by J. Alan Davidson, N. Ireland
“When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it” Josh.3.3. The ark, in the Tabernacle and during its movements, is the vessel that most clearly manifests the presence of God and is a beautiful type of the Lord Jesus Christ. This will be seen as we consider:
- The Pre-eminence in the Camp
- The Path in the Wilderness
- The Possession of the Land
- The Power over the Philistines
- The Patterns of Things in the Heavens
The ark was central in the camp and on the march. “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony” Ex.25.22. In the past, God desired to commune with His creature in the garden in the cool of the day, Gen.3.8. In the future, “the tabernacle of God” will be “with men, and He will dwell with them” Rev.21.3. In the present day of God’s grace, God is pleased to reveal Himself in the Person of His Son. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” Matt.18.20. He is central to the local gathering owning His lordship and headship. He also should be the focus of our daily life and movements. Paul wrote: “For to me to live is Christ” Phil.1.21.
“They shall make an ark of shittim wood” Ex.25.10. The wood gave it form. “Being found in fashion as a man” Phil.2.8; “The Son of man is come” Lk.19.10. He was a real man but not a mere man.
“Thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it” Ex.25.11. The gold gave it glory. “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” Phil.2.6. The gold and the wood were not intermingled. He did not ‘mix’ Deity with humanity, to become a ‘third person’: He became a real human being, whist retaining full Deity. “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” 1Tim.3.16. John says, “Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” 1Jn.1.1. He was audible, visible, desirable and tangible. Yet John reminds us of the cost: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” 1Jn.1.7.
“They shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof” Ex.25.10. The accuracy of these “half” measurements tells us that the Christ of glory cannot be measured. His glorious Person cannot be spanned with the miserable ‘tape measure’ of our human comprehension. Colossians chapter 1 says, “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” v.17. Colossians chapter 2 states, “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” v.9. These are the great doctrines of His essential, uncreated Deity and His perfect, sinless humanity.
“And shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about” Ex.25.11. This was a ledge or wreath of gold to secure the mercy seat “above upon the ark” Ex.25.21. The ark is a symbol of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ and the mercy seat speaks of His work. The crown maintained these two as one. What He did is of infinite value because of Who He is. Paul says, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” Gal.2.20.
“And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them” Ex.25.18. God said to Moses, “And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat [depicting mercy], from between the two cherubims [depicting truth]” Ex.25.22. The cherubim with outstretched wings were the custodians of the holy demands of the eternal throne. Speaking of Christ, John says, “… (we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” Jn.1.14. In the cross of Christ, through the shedding of His precious blood, it can be said:
- Mercy and truth unite,
- O ‘tis a wondrous sight,
- All sights above!
- (L. Mason)
“And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it” Ex.25.12. Thus, provision was made for the movement of the ark. Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel of the journeys of the Lord Jesus: the Samaritan by the roadside, the Shepherd on the mountainside and the Stranger by the wayside. “Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them” Lk.24.15. Israel was never to travel without the ark. Before the ark, waters drew back, walls fell down and wickedness was prostrated. We can say, “Where He leads me, I will follow”. Never journey alone.
“And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them” Ex.25.13,14. The ark was never to be touched by human hand. We must handle holy things with the utmost reverence. Familiarity and vulgar language used while addressing God grieves spiritual believers and is offensive to God.
“The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it” Ex.25.15. The staves were never removed until the ark was placed in the Temple. As the people of God we must always be ready to move on. We are moving onward through the wilderness and upward toward heaven. Even when John saw “a new heaven and a new earth”, he “heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle [not ‘the temple’] of God is with men, and He will dwell with them’” Rev.21.1,3. Does this indicate that in heaven we shall move on and on with the never-ending unfolding of the glories of Christ? Meantime, night and day we need His presence, sympathy, power and guidance.
