The Ark of the Covenant in the Promised Land

As the most tangible symbol of the Lord’s presence among the Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant played a central role in the worship and religious life of Israel until it was lost or destroyed during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10; 52:1-30). The very construction of the Ark–an ornamented box fitted with poles to allow it to be transported from place to place–testifies to the nomadic life of the early Israelites, as does the construction of the Tabernacle, the portable worship structure in which the Ark was housed. The Ark was first assembled at Mount Sinai and carried to each destination along the Israelites’ wilderness travels. Eventually the Israelites arrived at the Promised Land and carried the Ark across the dry bed of the Jordan River (Joshua 3). The Ark was then carried in front of those who marched around Jericho before the city fell to the Israelites (Joshua 6). Soon after this the Ark and Tabernacle were set up at the cult center of Bethel, and it was there that the Israelites consulted the Lord before attacking the Benjaminites at Gibeah (Judges 20). The judge Deborah also held court near Bethel, possibly indicating that the Ark was still located at Bethel during her time (Judges 4:5). Sometime later in the era of the Judges the Ark and Tabernacle were moved further north to Shiloh (Joshua 18; Judges 18:31). Much later the Israelites carried the Ark into battle near Aphek to try to ensure victory against the Philistines, but the Ark was captured instead and taken to Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron (1 Samuel 4-5; also see map). The worship center of Shiloh appears to have been overrun as well (Psalm 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12-14; 26:6). Many of the priests apparently relocated to the town of Nob near Jerusalem (1 Samuel 22:11), while the Tabernacle and altar were relocated to the High Place at Gibeon/Gibeah (1 Chronicles 16:39-40; 21:29). Meanwhile, in each Philistine town where the Ark was taken, the people suffered terrible plagues (1 Samuel 5), so the Philistines eventually placed the Ark on a cart and sent it to the Israelite town of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6). Then Israelites from Kiriath-jearim came and transported the Ark to their town, where the Ark remained for 20 years (1 Samuel 6:19-7:2). After David became king over all Israel, he attempted to move the Ark to Jerusalem on a new cart, but the procession was halted when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled and the Lord struck a man named Uzzah dead as he reached out and took hold of the Ark to steady it (2 Samuel 6:1-11). Later, David attempted to move the Ark again, but this time men carried the Ark instead of placing it on a cart (2 Samuel 6:13), perhaps indicating a new focus to carefully follow the law of Moses regarding the Ark’s transfer (Numbers 7:9). After bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, David placed it in a special tent (2 Samuel 6:17; 2 Chronicles 1:4), but the Tabernacle and altar remained at the High Place of Gibeon (1 Kings 3:1-4; 2 Chronicles 1:5-13). Years later his son Solomon became king and built a permanent Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark (1 Kings 6-8; 2 Chronicles 3-5).

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