The Ark of the Covenant… Last article we answered, “What is a covenant?” so now let’s answer, “What’s the Ark?” Is what is said in Raiders about the Ark accurate to the Bible?
WHAT IS THE ARK?
In the book of Exodus, after freeing the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God gives Moses “the Law.” This includes civil, moral, and religious laws, including the 10 Commandments. In the section of Scripture where God gives Moses specific instructions about the design of the tabernacle, which is essentially a portable temple (the Israelites were nomadic at this time and lived in tents), God also gives the specifics on how to build the Ark of the Covenant (See Exodus 25-26).
The directions, preserved in the Bible, are specific and give the precise dimensions. It was to be made of acacia (shittim) wood and completely overlaid with gold. There were to be gold rings in the corners so golden staves could be inserted into the rings and the Ark could be carried by the priests and Levites. This is the only way the Ark was to be carried (and this is an important detail to remember when we talk later about a man named Uzzah).
In Raider of the Lost Ark, we see Indy and Sallah use staves and the rings to lift the Ark from its stone container when they find it in the Well of Souls. Because of the specific details in the directions, the Bible must’ve made a good guide for the prop designer(s) of the Ark for the Raiders movie. (See Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9; Deut. 10:2-5)
On the top of the Ark, sits the Mercy Seat (or Cover). Two winged cherubim spread their wings towards each other, “overshadowing” the Mercy Seat (Ex.25:20). Recorded in Exodus 25:21, God says, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”
WHAT’S IN THE ARK?
The “testimony” God gave Moses (written on stone tablets) were to be kept in the Ark (Ex. 25:21; Deut. 10:2-5), but other objects were also kept in the Ark.
In Exodus 16:32-34, God commanded Moses that some of the manna God provided from heaven to feed the Israelites in the desert to be kept in a container. In Numbers 17, to show that Aaron had God’s authority behind him, God made Aaron’s staff sprout and “put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds” (Num.17:8).
Both of these important artifacts from Israel’s history must’ve been placed in the Ark for safe keeping later, because in the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament, the Ark is described as containing “a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Heb. 9:4).
It must’ve been decided to keep these additional two things in the Ark many generations later, because even during the reign of King Solomon the Ark only contained the stone tablets: as the Ark was placed in Solomon’s newly built temple in Jerusalem, we’re clearly told, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:9).
So, Indy and the Nazis should’ve expected to find more than just the tablets of the 10 Commandments in the Ark. When Belloq opens the Ark at the end of the film, all he finds is sand. Had the stone tablets disintegrated? Or had they been removed – along with the container of manna and Aaron’s staff? Were the writers of Raiders even aware that the manna and staff should also be in the Ark? Did they leave that part of biblical history out for the sake of simplicity in the plot?
WHERE WAS THE ARK KEPT?
Within the holy Tabernacle, Israel’s portable temple, there was a special place called the Most Holy Place. A veil separated it from the rest of the Tabernacle. This is where God’s presence would reside among his people, and, thus, the Ark was to be kept there (Ex. 26:33-34). So, in a way, Indy’s arch-nemesis Belloq is right when he calls the Ark “a transmitter. It’s a radio for speaking to God.”
The Most Holy Place was to only ever be entered once a year on the Day of Atonement by the high priest of Israel alone. For anyone else to enter into the presence of God meant certain death, and the high priest could only enter after completing all sorts of rituals to atone for his sins and to be ritualistically clean. Then, and only then, could the high priest enter the Most Holy Place with the blood of the goat sacrificed for the sins of all of Israel, where he would sprinkle some of the blood over and in front of the Mercy Seat of the Ark. (See Leviticus 16.)
(There’s a popular idea that the Israelites would tie a rope around the ankle of the High Priest before he entered the Most Holy Place so if he died, they could drag him out. The lack of historical evidence leads many to believe this practice may simply be a legend.)
The Book of Exodus ends with the tabernacle being completed and the glory of the LORD filling the Tabernacle (Ex.40:34). Several generations later, we see the glory of God again fill the more permanent structure in Jerusalem when Solomon completed the building of the first Temple (2 Chronicles 7).
Later, in the New Testament, we will learn what all this represents.
NEXT: Rituals, tabernacles, sacrifices, & the Ark… So, what’s this Old Testament stuff all about?
Other GFTM articles related to entertainment & TV: