What is the Ark of the Covenant? WHERE is the Ark of the Covenant? #87

Answer to question #2: I don’t know. Today’s podcast would be the easiest and shortest Bible Reading podcast ever, if the only question we had to deal with was “where is the Ark of the Covenant?” Because, despite being one of the top daily Bible podcasters in all of South Salinas, I have no earthly idea where the Ark currently is. In fact, of the two famous Arks that I am familiar with – Noah’s and this one, I know where neither are, although I do recall watching a great documentary on it when I was a kid. If I had to guess where both Arks were, I’d guess EurasiCA, which is to say, somewhere in Europe, Asia or Africa. That’s pretty specific, so you all should get looking! I will say this, however…by the end of today’s episode, I may not be able to tell you where the Ark of the Covenant is NOW, but I do think we can discover where it WILL BE SOON!

In the meantime, I’ve got a Bible Podcast to do, and today’s readings include our focus passage, Exodus 37, Proverbs 13, John 16 and Ephesians 6. Today we are talking about Arks – one specific ark, to be clear, but before we do that, we need to try and clear up some confusion. Have you ever wondered why the Ark of the Covenant and Noah’s Ark are both arks, but they are radically different from each other?? Me too! I can’t tell you how many nights of sleep that I have lost trying to figure this mystery out. Actually I can – so far, it is zero, but if this opening lasts much longer, it might be one. So – here’s the thing – counterintuitively, the Hebrew word for Noah’s ark is actually the word, ” תֵּבָה têbâh,” and it is translated as “a chest, an ark, or a coffer.” The only other place the word is used is in the early chapters of Exodus, to refer to the floating basket that Moses was put in before it was sent down the river to the household of Pharaoh. It is a curious word, and probably best for us to think of it as a floating box, rather than a ‘boat.’ It does not appear that Noah’s ark was really made for anything but to be a floating container, while a boat or ship is for transportation and other uses.

The Ark in our focus passage today is a different Hebrew word entirely, ” אָרוֹן ʼârôwn” An arown can be a chest, or even a coffin (Joseph was buried in an ‘arown) and comes from a Hebrew verb meaning to gather, pluck (like fruit) or collect, and hence you might put what you gather or collect into an arown. The similarity, of course, is that both words indicate a container type of thing. In Koine Greek, in which the New Testament is written, you find that both words for ark are conflated into one word: κιβωτός, κιβωτοῦ Kibotos, or Kibotou. I’d think things would have been simpler to translate them as slightly different words in the Greek (and subsequently, the English,) but the New Testament authors never asked my opinion for some reason, so we now have one word for two slightly different kinds of arks.

The first mention of the Ark of the Covenant is in Exodus 25. You might be wondering, “well, why didn’t we cover this way back when we were reading in Exodus 25?” And my answer would be, “Well, mr. Smarty pants: I was hoping to find the location of the Ark of the Covenant between that episode and now, because that would have made for a better podcast, but I didn’t.” Then I would wink at you so you’d know I was joking, but I probably wouldn’t reveal the real answer to you, because it is above top secret. Oh yeah, here’s that first appearance:

10 “They 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 height. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it.

Exodus 25:10

So now, let’s go read about the Ark being made by Bezalel, and then come back and discuss it a little more.

The Ark was about 52 by 31 by 31 inches, and was covered in hammered gold all around, with four gold rings in each of the corners to carry it with via poles. The ark was made of shittim wood, which is a word that you have to be sure to pronounce correctly as it does not sound like you’d think it does based on looking at it. This wood comes from the red acacia tree, which is a thorny tree that grows to about 30 feet tall, and is found throughout parts of Africa and the Middle East. On top of the Ark is the mercy seat, or kapporet, which is probably the most significant part of this object. A good description can be found at Gotquestions.org, so I’ll just borrow it and give them credit:

The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this atonement could take place.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the remission of sins. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and one familiar with the Old Testament, knew this concept quite well when he wrote about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans 3:24-25: “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Just as there was only one place for atonement of sins in the Old Testament—the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant—so there is also only one place for atonement in the New Testament and current times—the cross of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we no longer look to the Ark but to the Lord Jesus Himself as the propitiation and atonement for our sins.


Over the next few days and weeks, we will read much about the Ark of the Covenant, as it appears in the Scriptures well over a hundred times. As a bit of foreshadowing, however, let’s jump in a time machine, and take a look at a couple of those passages:

When the troops returned to the camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord defeat us today before the Philistines? Let’s bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh. Then it will go with us and save us from our enemies.” So the people sent men to Shiloh to bring back the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. When the ark of the covenant of the Lord entered the camp, all the Israelites raised such a loud shout that the ground shook.

1 Samuel 4:3-5

Can you spot what went wrong? YES! The Israelites trusted in THE ARK and not the GOD of the Ark. What happened next was a horror story. The Philistines panicked and wiped out the Israelite army, captured the Ark, and when the high priest heard about it, he fell backwards in his chair and broke his neck because he was extremely old and overweight. And no, I’m not actually making that up. You can go read the story if you’d like – it’s worse than I’m making it out to be. One more picture of the Ark – this one in the FUTURE:

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
18 The nations raged,
    but your wrath came,
    and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
    and those who fear your name,
    both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

Revelation 11:15-19

Well, there you go – the future location of the Ark of the Covenant, as promised. Let’s read some more Scripture together, shall we?

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