Series: Thru the Bible – Exodus
[NOTE: This image of the Ark of the Covenant and the altered versions used in our featured image, albumart and below is called Arca da Aliança de Deus and is being used by the contribution and courtesy of Fernando Shoiti Schatzmann from Suzano, Brasil, a user and contributor to Wikimedia Commons. Use of this picture is by permission and DOES NOT imply agreement with this message and/or associated article.]
The Ark of the Covenant & the Most Holy Place
The Most Holy Place was just that – even MORE unique and more UNLIKE anywhere else so that the superlative “holiest of holies” was its name. This is much like other Hebrew idioms like, “Sabbath of sabbaths“ (Exod. 31:15), “God of gods” & “Lord of lords” in (Deut. 10:17), “Vanity of vanities“ (Eccl. 1:2), “Song of songs“ (Song of Songs 1:1), “king of kings“ (Ezra 7:12)…etc. and the Authorized version retained this wording, whereas many newer translations have replaced it with MOST holy place – which retains the intention of the original language which was that the level of holiness of this place was of the utmost and highest degree.
It was here that the presence of God tabernacled among His people.
It was the place where God would make His will known to His people.
It was where the testimony of the covenant was held which were a written account of God’s character and therefore a testimony of Himself.
It was where the blood of the atonement HAD to be brought and applied to the east side of the Mercy seat and sprinkled on the ground before the mercy seat 7 times along with the MOST holy incense from the altar.
It was where the ark was kept which went by several names:
- Ark of the Covenant – Num. 10:33 (41x)
- Ark of the Lord – Joshua 3:13 (35x)
- Ark of God – 1Sam. 3:3 (33x)
- Ark of the Testimony – Exod. 25:22 (13x)
- Ark of the God of Israel – 1Sam. 5:7 (5x)
- The Holy Ark – 2Chron. 35:3 (1x)
It was SO holy only one man in all of Israel could enter it and that only once a year and ONLY under certain stringent conditions. Moses was told to tell Aaron…
“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.”
Exod 25:10-22, “(10) They are to make an ark of acacia wood, 4¼’ long, 2½’ feet wide, and 2½’ high. (11) Overlay it with pure gold; overlay it both inside and out. Also make a gold molding all around it. (12) Cast four gold rings for it and place them on its four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other side. (13) Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. (14) Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark in order to carry the ark with them. (15) The poles are to remain in the rings of the ark; they must not be removed from it. (16) Put the tablets of the testimony that I will give you into the ark. (17) Make a mercy seat of pure gold, 4¼’ long, 2½’ feet wide. (18) Make two cherubim of gold; make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. (19) Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end. Make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. (20) The cherubim are to have wings spread out above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and are to face one another. The faces of the cherubim should be toward the mercy seat. (21) Set the mercy seat on top of the ark and put the testimony that I will give you into the ark. (22) I will meet with you there above the mercy seat, between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony; I will speak with you from there about all that I command you regarding the Israelites.”
Exod. 26:31-34, “(31) You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim. (32) You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Their hooks shall be gold, upon four sockets of silver. (33) And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy. (34) You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy.”
Exod. 40:1-3, “(1) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: (2) “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. (3) You shall put in it the ark of the Testimony, and partition off the ark with the veil.”
The Three Witnesses
Exod. 40:17-21, “(17) And it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was raised up. (18) So Moses raised up the tabernacle, fastened its sockets, set up its boards, put in its bars, and raised up its pillars. (19) And he spread out the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent on top of it, as the LORD had commanded Moses. (20) He took the Testimony and put it into the ark, inserted the poles through the rings of the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark. (21) And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, hung up the veil of the covering, and partitioned off the ark of the Testimony, as the LORD had commanded Moses.”
Deut. 31:26-29, “(26) Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; (27) for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, then how much more after my death? (28) Gather to me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them. (29) For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.”
This sounds like a discrepancy against the testimony given in the New Testament which clearly has the Ten Commandments IN the ark,
Heb. 9:1-4, “(1) Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. (2) For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; (3) and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, (4) which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;”
We also have another problem in that 2Chron. 5 & 1Kings 8:9 say the only thing in the ark was the 10 commandments…no mention of Aaron’s Rod or the Omer of manna, but we will come back to this in a moment.