“Aaron … and his sons … shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue” Num.4.5,6. Upon the ark in the holy place, the cherubim of glory gazed with amazement. Into the Holiest the high priest entered but once a year. On the march, the priests prepared the ark and the Kohathites carried the holy vessel they never saw. Every Israelite as they journeyed had a clear view of the cloth of blue. It is good to have men who can uplift Christ before His people. We enjoy the revelation of the Son from heaven but we should never ‘look into the ark’. We rejoice in sovereign grace but do not seek to explain it by human reasoning. In the perplexities and trials of the journey, it is essential that we keep our eye upon Christ and hear His words spoken to Peter: “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me” Jn.21.22.
The ark was also a chest or coffer to keep precious things secure or secret. Noah and his family were preserved in an ark through the waters to reach the verdant pastures of a cleansed creation. Moses was preserved from death in an ark of bulrushes to be raised up as the deliverer of God’s people. The lesson for us from the ark of the covenant is that in Christ, as the centre of God’s purposes, we are preserved unto ultimate salvation, shelter and security within the veil by His blood. During the journey through the wilderness the three great national sins of Israel were: murmuring against God, Exodus chapter 16; the sin of the golden calf of Exodus chapter 32; and the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers chapter 16. In Heb.9.4, the ark of the covenant is mentioned, “wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant”. As result of these three great sins Israel was exposed to death but each, in the foreknowledge of God, has been answered through the death of Christ and hidden in the ark under the blood upon the mercy seat: the humility of Christ (the manna was a “small round thing”); the priority of Christ (the firstfruits of resurrection), and the integrity of Christ (Who magnified the whole Law and made it honourable).
The relevant characteristics of the ark are stressed in names that are given in different contexts:
- The “ark of the testimony” – responsibility: relating to the tables of the covenant, Exodus;
- The “ark of the covenant” – relationship: between God and His people, Numbers;
- The “ark of the Lord” – resources: leading into the inheritance and victory, Joshua;
- The “ark of God” – reverence: Elohim, the Divine presence, 1Samuel;
- The “ark of Thy strength” – rest: in the Temple, 2Chronicles and Psalm 132;
- The “holy ark” – restoration: recovery of worship in the days of Josiah, 2Chr.35.3.
“The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them … And the cloud of the Lord was upon them” Num.10.33,34. From Sinai, to Gilgal, to Jericho, to Shiloh the invincible power and presence of God were made evident by the ark and its contents, as well as the cloud and its glory. The tables of stone were written by the finger of God. The golden pot that had the manna reminded them of the provision of God. Aaron’s rod that budded manifested the power of God. The cloud above by day and by night, from which God spoke, brought the voice of God. Moses “heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubims” Num.7.89. From the presence of God fire came out and some were consumed; some were smitten with leprosy; and some fell dead. “Dagon [the fish god] was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord” 1Sam.5.4. In the garden, the Lord’s enemies who came to take Him “fell to the ground” Jn.18.6.
When the nation of Israel left Sinai we read, “And they departed from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey: and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them” Num.10.33. The valiant hosts of the Lord’s redeemed people, delivered from Egypt through the blood of the lamb, set out towards the promised inheritance. The Lord had triumphed gloriously at the Red Sea. He gave them manna from heaven and water from the rock for the journey. The ark in the midst was God’s throne among His people. We can sing:
- Through the desert, waste and cheerless,
- Though our destined journey lie,
- Rendered by Thy presence fearless,
- We may every foe defy;
- Nought shall move us,
- While we see Thee, Saviour, nigh.
- (Thomas Kelly)
The Sons of Kohath
“This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath … about the most holy things: and when the camp setteth forward” Num.4.4,5. Belonging to the tribe of Levi, the sanctuary tribe, they were always ready to serve and ready to move at a moment’s notice. Are we working and watching? They were taken “from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn” Num.3.12. Holy service is on the basis of firstborn status: “… ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price” 1Cor.6.19,20. As Levites they forfeited the land and possessions that others enjoyed. Faithful service will require self-denial of comfort, materialism and luxuries. They were called by God, under the control of the high priest. Spiritual exercise is not the result of business success, secular standing or natural brilliance. They carried the ark on their shoulders. They felt the “burden” of “holy things” Num.4.4,15. Ministry should be warm and weighty, not just wind and words.
