ARK OF THE COVENANT, ARK OF THE TESTIMONY (Heb. ‘ărôn ha-berîth, chest of the covenant). The word used for ark is the same as that used of the coffin (mummy case) of Joseph (Gen.50.26); elsewhere of the chest containing the tables of the law, resting in the tabernacle or in the temple. God directed Moses (Exod.25.10-Exod.25.22; Deut.10.2-Deut.10.5) to make the ark of acacia (shittim) wood, of precise dimensions, and to overlay it with pure gold within and without, with a crown of gold about it. Rings of gold at the corners and staves covered with gold to put through the rings were made to carry the ark. Moses placed inside the ark the stone tablets on which the commandments were written. An atonement cover of gold, with two winged cherubim of gold, covered the top of the ark. There God promised to meet and talk with Moses. Moses made the ark after the golden calf was destroyed (Deut.10.1, “at that time”) and set it up in the tabernacle (Exod.40.20).
David brought the ark to Jerusalem, after some misadventures (2Sam.6.1-2Sam.6.23; 1Chr.13.1-1Chr.13.14 and 1Chr.15.1-1Chr.15.29). When Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents” (2Sam.11.11), he may have meant that the ark had been taken by the army into the field or merely that the ark was in a tent (the tabernacle) just as the armies of Israel and Judah were in tents. At the time of Absalom’s rebellion, Zadok and the Levites carried the ark out of Jerusalem, but David had them take it back (2Sam.15.24-2Sam.15.29). The priests brought the ark into Solomon’s temple (1Kgs.8.3-1Kgs.8.9). There was nothing in it at this time “except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb” (1Kgs.8.9).
Before the ark was made, Moses directed that a pot of manna be kept before the Lord (Exod.16.32-Exod.16.34) and Heb.9.4 says that the “ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant,” though it need not be understood to imply that these were the contents of the ark throughout its history. Jeremiah, writing after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, prophesied that in time to come the ark would no longer be of significance for worship (Jer.3.16). Ps.132.8 speaks of the ark poetically as representing the strength of the Lord. Heb.9.1-Heb.9.28 uses the tabernacle and all its furnishings, including the ark, in explaining by analogy salvation by the high priesthood of Christ. After the destruction of the first temple, there is no evidence as to what happened to the ark, but only highly speculative tradition and conjecture. Synagogues, from our earliest knowledge of them to the present, have had arks in the side wall toward Jerusalem; the scrolls of the Law are stored in them behind a curtain.
The ark was set in the very heart of the tabernacle, the Most Holy Place (Exod.26.34), symbolizing its central significance in Israel. When the high priest, once each year (Lev.16.15; Heb.9.7), penetrated to the innermost shrine, he came into the very presence of the God of Israel (Exod.30.6; Lev.16.1-Lev.16.2). But that presence was not visibly expressed in any image form (Deut.4.12), but by the presence of the Law of the Lord (the stone tablets) and the atonement cover that was over the Law. In other words, the ark by its contents declared the divine holiness by which all stand condemned and by its form (specifically the atonement cover) declared the divine redeeming mercy through the shed blood. See also Atonement.——ER
ARK OF THE COVENANT (אֲרֹ֣ון הַבְּרִ֔ית, ἡ κιβωτὸς τη̂ς διαθήκης; the chest of the testament). A wooden container, the central object in Israel’s preexilic sanctuary.
The Heb. noun אֲרוֹן, H778, is used 195 times in the OT for the Ark of the covenant.
In itself, אֲרוֹן, H778, means box or chest; e.g., a money chest (2 Kings 12:9, 10; 2 Chron 24:8-11) or even a coffin (Gen 50:26), suggesting from the outset the Ark’s primary function as a container (see below, III-A).
The OT further identifies the Ark under two significant types of attributive phrases:
Ancient analogies to the Ark have been sought in tent-shrines (Morgenstern), model temples (May), chariots for deities (Torczyner), squared thrones (Kristensen), or even conffins for the gods (Hartmann); but Scripture describes the ’ārōn (Exod 25:10-16; Deut 10:1, 2) as a vessel “unique in the ancient Near East...the repository of the covenant-tables” (K. A. Kitchen, NBD, p. 82).