Concerning this record in Deut. 31 this was at the end of the 40 years of wandering and just before Moses died. The book of Deuteronomy was essentially a “recap” of all that had gone before for those who might be too young to fully remember since all the adults who left Egypt had now died. During these wanderings God had given to Moses the Pentateuch including this book of Deuteronomy. All of these words which were given by God, but written by Moses were laid up BEFORE the ark – NOT IN IT, but the 10 commandments were placed IN the ark.
This is an important issue which helps us with the next little puzzle…
As I said, in 2Chron. & 1 Kings it records that the only thing in the ark was the 10 commandments while Hebrews has it that the Omer of Manna and Aaron’s rod were in there as well.
Since both accounts are nearly identical we will just turn to one of them. Let’s turn to 2 Chron. 5 beginning in verse 4. This is the record of the Ark being brought from the city of David to be placed in the newly constructed temple which Solomon built.
2Chron. 5:4-11, “(4) So all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites took up the ark. (5) Then they brought up the ark, the tabernacle of meeting, and all the holy furnishings that were in the tabernacle. The priests and the Levites brought them up. (6) Also King Solomon, and all the congregation of Israel who were assembled with him before the ark, were sacrificing sheep and oxen that could not be counted or numbered for multitude. (7) Then the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the temple, to the Most Holy Place, under the wings of the cherubim. (8) For the cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. (9) The poles extended so that the ends of the poles of the ark could be seen from the holy place, in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. (10) Nothing was in the ark except the two tablets which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they had come out of Egypt. (11) And it came to pass when the priests came out of the Most Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without keeping to their divisions),”
Now, upon further reading…it is only in the account of Hebrews that the scriptures say that all three objects were IN the Ark.
The accounts of Aaron’s rod and the omer of manna is recorded in Exodus 16:32,33 & Numbers 17:10 as being placed BEFORE THE LORD in the tabernacle. Not actually IN the ark.
Now this may just be another Jewish thing – like the censor being one with the Ark and belonging to the Most Holy Place even though it was physically kept outside by the Sacrificial altar of brass.
So as far as the articles IN the Ark, there appears to be three possible interpretations.
- The only thing ever put in the ark was the 10 commandments and the account in Hebrews is just a Jewish turn of phrase like with the golden censer.
- They were all in the ark at one point, but the Omer of Manna and Aaron’s rod were removed at some point – possibly by their enemies.
- All three objects were really there even in this account in 2Chron. 5 & 1Kings 8, but that the 10 commandments had been removed and were simply being placed back into the ark upon it’s installation in the new temple built by Solomon, which the Chaldean version of the passage would allow,
“There was nothing put in the ark but the two tables which Moses placed there, after the first had been broken on account of the calf which they made in Horeb, and the two other tables had been confirmed which were written with writing expressed in the Ten Words.”
Upon reflection of all these things, I have come to the personal conclusion that it doesn’t matter. The obvious point was that they had to be kept in the tabernacle and appear BEFORE the Lord as a testimony against Israel. This could be done ANYWHERE in the universe for God is omnipresent, but we know it was in the temple. It is entirely possible that only the 10 commandments were ever physically placed into the ark. The Ark was Holy and all the things in the Most Holy Place were to be holy. So it seems more likely that Aaron’s Rod and the Omer of Manna were placed before the LORD in the holy place OUTSIDE of the Most Holy Place and there appeared before the Lord even as the smoke from the incense altar and the showbread was said to be “before the Lord” though not physically IN the Most Holy Place.
1. God is said to dwell between the Cherubs of the Ark and that there His name is proclaimed.
1Sam. 4:4, “(4) So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.”
1Chron. 13:6, “(6) And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, to Kirjath Jearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, Who dwells between the cherubim, where His name is proclaimed.”
2. Unlike the other objects in the temple, the Ark was of TWO pieces, the ark itself and the Mercy seat.
Exod. 26:34, “You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy.”
Exod. 30:6, “And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.”
God meets with us in holiness before the testimony He gives of Himself. It is the conditions of our communion and the subject of our speech. We communion over the testimony of His character – glory – our transformation into the character of those words. Being transformed as we look into.
Lev. 16:1-15, “(1) Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the LORD, and died; (2) and the LORD said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. (3) “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. (4) He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on. (5) And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering. (6) “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. (7) He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. (8) Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. (9) And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. (10) But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness. (11) “And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. (12) Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. (13) And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die. (14) He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. (15) “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat.”