While bearing the ark and its precious contents, they had to walk with careful steps in the wilderness. If one were to stumble and fall, he would let down that which reflected the glory of God. In Ephesians, we carry wealth (“the riches of His grace” 1.7); engage in warfare, as did Israel (“take unto you the whole armour of God” 6.13); and are instructed how to walk (“walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” 4.1). In this holy service, any carelessness causing the loss of a covering, cord or pin would have resulted in a deficiency at the next resting place when the Tabernacle was set up. When we see spiritual unfaithfulness, deficiency of worship is the result. On each occasion the ark of the testimony, inside the vail in the most holy, must be placed in line with the altar of incense, outside the vail in the holy place. The vessels of the Tabernacle were always set in the same place on each occasion. The service is described as being “about the most holy things” Num.4.4. In the assemblies of God’s people, the brethren are to lift up “holy hands” 1Tim.2.8; we are presided over by the Holy Spirit and profess to obey the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps we are losing the true value of holy things on the journey. “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy” Eph.1.4. Fall short of the standard of holiness and our service is worthless.
The Covering Vail
“When the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it” Num.4.5. The priests advanced, holding the vail, and covered the ark. The vail hid the ark from the eyes of men when the Tabernacle was set up and when it was transported through the wilderness. In Christ we behold the righteous One in the fine linen, the blue of the Son from heaven, the purple of His universal reign, the scarlet of the King of Israel and in the cherubim we see all authority in Him.
The Badgers’ Skins
“And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins” Num.4.6. These were impervious and waterproof to the elements, to withstand the fury of the tempest. They were scorched by the sun by day and drenched by the dew by night. For forty years they withstood the dust storms of the wilderness. The Lord was in the wilderness for forty days. When the tempter came, He was impervious. “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me” Jn.14.30. We need to put on the whole armour of God that we “may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” Eph.6.11. The great doctrines ‘covering’ the Person of Christ are under attack. We need the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation to defend the ‘Ark’ from harmful influences and “every wind of doctrine” Eph.4.14.
The Cloth Wholly of Blue
“And shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue” Num.4.6. This was to distinguish the ark to every eye. Central to the marching ranks of the tribes of Israel and clearly discernible, the most important vessel of the Tabernacle speaks of the unique heavenly Person and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s desire for the church at Corinth was that if an unbeliever or one unlearned came in to observe, he would be so convinced that he would fall down on his face to worship God, “and report that God is in you of a truth” 1Cor.14.25.
“And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, ‘Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.’ And when it rested, He said, ‘Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel’” Num.10.35,36. God’s desire for His people is victory and rest. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” Heb.4.9. David said, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters” Ps.23.2. They had the cloud by day and the fire by night, so they were not dependent on earthly circumstances. They had the ark of God’s presence in their midst to guide. They began the march with the sound of the trumpet in their ears, and the ark and the cloud before their eyes. “But with whom was He grieved forty years?” They could not enter into His rest “because of unbelief” Heb.3.17,19. It was an eleven-day journey, yet it took thirty-eight years. What went wrong?
The People Complained
“The people complained” Num.11.1. The mixed multitude “fell a lusting” Num.11.4.
Rebellion against God’s provision, Numbers chapter 11: They despised the manna and yearned again for the food of Egypt: the world;
Rebellion against God’s prophet, Numbers chapter 12: Miriam and Aaron were envious of God speaking only through Moses: the flesh;
Rebellion against God’s promise, Numbers chapters 13-15: Because of unbelief when they saw the giants, the sons of Anak, they would not enter the land: the devil;
Rebellions against God’s priests, Numbers chapters 16-18: Korah, Dathan and Abriam, who were Levites, and two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, sought the priesthood: division.
