Ark of the Covenant

“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. 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. 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 the 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. And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee;”-Exodus xxv. 10-16.

THE Ark of the Covenant was a pattern of that state of the human soul in which the Most High deigns to dwell with man. This is taught clearly in the words preceding the description of the Ark,” Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee after the pattern of the tabernacle.”-v. 8, 9.

The extent of the mercy thus promised can only be understood when we consider a little our position in creation. We are immortals, commencing our everlasting destiny. We have dangers, and fears, and anxieties. We see much that is fair and beautiful, but we also see many catastrophes. Things the most secure are sometimes shaken to their very foundations and pass away. Business changes, fortune fails, riches fade in our grasp, health gives way. We make ourselves as safe as we can, but unexpected troubles arise, and storms beat upon us within and without. Judging from our own feeble faculties, no condition is absolutely secure against calamity, and there is no entire immunity against sickness and death. In view of some of the dangers to which we are exposed, we should regard It as a great blessing if some powerful personage would assure us that he would join his fortune to ours, that he would make a covenant with us, and that his wealth and power should be linked to our weakness, and ward off all such sorrows as come from want. If the friendly sustainer were a wealthy commoner we should no doubt rejoice; if he were a powerful peer we should regard our bulwark as even more firmly fixed; if he were a monarch we should regard ourselves as absolutely safe from one class of our fears. But it might be, even in that case, that our fancied security would fail. Thrones have sunk and all who have been dependent on them. But in the covenant of which the Lord speaks to us, we are conjoining ourselves to the Eternal, the All-powerful, the Most High, the Creator and Governor of innumerable worlds. He deigns to undertake for us ; to make a covenant with us; to surround us with His love and mercy; to shield us from all real harm, either to prevent the danger, or turn it to a benefit; to make all things work together for our good. This covenant is to be an ” everlasting covenant,” ordered in all things and sure. The infinite riches of the Eternal Love and Wisdom are to be at our disposal as we need. God Himself will be our Father, our Saviour, our Friend, our Champion, our Defender. We shall dwell in His Universe as sons and daughters of its Maker,-the King of kings and Lord of lords. He offers to make this covenant with us, and all its advantages shall be ours. What a blessed privilege, what a glorious offer! Let us hasten to consider the meaning of the terms, of which the Ark of the Covenant is the pattern, by which all these invaluable mercies can be made ours.

The word covenant is a sweet word, it speaks of conjunction and sympathy, and it implies help. It is a compound of” con” and” venant,” and it means coming together. In the case before us, it is God and man coming together. The Ark was the pattern of the state by which this coming together can be realized. Notice, first, it is said, ” They shall make an ark of shittim wood.” The Lord is ever ready. His tender mercies are over all His works. He waits to be gracious. He gives power to man to make this Ark, and the sacred wood, the cedar of Shittah, of which it is to be constructed, is also His gift, but man must use this power, and co-operate with his adorable Maker. “They shall make an ark of shittim wood.”

The wood of which the Ark was to be made was the most excellent of the cedars. It is called the cedar, the Shittah tree, in Isaiah XLI. 19, probably from the place where it grew. It is said to have been fragrant. No other wood was used in the construction of the Tabernacle. All the parts made of timber were of shittim wood. The cedar, among the trees, corresponds to the rational faculty. I t is a grand, powerful, and hardy tree. It is magnificent in its appearance, and it yields a protecting shade to all beneath it. It seems to stand, with outstretched arms and hands, the glory of the forest. The rational faculty of the human mind is just like the cedar tree. It extends In every direction, and takes the grandest views. A man who sees the reason of things affords a protection to all around him. The ancient Assyrians were eagle-eyed men, and took soaring views of things, and in the Word they are called cedars. “Behold the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. The waters made him great. -Ezek. XXXI. 3, 4.

When the Lord assumed our humanity, and thus brought His Divine Love and Mercy clearly within rational conception, His Humanity is represented as a cedar. “Thus saith the Lord God: I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it; and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the “branches thereof shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the Lord have spoken and have done it.”-Ezek. XVII. 22-24.

Here the Lord’s Humanity is presented as the cedar, which should be planted in the mountain of the height of Israel—that is, in the supreme affection of the Church, and afford protection to all that is humble, holy and excellent among men, exciting the admiration and adoration of all. The divine reason, as embodied in the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, is, then, the glorious cedar, the cedar of cedars, and the Divine Human righteousness that grows up from Him In the human soul, is the shittim wood out of which the Ark of the Covenant, and all the structure of the Tabernacle must be made. Goodness and truth in us are the Lord in us. His righteousness, received by the angels and incorporated in them, makes heaven. His righteousness received by men, and incorporated in their souls, makes the Church. There is, therefore, no merit in angels, no merit in men. The Lord’s righteousness is made their righteousness, and by His righteousness they live. “Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”-Isa. LIV. 17. Let us, however, not be misunderstood. It is not righteousness imputed only, but actual imparted righteousness we mean. It was real shittim wood out of which they were to make a real Ark of the Covenant, it was not a make-believe ark while the tree remained in the forest. From the infinite righteousness of the Lord Jesus, we must receive as much righteousness within, as our obedience to His commandments prepares us for, and He is pleased to come and dwell with us in what we have derived from Him: the cedar wood was His creation, and His gift, though they made it into an Ark.

