Ark of the Covenant

What is the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant is part of the old covenant in the Bible. The books of Exodus and 1 Samuel talk about it the most. It is a chest made of arcadia wood and covered with gold(Exo. 25:10-11; 37:1-2) and contained the 10 commandment tablets from Moses(Exo. 25:16; 40:1-3, 18-20). The lid was called the mercy seat or atonement cover and had 2 gold-carved Cherubim(angels) on top(Exo. 25:17-20; 37:6-9). The ark was placed in a tent or tabernacle that had 2 areas: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. These 2 areas were separated by a curtain(Exo. 26:33; Heb. 9:2-3) with the ark being placed in the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle(Exo. 26:34; Lev. 16:2). While in there the glory of God dwelled between the 2 Cherubim or angels(Exo. 25:22; Lev. 16:2) on the top of the ark. The high priest went into the Most Holy Place once a year to sprinkle blood before the ark in order to make atonement for sins of the people(Lev. 16:13-14, 34).

People have a fascination with the Ark of the Covenant as they view it as a way to communicate with God. Some have spent years searching for it. Rumors abound of it being in all sorts of countries.

Indiana Jones movie

Interest in the ark was raised after the first Indiana Jones movie in 1981. In the movie, Indiana races against the Nazis to find the ark in World War II. Although this was the best Indie movie and a classic, it was not biblically accurate in some details.

The scene where the ark is first mentioned is when Jones and Marcus meet with army intelligence officers. Jones said Moses put the broken tablets of the 10 commandments in the ark. Moses did break the tablets by throwing them to the foot of Mt. Sinai since he was angry with the Israelites for worshipping a golden calf(Exo. 32:19). However, he went back up the mountain to get new tablets with the commandments written on them(Exo. 34:1,29) and placed them in the ark. Another problem with the scene is Marcus said "The Bible speaks of the ark leveling mountains", but the Bible says no such thing. Marcus also said any army with the ark is invincible. Although the Israelites did win at Jericho(Jos. 6:6-21) and other battles, carrying the ark around did not guarantee victory. The Philistines captured the ark when the Israelites disobeyed God (1 Sam. 4). God gave the ark its power and gave the Israelites their victories when they were obedient. The ark itself didn't give the Israelites victory and wasn't some lucky charm.

In the scene where the site of the ark is being dug up, clouds, thunder and lightning appear. This did have an eerie and dramatic effect. The idea for this might have been from the thunder and lightning that occurred when God descended on Mt. Sinai in Exodus(Exo. 19:16).

Another problem with the ark in the movie is the atonement cover or the lid. The Bible says the wings of the Cherubim on the atonement cover were pointed up(Exo. 25:20; 37:9). However, the wings in the movie were horizontal and not pointed up.

An interesting scene is when the ark emits a strange humming sound while on a ship. This causes the rats on board to behave erratically. Then the Nazi symbol is burned off the container the ark is in. This could be from the story of what happened when the Philistines possessed the ark. They first brought it to the house of their god Dagan. The statue of the Philistine god Dagan fell one night in front of the ark as if bowing down(1 Sam. 5:1-3). The Philistines put the statue back in its place. The next day the statue not only fell, but its head and hands broke off(1 Sam. 5:4). Regarding the rats, when the Philistines had the ark they suffered a plague of tumors sent by God(1 Sam. 5:6,9,12). To get rid of the plague, the Philistines not only sent the ark back to Israel but made a guilt offering by sending 5 models of gold tumors and 5 gold mice(1 Sam. 6:2-11).

Another problem is how the Nazis got the ark on the sub. The ark is 45 inches long, 27 inches wide and 27 inches high(Exo. 25:10). The hatches on submarines likely wouldn't be wide enough for the ark. They likely would not have left something as valuable as the ark tied to the top of the sub either.

In the scene where Indiana threatens to destroy the ark with an RPG, the Germans were carrying it while it was covered with a veil. The ark indeed would be covered when moving outside the tabernacle(Num. 4:5-6). Poles were used to carry it too(Exo. 25:13-15; 37:5), but the fact the Nazis were carrying the ark is unbiblical as only the Kohathites members of the Levite tribe were allowed to carry it(Num. 4:15).

The climax of the film had several elements worth mentioning. Indiana and Miriam are tied to a pole while Beloc, wearing priestly clothes, is about to open the ark. The cover of the ark is removed by the Nazis. Beloc looked in and was expecting to see the tablets of the 10 Commandments or some treasure but only found sand. Then a strange humming sound comes from the ark and spirits came out of it. Jones tells Miriam to close her eyes and not to look at anything coming out of the ark. The Nazis who did look at the spirits all died in various graphic ways. Then everything that came out of the ark went back in and the ark was sealed again, leaving only Jones and Miriam alive.

Is any of this biblical? Beloc wore the clothes the priests would have worn(Exo. 28:1-6). When people in the Bible disobeyed God's instructions regarding the ark, they died. In one story Uzzah was in a chariot with the ark when the oxen hauling the chariot stumbled. Uzzah tried to keep the ark steady by touching it, but God killed Uzzah for this(2 Sam. 6:6-7). When the Philistines returned the ark to Israel, the Bible records the men of Beth-shemesh who looked into it were killed(1 Sam. 6:19). Neither account specifies how they died. As for the spirits and other effects from the ark, the Bible does not say anything about them. They were likely done for dramatic effect. When Jones told Miriam to close her eyes and not look at what was coming out of the ark, this could be in reference to God telling Moses not to look at His face or Moses will die(Exo. 33:18-23).

Where is it?

People have scoured the earth for the ark, but where is it today? Countless theories abound regarding where it is. The movie says Tanis, Egypt is the resting place of the ark after a Pharaoh took it(1 Kings 14:25-26). Some think it is in Ethiopia. Others believe King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took the ark after the Babylonian invasion(2 Kings 25:13-15). We do know the ark wasn't in the Most Holy Place at the time of Jesus.

Another possibility is the Ark of the Covenant is not on Earth. The Apostle John saw the ark in Heaven in the book of Revelation(Rev. 11:19). John mentions seeing it in God's temple.

Do we need it?

Do we still need the ark today? We can find the answer in the book of Jeremiah, after the ark disappeared. God promises a future to the Israelites where they won't miss the "good old days" of the ark(Jer. 3:16). The book also says we won't build another.

The truth is we don't need the ark to communicate or have a relationship with the Lord. It was a part of the Mosaic covenant that is not in use today. The veil between the Holy and Most Holy Place was torn after Jesus' crucifixion(Matt. 27:51), symbolizing everyone has access to God. The Holy Spirit lives inside us as believers.

Last updated 3/2/2012