Tales of the Ark of the Covenant
O what a tangled web we weave, when
first we practice to deceive!
- Sir Walter Scott
When the movie, "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark", came out in 1981, I never heard the Ark of the Covenant as I suspect most people haven't if it weren't for the movie. So I've followed the biblical trail of the Ark from its construction under Moses to its destruction led by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. While the movie is fictional, there is an element of biblical truth to the Ark's power.
The Ark had special handling instructions. It rewarded those who gave it respect and it punished violators. The first to pay the price were Aaron's two sons who got burnt to a crisp for making an unsanctioned ritual near the Ark. Joshua used it to divide the waters of the Jordan so his people could cross over. The Ark was instrumental in breaking down the walls of Jericho.
The Israelites had an internecine tribal war over the rape and murder of a concubine; it ended in a day of maiden snatching. Eli and his two sons came to an untimely death, because his sons desecrated the tabernacle. When the Philistines captured the Ark, it literally gave them hemorrhoids and caused many deaths. When they gave it back, one of the Israelites made the fatal mistake of touching the Ark. When the Ark reached Jerusalem, David was so happy; he danced publicly half naked. When his wife Michal scolded him, he cut her off sexually.
The Ark found a permanent home in the temple Solomon built. Solomon ignored the Ark and its Covenant, and had his palace built bigger than the temple. The Ark is not mentioned again until late in temple history when one of King Josiah's priests found a Torah scroll Moses had left by the Ark; his reforms lasted until he died. The temple and everything in it was destroyed by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar.
The Ark itself
The Hebrew word for ark means simply "box, chest or coffin." (Yes it is true; Noah's ark was a box.) The year was about 1480 BCE, somewhere in the mountains of Sinai when God gave Moses instructions on how to build the Ark of the Covenant. It was an exception to the Second Commandment against graven images.
These were the instructions Yahweh said to Moses on how to build the Ark.
The Ark was 2-1/2 cubits in length, and its width and height are half its length. A cubit is about 18 inches; so its size in feet is about 4 x 2 x 2. It was built out of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, with a molding of gold around it.
shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its
length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its
11And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a molding of gold round about. (Ex. 25:10-11)
It had four rings of gold, one on each of its feet. Two poles clad with gold were inserted in the rings for carrying.
you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet,
two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it.
13You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.
14And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them.
15The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. (Ex. 25:12-15)
It had a mercy seat (throne) on top of the ark, fashioned with two gold cherubim facing each other at each end. (The cherubs may have had human bodies with wings; they are not specifically defined here.) Their wings shall form the seat and their legs the legs of the seat.
you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be
its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth.
18And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.
19Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends.
20The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.
21And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. (Ex. 25:17-21)
Ark of the Covenant
Yahweh would meet and talk with the Israelites from above the mercy seat.
22There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Ex. 25:22)
The Ark was supposed to represent Yahweh's presence on earth. He spoke with Moses from between the two cherubs.
The Ark went three days before them when they traveled. When they set camp, the cloud of God was over them by day. It was to make their enemies scatter before them.
35 36 (Num. 10:33-36)
The Ark was conceived for military purposes for as long as the people did not transgress against the command of God.
4142 43 44 45 (Num. 14:41-45)
Rules for handling
The poles shall not be removed from the Ark.
The poles shall be carried on the shoulder.
Whoever touches the Ark itself shall die.
Whoever carries the Ark must be a consecrated Levite.
Keep these things in mind; for they affect the course of events.
Aaron loses two sons - Leviticus 10
After being initiated into the priesthood, the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu made the mistake of making an offering for an un-ceremonial purpose. (Censers are used to burn incense) A fire came out of the Ark and devoured them to death.
12 (Lev. 10:1-2)
It was a lesson learned the hard way. Afterward, Yahweh told Moses to tell Aaron not to go behind the curtain where the Ark and the mercy seat are until he sees a cloud on the mercy seat, lest he shall die.