The Ark’s pattern, as revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai, appears in Exodus 25:10-22.
Made of acacia (Heb. שִׁטִּֽים) wood, the Ark was rectangular, two and one-half cubits long (3 3/4 ft.) and one and one-half cubits (2 1/4 ft.) wide and high (v. 10). Gold plated inside and out, with a gold molding (KJV crown; Heb. זֵר, H2425, “border,” v. 11), it was supported by four ft., each with a golden ring (v. 12), into which carrying poles of gold plated acacia wood were permanently inserted (vv. 13-15).
Like the Tabernacle of which it was a part, the Ark’s form was derived from that meaningful pattern which was revealed to Moses upon the Mount (Exod 25:9, 40); it was an embodiment of covenantal redemption ordained in heaven (Heb 8:5). Furthermore, while its dependence upon the concept of the covenant insured unity for the intended functions of the Ark, salvation’s richness belies Von Rad’s insistence that it is “inconceivable that the throne should also have at the same time served as a container” (ibid., I, 238). Like sacraments today, it could both contain memorials to past redemption and also mediate God’s grace to the present.
The initially declared purpose of the עֵדוּת, H6343, chest, was to hold the “testimony” to God’s salvation (Exod 25:16). Specifically, this meant (Deut 10:5):
The stone tables of “the covenant of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:21) continued to stay in the Ark. Later Moses’ full “book of the law” was placed “by the side of the ark of the covenant” (Deut 31:26); hence there is a possible connection between the recovery of the lost law book in the days of Josiah and the restoration at that time of the Ark to its proper place in the Temple (2 Chron 34:14; 35:3).
Manna and rod.
Upon Moses’ orders, Aaron put an omer (c. two quarts) of manna in a jar and placed it “before the Lord...before the testimony” (Exod 16:33, 34), though actually done later (KD, Pentateuch, II, 74), as a memorial to God’s provision. Hebrews 9:4 adds that, with the passage of time, the golden jar came to rest inside the Ark. After the revolts of Korah and his associates, when God vindicated the authority of Moses and Aaron by causing the latter’s rod to bud forth buds and almonds, God told Moses also to put this rod “before the testimony, to be kept as a sign...[against] murmurings” (Num 17:10). Although it came to reside within the Ark (Heb 9:4), only the two tables were to be found there by the time of Solomon (1 Kings 8:9).
Beyond containing memorials to what God had already done, the Ark served as well as a sacramental sign of His continuing covenantal activity.
The God who is present is also the God who speaks and acts. He had from the outset promised to communicate His specific laws to Moses “from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark” (Exod 25:22). The first such revelation proved to be the Book of Leviticus (1:1), and God continued to address Moses in an audible voice from above the mercy seat (Num 7:89). Answers to inquiries were granted to Aaron, as the one who wore the Urim and Thummim, q.v., the “lights and perfections” (Num 27:21), presumably the high-priestly breastplate with its stones that sparkled in the presence of the Ark’s glory cloud (Lev 16:2).
Even without such inquiry, however, God acted through the Ark, for the guidance and the protection of His people. His lifting up of the cloud became the signal for Israel’s wilderness advance (Num 10:11; see below, IV-A), and it was the Ark that went before the tribes “to seek out a resting place for them” (v. 33). God’s presence became also a means for scattering the nation’s enemies (v. 35); cf. the Ark’s functioning as a palladium at Jericho (see below, IV-B) and being designated by the name of Yahweh of Hosts, q.v. (or armies, 2 Sam 6:2, of Israel, 1 Sam 17:45). Yet Morgenstern’s attempt to identify the Ark with Arab tent-shrines (see below, Bibliography), regularly carried into battle and assigned certain oracular functions, appears ill-advised, for the Ark’s use in battle seems to have been exceptional.