The Lord explains this very simply in the gospel. “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will KEEP MY WORDS: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”-John XIV. 23.

The Ark, then, was the symbol of the inmost state of the soul, in which the Lord consciously dwells with His people, and the righteousness derived from Him, which constitutes its purity, is represented by the shittim wood.

This state of the soul is a little ark, and hidden wisdom constitutes its substance. “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part (the inmost) thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”-Ps. LI. 6. The same state is described in the prophecy of Jeremiah. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”-xxxi. 33.

The Ark was to be two cubits and a half in length, one cubit and a half in breadth, and one cubit and a half in height—the three measures signifying the goodness, the truth, and the holiness of this interior state. Length is taken from the course of the sun, and the Sun of righteousness progresses in the soul in proportion as it is in goodness; breadth is extension on each side, and breadth of mind is in proportion to our possession of truth; height represents extension upwards, and this is in proportion to our piety and interior holiness of character.

Two and a half, the length, like five its double, has relation to ten, the number of the commandments, and indicates the disposition within which will lead to perfect obedience. One and a half, the breadth and height, has relation to three, and like that number in the Word means completeness as to truth. These measures of the Ark therefore represent that wise and holy state of the interior man, “the hidden man of the heart,” as the Apostle calls it, which makes the renewed heart, disposing the Christian in all things to follow His Lord.

The Ark was to be overlaid with gold, “within and without,” it is said, “thou shalt overlay it.”-v. 11.

Gold represents love to the Lord, because this is of highest value among principles, as gold is among the metals. The coming Saviour said in Isaiah, ” For brass I will bring gold.” -LXI. 17. The same Divine Teacher in the Book of the Revelation is represented as saying, ” I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.”-III. 18. Gold, then, being the symbol of heavenly love, which makes the soul rich, was with divine appropriateness used to form the ark within, to intimate that love is the inmost soul of all religion. No goodness is real goodness that has not love within it. Prayer is a mockery without love. Eloquence and knowledge are mere tinkling cymbals without love. Faith without love is a dead, hard, cold skeleton. Almsgiving without love is bribery and self-seeking, under the form of liberality. In short, love is the very marrow and pith of every heavenly virtue, and he who lacks that, has really no religion as he ought to have it. Gold is rich in beauty and in value, so is love. Gold is easily malleable, bends readily, and adapts itself to the curves and forms of the bodies to which it applies itself, so does love. Acids will not act upon pure gold, and when our love is thoroughly refined, acid and unreasonable tempers will seek to act upon it in vain.

Hence, then, it was that gold formed the interior of the Ark. But gold formed its outside also, because love in sentiment is a fleeting and perishable thing unless it is accompanied also by love in act. He who truly loves God will work for God. Love is fixed and perfected in work, and he who never gives his love a body, in loving acts, will find that in religion, as well as in other spheres of life, a man may build castles in the air. The golden soul must have a golden Me. To teach this, there was gold overlaying the inside of the Ark, and gold without.

There was a golden border of a crown pattern, surrounding the cover of the ark. This is the import of the crown of gold being round about it.

In very deed, if we could see it, everything has its border. Each atom has its magnetism; each flower its fragrance; each man his influence. And where high Christian love has made its home in the heart, there is an aura of goodness, purity, meekness, and wisdom surrounding it, felt, if not seen. This is the golden border round the ark. It is a lamb-like atmosphere, which goes where the Christian goes and is ever suggestive of heaven.

The golden circles placed round the heads of the saints by the old painters, no doubt were intended to picture this sphere of love round the celestial Christian; and could our spirit’s sight be opened, we might possibly discern around those beloved ones who glowingly love the Lord, a golden atmosphere just as St John beheld the angel with the rainbow round his head (Rev. x. 1), and this would be the extension of the border round their ark: “a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”-1 Peter v. 4.

To the Ark there were rings and staves; the staves of shittim wood, and the rings of gold. The staves were the means of moving the Ark about, and represent the power of applying interior religion to all the purposes of life; the rings represent minor affections.

The Ark was the director of the whole progression of Israel. When they were to move, the Ark went before; when they were to stay, the Ark rested. So should it be with us. Where religion cannot lead us, there we should never go: where it directs the way, there we should fearlessly follow.

