There have been several Hollywood action movies about the Ark of the Covenant. What exactly was the Ark of the Covenant and what happened to it?
The Ark of the Covenant was a specifically designed container that served many purposes during the Old Testament times of Moses. The Bible has a lot to say, yet not a lot to say about it. Here’s what it does say;
Moses was told how to build it, its dimensions and materials (Exodus 25:10-21)
Interestingly, it is called the Ark of Testimony in these verses.
Whenever Israel moved in their 40 year wanderings, the ark of the covenant was at the front (Numbers 10:33).
Moses placed the tablets of the Ten Commandments into the ark (Deuteronomy 10:1-5).
The ark typically went with Israel into battles, and on one occasion was captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4) Every city the Philistines placed the ark became cursed and smitten (1 Samuel 5) So the Philistines sent the ark back with offerings to remove the curses. (1 Samuel 6) Interestingly, the LORD killed the Israelites that found the ark and looked inside it.
When David had the ark brought to Jerusalem, a priest was killed by the LORD for steadying the ark on the cart carrying it. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)
The last reference to the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament is 1 Kings 8 where it is mentioned in connection to the dedication of Solomon’s temple.
The ark is mentioned once in the New testament. Paul mentions that along with the Ten Commandments, it also contained a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded and bore almonds, identifying the Levites as the tribe intended to bear the priesthood. (Hebrews 9:4)
After that, we move on to what the Bible doesn’t say about the ark of the covenant, and that is it doesn’t say much at all. At some point it was taken from the temple, but when and by whom is not clear.
So the Ark of the Covenant served as a place to hold the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. The lid of the ark was called the Judgement Seat, and the LORD even appeared and spoke to Moses from the Judgement Seat. It also served to lead Israel in their wanderings in the wilderness, symbolically showing that Israel must follow the Laws the Lord gave them. It also went into battle, often leading the way. This showed the symbolism of the Lord fighting for Israel as they were righteous. If not, as in the case mentioned above, the ark was no guarantor of victory.
We don’t know for sure what happened to the Ark of the Covenant, but several theories exist. Someday I’m sure we’ll learn what happened to it, but for now it remains a fascinating item to study not only for what it was, but what it represents in connection to the Law of Moses.