Once every year, however, the Ark achieved its ultimate sacramental significance in the Day of Atonement service, q.v. (Lev 16:2). After insuring his personal safety through a protecting cloud of incense before it (v. 13), Aaron would sprinkle the Ark’s cover, or mercy seat, seven times: first with the blood of a bull, slain as a sin offering for himself, and then with that of a goat for the people (vv. 14, 15), so as to cleanse Israel “from all [its] sins...before the Lord” (v. 30). In pictorial fashion, grace (the blood of the testament) thus became an intervening cover between the holiness of God (the glory cloud) and the verdict of divine justice upon the conduct of man (the Decalogue underneath); see Atonement.
The components of the Ark were brought to Moses at Mt. Sinai at the beginning of the second year of the Exodus (Exod 39:35; 40:17).
Finally, after a seven months’ captivity in Ashdod and Ekron (6:1), the Ark was returned to Israel, accompanied by symbolic guilt offerings of gold (v. 11). God’s effective presence was twice more demonstrated, first as He compelled the cows that were hitched to its new wagon to abandon their own calves in order to drag it to Beth-shemesh on the NW border of Judah (v. 12), and then as He struck down seventy of the Beth-shemeshites for irreverently looking inside it (v. 19 RSV). The Ark was thereafter moved ten m. farther inland, to Kiriath-jearim, where a certain Abinadab consecrated his son Eleazar to care for it (7:1). No attempt was made to restore it to the Tabernacle; during the twenty years of his judgeship (v. 2, HDB, I, 399), 1063-1043 b.c., Samuel stressed direct repentance toward God rather than the sacramental Ark, whose presence Israel had abused.
Saul generally neglected the Ark (1 Chron 13:3), though he did have it with him and called for it just prior to the battle of Michmash, 1041 b.c. (1 Sam 14:18; “ephod,” LXX).
Subsequently, during Absalom’s revolt, Zadok and Abiathar sought to bring the Ark to David in his flight from Jerusalem (2 Sam 15:24); but the king refused to treat it as a talisman or palladium, placing instead his trust directly in God (v. 25).
The postexilic second Temple had no Ark (Jos. War. V. 5), though today’s Jewish synagogues are equipped with “arks,” located on the side toward Jerusalem and designed to hold the Torah. Even before the fall in 586 b.c., Jeremiah had predicted that in days to come the Ark would no longer be sought (Jer 3:16), because all Jerusalem would eventually become the throne of Yahweh (v. 17), the symbolism of the Ark being replaced by direct faith in God under the new covenant (31:31-34). As the climax to Biblical history, in a vision of the new heavens after God’s final judgment (Rev 11:18), John saw “the ark of his covenant” (v. 19), indicative of the ultimate accomplishment of that testamentary redemption for which it had consistently stood.
W. R. Arnold, Ephod and Ark (1917); H. G. May, “The Ark—a Miniature Temple,” AJSL, LII (1936), 215-234; J. Morgenstern, The Ark, the Ephod, and the “Tent of Meeting” (1945); F. M. Cross, “The Tabernacle,” BA, X (1947), 45-68; A. Bentzen, “The Cultic Use of the Story of the Ark in Samuel,” JBL, LXVII (1948), 37-53; N. H. Tur Sinai, “The Ark of God at Beit Shemesh (I Sam. vi) and Perez ’Uzza (II Sam. vi, I Chron. xiii),” VT, I (1951), 275-286; T. Worden, “The Ark of the Covenant,” Scripture, V (1952), 82-90; J. R. Porter, “The Interpretation of 2 Samuel VI and Psalm CXXXII,” JTS, NS, V (1954), 161-173; R. E. Hough, The Ministry of the Glory Cloud (1955); W. Eichrodt, Theology of the OT (1961), I, 102-112; G. Von Rad, OT Theology (1962), I, 234-241; J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (1962), 363-369; M. H. Woudstra, The Ark of the Covenant from Conquest to Kingship (1965).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. The Statements of the Old Testament Concerning the Ark of the Covenant.