There is no department of life which would not be blessed by a true and loving-a golden-religion; there is no undertaking that is not sure to become a snare if true religious motive for it be wanting. Even our pleasures, if innocent and moderate, though but a playful leisure, are holy too. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you,” said our Lord, ” and that your joy might be full.”-John xv. 11.

Let us never forget to take the ark about with us. And whether we are in work, or rest, or play, whether in the intercourse of friendship, the serious concerns of political life, or the widespread engagements of commerce, still let us have the golden Ark of God with us, and all will be well. It has been suggested, by those who hesitate about divine revelation, that the Egyptians used an ark in their sacred and symbolical worship, long before the Israelites went to Egypt, and that this, and many other portions of the ceremonials of the Jews were simply borrowed from the Egyptians. It is true that the ancient Egyptians used an ark, true that many of their sacred observances were very similar to what was afterwards enjoined upon the Jews. True, also, that their religion in its earlier and more glorious days, was the worship of one God, the Sun of Heaven, and there is much reason to believe under the name of Jehovah or its equivalent in the Egyptian language. But what does that prove? It proves this, which, in fact, the ancient remains of all the great nations prove, and which is taught by the Word of God: that there had been a great church spreading over the then known earth, having the same great truths which have always been the truths of Revelation. These great truths respecting the One God of Love, the Sun of Heaven, respecting His kingdom and the regeneration of man, they not only delighted to meditate upon, but to paint in symbols, to express in their temples and their statues, and hence, in India, in China, in Egypt, in Canaan, throughout Asia, and in Europe even, there are hoary remnants of these eternal truths presented in stones, in mythologies, in hieroglyphics, and the graceful fables of Greece, all beautiful and weighty when spiritually understood. Thus It was that the ark was among the Egyptians, originally meaning the very same thing as we have shown it to mean among the Israelites. But among the Egyptians at the time when Israel left, the truth had been perverted and degraded, the symbols had lost their meaning and been turned to idolatry. The Lord, by Moses, revealed the truth afresh, accurately arranged the sacrifices, and by divine wisdom unfolded anew that law of the Lord which converts the soul, purifies the heart, and leads the mind and life to that obedience to Him which constitutes a man; not an Israelite outwardly, but one inwardly, and makes the servant of the Lord an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.

There were three things placed in the Ark. First, the two tables of the commandments; second, the pot of manna; and third, Aaron’s rod that budded.

These three things in the Ark, represented the three things which are ever contained in the celestial heart and the celestial heaven, the Holy of holies on the small scale and on the great. First, above all and within all, are the two tables, the laws of love to God and charity to man. Next, the pot of manna, the recollection of mercies past, ever saying in the heart, Salvation has been of the Lord; hitherto the Lord hath helped us. Thirdly, Aaron’s rod that budded, that is the spirit of obedience to the Lord’s government; the determination to trust, in all the future progress in the regenerate life, on Him alone.

The two tables in the ark represented the supreme government, in the affections, of the divine law; and this must ever exist to direct the whole mind in purity and order. Of the truly good man it is said, ” The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.”-Ps. XXXVII. 31. It will ever be his loving confession, as it is that of the angels, ” Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”-Ps. CXIX. 11. This law of heavenly love in the heart is not a constraint, it is what St James calls” the perfect law of liberty.”-i. 25. Outward law exercises constraint, but inward law implanted in the very centre of the affections gives perfect freedom. It disposes the whole being into harmony with the Lord, who is order itself, with heaven and all its spheres of order and beauty, and with the world around as the outbirth of the world within. The desires, hopes, wishes, determinations, thoughts, sentiments, and works of one whose delighted affections enclose the Word, like the golden Ark around the tables of law, are in order, and the universe pours its joys around and upon him. His soul, like a multiform Eolian harp, gathers music from all the auras of heaven: Such a one is blessed in his inmost motives, blessed in his conceptions and meditations, and he is blessed in his deeds. His whole inner state is golden, and he takes it everywhere.

The pot of manna placed in the Ark (Ex. XVI. 33; Heb. IX.4) has also its counterpart in the Christian’s inmost heart. He never forgets the way the Lord has brought him, and the wondrous mercies which have attended him in days gone by. By the grace of God, he says, I am what I am. He has preserved me so many times that I will never for a moment cease to trust Him. There is written on the highest mountain of my inmost love, ” The Lord will provide.” I have a pot of manna laid up before the Lord for all generations.

And the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, indicative of the government of love and wisdom in the future, for Levi in Hebrew means conjunction, while its budding, having blossoms, and bearing the fruits of the almond tree, the earliest of the fruit-bearing trees of Canaan, implies that promptitude of obedience which comes from perfect love.

All these things are contained in the inmost of a true Christian. The little heaven within him, ever governed by the divine will, ever grateful for divine mercies, ever running with delight to bow to the sceptre of divine government, is a living Ark in which the Lord dwells, and fulfils His gracious promise, “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee.”

Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From From Egypt to Canaan (1867)