The Ark of the Covenant
Gordon S. Beck, Belfast, N. Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In this article we will consider the Ark of the Covenant, not only as part of the furniture of the tabernacle but as it typifies Christ. Some commentators on the Old Testament see the tabernacle and its constituent parts from purely a historical point of view, but the spiritually-minded student of the word of God sees beyond this, and soon finds the glorious types of Christ. This way of approaching the study of the tabernacle is not imagination but interpretation, for, when we come to the Epistle to the Hebrews, we see that these were parables or figures. Another Scripture which would support this teaching is found in Luke 24. in the account of the two on the road to Emmaus. Despondent and dejected in heart as they were because as yet they did not believe the truth of resurrection affecting Christ, nor yet that He should suffer but, ‘Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him’, vv. 15-16. Yet, as they journeyed with the Saviour, He began to expound the Scriptures, ‘And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’, v. 27. What a staggering confirmation of the correctness of interpreting our Old Testament in terms of Christ.
The only Scriptures He could refer to would be the Old Testament! The whole of the Old Testament, including the types of Exodus and Leviticus, speaks to us of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Pentateuch we have Christ PREFIGURED; in the historical books we have Christ PARALELLED; in the Psalms we have Christ PICTURED; while in the prophetical books we have Christ PROPHESIED.
Let us come now to a detailed study of the ark of the covenant and its movements. For this purpose we will have to come firstly to the book of Exodus, where we have an account of what the ark consisted.
The Ark - it was made of wood and gold
Firstly, we read, ‘And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof’, Exod. 25. 10. The ark was to be made of shittim wood. This wood is almost incorruptible and best speaks of the perfect humanity of Christ. We then read, ‘And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about’, 25. 11. If the shittim wood typified the humanity of Christ, in the gold we have His deity. Gold in Scripture often speaks of God’s righteousness, and can also speak of His glory, but, when used here as a type of Christ, it speaks of His deity: that He is divine. On speaking of the humanity of Christ and His deity, we must never think of two discrete, that is separate, natures, one the Man and the other God. We must think of one divine Person having two perfect natures - in a mystical union. The Scriptures declare, ‘And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh’, 1 Tim. 3. 16.
The Ark - three distinct parts
Having looked at the ark as to the wood and the gold, we need now to look at it, including the cherubim so closely linked to it, in three ways;
firstly we have the ark itself, speaking of divine grace;
secondly the lid of gold, speaking of divine mercy;
thirdly the cherubim, speaking of divine justice.
These are all seen in what Paul has to say of the ark in Romans 3. We have seen the ark as a type of Christ – ‘God manifest in the flesh’. The mercyseat, which was the lid of the box-like container, would speak of Christ as ‘the place of meeting’ and is described as such by Paul in Romans 3. 24-25, ‘Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God’. The Greek word used here for ‘propitiation’ is the same as that used for mercyseat. So then we now see in it a beautiful picture in anticipation of the coming of the Christ of God acting in grace and mercy, and, in the cherubim, justice.
Romans 3 sets out the truth of the cherubim – these being the angelic forms raised out of the same solid gold of which the mercyseat was made, and speak of God’s justice that demands punishment for a guilty world. In the same chapter we see God’s justice satisfied in the sacrifice of Christ. Note the difference between the cherubim in Genesis 3. 24, and that in Exodus 25. 18-22. In the first passage we read, ‘He placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life’. In the second passage we read, ‘And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold . . . one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end . . . the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be’, Exod. 25. 18-20. The difference in attitude between the cherubim in Genesis and those in Exodus is that in the first we see a flaming sword; but there is no such sword in connection with the second. Why? Because in the first there was no mercy seat with blood to look upon; whereas, in the second the cherubim looked upon the blood-stained mercy seat, they saw typically that atonement had been made, hence there was no need for the sword of judgement.
The Ark - its contents
Then we come to the contents of the ark. In the Holy Spirit’s commentary on these objects given in Hebrews 9. 4 we read, ‘Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant’. Keeping in mind the ark was a type of Christ, the laws or covenants within it would speak to us of Christ having God’s laws in His heart. In all His pathway down here He delighted to do His Father’s will. This was one of His purposes in taking a body. We hear Him say prophetically, ‘Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: Yea, thy law is within my heart’, Ps. 40. 7-8. Truly, it could be said that God’s law was within His heart. In solitude in the wilderness, and being tempted of the devil, we see One in whom the law of the Lord did fully dwell; constantly replying to the temptings with the words, ‘it is written’, quoting freely from the book of Deuteronomy.
In the manna we have another wonderful type of the Saviour in His humility. Think of the manna as white in colour; this brings before us the purity of His Person. In these days when the purity of Christ is being questioned, we must defend His sinlessness. We notice that in Numbers 11. 9 the manna fell upon the dew, and the dew would have separated the manna from the earth. This tells us of the One who, though He lived in a sinful scene, never was contaminated by it. Secondly, we read that the manna was ‘round’; a circle in Scripture suggests the thought of eternity, and this may bring before us the eternal existence of Christ. Thirdly, we are told that the manna was ‘small’, bringing before us the humility of Christ. An example of this is in John 13 where we have the Lord Jesus girded with a towel, washing the feet of His disciples. What humility! The One who was greater than all could stoop to wash the feet of His disciples as an example of what they should do. Then, what an example for us too!
The Ark - its movements
In concluding I would like to bring before you three of the many movements of the ark. Firstly, it is carried into the Jordan upon the shoulders of the priests, Josh. 3. 15. There the waters rolled back to the city of Adam, v. 16. In this we have a picture of the death and of Christ. The river Jordan in Scripture speaks of death. Christ in type going into death and making propitiation for the sin of the world. The waters went all the way back to Adam, the first man to sin.
Secondly, in this passage we have the ark going into Jordan but also, more significantly, coming up out of this type of death, speaking of the glorious resurrection of Christ. ‘Delivered for our offences,’ the ark going into Jordan, ‘raised again for our justification’, the ark carried up out of Jordan.
Lastly, we think of a movement of the ark that ministers comfort and cheer. Normally, the ark was carried in the midst of the twelve tribes, six before and six behind; a wonderful type of the Lord in the midst of His people. Only in one instance do we get the order changed and it is seen in Numbers 10, verse 33. There we find that the ark went three days journey ahead to find a resting place for the people of God. We see here a wonderful picture of the One who has gone before to prepare a place for His own. What a comfort this should be to us as believers moving through this scene of trouble and trial. He who has gone on before is our blessed Saviour and Lord, who now awaits our coming to the place He has prepared for us.
‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’
AUTHOR PROFILE: Gordon S. Beck lived in Scotland and was associated with assemblies there before moving to N. Ireland some years ago. He is involved in education and fellowship in the assembly at Carrickfergus Gospel Hall.