Ark of the Covenant, Ark of the Testimony

See also Ark of the Covenant

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