Whatever happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant was sacred to the people of Israel long before the Temple at Jerusalem was built. The Ark itself was built according to Divine instruction, including the detail of its design.

It contained the two tablets of stone God gave to Moses inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron which had flowered indicating that he should be High Priest and a portion of the Manna with which God had fed the people of Israel whilst they wandered in the desert.

God had decreed that the Ark should be built thus:

A rectangular box

Approx.1.2 Metres by 0.7 Metres by .0.7 Metres.

Made of Acacia wood, it was gilded inside and out.

On each side were two golden rings through which were placed the poles used to carry the Ark in solemn procession

Atop the Ark, was a solid Gold plate . This provided the base for two golden statues of Seraphim. Their wings extended over their heads, and where their wings met, God would appear to His people.

This appearance was called the Shekinah, and the place where this occurred was known as the “kepporet””the “mercy seat.

When the Israelites were a wandering people, the Ark was carried by priests and when camp was made, they set up the Sanctuary Tent which housed the Ark. King David brought it to Jerusalem and finally it was installed in Solomon’s Temple in the Holy of Holies. In the earlier wandering times, the Ark had even been carried into battle. On one occasion it was captured by the Philistines, in a terrible defeat. For seven months they retained the Ark, but it brought them plague and they finally brought it back, together with golden votive offerings to appease the One True God.

The awesome sacred nature of the Ark was highlighted by an incident on the first occasion David tried to bring it into Jerusalem. It was being carried on a carriage and at one stage seemed about to topple, when an attendant named Uzza in reaction, stretched out his hand to steady it and touched the Ark. He was instantly struck dead.

King David was so overcome by this demonstration of the Ark’s sacred character that he halted the proceedings and for three months kept the Ark in the nearby home of Obed-Edom.The latter prospered during that time, so David regained his courage and once again in great and celebratory procession, the Ark was brought into Jerusalem and placed on the very spot where it was believed Abraham had been prepared to sacrifice Isaac.

David was forbidden to build a permanent structure to house the Ark, by the Prophet Nathan. The task was reserved to Solomon who built the mighty Temple for that purpose. For 400 years it remained there, visited only one day a year on the Day of Atonement, by the High Priest. But Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. There we lose track of the Ark. It is not mentioned among the objects plundered by the invaders. A later Jewish tradition tells the story that the Prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark, burying it on Mt. Nebo, where Moses was buried, and that it would appear in the skies to foreshadow the Day of the Lord.

In New Testament times we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews that such sacred objects of the past only foreshadowed the coming of Christ who is Himself the “mercy seat”- the true meeting point between God and Man. And Saint Luke in his Gospel fully rounds out our understanding of the new Covenant: Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant bearing in her womb the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Like the Ark of old, she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.


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