In Ex 25:10 ff, Moses receives the command to build an ark of acacia wood. Within this ark were to be placed the tables of the law which God was about to give to Moses. Upon the top of the ark, probably not as a lid but above the lid, the kapporeth, in the New Testament to hilasterion (Heb 9:5), is to be placed, which was a golden plate upon which two cherubim, with raised wings and facing each other, covered the ark. From the place between the two cherubim God promises to speak to Moses, as often as He shall give him commands in reference to the Israelites.
The portion of the Pentateuch in which this is recorded is taken from the so-called Priest Codex (P). The reports of the Elohist (E) and the Jahwist (Jahwist) on this subject are wanting; but both of these sources report concerning the important role which the ark played in the entrance of Israel into Canaan, and these documents too must have contained the information that the people had received this ark. It can further with certainty be stated concerning the Elohist, and with some probability concerning the Jahwist, in what part of these documents these accounts were to be found. For Elohist reports in Ex 33:6 that the Israelites, in order to demonstrate their repentance on account of the golden calf, had at God’s command laid aside their ornaments. In 33:7-10 there follows a statement concerning the erection of the sacred tent; but this is explained only by the fact that between 33:6 and 7 a report concerning the erection of the ark of the covenant must have been found, which the R of the Pentateuch (since before this he had already made use of the much more exhaustive account of the Priest Codex) was compelled to omit.
But that at this place the Elohist must have reported not only concerning the erection of the sacred tent but also of the construction of the ark of the covenant, is in itself probable, and can too be concluded from this, that according to the Deuteronomist, the composition of which is also conditioned upon that of the Elohist and the Jahwist, the ark was built on this occasion. We further conclude that it was not so much the tabernacle which could serve as a consolation to the people, something that at that time they needed, but rather the ark, which was to symbolize to them that God was on the march with them. In the Jahwist we do not indeed find at this place any statement concerning this sacred structure, but we do find the statement that the Israelites, out of sorrow because of the bad news brought by Moses, discarded their ornaments.
For Ex 33:4 is taken from the Jahwist, since the Elohist contains the command to discard the ornaments later on, and hence could not have written 33:4. Now it is a justifiable surmise that the Jahwist has also reported what use was made of the ornaments that had been discarded; and as this author, just as is the case with the Elohist, must have at some place contained a report concerning the construction of the ark, he certainly must have given this just at this place. The corresponding account in the Deuteronomist is found in De 10:1-5. Accordingly, then, all the four Pentateuch documents reported that Moses had built the ark at Sinai. The Deuteronomist, like the Priestly Code (P), says, that it was built of acacia wood. In the Elohistic narrative the subject is mentioned again in Nu 10:33 ff, where we read that the ark had preceded the people as they broke camp and marched from Sinai. At this place too the words are found which Moses was accustomed to speak when the ark began to move out and when it arrived at a halting-place.
According to the narrative in Jos 3 the ark cooperated at the crossing of the Jordan in such a way that the waters of the river ceased to continue flowing as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the ark entered the water, and that it stood still above until these priests, after the people had crossed over, again left the bed of the river with the ark. In the account of the solemn march around Jericho, which according to Jos 6 caused the walls of the city to fall, the carrying of the ark around the city is regarded as an essential feature in 6:4,7,11. In chapter 7 it is narrated that Joshua, after the defeat of the army before Ai, lamented and prayed before the ark. In chapter 8 this is mentioned in connection with Mount Ebal.
3. Other Historical Books:
4. Prophetical and Poetical Books:
Jeremiah in the passage 3:16, which certainly was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, states that in the future new Jerusalem nobody will any more concern himself about the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, and no one will again build such a one. In the post-exilic Ps 132 (verse 8), Yahweh is petitioned to occupy together with the ark, the symbol of His omnipotent presence, also the sanctuary that has been erected for Him, the poet describing himself and those who sing this psalm as participants in the home-bringing of the ark by David. No further mention is made of the ark of the covenant in the Psalter or the prophetical books.