The result of their rebellion was defeat: Moses said, “‘Go not up, for the Lord is not among you’ … But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah [which means ‘destruction’]” Num.14.42,44,45. They had direction (when the ark was among them); they had delay (due to the enemy within); they had defection (due to the enemy without). One day, even with Divine blessing, they despaired of going because of unbelief. The next day they presumed to go without the ark and the Divine presence. The result was defeat, disaster and death. What is the lesson? Live day by day, in daily dependence, lest we move in our own strength or initiative. We cannot walk alone.
“When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it” Josh.3.3. The Book of Joshua presents a new generation. The bones of the sinners of Kadesh-barnea lie in the wilderness. God said, “Moses My servant is dead” Josh.1.2. The Lord spake unto Joshua and the people, “Go over this Jordan” (separation) 1.2; “Go in to possess the land” (possession) 1.11; “Go after it [the ark]” (identification) 3.3. Succeeding generations, the old and the young, need each other. Moses brought them out; Joshua brought them in. Moses was the man on the mount; Joshua was the man in the valley. Moses gave them the Law; Joshua followed the Law: he did not introduce new things.
Three momentous events in the journeys of the ark and the children of Israel speak to us of the death of Christ:
The Passover. The end of bondage: the world. “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Rom.3.24;
The Red Sea. The end of Pharaoh: the devil. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God, by the death of His Son” Rom.5.10;
The Jordan. The end of self, wanderings: the flesh. “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” Rom.6.4.
Some of the people did not follow the ark over Jordan. They had much cattle and they found land well-watered and less dependent upon the rain from heaven compared to the land of Canaan. Some still live semi-worldly on the borders of the inheritance of God’s promises.
Possession of the land brought them into battles. The Lord said, “The world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” Jn.17.14. To “go in”, they had to follow the ark. This required courage: “Be strong and of a good courage”; “Only be thou strong and very courageous”; again, “The Lord your God … hath given you this land … only be strong and of a good courage” Josh.1.6,7,9,13,18. Paul wrote to Timothy, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind … Thou therefore, my son, be strong [‘strengthened’] in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” 2Tim.1.7; 2.1.
“And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people’” Josh.3.6. He commanded the people saying; “There shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure; come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore” Josh.3.4. “The priests that bare the ark” are mentioned ten times in these opening chapters of Joshua. Everyone in Israel could have a clear view of the ark, speaking of Christ, prominent before the people. It is good to follow priestly men who keep Christ preeminent through the waters of death and resurrection. Follow men who can uplift Christ with dignity, prayer, spirituality and care.
“Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan” Josh.4.16. “On the tenth day of the first month … [they] encamped in Gilgal” 4.19. Gilgal was to become the place of the twelve stones, a memorial of victory over the floods of death. The name means ‘rolling away’, the rolling away of the reproach of Egypt. There the people used the sharp knife of circumcision, renewed the keeping of the Passover and ate the old corn of the land. At Calvary Christ passed through death’s dark angry billows and has gone up to the throne of God. Every Lord’s Day, we gather in remembrance of Him and His death, the true Passover Lamb. The cross means we are crucified to the world (answering to Egypt) and have no confidence in the flesh (pictured in circumcision). In the wilderness they fed on manna, which speaks of Christ in humiliation. The old corn of the land speaks of satisfaction with Christ in resurrection and glory.
“And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets” Josh.6.4. In the Book of Joshua the ark is mentioned thirty times in the first eight chapters. The last reference is an occasion of victory, Josh.8.33. The first (and only) reference to the ark in Judges refers to defeat, Judg.20.27. In the conquest of Jericho, “the Lord was with Joshua” Josh.6.27. We read about seven priests, seven trumpets, seven days and seven times. “And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days” Josh.6.3. In Divine sovereignty and purpose the battle was over before it began; yet man must be taught responsibility and humility. Armed men were made to look foolish. We walk by faith not by sight. For six days, they went away as though they were defeated and afraid.
