The ark of the covenant was the place of presence. While the Lord was present among His people in the exodus (Ex. 13:17–18, 21–22), He localized this presence in the tabernacle for the benefit of His sinful people. The tabernacle was constructed so that the Lord would be among His people: "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst" (Ex. 25:8). But in an even more specific way, the ark served as the place of the presence of God. As we read in Exodus 25:22, "There I will meet with you . . . on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you" (Ex. 25:22; emphasis added).
Here is such a mind-blowing idea about the God of the Bible that we have to pause for a moment. The eternal God who is not constrained by the existence of time, the infinite God who is not bound by the constraints of space, the transcendent God who dwells above and beyond all time and space, and the immense God who fills all time and space condescended to the weakness of His people and became manifest for their benefit in one locale. This God is not bound by time, but He bound Himself to the time-bound experience of His people. This God is not bound by space, but He bound Himself to this box. He is above all creational constraints, but He bound Himself to them. He is everywhere, but He was there.
The psalmist set this truth about the nature of Israel's God to song so that His people could celebrate Him:
The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory is above the heavens!
Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth? (Ps. 113:4–6)
What a God we have. What a God has us. He chose to stoop very low and to humble Himself very far for the sake of His wandering people in the wilderness. Even more, He chose to stoop and to humble Himself for us in His Son, Jesus Christ, and then to stoop as low as death: "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8).
The fact that the ark was the place of the Lord's presence among His people brought great assurance to the people of God. This high, lofty, majestic, and resplendent King dwelt among His grumbling, complaining, bickering, and sinful people (Ex. 15:24; 16:2, 8, 9, 12; 17:2). Does that sound familiar? We, too, are grumbling, complaining, bickering, and sinful people. Thankfully, God is not far off in another land, but He is near to us who are sinners. The promise to the new-covenant believer is that the Lord is near to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us (1 Cor. 6:19), even as Jesus promised His helpful presence (John 14:16). The assurance His nearness brings was described by the prophet Isaiah much later in this history of salvation. Just as God accompanied Israel when they wandered in a wilderness, so, too, He was with them in the days of their restoration from exile. Thus, the prophet said, "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isa. 63:9).