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As the Ark is singled out from the seven pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle for special sanctity and prominence, and as so much more is recorded about its history than that of any of the other holy vessels, we felt it needful to devote two articles to its consideration. In the preceding one we pondered its importance; its significance, its materials, its dimensions and its contents. In this we shall deal with its coverings, its varied names or titles, and its remarkable career. May the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to take of the things of Christ and show them to His people, graciously enlighten our sin-darkened understandings and draw out our hearts in adoring worship to Him whom the Ark so strikingly perfigured. 5. ITS COVERINGS.
The actual cover or lid of the Ark was the mercy-seat, but it is not of this we shall now treat, as that will be the object of contemplation in the next article. The coverings of the Ark which we shall here notice are those which protected it as it was borne from place to place dining the journeyings of Israel. These are suitably mentioned in Numbers — the Wilderness book. In Numbers 4:5,6, we read, “And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the Ark of testimony with it: And shall put thereon the covering of badgers” skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.”
First , the Ark was wrapped in the “covering veil” — the most precious of all the curtains. The veil, as we learn from Hebrews 10:20, typified the perfect humanity of Christ, rent for His people by the hand of God. This tells us that when God the Son was here in this wilderness-world His Divine glory was hidden from the eyes of men by His flesh, He who was in the form of God having taken upon Himself, the form of a servant.
Second , over the covering veil was placed “the covering of badgers’ skins.” Unlike the skins of other animals, the lion, tiger, or leopard, the badger’s is quite unattractive. In Ezekiel 16:10 we read of badgers’ skins for making sandals, hence when used symbolically they would speak of lowliness. In our present type the badgers’ skins tell of our Lord’s humiliation, particularly that aspect of it from which nature turns away, saying, “He hath no form or comeliness, and when we shall see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him”; but an aspect which those who through sovereign grace are in communion with Him, ever recognize as that which fills them with adoring love.
Third , the external covering of the Ark was “a cloth wholly of blue” — this alone being seen by men as the Ark was carried through the wilderness from place to place. It was this which distinguished the Ark, once more, from the other vessels, for all of them had the badgers’ skins for their outer covering. Why, then, was the cloth of blue the external garment of the Ark? Blue is the color of heaven and is ever employed for the setting forth of celestial things. All heavenly things are not suitable for testimony to the world, but Christ as the God-man is to be borne witness to before all! 6. ITS NAMES. “His name shall be called Wonderful” ( Isaiah 9:6) was the language of Messamiac prophecy, and strikingly was this foreshadowed by the different titles of the Ark. They are seven in number, and are wonderful for their variety, dignity and sublimity.
First , the ark was termed “the ark of the Testimony” ( Exodus 25:22).
This is the name by which it is most frequently called. It was thus designated because it was there that the “two tables of testimony” ( 31:18) were deposited for safe keeping. The Ark was given this appellation because it testified to the holiness and grace, the majesty and condescension of Jehovah. It was so denominated because Christ, to whom the Ark pointed, is the Center of all God’s counsels.
Second , the Ark was called “the ark of the covenant” ( Numbers 10:33).
This brings before us a most blessed though math neglected subject, upon which we feign would linger, but must not. Christ is expressly termed the “Surety of a better testament”‘ or covenant” ( Hebrews 7:23); of which He is also the Mediator ( Hebrews 9:6). This covenant is one into which He entered before the foundation of the world ( Hebrews 13:20), a covenant “ordered in all things and sure” ( 2 Samuel 23:5); a covenant in which Christ agreed to discharge all the obligations and responsibilities of His people.
Third , the Ark was named “the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth” ( Joshua 3:15). This title was used just after Israel had crossed the Jordan, when the unconquered land of Canaan lay before them. It was, at that time, filled with enemies. But there was the symbol and word of assurance — the Ark which went before them was the Ark of the Lord of all the earth. The anti-typical fulfillment of this is yet future. When Christ returns He will find the inheritance occupied with usurpers. But a short work will He make of them: the enemy will be ejected and His own throne securely established — Zechariah 14:9!
