What study on the Tabernacle would be complete without a detailed examination of the ark? This may be the one item people most question, at the same time, assuming they know the answers.
The ark is the heart of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is designed around the ark, which contains the ten commandments, plus a number of other important items including a container of manna, and Aaron’s budding staff. A list of laws given to Moses were also added to the side of the ark.
Physical descriptions of the ark are recorded in Exodus 25:10-22, and Exodus 37:1-9. The ark is two and one half cubits long, one and one half cubits wide, and one and one half cubit high. Converting these dimensions shows us the ark is forty five inches long, twenty seven inches wide, and twenty seven inches high.
The ark is constructed of wood, overlaid with pure gold. It is interesting the Bible specifies pure gold. By definition, the word pure means morally and ceremonially clean. This may also indicate the thickness of the gold, and the manner in which it was applied.
The ark may have been covered in gold leaf, a very thin covering, much thinner than paper. To form thin sheets without holes, gold must be free of impurities. Pure gold is very soft, and easy to form. Purifying gold also served as a spiritual lesson for the Israelites and us.
Gold taken from Egypt may have come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. We are told, Aaron made his molten calf from earrings. To withstand normal wear and tear, resist scratching, and hold its shape gold jewelry is formed from a much harder material than pure gold. Metals such as silver, copper, or nickel are added to harden gold. These materials also alter the color.
The Bible tells us, Moses burned Aaron’s golden calf in a fire, which had a hardening effect. He then beat it into dust, cast it into water, and made the Israelites drink it. Based on the fact Moses was able to beat the golden calf into dust small enough to dissolve in water, we know the gold used for the calf contained large amounts of impurities.
Gold used to cover the ark was pure, making it possible to form into very thin sheets. The gold from Egypt may have been in the form of jewelry, and maybe the idols worshipped in Egypt. To purify gold, it had to be melted. In the molten state, impurities separate from the gold. Once the impurities are removed, the pure gold can be formed into sheets.
The Bible uses the purification process to illustrate faith. The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 1 Peter 1:7 KJV.
We can only imagine the spiritual lessons the Israelites must have learned as they watched the gods of Egypt melt away, impurities float to the top where they were scooped out and discarded, cast onto the ground, and mixed with dust.
To Israel, the images of those gods cast into the melting pot represented a lifetime of oppression. Egyptians believed the strength of their gods gave them dominance over the Israelites. They also gave the gods credit for light from the sun, rain, crops, and fertility. This may have been one reason Egyptians had a controversy with the Israelites. The Bible tells us they feared Israel, based on their ability to reproduce. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Exodus 1:9-10 KJV.
The ark contained four rings, one on each corner. These rings were also made of gold, but the Bible does not specify pure gold. The reason for this is logical. Pure gold would have been too soft to bear the weight of the ark, which was carried over long distances, supported by the four rings.
The rings were cast in gold. In this case, they would have undergone the same heating, and purification process as pure gold. Once purified, other metals in the proper proportions would be added to provide the required hardness. Silver and brass added to gold also have a spiritual meaning discussed in other chapters.
Two staves, or poles were fabricated from wood, and covered in gold. The poles were not covered with pure gold, but an alloy, or mixture, making the gold hard enough to endure the rigors of travel. The covering on the staves must have been much thicker than the covering on the ark. This also made the wooden poles much stronger. Wood possessed properties of strength, and light weight. A covering of gold alloy added strength, beauty and durability.
The ark contained the testimony given to Moses, which is covered by the mercy seat, made of pure gold. The mercy seat is the same size as the ark, two and one half cubits, by one and one half cubits. On top of the mercy seat stood two cherubims made of gold, formed of a single piece, formed by hammering.
The cherubims were placed at the ends of the mercy seat facing one another, with their wings spread out over the mercy seat. This is where God appeared to met with Moses.
Before we can accurately study the spiritual meanings of the ark, we must first understand the physical aspects. The arc was made of wood covered in pure gold. The ark was designed and constructed to carry God’s law, the ten commandments. The mercy seat, made of pure gold, covered the law. This was a sign of God’s salvation, which covers sins. This salvation came through His son, Jesus. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29 KJV.
The cherubims are a reminder of God’s kingdom in Heaven. All the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, and let all the angels of God worship him. Revelation 7:11, Hebrews 1:6 KJV.
Four rings attached to the four corners supported two staves, used by the Levites to carry the ark. The priests were an example of people. Not only were they to physically carry the law, they were to make the law a life study. The law was to become a part of their lives, a part of their being, both physically, and spiritually.
Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. (19) And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Deuteronomy 11:18-19 KJV.
And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine; Numbers 3:12. The life of the priest was a living example of the connection between man and God. The Levites did not receive an inheritance of land. This illustrated the fact, life as we know it is temporary. Instead, priests were given a portion of the sacrifice. They also received the tithe. The best of the first fruits were given to support the Levites. A portion of the Tabernacle service was designed to meet the physical needs of the priests. In return, priests were to maintain the Tabernacle, its services, teach the law, and the testimony of God. They were instructed to, “gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law:” Deuteronomy 31:12 KJV.
The ark was made up of only two elements, gold and wood. Understanding the spiritual meaning of these two elements may teach more about the ark than the physical details.
Pure gold completely covered the ark, inside and out. The mercy seat consisted of pure gold. Gold also represents God’s law, and His word.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver. Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Psalms 19:8-10, Psalms 119:72, Psalms 119:127 KJV.
To find the spiritual meaning for shittim wood, we have to use a little deductive thinking. The word shittim is used almost exclusively in association with the Tabernacle. When searching the word wood, a number of texts provide a definition outside the general contexts of the subject. Wood comes from trees, which is the most logical word to examine.
The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree. I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. Psalms 92:12, Psalms 1:3, Jeremiah 17:7-8, Jeremiah 11:16, Psalms 52:8 KJV.
Trees spiritually represent people. Since wood for the ark came from a tree, the wood used in the ark must spiritually represent people.
What a fitting spiritual symbolism for the ark, gold and wood, representing God’s law, and His people. The law is divided into two groups. The first four describe our relationship with God, the remaining six, our relationship with other people.
Gold lining the inside, and outside of the ark is pure, the perfect representation of the law. The rings are cast from a harder material. To achieve this, the gold must be mixed with other materials, such as silver, or brass. Laws in addition to the ten commandments were carried in the side of the ark. These included the sacrificial laws and ceremonies pointing to Christ. Sacrificial and ceremonial laws were not required until after sin. The rings were designed to carry the ark. The earthly ark was carried through the wilderness by Levites for forty years. There was never any reason for the ark in Heaven to wander for forty years.
The ark was carried by two wooden staves, or poles, covered with gold. Here again we see the symbol of man, covered by gold, which represents God’s law, and His word. The gold covering of course added strength to the wooden poles.
The fact the ark was carried shows how the law required an effort on man’s part. Because the ark was to be carried only by the Levites, portrays the responsibility they carried as priests, representing God, and teaching His law.
The entire design of the ark symbolizes the relationship between God and man. The law rests upon the gold, which never deteriorates. Wood, used to produce the shape and form of the ark, symbolizes the need for man to maintain the shape required to carry the law.
The covering, known as the mercy seat, is pure gold. Mercy comes only through the sacrifice of Jesus. Pure gold represents Jesus’ perfect life. The mercy seat covers the law, just as Jesus’ perfect life covers the law for us.
Cherubims of gold represent the angels in the Heavenly courts. They show the reverence we should have for the law, which represents God’s character. They also represent cooperation between the Heavenly host and man. Pure gold shows the aid provided by angles is perfect, because of their perfect obedience, and cooperation with God.
Overall, the ark symbolizes, cooperation between God, His angels, man, and the law which are at the center of understanding. Once we understand how to interpret the symbols of the ark, we can begin to understand the other details of the Tabernacle.
KJV Exodus 25:10-22. And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. (11) And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about. (12) 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. (13) And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. (14) And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them. (15) The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it. (16) And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee. (17) And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. (18) And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. (19) And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. (20) And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be. (21) And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. (22) And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
KJV Exodus 30:6. And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee.
KJV Exodus 37:1-9. And Bezaleel made the ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half was the length of it, and a cubit and a half the breadth of it, and a cubit and a half the height of it: (2) And he overlaid it with pure gold within and without, and made a crown of gold to it round about. (3) And he cast for it four rings of gold, to be set by the four corners of it; even two rings upon the one side of it, and two rings upon the other side of it. (4) And he made staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold. (5) And he put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, to bear the ark. (6) And he made the mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half was the length thereof, and one cubit and a half the breadth thereof. (7) And he made two cherubims of gold, beaten out of one piece made he them, on the two ends of the mercy seat; (8) One cherub on the end on this side, and another cherub on the other end on that side: out of the mercy seat made he the cherubims on the two ends thereof. (9) And the cherubims spread out their wings on high, and covered with their wings over the mercy seat, with their faces one to another; even to the mercy seatward were the faces of the cherubims.