5. The New Testament:
In the New Testament the ark of the covenant is mentioned only in Heb 9:4 in the description of the Solomonic temple.
II. The Form of the Ark of the Covenant.
According to the statements in the Priestly Code (P), the ark of the covenant was a chest made out of acacia wood, 2 1/2 cubits (about equal to 4 ft.) long, 1 1/2 cubits wide and 1 1/2 high. That it was made out of acacia wood is also stated by the Deuteronomist in De 10:3. According to P it was covered with gold within and without, and was ornamented with a moulding of gold running all around it. At its four feet rings were added, through which the gold- covere d carrying-staves were put. These staves are also mentioned in 1Ki 8:7,8; 2Ch 5:8,9, and mention is often made of those who carried the ark (2Sa 6:13; 15:24). The correctness of these statements cannot be proved, but yet there is no reason to doubt them. Rather we might have reason to hesitate in clinging to the view that on the old ark there was really a golden kapporeth, but only because in olden times the possession of such valuables and their use for such a purpose would be doubtful. But on the basis of such reasons we could at most doubt whether the lid with its cherubim consisted of solid gold. That the cherubim were attached to or above the ark is not at all improbable.
That Solomon placed the ark in the Holy of Holies between two massive cherubim figures (1Ki 6:19,23 ff; 8:6) does not prove that there were no cherubim figures on the ark itself, or even that those cherubim figures, which according to Ex 25:19 were found on the ark, were nothing else than those of Solomon’s days in imagination transferred back to an earlier period (Vatke, Biblische Theologie, 1835, 333; Popper, Der biblische Bericht uber die Stiftshutte, 1862). In recent times the view has been maintained that the ark in reality was no ark at all but an empty throne. It was Reichel, in his work Vorhellenische Gotterkulte, who first expressed this view, and then Meinhold, Die Lade Jahwes, Tubingen, 1910, and Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 1901, 593-617, who developed this view in the following manner. It is claimed that in the days of Moses a throne-like rock at Mount Sinai was regarded as the seat of Yahweh, and when the Israelites departed from Sinai they made for themselves a portable throne, and Yahweh was regarded as sitting visibly enthroned upon this and accompanying His people. In the main the same view was maintained by Martin Dibellius (Die Lade Jahwes, Gottingen, 1906; Hermann Gunkel, Die Lade Jahwes ein Thronsitz, reprinted from the Zeitschrift fur Missionskunde und Religionswissenschaft, Heidelberg, 1906).
The occasion for this view was given by the fact that among the Persians and other people there were empty thrones of the gods, which were carried or hauled around in processions. The reasons for finding in the ark of the covenant such an empty throne are found chiefly in this, that the passages in the Old Testament, in which it seems that the presence of God is made conditional on the presence of the ark (compare Nu 14:42-44), can be explained if the ark is regarded as a throne of Yahweh. However, empty thrones of the gods are found only among the Aryan people, and all of the passages of the Old Testament which refer to the ark can be easily explained without such a supposition. This view is to be rejected particularly for this reason, that in the Old Testament the ark is always described as an ark, and never as a throne or a seat; and because it is absolutely impossible to see what reason would have existed at a later period to state that it was an ark if it had originally been a throne. Dibelius and Gunkel appeal also particularly to this, that in several passages, of which 1Sa 4:4; 2Sa 6:2 are the oldest, Yahweh is declared to be enthroned on the cherubim. But this proves nothing, because He is not called "He who is enthroned on the ark," and the cherubim and the ark are two different things, even if there were cherubim on the lid of the ark. Compare the refutation of Meinhold and Dibelius by Budde (ZATW, 1901, 193-200, and Theol. Studien und Kritiken, 1906, 489-507).