“And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns” Josh.6.4. God will have His portion first. There must be priestly exercise before preaching, worship before warfare. The trumpet sound drew attention to the ark. The rams’ horns, used at jubilee time, remind us of the liberty of the gospel message. The Word of God will always exalt Christ. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” 1Cor.14.8. “For from you [the assembly at Thessalonica] sounded out [as a trumpet] the word of the Lord” 1Thess.1.8. The noise of the ram’s horn was a note of power yet it was not harmonious or impressive to the human ear. The gospel has nothing good to say about man yet it is good news to man.
“So they did six days” Josh.6.14. This required patience. God cannot be hindered but God cannot be hurried. God is longsuffering. He will give space to repent. From the first day until the sixth day it seemed that the effort was in vain. It looked like foolishness, just tedious repetition without much success. Some readers may need encouragement as they plod on faithfully in gospel work with no visible results. ‘The city is straitly shut up’. The weekly ‘grind’ of Sunday School, tracts and meetings continues. The same doors are visited annually with calendars. After two weeks of gospel meetings, we grow weary. Some begin to question Bible methods. Let us all be encouraged to keep going, faithfully, whatever the difficulties, in accordance with God’s Word: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” 1Cor.15.58.
“And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, ‘Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout’” Josh.6.10. The lesson is that walk comes before talk. Pilgrim feet walking wisely before the unsaved corresponds to showing before shouting. The godly sister living for Christ before her neighbours is vital to the local testimony. There was no mention of tribal position in the ranks on this occasion. They were a united company following the ark.
“And the second day they compassed the city once, and returned into the camp: so they did six days” Josh.6.14. They were working from a centre. We must preach the gospel in fellowship with the assembly in order to build up the assembly. “On the seventh day … [they] compassed the city after the same manner seven times” Josh.6.15. They were made to be a gazing stock for six days. The test was increasing, not diminishing. The men were never so weak. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” 2Cor.4.7. “For when I am weak, then am I strong” 2Cor.12.10. “The rereward came after the ark of the Lord” Josh.6.13. May we follow closely until we hear the great “shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” 1Thess.4.16.
“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh [meaning ‘tranquillity’], and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them” Josh.18.1. It is at Shiloh, about 275 years later, that we again have mention of the ark: “Ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep” 1Sam.3.3. There were those who brought thank offerings to Shiloh; Hannah, Samuel’s mother, brought her tears. Amid the sad conditions at Shiloh, one godly woman asked for a child from the Lord and “brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh” 1Sam.1.24. Eli the priest was “very old” 1Sam.2.22. His sons were “sons of Belial” 1Sam.2.12. They were Levitical robbers. They robbed God by stealing the fat of the offerings. Their sin “was very great before the Lord” 1Sam.2.17.
In 1Samuel chapter 4, Israel initiated a battle with the Philistines, who defeated them, and four thousand men lay dead. “The elders of Israel said, ‘Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies’” 1Sam.4.3. The presence of the symbol (“it”) was no guarantee of the presence of the Person (the Lord) in their midst. The result was that “there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” 1Sam.4.10,11. Questions arise: how did Hophni and Phinehas enter into the Holiest? How could they uncover the ark? Did Eli not object? Why did the people not repent of their sin instead of blaming God? The answer is that the Lord had withdrawn His presence from among His people before the ark was moved. The solemn lesson is that we can have the symbols: water baptism, the bread and the cup, and head covering, and still not meet to the glory of God or have His presence, because of unjudged sin in the assembly.
Ashod, Gath and Ekron
“And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon [the fish god] and set it by Dagon. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord” 1Sam.5.1-3. On the following morning, “the head of Dagon and both of the palms of his hands were cut off before the ark of the Lord” 1Sam.5.4. “The hand of the Lord [which is mentioned four times in chapter 5] was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and He destroyed them, and smote them with emerods” 1Sam.5.6. Israel was defeated but the Lord was not defeated; His power was manifest wherever they sent the ark. Christ came from the sanctuary; He was delivered to the Gentiles. His enemies fell down before Him. At the cross, “having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” Col.2.15. On the third day the ‘Ark’ was supreme. Christ is Victor over Satan; He has conquered death, hell and the grave. “The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months” 1Sam.6.1. The presence of the ark was a scourge when it was carried to Gath and sent to Ekron. The rejection of Christ has been the distress of the nation, the trouble of the world and will be to the damnation of the soul.
