The first apartment of the tabernacle had all the richly ornamented vessels, the table of shewbread, the seven branched candlestick, and the alter of incense. Beyond all these beautiful things was the veil which separated these things from the Most Holy Place, the Throne Room of Israel’s God. The length and breadth and height were all equal, being 10 cubits each. Each of its sides was square, being the same length also. We have already talked about the magnificent curtains with cherubim woven into them in all the gorgeous colors of blue, purple and scarlet.
But the most beautiful thing about and the centerpiece of this inner chamber was The Ark of the Covenant. This was the most sacred of all the objects connected with the Tabernacle, and was the reason that the Tabernacle was constructed, for this was to be the dwelling place of God Himself. All the other furniture, as beautiful as it was, held no comparison to this piece.
It consisted of four distinct objects:
the ark proper
the mercy seat
This was a box or chest made of acacia wood, and overlaid both within and without with pure gold. This chest was 45″ long x 27″ wide x 27″ high. It was surrounded around the sides of the top by an ornamental rim or crown of gold. The rings for the staves passing through it were placed at the feet of the four corners, as the Hebrew word rendered ‘corners’ means ‘feet’ in English. The rings were fixed permanently and the poles were always to remain in them so the Ark would never have to be touched by human hands again after it was made and then consecrated to God. The way the rings and poles were attached caused the Ark to be more elevated when being transported than the rest of the sacred furniture. This set it as the standard or forefront of the army and the people could see it standing above the other things.
Things Put Into The Ark
In this sacred chest were deposited:
The tables of stone on which the ten commandments were written with the finger of God. These signified the covenant that God had made with his people. By having these in the Ark they could be assured that if they remained obedient to God that he would bless them, and if they were disobedient they would be cursed. This is one reason that they sometimes called it The Ark of Testimony.
A golden pot containing ‘manna’ that signified how God had kept them 40 years in the wilderness without their ever going hungry or their clothes or shoes wearing out.
Aaron’s budding rod that God used so mightily in freeing the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh.
Never has a box before or after contained such precious relics as these things.
The Mercy Seat
It was made of solid gold, and was of the same length and breadth as the sacred chest itself. It was probably kept in its place by the ornamental crown that encircled the Ark. Though it is a cover for the Ark, it doubtless had a deeper meaning than just being a cover. It may have signified how God covers sin in the sense of His Forgiveness for it. It was the place where God showed Himself merciful in forgiving sin, hence calling it the Mercy Seat. As the blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, God was pleased with their offering and forgave His people of their sins. This was to represent what Jesus did on the cross so that he could be the once for all sacrifice for man’s sin.
They were two gold figures that were made of the same piece of gold as the Mercy Seat. They stood at each end with wings stretching upwards and meeting on high forming a kind of canopy. Their faces looked to each other with a downward bend to the mercy seat. The space formed by the over-arching wings above and between the Cherubim was filled by the Shekinah glory of God. The corresponding space on heathen arks was filled by one of the heathen gods.
All we know about the Tabernacle Cherubim is from the description given of them in Exodus.
This was the name given by the Jews to the visible manifestation of God’s presence. The Shekinah filled the space between the mercy seat and the overarching wings of the cherubim. It appears that there was a supernatural brightness or splendor that resembled a bright cloud or flame. It was something that the Israelites could see with their own eyes to be reassured that God Himself was with them in the wilderness. There are several instances where God spoke to Moses or the High Priest from the Ark. The children of Israel would inquire as to what they needed to do about a certain thing and God would speak to them in an audible voice from the Ark. God graciously listened to their petitions and answered them in an audible voice.
The Ark Was Held in Awe
In the instructions given by God to Moses concerning the Tabernacle, God made it clear that the Ark had the foremost place, and basically everything else was to be built around it. It stood in a chamber that no one was allowed to enter except the High Priest only once a year. When it was carried from place to place in the wilderness it was hidden by a covering. If any person touched it they died. Only the persons who were divinely appointed were permitted to carry it, the Levites. Those that carried it lifted it up on their shoulders and marched in the forefront of the army of people, leading the way and guided by the cloudy pillar moving in the air above them. The Ark was the standard of the moving host and not only led the way, but went before to search out a resting place for the wanderers. The various encampments of the people were fixed by where it stopped. After reaching the Holy Land, it was set up at Gilgal, and afterward moved to Shiloh where it remained for three or four hundred years before it was taken by the Philistines. It lastly found a resting place in the Temple of Solomon.
The Power of the Ark
There are many striking instances that attest to its mighty power. Many of the people of Bethshemesh were smitten dead for looking into it in I Samuel 6: 19-21. It overthrew Dagon, the god of the Philistines in his own temple. It parted the waves of the Jordan, and made a dry way for the many thousands of Israel to pass over, and was upheld in the middle of the river until all of Israel had passed over and stood safe on the shore of the promised land. When it led the way around Jericho on the seventh day, the walls fell down.
There is much spiritual significance surrounding the Ark and the things it contained. The Ten Commandments are the twin pillars that support the moral government of God and man. They represent righteousness and truth, and are the foundation of God’s throne. When any man or government strives for these two things, they can know that they will be blessed by God.
The Ark was the meeting place for God and the Israelites. It dwelt in the midst of Israel and it was there that God met with them and showed them his glory and solved problems for them. Even though believers today don’t have the visible cloud that stands over the Tabernacle, we have something even better. We have the Holy Spirit that lives and dwells within us to show us the way. Jesus loved the world so much that He gave his life so that our sin debt could be paid for, and that the Holy Spirit could come and dwell within us every day and hour of our lives.
Below is a picture of what The Ark of the Covenant may have looked like just so that you can have an idea.