************ Sermon on Exodus 25:10-22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 28, 2014
"The Ark of the Covenant"
We continue our study of the tabernacle by looking at the ark of the covenant. The most common name for this piece of furniture is "ark of God" (1 Sam 3:3, et al.). Other names that the Bible gives to this piece of furniture are "ark of the covenant of the LORD" (Deut 10:8, et al.); "ark of the testimony" (Ex 25:22, et al.); and, "ark of your might" (Ps 132:8; cf Ps 78:61).
I The Construction of the Ark
A In our Scripture reading God revealed to Moses the pattern, the form, the blueprint for the ark. Remember, worship is so important to God that He leaves nothing to the imagination and ingenuity of man. The ark was to be made of acacia wood (Ex 25:10), which was a highly durable wood that grew in the area. The ark was rectangular, 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide, 1.5 cubits high (close to 4 feet X 2 feet X 2 feet). The ark was covered with pure gold, gold that had been treated so as to remove all impurities (Ex 25:11). Obviously, anything less would not be a fitting piece of furniture for the King of kings. Acacia poles overlaid with gold were permanently inserted into four rings that were fastened to its feet so it could be lifted onto shoulders and carried without being touched directly; these poles were never to be removed (Ex 25:12-15).
God also commanded Moses to make an atonement cover of pure gold for the box (Ex 25:17). Other translations call it a "mercy seat." At the two ends of the cover, facing each other and looking toward the cover, were two hammered gold cherubim. Their wings were spread upward, overshadowing the cover (Ex 25:18-20).
It appears that about a year after the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, the Ark was created according to the pattern given to Moses by God. The ark was built by Bezalel and Oholiab (Ex 31:6,7; 37:1-9) – two men filled with the Spirit of God and given skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts. They were gifted by God to make artistic designs, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship (Ex 31:3-5).
B When it was finished, the ark was placed in the inner most court of the tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies. It was the only piece of furniture in this special room.
We know the ark did not always remain in the Holy of Holies. When Israel was on the move the ark was carried by the Levites some half a mile in advance of the people or before the army. Specially chosen priests were selected to carry it by its poles. When carried, the ark was always hidden under a large veil made of skins and blue cloth, always carefully concealed, even from the eyes of the priests and the Levites who carried it.
II The Purpose of the Ark
A What is the purpose of the ark? First, God ordered the making of a "chest" (Ex 25:10). The Hebrew word means box or chest or even coffin. Telling us what? Telling us that the Ark's primary purpose was as a container.
When my room-mate in college got engaged his fiancee, Jill, bought a hope-chest. Do girls today have hope chests? Do they even know what they are? A young lady puts into her hope chest various things she needs once she becomes a wife and mother: linens like sheets, towels, blankets, pillow cases, and quilts; dishes, glasses and other breakable items are carefully placed on top of the folded linens; Pinterest suggests adding scrapbooks and pictures (honest, this is the one and only time I have looked at Pinterest). So, what did Jill do with her hope chest? Did she leave it empty and use it as a foot-stool or end table? Of course not! A hope chest is meant to be used.Similarly, the ark was meant to be used.
So, what was in the ark once it was finished? Movies – like "The Raiders of the Lost Ark" – would have us believe that angels or spirits or even God Himself were in the box. But this is not what Scripture says. In our Scripture reading God commands Moses to put the Testimony in the ark (Ex 25:16,21; cf Heb 9:4). What testimony? Or, maybe I should ask, testimony to what? The testimony to God's salvation and God's grace and God's love was to be put into the ark. And, you may ask, what is this testimony? The testimony to God's salvation, grace, and love is the Ten Commandments. So, Moses put the two tablets of the Law in the ark (2 Chron 5:10). Upon the order of Moses, a jar of manna was also placed in the ark as a memorial to God's provision (Ex 16:33; cf Heb 9:4). After the revolt of Korah, when God vindicated the authority of Moses and Aaron by causing Aaron's rod to bud, blossom, and produce almonds, God told Moses to also put this rod in the ark (Num 17:10; cf Heb 9:4). You might wonder how Aaron's staff can fit in a box that is just under 4 feet long? You need to understand that rods served many purposes and came in various sizes. In Aaron's case, it appears that his rod was more of a symbol of his God-given authority than a mere walking stick.
