In the most holy place of the sanctuary there were two pieces of furniture – the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat. Once made the mercy seat was placed on top of the ark of the covenant for a lid. Except for a couple of exceptional circumstances this lid was never to be removed, so they are usually spoken of a one item namely the ark of the covenant. As we are discussing how each of the pieces of furniture were made and what they represent, we will separate these two pieces of furniture.
The ark was an oblong chest without a lid. It was made of shittim wood and measured two and a half cubits long, half a cubit wide, and one and a half cubits high. This was overlaid with gold so that it appeared to be solid gold. It had a crown of gold around the top which probably helped to hold the mercy seat lid in place. Two sets of two rings on each side where the staves of shittim wood covered with gold were placed so it could be carried. Once placed in the rings these staves were never to be removed (Ex. 25:10-15).
As with the other like made pieces of furniture which were in the first apartment, the wood represents Christ’s humanity, and the gold His perfect life. The crown around the top represents the royalty of Christ when He shall be crowned King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and the crown of life all overcomers will receive when Christ returns to take them home (Rev. 19:16; 2:10; James 1:12).
This piece of furniture received its name because it was to be an ark or chest to hold God’s covenant or commandments that were written on tables of stone and given to Moses while he was on Mount Sinai (Ex. 25:16). These commandments were written by the finger of God and were upon both sides of both tables of stone (Ex. 31:18; 32:15, 16). It was God’s law alone that gave the ark of the covenant its sacredness (SDA Bible Commentary Ellen White Comments Vol 2, page 1011). Later on two additional items were placed in the ark – Aaron’s rod that budded and a put of manna (Num. 17:10; Ex. 16:33, Heb 9:4).
God’s commandments or law being placed in the ark represents God’s laws being hid in our hearts. Psalms 119:10, 11 says, "With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Hebrews 8:10 tells us, "… I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:"
The pot of manner represents the bread of life which came down from heaven to feed us, and today we feed upon Him by reading, studying and meditating upon His Word (John 6:33, 35, 63). Aaron’s rod that budded represents those who God has placed in positions of authority to guide and protect us who are the true ministers of the gospel (Heb 13:7, 17).
The ark which contained God’s laws was the central feature of the whole sanctuary. The whole reason for God giving all of the sacrificial services from Eden down to Moses, was because God’s holy law was broken. In eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve put their own selfish desires above loving the Lord God with all their heart and obey His commands. We are told in Scripture that sin is transgression of the law, that the wages of sin is death, and that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission or forgiveness of sins (1 John 3:4; Rom 6:23; Heb. 9:22). From this we can understand why God gave these instruction which all pointed forward to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Jesus Christ kept the law of God by manifesting the love of God toward others. Not only was He our example in this, but He taught others to do the same – Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34, 35; 14:15; 15:12; Romans 13:8. "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John 2:4.
Today some people say that we don’t need to keep the law because we are under grace, that the law was for the Jews, and that it was done away with or nailed to the cross of Calvary. But listen to what Paul says in Romans 6:1 & 2, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" Also if the law is not for everyone or was done away with then how do we identify sin which is supposed to be transgression of the law (1 John 3:4)? It would mean that Christians would be free to do anything and everything they liked regardless of what it was.
Scripture does clearly state that something was nailed to the cross, but what was it? It was the handwriting of ordinances which included meat and drink offerings, holy days, new moons and Sabbath days (Col. 2:14-16). These were a shadow or type of what was to come – namely Jesus Christ (Col 2:17). There were many holy days and Sabbaths in the ceremonies given to Moses that he wrote down and placed in a pouch on the side of the ark (Deut. 31:26 ). These Scriptures also say that they were a shadow of or pointed forward to something to come. Let us take a look at the Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:8-11, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." What is this a shadow of or what does it point forward to? Nothing! If anything the weekly Sabbath points us back to Creation when the Sabbath was instituted on earth.
