The Ark of the Covenant
October 25th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 9; Exodus 25:10
10-25-59 7:30 p.m.
You will turn with me now to Exodus 25 – Exodus 25 – and we read from verse 10 through verse 22: Exodus 25, verses 10 through 22.
In the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author has much to say about this Holy of Holies. In the tabernacle and beyond that veil in the Holy of Holies was this piece of furniture, every part of it a beautiful, meaningful, significant symbol of our Lord. In it, you will find the whole gospel of grace.
Exodus 25:10-22 – twelve verses. Now let’s read them together:
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 it.
And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in 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.
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.
And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have come to the most holy place in the earth. No other spot ever so sacred, so hallowed, as this before which now we stand. It is as though God had commanded us that we take off the shoes from our feet for the place whereon we stand is holy ground [Exodus 3:3-5].
This is the meeting place between God and man. This is the place where, for five hundred years, Jehovah God spake unto His people – from the days of Moses unto the days of David – here in the sanctum sanctorum, the Holy of Holies, in the tabernacle.
Coming in through the gate [Exodus 27:16] into the outer court [Exodus 27:9-21], going in through the door into the holy place [Exodus 26:36-37], and there was the veil separating in between [Exodus 26:31-32]. Beyond the veil, facing the veil, was this holy ark of the covenant of God [Exodus 26:33]. And everything in that place – every part of it, every piece of it, how it was made, what it was made of, what it stood for, what it meant – all of it spake of the marvelous grace of God in Christ, our Lord.
The Holy of Holies was a square, was a cubic: this way, this way, this way. Every way, it was exactly square [Exodus 37:1-7]. Like the city of God, the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:10, 16], it is four-square, and there was no light in it [Exodus 26:33-35]. Just the Shekinah glory of God burned in it [Exodus 25:21-22, 40:34-38] like the celestial city of the new Jerusalem: "And they need no light of the sun to shine by day or a light of the moon to shine by night, for the Lord God enlighteneth it and the Lamb is the light thereof" [from Revelation 21:23].
And it was entered on just the Day of Atonement with blood of atonement [Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:1-34; Hebrews 9:7]. And the only approach that is ever made into the immediate and awful and holy presence of God is in blood of atonement.
This holy and sacred place is a throne in a sanctuary, and, out of it, God rules the universe in righteousness, in love, and in grace. In the ninety-ninth Psalm:
The Lord reigneth; Let the people tremble! He sitteth between the cherubim; Let the earth be moved!
The Lord is great . . . He is high above all the people.
Let them praise Thy great and terrible name–for it is holy.
"He dwelleth between the cherubim" [from Psalm 99:1]. Israel was a theocracy, and their king was Jehovah God and He reigned from His throne in that Holy of Holies. And the seat of God’s holy presence was there between the cherubim above the mercy seat that crowned the ark [Exodus 25:22]. That is one of the most – one of the most marvelous and wonderful of all the revelations of the Bible: a throne in a sanctuary, a throne in a Holy of Holies, from which God exercises His government of justice and of grace [Exodus 25:21-22].
That idea is all through the Scriptures that God’s throne is in a sanctuary – it is in a Holy of Holies – and that God’s government is in righteousness and in holiness and in grace and in mercy. When Isaiah saw his great vision of the Lord, it was in the temple, high and lifted up upon a throne [Isaiah 6:1]: God’s throne in that Holy of Holies. In themarvelous, ideal temple that Ezekiel describes in his great prophecy, he sees God on His throne in the Holy of Holies [Ezekiel 43:1-12].
In the Revelation, in the fourth chapter, when the seer of Patmos is allowed to look into the heavens, the first thing that he sees is the throne of God set in the midst thereof [Revelation 4:1-4]. And when he hears the angels sing and the saints praise the Lamb, it is in the presence of the throne of God and before Him who sits upon the throne [Revelation 4:8-11] from whose face the heaven and the earth flee away [Revelation 20:11]. A tremendous conception: the finest representation we have of God in this Book is this representation of the Holy of Holies and the ark of the covenant, which is Christ our Lord, and the government of the whole universe from the throne of the Almighty in this sanctuary – in this temple, in this holy place.
