The Ark of the Covenant – Exodus 25-27

Read Exodus 25-27

In today’s reading, we are introduced to the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22). The word “ark” in Hebrew simply means chest. The Ark was a wooden box overlaid with gold. It was approximately 4 feet long, 2.5 feet high, and 2.5 feet wide. On the top of the Ark was a slab of pure gold called the Mercy Seat. There were two golden angels facing one another over the Mercy Seat.

The Ark of the Covenant was the central piece of furniture in the Tabernacle. It was placed in the back of the Tabernacle in the Holy of Holies. Only the Levites, a group from within Israel, could carry the Ark. It was the only piece of furniture in this room. It was over this Ark that the very presence of God appeared. The Ark represented the very presence of God (Exodus 25:22), thus a reminder we can know and experience God Himself.

If we follow the Ark of the Covenant through the pages of the Bible, we learn some important lessons for our worship of God.

Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, eventually captured the Ark at a time when Israel had no king (see 1 Samuel 5). The Philistines mockingly said to themselves, “This ‘God of Israel…’ He’s not so tough. We’ve captured His Ark!” The story that ensues would be amusing if it were not true. Every time the Philistines placed the Ark inside their temple, the Ark destroyed their god. Every morning when they woke up, their god, Dagon, was flat down on his face before the Ark. And even when they removed the Ark from their temple to place it in their town, tumors broke out upon the people (1 Samuel 5:9). So, the Philistines got rid of the Ark and sent it back to Israel.

Back in Israel, the Ark first came to rest in the small town of Beth-shemesh inside Israel. Curiosity overtook seventy men who decided to look inside the Ark and as a result, they died (1 Samuel 6:19). Messengers were soon sent to the town of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “Come, take this thing away from us.” So they returned the Ark but it only came to a fairly remote place in Israel, Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel 7:2).

Twenty years go by and King David desires to bring the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). During this time, David had brought the Tabernacle to Jerusalem, and now wanted to bring the central piece of furniture there as well. David gathered thirty thousand men to bring the Ark to the Tabernacle in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1). They placed the Ark on an ox-cart and Uzzah walked along side the ox-cart. Soon, one the oxen stumbled and the Ark was about to fall. It was then that Uzzah placed his hand out to steady the Ark from falling to hit the dirt. And it was right there that Uzzah was struck down dead for touching the Ark (2 Samuel 6:7).

Imagine the scene as thousands of people dancing and singing and Uzzah drops dead. The entire scene goes silent. Everyone went home and the Ark was left right there at the home of Obed-edom, a foreigner (2 Samuel 6:10-11). It remained there for three months.

What do we learn from the Bible’s story of the Ark? The story of the Ark is running commentary on your worship practices.

  1. God is Very Big. People thought they could manipulate God by taking the Ark to the battle. Once the ark was near the battle, they thought God was obligated to give them victory. God cannot be manipulated by a holy relic. Nor will He be manipulated through the use of a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover.
  2. God is Infinitely Holy. Why did Uzzah die? God gave rules for the transportation of the Ark in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. What were those rules?

1) The Ark had to be covered. People were not to look upon it.

2) It was to be carried. There were golden rings on the sides of the Ark for poles, allowing four men to carry it.

3) The Ark had to be carried by Levites consecrated by God for this work.

4) The Ark was not to be touched.

Uzzah thought the dirt of the ground would defile the Ark more than he would. He thought the soil was dirty but he was not. Uzzah’s instincts assumed that his hand was holy enough to touch the Ark.

Again, why did Uzzah die? Every one of the instructions given by God were disregarded. Uzzah was not a Levite. The ark was not carried by Levites, instead it was placed on a cart. And Uzzah touched it. The rules for were broken.

No one can come before the holy presence of God without grace.

Does God Change His Mind?

In reading through the book of Jonah recently, I encountered a problematic passage: “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3:9). For my friends who are still using the King James Version, the text reads, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (emphasis added). The circumstances surrounding the Scripture is fairly straightforward. God has commanded Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, a town several hundred miles northwest of Jonah’s homeland. Jonah’s message is only five words in the original language but eight words in our English translations: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4b)! Remarkably, the citizens of Nineveh leave aside their violent ways for the time being and turn from their sin. Jonah’s message transformed the people of this city in ways that few could have predicted.

Yet, many people wonder if God changed His mind? The answer is simply no. God has never changed His mind and He never will. God is perfect in every aspect. If He were to change, He would have to change for either the better or for the worse. Neither are possible for God for it is impossible for God to improve on perfection. God doesn’t change as He is consistently constant for all of time (1 Samuel 15:29; Isaiah 46:9-11).

Yet, many serious students of the Bible would disagree. They would point to the instance where God added fifteen years to the Old Testament king of Israel, Hezekiah. Here the prophet Isaiah tells Hezekiah a message from none other than God Himself: “Set your house in order, for you shall die…” (Isaiah 38:1). After the king prays, God instructs Isaiah to tell Hezekiah that the king has additional fifteen years to live. Others would also to point to God’s conversation with Moses in Exodus 32:9-14. Here God informs Moses that He is fed up with His people, Israel. God was planning on venting His wrath on His people and starting over with a new nation. Yet, Moses prays and successfully “persuades” God to alter His plan. In both of these instances, modern day people conclude that God has changed His mind.

God makes promises and keeps promises. He delayed in judging Nineveh because His threat to judge proved successful for a period of time (Nineveh was conquered in 612 BC). In fact, had God desired to reign fire and brimstone on the city, He would have done so without warning. Instead, God sent Jonah into the city because He is a merciful God who is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6-7; Jonah 4:2-4). Had the citizens of Nineveh not stopped their violent ways, God would have indeed sent judgment.

God works out every detail of life according to His intricate plan. At times, His plan includes the prayer of Hezekiah to achieve God’s larger purpose where Hezekiah’s life is extended another fifteen years. Or, God’s plan includes the “reminder” of Moses of the situation at hand. In both cases, prayer was a part of God’s plan that changed the events of history. The prayers of believers today are an essential part of God’s ordering of the universe.

God plans the details of history just as He plans the very prayers from His people that change history. No, God has never changed His mind and He never will.