The Ark of the Covenant

There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you” (v. 22).

- Exodus 25:10–22

Our study of the tabernacle/temple and its furniture this month has emphasized its status as a copy of the heavenly throne room. As a copy of this throne room, it makes sense that there would be a replica of His throne in the sanctuary, and such a replica did exist in the form of the ark of the covenant. Today’s passage describes this ark, which was placed in the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle/temple (Ex. 26:34).

Our knowledge that the ark mimics a throne, or, more specifically, a footstool, has been bolstered since archaeologists have discovered thrones from ancient Near Eastern kingdoms with a look similar to that of the ark of the covenant. Like the other articles in the temple, it was made from acacia wood (25:10), which was a highly durable wood that grew in the area. The ark was covered with pure gold, gold that had been treated so as to remove any impurities (v. 11). Obviously, anything less could not be a fitting piece of furniture for the King of kings. Basically, the ark was a box fitted with poles so that it could be lifted onto the shoulders and carried without being touched directly. These poles were never removed (vv. 12–16), probably so that the ark could be carried off at a moment’s notice. The ark went everywhere that Israel went, even into battle (Josh. 6), and the ark’s constant availability to be picked up and carried off symbolized God’s willingness to go with His people wherever they might go.

More confirmation that the ark symbolized the Lord’s throne/footstool is seen in the fact that the “testimony” of Yahweh would be placed within it (Ex. 25:21). This testimony was none other than the tablets on which God wrote His law (Deut. 10:2), and this is significant because ancient Near Eastern kings often kept a copy of the laws of their kingdoms at their feet. The Lord, as the king of all, likewise would keep a copy of His laws at His feet in His footstool, the ark.

Once the Law was placed inside the ark, a lid called the mercy seat closed the box (Ex. 25:17–22). God knew that Israel would break His law but that He would be merciful and cover their law-breaking to guard those who truly loved Him from His wrath. Ultimately, this was achieved through the death of a substitute and the sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat itself (Lev. 16). Dr. John MacArthur aptly comments that “blood from the sacrifices stood between God and the broken law of God.”

Coram Deo

Blood and the mercy seat typified the final cleansing that would be achieved through the shed blood of Christ (Heb. 10:1–18). Because of this blood we can now meet with the Lord in worship just as the high priest used to meet with God before the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:22). Therefore, when we come into the Lord’s presence, we must strive to do so with reverence and awe, for in worship we are entering the great King’s heavenly throne room.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 37:1–9
Numbers 10:29–36
Psalm 132:8
Titus 3:4–7

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