Fourth , the Ark was denominated “the Ark of God” ( 1 Samuel 3:3).
This is very striking. God never identified Himself with any of the other vessels of the sanctuary. But how appropriate that He should do so with that which, in a special way, symbolized the person of Christ, How this title of the Ark pointed to the absolute Deity of Him who was made in the likeness of men.
Fifth , the Ark was entitled “the Ark of the Lord God” ( 1 Kings 2:26) — in the Hebrew, “Adonai Jehovah.” “Adonai” always has reference to headship, and to God’s purpose of blessing. “Jehovah” is God in covenant relationship. The connection in which this particular name of the Ark occurs is most interesting and blessed. The first chapter of King’s records a conspiracy at the close of David’s reign, to prevent Solomon securing the throne. The second chapter tells how the conspirators and their abettors were dealt with after Solomon came to the throne: Adonijah and Joab were slain, but Abiather, the priest, was spared because he had borne the Ark.
Sixth , the Ark was designated “the holy Ark” ( 2 Chronicles 35:3). It was so spoken of by king Josiah, in whose days mere was a blessed revival of true godliness. Preceding his reign there had been a long period of awful declension and apostasy, and the Ark was no longer kept in the Temple, therefore one of the first acts of Josiah was to give orders for the placing of the holy Ark in the House which Solomon had built. How this shows us that the holiness and majesty of Christ’s person is only appreciated when God is working in power among His people!
Seventh , the Ark was spoken of as “the Ark of Thy strength” ( <19D208> Psalm 132:8). Lovely title was this. How it reminds us of that word: “I have laid help upon One that is mighty” ( Psalm 89:19); and again, “Christ the power of God,” “and the wisdom of God” ( 1 Corinthians 1:24). Blessed be His name, there is no feebleness in our Redeemer; all power in heaven and earth is His. He is none other than “the mighty God” ( Isaiah 9:6). O that His dear people may draw more and more from His fullness, proving that His strength is made perfect in their weakness. 7. ITS CAREER.
Provision was duly made for the Ark to be carried while the Tabernacle was being borne from one camping place to another. “And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it. And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put these staves into the rings by the sides of the Ark, that the Ark may be borne with them. The staves shall be in the rings of the Ark: they shall not be taken from it” ( Exodus 25:12-15). “This shows that God’s people were pilgrims in the wilderness, Journeying on to the place which God had prepared for them. But the time would come when the inheritance should be possessed, and when the temple, suited in magnificence to the glory of the king of Israel should be built. The staves, which in the desert were not to be taken from the rings of the Ark, should then be withdrawn ( Chronicles 5:9), because the pilgrimage past, the Ark would, with the people, have entered into its rest ( <19D208> Psalm 132:8). The staves in the rings, therefore, speak of Christ with His pilgrim host, as being Himself with them in wilderness circumstances. It is Christ in this world, Christ in all His own perfectness as man — Christ, in a word, in all that He was as the revealer of God; for in truth, He was the perfect presentation of God to man” (Mr. Ed. Dennett).
Before we attempt to trace the actual career of the Ark, there is one other point to be considered concerning its history, namely, that before its journeyings commenced it was anointed. This is recorded in Exodus 30:26, “And thou shalt anoint the Tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the Ark of the Testimony.” The antitype is presented to us in Acts 10:38: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.”
Notice the “anointing” of the Savior occurred before He “went about doing good,” just as the anointing of the Ark preceded its travels. The anointing of our Redeemer with the Holy Spirit took place at His baptism when, at the solemn inauguration of His public ministry, the Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove (Matthew 3). (1) “And they departed from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey and the Ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days’ Journey, to search out a resting place for them” ( Numbers 10:33).
Very blessed and beautiful is this. Lovely type was it of the Good Shepherd going before His sheep ( John 10:4), leading them into the green pastures and beside the still waters. But the preciousness of the type here will be lost unless we attend to the context — note the “and” at the beginning of Numbers 10:33!
