Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. — Exodus 25:21-22
The ark popularized in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark was a small acacia wood chest approximately 3’9” long, 2’3” wide, and 2’3” high—and it was overlaid with gold.
When the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in a.d. 70, the true ark disappeared. Nothing is known of its whereabouts, but a lot is known about its significance. At least Hollywood got the part about its being lost correct!
The divinely-designed ark was created to symbolize the Lord’s royal and holy presence, first in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem temple. God had specifically stated “I want the children of Israel to build me a sacred residence where I can live among them” (Exodus 25:8).
The Lord was expressing His desire to make His presence known among His people during their earthly pilgrimage. The transcendent God, who created and upholds the universe, who dwells in brilliant and awesome glory, removed from sin and separate from sinners, desires to be known intimately and to assure His people by His presence of His love and concern for them. This is a truth that every generation should revere.
Despite the Lord’s expressed desire for intimacy with His people, there was to be no thought of flippancy or casualness on their part. He was among them, but He was still holy.
The ark was to be placed in the Most Holy Place, where only the high priest was allowed to enter, and that only once a year at the stipulated time and in the appropriate manner. The appropriate manner included the sprinkling of the place of meeting with the blood of an innocent sacrifice intended to wash away the sins of the people.
The lid of the ark, which incorporated two hammered gold “cherubim,” was known as the “atonement cover” (25:20), the place of divine enthronement, about which God promised, “I will meet with you there” (25:22). Under the lid were the “stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant” (25:21)—the sole basis upon which men could meet with God!
Sinful man cannot enter the divine presence on his own terms whenever and however he wishes. He may do so only on the terms outlined by the Holy One. From the ark we learn that a holy God desires intimacy with His sinful people, but only because He chose to reach out to them and only when they come confessing their sin and seeking His forgiveness on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice.
The ark may be lost, but its symbolism and significance should never be lost on us, for Christ is the substance of which the ark was the shadow.
For further study: Exodus 25:1-22
Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.