The ark, then, was a box. It was a container. "This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant" (Heb 9:4). Like the Lord's Supper and Baptism, it contained memorials to past redemption and assured God's people of God's continuing grace today.
B I am calling the second purpose "Theophany." Theophany is a Greek word which literally means "God-talk" or "God-voice." In verse 22 God says,
(Ex 25:22) There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.Did you catch that? The God Who spoke to Moses at the top of Mt. Sinai later spoke to Moses from between the cherubim. One of the first revelations proved to be the Book of Leviticus (Lev 1:1). And, God continued to speak to Moses in an audible voice from above the mercy seat (cf Num 7:89).
The ark, then, was a chariot, a delivery vehicle, for the bringing and receiving of God's Word (cf 1 Chron 28:18).
Today, we no longer have an ark. Rather, we have Jesus and the prophets and the Bible.
C Third, remember that the tabernacle and its furnishings point us to God's heavenly throne room (Heb 8:5). What was seen and used on earth was not the real thing; they simply points us heavenward to God's sanctuary. So, what does the ark point us to?
The ark points us to the throne of God. Listen to what is said by Samuel and the psalmist:
(2 Sam 6:2) ... the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark.In a very real way, the ark of the covenant was God's throne upon the earth. More specifically, it represented His footstool.
(Ps 80:1) Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim ...
(1 Chr 28:2) King David rose to his feet and said: "Listen to me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it.As further proof of this idea you need to realize that kings in the Ancient Near East often kept a copy of the laws of their kingdoms at their feet. Likewise, the Lord, as King of all, kept a copy of His laws at His feet, in His footstool, the ark.
D Fourth, many times we see that God acted through the ark for the guidance and protection of His people. When the cloud of God's presence lifted up from the ark and the tabernacle, that was a sign for God's people to move. And, do you know what happened? The ark went before the tribes three days to find a place to rest (Num 10:33). This reminds me of what someone said to me a number of weeks ago – didn't the fiery cloud lead the people? A close look at Numbers 10 reveals the ark also led the people as did Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses. Here we see a picture of divine providence and human responsibility at the same time.
This is not the only time God acted through the ark to guide and protect His people. When the ark was borne by Levites into the Jordan River, the waters parted as God had parted the waters of the Red Sea, opening a pathway for the people to pass through (Josh 3:15-16; 4:7-18). The walls of the city of Jericho were shaken to the ground with no more than a shout from the army after the ark of the covenant was paraded round them for seven days (Josh 6:4-20). Each time, notice, man also had a role to play.
E Fifth, the ark represented the presence and glory and might of God. Moses, in Numbers 10, tells us that formal prayers accompanied each journeying and resting of the ark.
(Num 10:35-36) Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Rise up, O LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you." (36) Whenever it came to rest, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel."Moses talked to the ark as though it were God. The ark represented God.
However, this does not mean God was confined to the ark because that would be idolatry and limit the omnipresent God of heaven and earth to a box. Our God existed prior to the ark. It was He Who commissioned its construction. It was He Who graciously chose to appear over His footstool. He exists apart from the ark. He even allowed the ark to be captured by Israel's enemies, the Philistines (1 Sam 4:3-11) – but in no way does this mean God Himself was captured.
F Sixth, the most significant purpose of the ark happened on only one day of the year, on the Day of Atonement. On that day Aaron would sprinkle the ark's cover, or mercy seat: first, he sprinkled the mercy seat seven times with the blood of a bull slain as a sin offering for himself; and then, he sprinkled the mercy seat seven times with the blood of a goat for the sins of the people (Lev 16:11-17).
Now, remember, underneath the blood and inside the ark is the Law of God – the Law of God that is continually broken by a sinful people. So, picture the symbolism:
-the blood covered the law-breaking of God's people
-because of the blood God was merciful to sinners
-the blood saved the disobedient from the wrath of God
Do you see the connection to the New Testament? The ark and its blood points us forward to the cross and blood of Jesus. The ark shows us and reminds us that it is the death of a substitute and the sprinkling of blood that stands between God and His broken Law.
III The Pilgrim Message of the Ark
A I want to end by looking at the poles of the ark, the poles that are not to be removed (Ex 25:15).