Other people say that Christ replaced the Ten Commandments with just two – love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength, and your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:30 & 31). But is we read Matthew 22:40 Christ went on to say, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Not only this but there are a couple of Scriptures that make this discussion very interesting. "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." Deut. 6:5. "…but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." Lev. 19:18. Christ in fact was quoting Old Testament Scriptures when He gave these "new" commandments.
In Revelation we find that the remnant saints keep the commandments of God, and that by so doing they have the right to the tree of life and can enter through the gates into the city (Rev. 14:12; 22:14). Solomon sums up this discussion very well, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Eccl. 12:13.
The ark of the covenant was to be carried upon the shoulders of the sons of Kohath (Num. 4:15) after Aaron and his sons had covered it. Although we don’t know how much this would have weighed, it would have been quite heavy with the wood, gold overlay, the solid gold mercy seat on top, and all the coverings. Yet Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s two sons, bore the ark into a war camp expecting a speedy victory over the Philistines (Signs of the Times article by Ellen White, December 22, 1881 par. 7). God could not give this victory because of the sins of Eli’s sons, and Israel in general. Instead the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant and took it to their own land (1 Sam. 4:11). After many calamities the Philistines returned the ark to Israel for fear of what might happen next (1 Sam 5 & 6). This story shows us how sacred and powerful mankind regarded the ark, but there is another story which tells us how much God considers the ark sacred.
This incident happened sometime after the ark was returned to Israel. David had made a temporary home for the ark in Jerusalem and wanted it moved there. With much devotion and display the ark was placed upon a cart pulled by two oxen towards Jerusalem. At one stage the ark tilted violently as the oxen tripped and looked as if it was going to fall off the cart. Uzzah who had exercised supervisory care of the ark while it was in his home and who was one of the people given responsibility for transferring it to Jerusalem, put his hand out to stabilise the ark and God immediately struck him dead. Two fundamental mistakes lead to Uzzah’s death. The first was that the ark was to be born on the shoulders of priests, not placed on a cart pulled by animals. Secondly Uzzah was not a priest nor of the family permitted to touch the ark. This clearly shows us how sacred God considers the ark and should be a fearful warning to all men. (2 Sam 6:1-10.)
Just before Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Babylonians, some righteous men secreted the ark into a cave to be hidden and never restored to Israel and Judah (Prophets and Kings by Ellen White, p. 453 par.2). Yet, there are many people today who claim to have found this very precious and sacred item. I believe the following two quotes give enough evidence to prove that all these claims are false:
The heavenly ark has living angels standing beside it at either end, while the earthly ark has them on each end of the mercy seat which is the lid placed within the crown of the ark. I believe that the earthly ark of the covenant is now in heaven because Ellen White saw it there.
Christ tells us, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Luke 16:31. This is all too true especially for people in these last days of earth’s history. Yet, God will bring His commandments before mankind just before His return.
"That voice shakes the heavens and the earth. There is a mighty earthquake, . . . Graves are opened, and ‘many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth. . . awake’ . . . Through a rift in the clouds there beams a star whose brilliancy is increased fourfold in contrast with the darkness. It speaks hope and joy to the faithful, but severity and wrath to the transgressors of God’s law. . . . Then there appears against the sky a hand holding two tables of stone folded together. . . . That holy law, God’s righteousness, that amid thunder and flame was proclaimed from Sinai as the guide of life, is now revealed to men as the rule of judgment. The hand opens the tables, and there are seen the precepts of the Decalogue, traced as with a pen of fire. . . . The enemies of God’s law, from the ministers down to the least among them, have a new conception of truth and duty. Too late they see that the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is the seal of the living God. Too late they see the true nature of their spurious sabbath and the sandy foundation upon which they have been building." taken from The Great Controversy by Ellen White, pages 636-640.
"And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail." Revelation 11:19.
© S. D. Goeldner
© S. D. Goeldner, February, 2011. Last updated August, 2020.
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