III. The Contents of the Ark of the Covenant.
According to the Priestly Code the two tables of the law constituted the contents of the ark. In Ex 25:16; 40:20, as also De 10:5, and, too, in 1Ki 8:9, we have the same testimony. The majority of the modern critics regard this as an unhistorical statement first concocted by.the so-called "Deuteronomistic school." Their reasons for this are the following:
(1) The critics deny that the existence of the Mosaic tables of the law is a historical fact;
(2) The critics declare that if these tables had really been in possession of the Israelites, they would not have been so foolish as to put them into a box which it was forbidden to open;
(3) The critics declare that the views entertained in olden times on the importance of the ark cannot be reconciled with the presence of the tables in the ark.
But we reply: (1) that the actual existence of the two tables of the law is denied without sufficient reasons; that the ten principal formulas of the Decalogue, as these are given in Ex 20 and De 5, come from Moses, must be insisted upon, and that according to Ex 34 other ten commandments had been written on these tables is incorrect. The laws in Ex 34:17-26 are not at all declared there to be the ten words which God intended to write upon the tables. But if Moses had prepared the tables for the commandments, then it is
(2) only probable that he caused to be made a suitable chest for their preservation and their transportation through the desert. Now it might be thought that the view that the ark was so holy that it dared not be opened had originated only after the time of Moses. However, it is just as easily possible, that that importance had already been assigned by Moses to the tables in the ark which the sealed and carefully preserved copy of a business agreement would have and which is to be opened only in case of necessity (Jer 32:11-14). Such a case of necessity never afterward materialized, because the Israelites were never in doubt as to what was written on these tables. On a verbatim reading no stress was laid in olden times.
(3) With regard to the importance of the ark according to the estimate placed upon it in the earlier period of Israel, we shall see later that the traditions in reference to the tables harmonize fully with this importance.
Of the modern critics who have rejected this tradition, some have thought that the ark was empty, and that the Israelites thought that Yahweh dwelt in it (Guthe, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 39), or that the empty chest was a kind of fetish (Schwally, Semitische Kriegsaltertumer, 1901, I, 10). As a rule they believe that a stone image of Yahweh or two stones had been placed in the ark, these being possibly meteor stones, in which it was thought that some divine power was dwelling (Stade, Geschichte Israels, I, 458); or possibly stones that in some battle or other had been hurled and through which a victory had been won (Couard, ZATW, XII, 76); or possibly they were the stones which at the alliance of the tribes that dwelt about Mount Sinai were first set up as testimonials of this covenant (Kraetzschmar, Die Bundesvorstellung im Alten Testament, 216). Of these views only the one which declares that the ark contained meteor stones deserves any notice, because it could indeed be thought possible that Israel would have taken with them on their journey through the desert such stones which they could have regarded as pledges of the Divine Presence fallen from heaven and could have preserved these in a sacred ark. But it is impossible to show that this view is probable, not to speak of proving it to be correct. The only extant tradition says that the ark contained the tables of the law, and this is the only view that is in harmony with what we must think of the whole work of Moses. Finally we must again remember that it is probable that Elohist and Jahwist, who speak both of the ark and also of the tables of the law, in the portions of these documents which have not been preserved, reported also that the tables were placed in the ark.
IV. The Names of the Ark of the Covenant.
From this we must conclude that the appellation "ark of the covenant of Yahweh" must go back to very ancient times, and we must reject the view that this term took the place of the term "ark of Yahweh" in consequence of a change of views with reference to the ark, brought about through Deuteronomy. Indeed, since the name "ark of the covenant," as is proved by the Elohist, was nowhere mor e in use than in Ephraim, where they did not possess the ark and accordingly would have had the least occasion to introduce a new name for it, it can be accepted that the name originated in the oldest times, namely those of Moses. The other expression "ark of Yahweh" may be just as old and need not be an abbreviation of the other. It was possible to designate the ark as "ark of Yahweh" because it was a sanctuary belonging to Yahweh; and it was possible to call it also "the ark of the covenant of Yahweh," because it was a monument and evidence of the covenant which Yahweh had made with Israel. It is for this reason not correct to translate the expression ’aron berith Yahweh by "the ark of the law of Yahweh," as equivalent to "the ark which served as a place for preserving the law of the covenant." For berith does not signify "law," even if it was possible under certain circumstances to call a covenant "law" figuratively and synecdochically the "covenant"; and when 1Ki 8:21 speaks of "the ark wherein is the covenant of Yahweh," the next words, "which he made with our fathers," show that covenant does not here mean "law," but rather the covenant relationship which in a certain sense is embodied in the tables.
