Why did God instruct the building of the tabernacle? This article looks at the covenant ark in the tabernacle as it is explained in Exodus 25:10-22.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2008. 3 pages.

The Covenant Ark Exodus 25:10-22

The Ark of the Covenant🔗

A large, dark shadow moved across the canvas. The heavily breathing figure paused outside. The tent door was pulled back. The sun streamed in momentarily. Eyes re-adjusted and focused on the mysterious visitor. Silence. “Good morning, my dearly beloved children. My name is Ben-Levi, and I am the High Priest of Israel. Thank you for inviting me to your catechism class today. I hear from your teacher, Priest Elnathan, that you’ve almost completed the Tabernacle module. Isn’t it amazing how much the Tabernacle teaches us about the Messiah we long for? Most of my catechism priests ask me to teach the Ark of the Covenant lesson because, as the High Priest, I alone am permitted to see the Ark. And even I am only allowed to see it once a year. Now, I know children like pictures and so I’m going to draw the Ark with these root-dyes on this goatskin. Look at my brushes. They are made out of a horse tail which an old Bedouin sold me last year!” The children began to relax. The High Priest was so friendly and kind — not at all like they feared.

The Covenant🔗

Ben-Levi wrote four large capital C’s on the goatskin. Beside the first C, Ben Levi wrote Covenant and underneath he drew two stone tablets. “Beloved children of Abraham, many years ago, at Sinai, Jehovah entered into a covenant with our ancestors. We have a record of this in the second book of Moses (Exodus), chapters 19-23. Sadly, many Israelites, past and present, see this as a legalistic covenant. They think they can be saved by keeping the law contained in the covenant. But — please listen closely, children — they forget that divine grace and divine provision formed the foundation of this covenant. At the very beginning of the covenant, the stress is on all that Jehovah did for our nation when delivering us from Egypt (Ex. 19:1-4). It is only after empha­sizing the powerful divine initiative that Jehovah then sets forth the appropriate response of obedience (Ex. 19:5-25). As if to underline this, even the Ten Commandments, which summarize God’s requirements, begin with words of divine salvation: ‘I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’ (Ex. 20:1). Please, please grasp this, children. Whatever else you get from this class, get this: the divine redemption comes before the divine rules. Let me sum up the covenant in two words — relationship (‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’) and then rules (‘Therefore, thou shalt...thou shalt not...’).

“Not surprisingly, these two covenantal ideas — relationship, then rules — are prominent in the Covenant Ark. Indeed, we might say that it was so named because nowhere else in our national life are these two covenant ideas of relationship and rules so clearly expressed. The Ark is the highest expression of Jehovah’s presence with us and, as we shall see, it contains the laws which guide our relationship to Him.

“But, however wonderful this is, we must always remember that this is but a picture of something, or should I say, someone, even greater than this. I’m sure Elnathan has been teaching you to look through the Tabernacle pictures to the coming Messiah pictured in the Tabernacle. We don’t know exactly how, but we have a hope that the Messiah will be a kind of living Covenant Ark. He will, in some mysterious way, embody both Jehovah’s presence with His people and Jehovah’s precepts for His people. Please, precious children, believe this and put all your hope for heaven in this.

The Chest🔗

“The second C is Chest. Let me draw it. It is a wooden box, covered with gold. It is 4½ feet long, 2½ feet wide, and 2½ feet high. Inside it is a copy of the commandments God gave to our forefathers at Sinai (Ex. 25:22). There are two other items in the box — Aaron’s rod (signifying priestly leadership during the wilderness wanderings) and a golden pot of manna (signifying God’s provision in the wilderness).

“The presence of the commandments in the Ark explains why Moses also called it ‘the ark of testimony’ (Ex. 25:22). The two tablets of stone testified to the holy nature of God and His demands upon us as a people. By always putting it at the front of our marching column we are saying that we will fol­low Jehovah’s testimony wherever and whenever it leads (Num. 10:34-36). It led us when the Jordan parted (Josh. 3) and when the walls of Jericho ‘fell down flat’” (Josh. 6).