Second , observe the failure of Moses. Forgetful of the Lord’s promise to guide them, he desired to lean upon the arm of flesh, and said to his fatherin- law, “Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes” ( 10:31).
Alas, what is man, even the best among men!
Third , beautiful is it to see how mercifully the Lord intervened: the Ark was now to go before Israel as their guide — type of Christ as the Leader of His pilgrim people. As another has said, “In the path Homeward, the brightest human eyes and the keenest human wisdom are absolutely of no avail.” The “three days’ Journey” Intimate that it is on resurrection-ground that the Lord directs His people. (2) “But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the Ark of the covenant of the Lord and Moses departed not out of the camp” ( Numbers 14:44).
The whole of this chapter is very solemn, recording as it does the Judgment of God, which would descend upon a people who feared to follow the counsel of Caleb and Joshua. But the people believed not the Divine warning, and next morning, feeling the folly of their timidity on the previous day, determined to go up, and, in their own strength, disposes the enemy. Nevertheless the Ark and Moses departed not out of the camp.
Therefore we need not be surprised at what follows: “Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah” (v. 45).
What a solemn warning is this for us today: unless the Lord Himself is leading us, when we act simply in the energy of the flesh, failure and disaster are the sure consequence. (3) Joshua 3:5 to 17. This passage is too long for us to quote here, but let the student please turn to it and read it carefully ere he proceeds with our comments. Here we see Israel crossing the Jordan and the Ark going before them to open up a way through its waters. Though Israel’s journey across the wilderness was one long record of unbelief, murmuring and rebelling, the Ark still continued to guide them, and now that the promised land was spread before their eyes conducted them into it. Blessed type was this of the marvellous and matchless long-suffering of God, who, notwithstanding all the sins and miserable failures of His people, has promised, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”
The Jordan is the river of Judgment and a figure of death. The Ark of the Lord’s presence entering Jordan, dividing its waters for Israel to pass over dry-shod, is a type of the Lord Jesus suffering death for His people. “The fact that the Ark of the Lord had passed before them into Jordan and that its waters had dried up before it, was to be proof positive that the Lord would drive out all their enemies before them: the fact that Jesus entered death for us, received its sting, tasted what real death as the wages of sin is, exhausted its bitterness, is also certain proof to us that no enemy can ever prevent our final entrance into and enjoyment of the Heavenly Canaan. And this fact is of fullest blessing. The king of terrors is disarmed for us; he is powerless that had the power of death, and those are delivered who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Mr. C. H. Bright).
In consequence, those for whom Christ died shall never themselves receive the wages of sin. Fall asleep they may, but die they shall not: “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death” ( John 8:52); “Whosoever liveth and believeth on Me shall never die” ( John 11:26). (4). Joshua 6:4 to 20. Once again we would ask the student to read the Scripture before noting our brief remarks thereon. The one thing which we here single out for mention is that the Ark of the covenant led the way as Israel marched around the walls of Jericho. How plainly this teaches us that, if the strongholds of Satan are to fall before the people of God, if proud imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God are to be cast down, it can only be under the immediate leadership of the Captain of our salvation. Notice how the “Ark” is mentioned no less than ten times in Joshua 6! The power was not in the trumpets, nor in the marching or shouting of the people, but in the Ark with its blood-sprinkled mercy-seat going before them; and strikingly did God bear witness to its efficacy. (5). “And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side of the Ark and on that side before the priests and Levites, which bear the Ark of the covenant of the Lord, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against Mount Gerizim, and half of them over against Mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel” ( Joshua 8:33). Here a lovely scene is presented to us. At their first attempt to capture Ai, Israel had failed miserably, due to their pride and self-sufficiency — see 7:3. Deeply exercised in heart Joshua had sought unto Jehovah, who made known to him the sin of Achan. After that had been