In P the ark is also called "the ark of the testimony," and this too does not signify "ark of the law." For not already in P but only in later documents did the word `edhuth receive the meaning of "law" (Lotz, Die Bundeslade, 40). P means by "testimony" the Ten Words, through the proclamation of which the true God has given evidence of His real essence. But where this testimony is found engraved in the handwriting of God on the tables of stone, just there also is the place where He too is to be regarded as locally present.
V. The History of the Ark of the Covenant.
According to the tradition contained in the Pentateuch the sacred ark was built at Mount Sinai and was taken by the Israelites along with them to Canaan. This must be accepted as absolutely correct. The supposition is groundless, that it was a shrine that the Israelites had taken over from the Canaanites. This view is refuted by the high estimate in which in Eli’s time the ark was held by all Israel (1Sa 1 ff; 2:22); and especially by the fact that the ark was at that time regarded as the property of that God who had brought Israel out of Egypt, and accordingly had through this ark caused the Canaanites to be conquered (1Sa 4:8; 6:6; 2Sa 7:6; 1Ki 12:28). The opinion also that the ark was an ancient palladium of the tribe of Ephraim or of the descendants of Joseph and was only at a later period recognized by all Israel (Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, I, 458) is not tenable, for we hear nothing to the effect that the descendants of Joseph concerned themselves more for the ark than the other tribes did. In the time of Eli the ark stood in the sanctuary at Shiloh.
When Israel had been conquered by the Philistines, the ark was taken from Shiloh in order that Yahweh should aid His people. But notwithstanding this the Philistines yet conquered and captured the ark (1Sa 5). But the many misfortunes that overtook them made them think that the possession of the ark was destructive to them and they sent it back (1Sa 6). The ark first came to Bethshemesh, in the tribe of Judah, and then to Kiriath-jearim (or Baale-judah, 2Sa 6:2), about 7.5 miles Northwest of Jerusalem. There the ark remained for many years until David, after he had taken possession of Mount Zion, took it there (2Sa 6) and deposited it in a tent. Solomon brought it into the Holy of Holies in the temple (1Ki 8:3-8), where in all probability it remained until the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar; for Jer 3:16 proves that the Israelites felt that they were in possession of the ark up to this time.
VI. The Significance of the Ark.
According to many investigators the ark was originally a war sanctuary. In favor of this it can be urged that Israel took it into their camp, in order that they might receive the help of Yahweh in the battle with the Philistines (1Sa 4); and further that also in the time of David the ark was again taken along into battle (2Sa 11:11; compare Ps 24); note also the word of Moses, which he spoke when the ark was taken up to be carried: "Rise up, O Yahweh, and let thine enemies be scattered" (Nu 10:35). However, nothing of what we know or presuppose concerning the form and the contents of the ark points to an original military purpose of the same; and in the other statements that are found elsewhere concerning the ark, a much more general significance is assigned to it. The significance which the ark had for the Israelites in connection with their wars is only the outcome of its signification as the symbol of the presence of Yahweh, who was not at all a God of war, but when His people were compelled to fight was their helper in the struggle.