“And don’t you think then that our Messiah will do all this and more? Will He not have Jehovah’s perfect law in His perfect heart? Will He not testify in an even greater way to the holy nature of Jehovah and His demands upon His people? Will He not go before His people? Will He not lead them through the wilderness of this world and across the Jordan into the promised land of heaven? Will He not bring down the walls and idols of His enemies? Oh yes, children, He will do all this and much, much more. Put your trust in Him, and in Him alone.

The Covering🔗

“The sun is setting; I must hurry on. The third C is Covering. If all we had was just a chest with the law in it, there would be no encouragement for sinners like us to approach Jehovah. Witness­ing to our guilt and proclaiming our condemnation, the law could only thunder, condemn, and terrify.

“But, there is a covering for the law! The law in the ark is covered with a golden lid, a slab of pure gold (Ex. 25:17-21).

Some priests call this covering or lid the ‘mercy-seat,’ which explains its function. However, the literal translation is simply ‘covering’ or ‘lid.’ Being the same size as the chest, it fits perfectly, completely hiding the law contained in it. And just to be sure, a golden rim encircles the edges of the ark to make sure that the lid stays on.”

“However, children, just hiding the law out of sight is not enough. The law of Jehovah needs to be satisfied. So, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, I enter the Most Holy Place alone and sprinkle the golden lid with the sacrificial blood of atonement, so making the lid the ‘mercy-seat.’ For me, that golden lid is the most important item of furniture in the whole Tabernacle. I wish I could draw it better than this.

“On this golden, blood-spattered mercy-seat, Jehovah meets with and communes with us (Ex. 25:22). As such, it is His throne here on earth, a throne which speaks not only of Jehovah’s just demands, but also of His merciful provision. He is able to dwell among sinners because He sits on a blood-sprinkled throne of grace. On this throne, then, meet the most contrary forces: law and mercy, righteousness and peace, God and sinners.

“Oh, children, I can see more and more clearly, every time I go in to the Most Holy Place and every time I teach this subject, that the Messiah will be our golden lid, our blood-spattered golden lid, our mercy-seat. He will not only cover God’s demands upon sinners but also satisfy them. In Him will meet the most contrary forces: law and mercy, righteousness and peace, God and sinners. He will be our throne of grace to which we all can approach to find grace to help in time of need.

The Cherubim🔗

“As usual, I have spoken too long and the poor cherubim — our fourth C — will have to be squeezed into a couple of minutes. Let me quickly draw them. On either side of the mercy-seat were two golden cherubim (Ex. 25:18). Cherubim are usually associated with the administration of God’s justice. For example, in Genesis 3:24, they bare the flaming sword of vengeance and judgment in the aftermath of the first sin. However, in the Most Holy Place, they are disarmed and their posture is not one of righteous hostility but of subdued wonder. They bow their heads as they gaze in holy contemplation upon the blood-stained golden mercy-seat covering the law of God. And, most amazingly of all, the empty, man-sized space above the mercy-seat and between the Cherubim is often filled by a symbol of the glory of God, the glory-cloud which we call the Shekinah (lit., the dwelling).

“Two quick lessons from this. First, we believe that the redemption of the church is a matter of research and study, wonder and amazement to the angels of God. Second, and gloriously, we believe that the Messiah will come to fill the man-sized space; that He will shine forth from between the Cherubim as the luminous and splendid glory of God.

“As you run home to your parents in the fading light, pray that He who dwells between the Cherubim (Ps. 80:1) would shine into your life. And as you fall on your knees tonight, remember the adoring Cherubim and join them as they ador­ingly ponder the mystery and the wonder of salvation for sinners such as yourself.”

Study Questions🔗

  1. The core of God’s gracious covenant is “relationship, then rules.” How is the Christian experience affected by over-emphasizing relationship at the expense of rules? And also rules at the expense of relationship?
  2. Compared to an Old Testament believer, what extra motives does the New Testament Christian have to live a life of thankful obedience?
  3. Read 1 Samuel 5 and 2 Samuel 6:11-12. What does this teach us about the consequences of our response to the Lord Jesus?
  4. Paul uses “mercy-seat” language to encourage converted Jews to pray to God through Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:16). Will this study of the Covenant Ark increase the number and boldness of your prayers?
  5. Peter tells us that the sufferings and glories of Christ are things which “the angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:11, 12). How much do you yearn to study your salvation through a crucified Christ?
  6. In Revelation 11:19, we read, “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament.” What does this mean?

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