dealt with, the Lord assured Joshua ( <060801> 8:1) that He had given Ai into his hands. The sequel made this manifest: the city was burned and its king hanged. Then we are told, Joshua built an altar unto the Lord, upon whose stones He wrote the ten commandments, and then summoning all Israel together, read in their ears all the words of the law. But what is so blessed to behold is, that the Ark formed the center. “And all Israel.... stood on this side of the Ark and on that side.” Precious figure was this of Christ in the midst of His assembly, and praise being rendered to Him for the victories He has wrought. (6). “And the children of Israel inquired of the Lord, for the Ark of the covenant of God was there in those days ( Judges 20:27). The chapter in which this is found records another of Israel’s sad failures into which we must not now enter. The tribe of Benjamin had sinned grievously and the remaining tribes undertook to punish them. Though vastly superior in numbers, Israel was defeated. Then it was that they wept and fasted before the Lord, and inquired of Him. The reference to the Ark here, typically shows us that the mind of Goal can only be learned through and in Christ. (7). 1 Samuel 4: This chapter presents to us the sad spectacle of the Ark of God captured by the Philistines (v. 11) — permitted by God because of the apostasy of His people. Typically, this points to the humiliation of that One whom the Ark ever prefigured, and foreshadowed His being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles! Two details here emphasise what we have just said, and exceedingly striking they are. Connected with, yea, synchronizing with, the Ark being laid hold of by the Philistines, was the death of the high priest (v. 18).
According to the eternal counsels of God, the Lord Jesus was delivered into the hands of the Gentiles in order to the death of the great High Priest! Equally noteworthy were the words of Eli’s daughter-in-law: “The glory of God is departed from Israel, because the Ark of God was taken” (v. 21). So it was with the Anti-type. With the delivering up of Christ into the hands of the Gentiles the glory of God departed from Israel! (8). 1 Samuel 5. This chapter traces the history of the Ark while it was away from Israel in the land of the Philistines. First, they took it into the house of Dagon, and set it before this idol. The sequel was startling: “And when they of Ashdod rose early on the morrow, behold Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the Ark of the Lord.” How forcibly this reminds us of what is mentioned in John 18:3-6, when the officers came to arrest Christ they “fell to the ground before Him!” And afterwards God troubled the Philistines so severely they got rid of the Ark by sending it back to Israel. Did not this foreshadow the Gentiles’ rejection of Christ, their aspostasy, and the subsequent return of Christ to the Jews! (9). “And they set the Ark of God upon a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab” ( 2 Samuel 6:3).
In setting the Ark on a new cart (imitating the Philistines — Samuel 6:7-11) they disregarded the Divine injunction — see Numbers 3:27-31. “And when they came to Nachom’s threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the Ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah: and God smote him there for his rashness; and there he died by the Ark of God” ( 2 Samuel 6:6,7).
This was God’s Judgment because of their disobedience to His word. Numbers 4:15 specifically prohibited any from touching the holy things save the Levites, and Numbers 1:51 threatened death. “David carried it aside into the house of Obededom the Gittite. And the Ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obededom three months. And the Lord blessed Obededom, and all his household” (vv. 10, 11).
This gives us the other side of the typical picture — Divine grace flowing out to the Gentiles while Christ is with them ( Acts 15:14). (10). “So David went and fetched up the Ark of God from the house of Obededom into the city of David with gladness” ( Samuel 6:12): with this should be carefully compared 1 Chronicles 15, from which we learn that all was now done according to Divine order. “And they brought in the Ark of the Lord, and set it in his place, in the midst of the Tabernacle that David had pitched for it: and David offered burnt, offerings and peace offerings before the Lord” (v. 17).
It is exceedingly striking that after the Ark left the Tabernacle in the days of Eli, it is not again found in Jerusalem until the king chosen of God, the man after His own heart, had ascended the throne! In the days of Solomon the Ark was deposited in the Temple, indicative of Christ present in Israel’s midst during the Millennium.
May the Lord add His own blessing to this little study and make it as refreshing to others as it has been to us.