A Symbol of the Divine Presence:
That the ark was designed to be a symbol of the presence of God in the midst of His people is the common teaching of the Old Testament. According to the Elohist the ark was made to serve as a comfort to the people for this, that they were to leave the mountain where God had caused them to realize His presence (Ex 30:6). According to the Priestly Code (P), God purposed to speak with Moses from the place between the cherubim upon the ark. According to Jud 2:1 ff, the angel of Yahweh spoke in Bethel (Bochim) in reproof and exhortation to the people, after the ark of the covenant had been brought to that place; for the comparison of Nu 10:33 ff and Ex 23:20 ff shows that Jud 2:1 is to be understood as speaking of the transfer of the ark to Bethel. When Israel in the time of Eli was overpowered by the Philistines, the Israelites sent for the ark, in order that Yahweh should come into the camp of Israel, and this was also believed to be the case by the Philistines (1Sa 4:3 ff). After the ark had come to Bethshemesh and a pestilence had broken out there, the people did not want to keep the ark, because no one could live in the presence of Yahweh, this holy God (1Sa 6:20); and Jeremiah says (3:16,17) that an ark of the covenant would not be again made after the restoration of Israel, but then Jerusalem would be called the "throne of Yahweh," i.e. it would so manifestly be the city of God that it would guarantee the presence of God at least just as much as the ark formerly did.
In olden times these things appeared more realistic to the people than they do to us; and when the ark was considered the visible representation of the presence of Yahweh, and as guaranteeing His presence, a close material connection was thought to exist between the ark and Yahweh, by virtue of which Divine powers were also thought to be present in the ark. The people at Bethshemesh were not willing to keep the ark any longer in their midst, because they could not live in its near presence. David’s dancing before the ark is regarded by him and by the narrator of the event as a dancing before the Lord (2Sa 6:5,14,21), and in 2Sa 7:5 ff God says, through Nathan, that He had wandered around in a tent since He had led the Israelites out of Egypt. But the view advocated by some of the modern critics, that the Israelites had thought that the ark was the dwelling- place or the throne-seat of Yahweh, is nevertheless not correct. This opinion cannot be harmonized with this fact, that in the sources, dating from the same olden times, mention is made of His dwelling in many places in Canaan and outside of Canaan, so that the idea that His presence or even He Himself is confined to the ark is impossible.
The statement of Moses, "Rise up, O Yahweh, and let thine enemies be scattered" (Nu 10:35), is not the command addressed to those who carry the ark to lift it up and thereby to lift Yahweh up for the journey, but is a demand made upon Yahweh, in accordance with His promise, to go ahead of Israel as the ark does. According to 1Sa 4:3 the Israelites did not say "We want to go and get Yahweh," but "We want to go and get the ark of Yahweh, so that He may come into our midst." They accordingly only wanted to induce Him to come by getting the ark. This, too, the priests and the soothsayers of the Philistines say: "Do not permit the ark of the God of the Israelites to depart without sending a gift along," but they do not speak thus of Yahweh. That Samuel, who slept near the ark, when he was addressed by Yahweh, did not at all at first think that Yahweh was addressing him, proves that at that time the view did not prevail that He was in the ark or had His seat upon it. Ancient Israel was accordingly evidently of the conviction that the ark was closely connected with Yahweh, that something of His power was inherent in the ark; consequently the feeling prevailed that when near the ark they were in a special way in the presence of and near to the Lord.
But this is something altogether different from the opinion that the ark was the seat or the dwelling-place of Yahweh. Even if the old Israelites, on account of the crudeness of antique methods of thought, were not conscious of the greatness of this difference, the fact that this difference was felt is not a matter of doubt. That the ark was built to embody the presence of God among His people is just as clear from the statements of the Elohist, and probably also of the Jahwist, as it is from those of the Priestly Code (P); and if these have accordingly regarded the tables of the law as constituting the contents of the ark, then this is in perfect harmony with their views of this purpose, and we too must cling to these same views. For what would have been better adapted to make the instrument which represents the presence of God more suitable for this than the stone tables with the Ten Words, through which Yahweh had made known to His people His ethical character? For this very purpose it had to be an ark. The words on these tables were a kind of a spiritual portrait of the God of Israel, who could not be pictured in a bodily form. In this shape nobody in ancient Israel has formulated this thought, but that this thought was present is certain.