The men of Beth-shemesh “saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it” 1Sam.6.13. We remember that of the evening of the first resurrection day we read, “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” Jn.20.20. “And He smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even He smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men” 1Sam.6.19. God tolerated no irregularity in approach to the sacred ark. The naked tables of the Law had been revealed and looked upon with malicious pleasure, without the blood of sacrifice between. There is an unholy casualness and lack of reverence in our approach to God today.
“And the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord” 1Sam.7.1. The latter part of the name Kirjath-jearim means ‘in the woods’, reminding us of the Lord in rejection, hidden from view. It is also a picture of the Lord’s presence in the assembly with a sanctified priesthood, in humble circumstances. “And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented [‘yearned, wailed’] after the Lord” 1Sam.7.2. This time frame was followed by the reign of Saul, who in forty years never looked for the ark. David was in Hebron seven years before his attempt to bring back the ark. This time of Israel’s sorrow was approximately seventy years.
The House of Obed-Edom
“And David arose, and went … to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah” 2Sam.6.2,3. This began as a most joyful occasion for the sweet Psalmist. “David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments” 2Sam.6.5. “And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” 2Sam.6.6,7. We have seen the need of the golden rings and the golden staves for the conveyance and carrying of the ark. God does not need the help of a human hand to steady the symbol of His holy presence. Modern innovations and labour-saving alternatives are prevalent today to circumvent the toil involved in the work of God, in order to make it easy for ourselves. Religious systems seem successfully to use fleshly inventions without Scriptural authority because, like the Philistines, they worship things that are dead. We serve “the living and true God; and … wait for His Son from heaven” 1Thess.1.9,10. A man is dead, 2Sam.6.7. “David was displeased” v.8. “David was afraid of God that day, saying, ‘How shall I bring the ark of God home to me?’ So David brought not the ark home to himself to the city of David, but carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom … And the ark of God remained with the family of Obed-edom in his house three months. And the Lord blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that he had” 1Chr.13.12-14.
The City of David
“And David made him houses in the city of David, and prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched for it a tent” 1Chr.15.1. This time David brought up the ark “after the due order” 1Chr.15.13. He assembled all Israel together as a united people. “And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord” 1Chr.15.15. This was accompanied by burnt sacrifices and peace offerings; a sanctified priesthood; singers lifting up their voice with joy; shouting and playing of instruments. “And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to record, and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel” 1Chr.16.4. In his Psalm, David declared, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised … Glory and honour are in His presence; strength and gladness are in His place … Bring an offering, and come before Him: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” 1Chr.16.25-29.
David wrote, “Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth” Ps.26.8. As a shepherd boy on the hillsides of Bethlehem, David longed for the presence of God above in the starry heaven to be expressed by a house on earth for God to be worshipped among His people. “The king said unto Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains’” 2Sam.7.2. David defeated the enemies of God’s people. Solomon, his son, came to the throne in conditions of peace. Christ defeated every foe by His work upon the cross and entered into His glory. Solomon built the Temple, dedicated the holy vessels, and brought up “the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion” 1Kgs.8.1. “The cherubims spread forth their two wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubims covered the ark and the staves thereof above. And they drew out the staves, that the ends of the staves were seen out in the holy place before the oracle, and they were not seen without: and there they are unto this day” 1Kgs.8.7,8. And so the ark came to rest in the Temple. Solomon in his prayer of dedication said, “Now therefore arise, O Lord God, into Thy resting place, Thou and the ark of Thy strength” 2Chr.6.41. With the ark in its rightful place, and Jehovah receiving the worship of His people, they experienced rest and restoration in the days of Josiah, 2Chr.35.3, foreshadowing the day when not the ark, but the Lord Himself, will have His rightful place in Jerusalem, Jer.3.16.
