chronicles 28:2; see also Psalm 132:7). It represented God’s presence among his people. Significantly, the ark was designed to be transported with the Israelites as they journeyed toward the promised land. God is not staked down to a certain location (like a church building, or its altar). His presence goes with us always.
Inside the ark were the two stone tablets on which God himself inscribed the famous Ten Commandments. The cover was made of pure gold, with the figures of two golden cherubim (angelic creatures) mounted on each end. They faced each other, looking toward the middle of the cover, with their wings spread out to overshadow it.
The cover of the ark is referred to as the “atonement cover.” It was upon this cover that the high priest sprinkled the blood of atonement on the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11–17). This act signified that the sins of the people were covered, that is, removed from God’s sight. The transgressions against the Ten Commandments, lying under this cover, were atoned for. Forgiven.
The eternal, infinite, transcendent God, who is not contained by time or constrained by space but fills all of it—put himself in a box. He is everywhere, but he was there.
Among a group of fickle-in-faith, grumbling, sinful and undeserving people (the Israelites) God designs his throne and footstool and toolbox to be close to them, forgive them, and go wherever they go. Sound familiar?
That’s the covenant, a promise of God to be close to, forgive, and lead forward people who deserve much less. By this gracious gift, the people of Israel are sustained through treacherous travels, survive plagues and famines, find strength and answers to prayers, joyfully awake and peacefully go to sleep each day knowing that their guilt is gone because God promises it. And he will never leave them.
What a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ, who “when [he] came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11,12).
PRAYER: Dear covenant God, you promise blessings to me as a gift of your grace. Your presence goes with me and stays true to me. Thank you for religious symbols of you. I want to use and appreciate them because they lead me to worship you. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: The ark of the covenant is long gone. Today, believers find their faith inspired by religious symbols that remind them of God and his grace, through Jesus Christ. What are some of your favorites? Do any hold meaning for you, but they’ve become a bit dusty or replaced by earthly possessions? Find them. Touch them. Make them more visible. Don’t worship them, but use them to worship God.
Portions of this blog adapted from The People’s Bible Commentary, Wendland, E. H. (2000). Exodus (2nd ed., pp. 157–159). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.