Mercy seat* – Is a translation of a Hebrew word which essentially mean a lid. It is used both literally and symbolically. It is in the realities of what a lid DOES that this word takes on so much meaning. The words mercyseat, propitiation and atone are all connected.
The Greek word for Mercyseat is hilaskomai, which itself is often used to translate the Hebrew word kippur meaning (atonement). This word hilaskomai only occurs two times in the New Testament and are represented with the words Propitiation in Romans 3:35 and the word Mercyseat in Hebrews 9:5. The word conveys the notion of sin being covered and remitted just like the word atonement in the old testament.
3. It went before Israel in their wanderings and sometimes into battle for victory.
- In Joshua 6 it tells us that they took the Ark with them as they marched around Jericho by God’s command.
- Jdg. 20:24-28, “(24) So the children of Israel approached the children of Benjamin on the second day. (25) And Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah on the second day, and cut down to the ground eighteen thousand more of the children of Israel; all these drew the sword. (26) Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. (27) So the children of Israel inquired of the LORD (the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, (28) and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”
4. It was a means by which to speak with and make inquiry of the Lord.
- Num. 7:89, “(89) Now when Moses went into the tabernacle of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice of One speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the Testimony, from between the two cherubim; thus He spoke to him.”
- This does NOT mean be was in the Most Holy Place but before the curtain dividing the holy place from the MOST holy place. Notice Moses “heard” a voice FROM above the mercy seat.
- Psa. 99:6, “Moses and Aaron were among His priests, And Samuel was among those who called upon His name; They called upon the LORD, and He answered them.”
- 1Sam. 14:18, “And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here” (for at that time the ark of God was with the children of Israel).”
5. There was a method for transporting it:
Num. 4:1-6, “(1) Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: (2) “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ house, (3) from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting. (4) “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: (5) When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. (6) Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles.”
You had to be a Levite, but not just any Levite – you had to be a son of Aaron…but not just ANY son of Aaron…you had to be a son of Kohath…but not just any son of Kohath…you had to be a son of kohath without deformity and between the ages of 25-50 and you had to cover the ark with the holy curtains and then insert the golden poles and carry it on your shoulders.
Num. 7:6-9, “(6) So Moses took the carts and the oxen, and gave them to the Levites. (7) Two carts and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service; (8) and four carts and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the authority of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. (9) But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because theirs was the service of the holy things, which they carried on their shoulders.”
The notion of shoulders representing authority goes WAY back in human history and is used in that way in the scriptures. Perhaps the clearest example of this is found in Isa. 9:6,7,
“(6) For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (7) Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
Some of you may remember the story of Uzzah the son of Abinadab who God struck dead for touching the Ark of the Testimony.
1Chron. 13:5-14, “(5) So David gathered all Israel together, from Shihor in Egypt to as far as the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kirjath Jearim. (6) And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, to Kirjath Jearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who dwells between the cherubim, where His name is proclaimed. (7) So they carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab, and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart. (8) Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets. (9) And when they came to Chidon’s threshing floor, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. (10) Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. (11) And David became angry because of the LORD’s outbreak against Uzza; therefore that place is called Perez Uzza to this day. (12) David was afraid of God that day, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” (13) So David would not move the ark with him into the City of David, but took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. (14) The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house three months. And the LORD blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that he had.”
Now let’s turn to chapter 15 in 1 Chron.
1Chron. 15:1-16, “(1) David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it. (2) Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the LORD has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” (3) And David gathered all Israel together at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the LORD to its place, which he had prepared for it. (4) Then David assembled the children of Aaron and the Levites:
(12) He said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it. (13) For because you did not do it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.” (14) So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel. (15) And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD. (16) Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy.”
If you remember we learned of the reason why this happened when we read about Nadab and Abihu…but we will look at it again. Turn to Lev. 10
Lev. 10:1-11, “(1) Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. (2) So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. (3) And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace. (4) Then Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.” (5) So they went near and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had said. (6) And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, “Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD has kindled. (7) You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses. (8) Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying: (9) “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, (10) that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, (11) and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”
Our authority – what we do and fail to do with it affects others!
We will begin to discuss the symbolisms of the Holies of Holies with the Ark of the Testimony and some ways in which it serves as a type and shadow of today under the New Covenant…next week!
There is more information in the audio/video of the actual message. I hope you listen, learn and enjoy!
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