Study Guide

Book of Exodus The Ark of the Covenant

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The Ark of the Covenant

Sorry to dash your hopes and dreams on the rocks of literary reality, folks. But the Bible gives us no Indiana Jones account of the heroic men and women who dashed to save the Bible from the Amalekite Nazi zombies.

We'll give you a second to recover from this tragic news.

Everyone wants to know where the ark was and what it contained. Well, here's the answer: it was in Capeside, Massachusetts.

Actually, no.

The Ark is super important in the Bible—a source of power, history, and gold—but our focus isn't on its location. Yes, Indiana Jones is awesome (in the first three movies, at least), but we want to think about what this artifact does in the context of the story. And why on earth did the writers bother to include dimensions for this crazy thing?

The Not-So-Secret Recipe

The Ark really goes into action in Numbers, Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel, and Chronicles. But here in Exodus, we get the nitty gritty: its dimensions and the materials used to build it. Got a pen? You need

  • gold
  • acacia wood
  • a good goldsmith
  • a good woodworker.

Wait a second. This super-important thing isn't pure gold? Of course not. Money was an issue in the ancient world, too, and gold was just as valuable back then. The Big Guy himself says, "You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around" (25:11).

And how about those last two ingredients? Those can tell us a lot about the audience of this text. These days, you'd just look online to find a good jeweler or carpenter. But in the wayback days, access to these craftsmen was really limited. Especially if you were a farmer. So we can be pretty sure that this section of Exodus was written to urban elites in cities that would have had access to materials, worshippers, manpower, money, and skilled labor.

Ancient Tool Belt

Take a look at these two passages spoken by God. You can even read them out loud in a booming voice if that's your cup of tea:

  • "You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat" (25:18).
  • "But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it" (20:25).

The first refers to the ark and the second an altar, but, um… what? In the first passage, the smith has to actually hammer these things out. In the second, it's blasphemous to alter it. Why? Because the people making the ark were urbanites. They would have had access to the materials, so why not use them?

P.S. What on earth (or in Heaven?) are Cherubim? These are mythological creatures with animal bodies—usually bulls or lions—and human heads. These particular ones have bonus wings. They're the guardians of God's seat on earth, making them part of the divine entourage. And a mercy seat? That's either a cover of some kind, or an actual object placed above the ark, and it's the gateway to communicating with God on earth.

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