The poles, as you know, were used to move the ark. This is the only way the ark was to be moved. As Uzzah found out, the ark was not to be moved by an ox cart (2 Sam 6:7).
Wherever the people went, the ark of God, the ark of the covenant, the ark of the testimony, the ark of God's might, went with them. Telling the Israelites what? Telling them God was with His people wherever they might go. He was with them as they traveled through the wilderness. He was with them as they faced hunger and thirst. He was with them as they faced the giants and walled cities of the Promised Land. He was with them as they faced powerful armies. He was with them in their worries and trials and hardships and difficulties. He was with them all the time. He was with them no matter what. As Paul puts it later in the New Testament,
(Rom 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Nothing can ever separate us from the God Who loves us and forgives us. As we travel through life, have this assurance, my brothers and sisters: even as God was with Israel in the wilderness so is He with you and me.
And, yet, the message of the ark is somewhat mixed. Yes, the ark represents the presence of God with His people. However, it was buried deep in the tabernacle. It was beyond the outer courts, through the inner courts, into the Holy Place, through the curtain, in the Holy of Holies. And, no one could see it. No one could touch it. No one could look inside of it. Talk about a double message from God: "I am with you, but don't get too close." "I am with you, but keep your distance." That, of course, is the result of sin. An unholy man cannot dare to approach the holy God.
However, the book of Revelation gives us another picture. It shows us what happens because of Christ. "God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant" (Rev 11:19). No longer was the ark kept under wraps. No longer was it hidden away. No longer was it off limits. It was in the open for all to see and to touch. Hear the message? Not only was God with His people, but – because of Christ – God can be approached by His people.
B The poles not only say something about God but they also say something about Israel. The poles are a reminder that Israel is on pilgrimage. At the time the ark was built Israel was on pilgrimage to the Promised Land. But even after they arrived at and conquered Palestine the poles remained in the ark. Even after the ark was put in the temple, the poles remained in the ark. The poles were long and in the way but they remained in the ark. Telling them what? Telling them that God's people are always on pilgrimage. Telling them that this life and this earth is but a shadow. Telling them that the real deal, the real thing, awaits the future. Shadows ... remember. This present life is a shadow of what is to come.
In the New Testament we don't have an ark. Yet, what is true for Israel is also true for us. We are to know ourselves as always being on pilgrimage. In his first letter, Peter writes "To God's elect, strangers in the world ..." (1 Pt 1:1). And a bit further on in the same letter he calls them "aliens and strangers in the world ..." (1 Pt 2:11). In other words, we are to consider ourselves as pilgrims, as pilgrims traveling through this world. Wherever we are, no matter where God has placed us, no matter how well established we are, we are to consider ourselves as being on pilgrimage.
This means, like Abraham, that we are to keep our eyes focused on the future. Even though he made it to the Promised Land, Abraham never thought for a moment that this was it, the fulfillment of God's work and plans. Instead, says Hebrews,
(Heb 11:10) ... he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Abraham was a pilgrim. He was looking forward to a heavenly land (Heb 11:16), the New Jerusalem (Rev 21).
As pilgrims, we also must look forward to a heavenly land, the New Jerusalem. But this is not easy, is it?! It is hard for us to adopt the pilgrim attitude when we have life so good. When we are young and healthy, in love with a special guy or girl, busy making marriage plans, then it is hard to fill our minds with thoughts of the future life. When our children are healthy, our marriage happy, our dairy growing, then it is hard to adopt the pilgrim attitude. When we have money in the bank, a new car in the garage, children and grandchildren with a good start in life, it is hard to fill our minds with visions of the future. When school is going well and we are looking forward to graduation, it is hard to have the pilgrim attitude.
A pilgrim attitude is easy to have if we are desperate, sick, dying, poor, overwhelmed with troubles. At the time of the civil war the southern slaves had little in this life and on this earth that was attractive; therefore, many of their songs and thoughts concerned the future.
The ark reminds us that our thoughts, our dreams, our hopes, are not to be centered on the present, but on the future.
In the meantime, we are here in this life and on this earth to serve Jesus, the King of the nations. We are to bring Him our tribute. We are to give Him our deepest love and highest praise.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page