1"Tell Aaron your brother not to come at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is upon the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.(Lev. 16:1-2)2
Joshua crosses the Jordan - Joshua 3-5
It was the time of the year when the Jordan overflowed it banks. When the people were ready to cross to invade Jericho, the priests carrying the Ark went into the Jordan first. When the waters stopped flowing, the priests stood in the middle of the river so the 40,000 armed men could cross over.
1314 15 16 17 (Josh. 3:14-17)
When the priests carrying the Ark crossed the Jordan, the waters resumed their flow.
Once they crossed, God told Joshua to circumcise the people of Israel again. Explaining that the people born in the wilderness were not circumcised.
25 7 (Josh. 5:2, 5, 7)
Now if Joshua could circumcise a man in 15 minutes, it would take 10,000 hours to circumcise 40,000. That would be 833 days if he worked twelve hours a day, not to mention the pain involved and an occasional slip of the knife. In biblical days it was part of the process for the operator to clean the wound by taking the penis into his mouth. That's a lot of bloody cock sucking.
Fall of Jericho - Joshua 6
Joshua told his priests to take up the Ark of the Covenant and let seven priests with trumpets march before the Ark around the city.
67 (Josh. 6:6-7)
The people marched around the city for six days with trumpets constantly blaring. On the seventh day, as the trumpets were blaring, the people began shouting. The wall fell down flat and the Israelites utterly destroyed the city with the edge of the sword.
2021 (Josh. 6:20-21)
The Israelites have an internecine war - Judges 19-21
This is the story about a Levite whose concubine was raped and murdered. Her death started an internecine war between the Israelites and the tribe of Benjamin, and ended in a day of maiden stealing. This is one of the most bizarre stories in the Bible.
The Ark is mentioned to be at Bethel where it was taken care of by Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron. The Ark played a part in the Israelites' victory over the Benjamites.
27 28 (Judges 20:26-28)
While traveling from her father's house, they stopped to spend the night as a guest in the Benjamite town of Gibeah. That evening the men of the city surrounded the house and pounded on the door; they wanted "sex" with the Levite. The host offered his virgin daughter and the concubine, but they refused. So the Levite pushed his concubine outside where she was "raped and abused throughout the night." The next morning when he found her dead, he took her home and cut her "limb by limb into twelve pieces." He sent one piece to each of the tribal chieftains, calling for a meeting to decide on a course of action.
At the council meeting, the group demanded the Benjamites to identify the scoundrels. Instead they mustered 26,000 to defend the people of Gibeah. The other Israelites mustered 400,000 men to take the city. On the first two days the Benjamites killed 40,000 Israelites. On the third day the Israelites killed 25,100 Benjamites before they "put the whole city to the sword" (includes women and children) and set it on fire. Only 600 Benjamite men survived.
Now the eleven tribes had a new problem; there were no surviving Benjamite women and no more Benjamite towns. They couldn't let the Benjamites go extinct and the law forbade intermarrying between tribes. The best place to find to find virgins, they decided, was Jabesh-Gilead because no one there participated in the war. So they sent 12,000 soldiers to kill everyone who was not a female virgin. They found 400 but it wasn't enough. When they heard about a festival at Shiloh, the Benjamite men went there to hide in the vineyards. When a young woman came close to them, they abducted her and made her a wife.
Eli and Samuel - 1 Samuel 1-4
When Samuel was about a year old, his mother Hannah put him in the care of Eli the priest at Shiloh. This was to keep a promise she made to God to raise him as a Nazarite and a Judge (Nazarite law is defined in Numbers 6.). Eli had two sons who had a sacrilegious habit of violating the laws of sacrifice and having sex with women in the tabernacle. A man of God came to Eli and prophesied that God will kill his family and deny him ancestry; his two sons will die the same day and a faithful priest will take his place. Years later Samuel received a similar vision that the death of his sons was imminent.
10"Behold, I am about to do a
thing in Israel, at which the two ears of every one that hears it will
12On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.
13And I tell him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.
14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever." (2 Sam. 3:10-14)
As we have seen before, the purpose of the Ark was to assure military victory. But, because of the curse God put on Eli, this was not to be. Not long after Samuel's vision, when the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines without the Ark, they lost 4,000 men. In a second battle, they took the Ark with them. This time they lost 30,000 men, Eli's sons were killed and the Ark was captured. When Eli heard the news, he fell off his chair, broke his neck and died. His daughter-in-law died in childbirth, but the child survived. We might wonder why God killed 30,000 men because two transgressed.
The Curse of the Ark - 1 Samuel 5-7:2
The Philistines captured the Ark and brought it to one of their temples in the city of Ashdod where an idol of the god Dagon stood. The next day, the Philistines found their idol lying face down on the ground, so they restored its original position. The second day, the idol fell face down on the ground again; only this time its head and hands broke off. Shortly afterward, the people of Ashdod fell sick with hemorrhoids. When they sent the Ark to the city of Gath, hemorrhoids broke out again. (Newer Bibles substitute "tumors" for "emerods." The Hebrew word is ophel, meaning "emerods" or "hemorrhoids.")
12(1 Sam. 5:12 KJV)
When the people of Ashdod sent the Ark to Ekron, the curse got worse; people were either dying or getting hemorrhoids. After seven months in Philistine territory, the Philistines decided to send the Ark back to Israel with a guilt offering. The offering was to be five gold hemorrhoids and five gold mice, according to the number Philistine rulers.
4(1 Sam. 6:4 KJV)
The Philistines put the Ark and their offerings on an ox cart. They went straight to the Israelite town of Beth Shemesh; they did not turn right and they did not turn left. The people of Beth Shemesh were happy to get their Ark back until seventy of them got killed for opening the top and looking into it.
19(1 Sam. 6:19)
The people of Kiriath Jearim accepted the Ark and brought it safely to the house of Abinadab. His son Eleazar was consecrated to guard the Ark where it remained for twenty years without incident.
David brings the Ark back to Jerusalem - 2 Samuel 6
At David's request, Abinadab's sons, Eleazar and Uzzah, transported the Ark by an ox cart. As they were traveling the oxen stumbled and Abinadab's son Uzzah put his hand on the Ark to keep it from falling. God got angry and killed him on the spot.
6 7 (2 Sam. 6:2-7)
David was afraid to bring the Ark into Jerusalem; so he left it with Obed-edom the Gittite. After three months without mishap, David felt comfortable enough to bring the Ark into Jerusalem. It was a time of rejoicing and David danced with all his might, girded in a linen ephod.
14(2 Sam. 6:14)
We don't know how scanty his linen ephod was, but it was enough for his wife Michal to scold him for uncovering himself in front of his servants. David got indignant. "I will make myself yet more contemptible." He kept her childless for the rest of her life.
2021 22 23 (2 Sam. 6:20
The Temple Period
When King Solomon completed the temple in 992 BCE, the Ark found a permanent home.
56 7 8 9 (1 Kings 8:5-9)
The temple measured 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high. It took 70,000 laborers, 80,000 stonecutters, 30,000 slaves and 3,000 supervisors to build it in seven years. After the temple was completed, Solomon had a palace built for himself, two and a half times bigger than the temple. It was 150 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high, and took thirteen years to build.
Solomon and many others after him broke covenant law. Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Israel was later captured by the Assyrians. The people of Judah continued to honor pagan gods.
The Ark was forgotten about until King Josiah's temple priests found some lost scrolls that Moses placed by the side of the Ark. It was a ruse, but Josiah used the discovery as an excuse to centralize his power under Yahweh. It didn't matter much. After Josiah was killed, things went back to the way they were before.
In 586 BCE the temple was burned to the ground and the Ark was destroyed with it.
89 10 (2 Kings 25:8-10)
The Ark is last mentioned when Jeremiah said it is to be forgotten and not missed.
The reason it happened, says Jeremiah, is because the people of Israel and Judah broke the covenant.
910 11 (Jer. 11:9-10)
Let them cry to their other gods; it will do no good.
1213 (Jer. 11:12-13)
In his infinite wisdom, God punished his own people and rewarded his enemies.