When the ark came to rest in the Temple and the staves were withdrawn, the literal holy vessel had reached the terminus of its journeys on earth. In the plan and purposes of God the ark, in meaning and doctrine, lives on in the New Testament. God will never abandon His purpose to commune with His creature and that His people should enjoy His presence. This was accomplished in the life of our blessed Lord, Who “tabernacled among us (and we beheld His glory)” Jn.1.14, Newberry margin.
‘The Upper Room Ministry’ in the Gospel of John
The way of approach is revealed by the Lord in His teaching in the ‘Upper Room Ministry’, just before He went to the cross. In Jn.13.4,5 we read, “He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.” The essential act of cleansing seen at the laver “began” and continues through the gracious work of Christ, our Advocate, with the Father.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you” Jn.14.27. Christ is the true peace offering, and it is precious to ponder that the coals which caused the sweet savour of the peace offering to ascend from the altar in the court, also caused the fragrance of the incense to ascend from the golden altar in the holy place. “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth [‘cleanseth’] it, that it may bring forth more fruit” Jn.15.2, shows us the pruning of the branches of the vine as previewed in the priestly ministry at the seven-branched lampstand. The weighty and solemn words of Jn.16.31, “The hour cometh, yea, is now come”, speak of the cross, the focus of the true meaning of the brazen altar. “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” Jn.17.4. This chapter presents the fragrant intercession, unique and perfect, of our great High Priest, as He enters into the Holiest before the ark and the mercy seat.
“The patterns of things in the heavens” in the Epistle to the Hebrews
In Hebrews, we are still pilgrims and strangers and so the background is the service of the Tabernacle on the great Day of Atonement. “And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold” Heb.9.3,4. This fragrant ministry in God’s presence was based on sacrifice and shedding of blood. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Heb.9.14. “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these” Heb.9.23.
The doctrine of this beautiful chapter, Hebrews chapter 9, begins with “the first”, “ordinances of divine service” v.1; the privileges and glory by appointment of God were a visible pledge of God’s presence. It was a “worldly sanctuary” v.1 being temporal, tangible and transient, since the materials were fading and perishing. There was the holy place, “wherein was the lampstand [Newberry margin; light of the sanctuary], and the table [fellowship, satisfaction, communion], and the shewbread [bread of presence, the bread of God]” v.2. The Holiest of all “had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold” v.4. This verse says, “which had”, indicating possession, not ‘where’, which would mean location. The absence of any mention of the altar of incense is explained by the inclusion of “the golden censer”. Incense from the golden altar of incense was brought by the high priest in “the golden censer” into the Holiest. Its fragrant ministry belongs to the Holiest. No human eye was ever to look upon the ark at any time, either when on the march or within the Holiest. It was always hidden from the eyes of men: by the cloth of blue when it was being transported, by the vail when the Tabernacle was pitched, and by the cloud of incense when the high priest entered the Holiest. It should never have been clouded in the smoke of battle.
The consummation of past truths is seen in preparation for a new dispensation. “But Christ being come [‘appeared’] a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building [‘creation’]; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by [not ‘with’] His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” Heb.9.11,12. His priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is based on redemption purchased for all.
“The ark of His testament” in the Book of Revelation
As the narrative of the Book of Revelation advances, the sounding of the seventh trumpet anticipates the end of the Great Tribulation and the final stage on earth as it is brought under the dominion of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Millennial Kingdom.
To encourage the worship and witness of the faithful remnant in future dark Tribulation days, when the earthly Temple is desecrated by the Beast, Revelation chapter 11 begins and ends with reference to God’s “temple” (v.1 referring to the Jerusalem Temple and v.19 to the heavenly Temple). “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein” Rev.11.1. The throne of His righteousness having been established on earth, the focus of action has again become the Temple of His holiness in heaven, in accordance with His “covenant”. “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple, the ark of His testament [‘covenant’]” Rev.11.19. This is the final reference to the ark of the covenant in the Bible. As the redeemed and raptured, we will join in the heavenly anthem of worship: “We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power, and hast reigned” Rev.11.17.