For the ark itself is a symbol of the invisible God. No eye ever gazed upon it. No Levite, no priest, ever saw it. No profane hand ever touched it. The eyes of no man ever fell upon on it.When the ark was moved [Numbers 4:5-16], the veil in between was lowered over it [Numbers 4:5]; and over that veil was placed a covering of badger skins [Numbers 4:6]; and over the badger skins was placed a cloth of blue [Numbers 4:6]. And when the priests carried it from place to place, it was very conspicuous. It was the only article covered with blue in all of the train of the moving, marching camp of Israel. But no eye set upon it and no one ever saw it. It was veiled from view by the badger skins and by the covering of heaven just like our God: "No man hath seen God at any time" [John 1:18].
Just once a year, the high priest entered beyond the veil and there with blood of atonement, bowed in the presence of the great and invisible God [Leviticus 16:1-34; Hebrews 9:7]: "No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" [John 1:18]. The badger skin represented the covering of the humility of our heavenly Lord, and our only sight of God is in our sight of Jesus Christ: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" [John 14:9].
This is our vision of the invisible God this ark of the covenant which represents, in all of its parts and ways, the incarnation of the Son of God. It was made of acacia wood and of pure gold inside and out [Exodus 25:10-11]. The hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ: the wood, His humanity; the gold, His deity – but the two are never inter-commingled. The wood is the wood and the gold is still the gold. He is God of very God. He is man of very man.
And the two natures, thoughone in Christ, are yet separate and distinct. Never did hyphen mean so much as when we speak of the God-man Christ Jesus. And this ark of acacia wood and of pure, beaten gold is a picture of the humanity of our Savior who sat weary by the well [John 4:5-6], who was hungered [Mark 11:12]and who did thirst [John 19:28], who wept our human tears [John 11:35]and lived our life of sorrow and death [Isaiah 53:3-5]: a man of men, a true man, but at the same time God of very God. "He that hath seenMe hath seen the Father" [John 14:9]. "It pleased God that in Him should all the fullness of deity dwell" [Colossians 1:19]. Just as the ark was of wood and of gold, so our Lord a true man and the only God.
These things that were in the ark, each one of them speak of the wonderful personality of our Savior. There was in the ark – says the author of Hebrews here in the ninth chapter – there was in the ark the tables of the testimony: the tables of the covenant, the two tables of stone [Hebrews 9:3-4]. They were deposited there inside of that ark [Exodus 25:16].
The first tables of stones that God had made, Moses break them on the stones of the mountain [Exodus 32:19]. The people down in the valley, in an orgy of dancing and merriment around a golden calf, had broken God’s commandments. But the commandments that God gave to Moses on those other two tables of stone [Exodus 34:1] were deposited in the heart of the ark [Exodus 40:20], and there they lay unbroken and undefiled.
So it is in the humanity of our Lord and of us. In us, the tables are broken and cast down in pieces [Romans 3:23; James 2:10-11], but in Christ, in the heart of our Savior, God’s law is unbroken [Matthew 5:17] and it remains undefiled [Hebrews 9:14], every part beautifully and marvelously kept in the life and soul of Jesus, our Savior – in the ark, the two tables of stone unbroken.
And in the ark, he says, was the golden pot of manna [Hebrews 9:4] representing the ableness and adequacy of our God to fulfill all of the needs and wants of our life. As it says in the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation: "And to Him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna" [Revelation 2:17]. The fullness of God, the unwasted adequacy of God to take care of all of the needs of His people – all of them met in Christ, the golden pot of manna.
And in the ark, the rod of Aaron that budded [Hebrews 9:4]: a picture of our Lord – this dead stick, this rod that was laid up before God: dead, lifeless, inanimate – a dry stick. And behold, in the morning, when they came into the house of the Lord, the rod had budded. It had flowered, and it bore almond fruit unto God [Numbers 17:1-11]. So our Lord did: a corpse laid in the grave, and on a morning, behold, the rod has flowered and fruited unto God [Matthew 27:57-61, 28:5-7].
By that budding of the almond rod, God designated Aaron as themediator between God and men: the high priest in the tabernacle [Numbers 17:2-5, 8]. So by the resurrection from the dead, God designated Jesus Christ as the one and only mediator between God and man, the man, Christ Jesus! [Romans 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:5] It is not Mohammed. It is not Buddha. It is not Zoroaster. It is not Moses. It is not any other man that ever shall or will or has lived. The one Man designated to be the great high priest and mediator between God and man is this one man, Christ Jesus, designated such by the resurrection from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit of God [Romans 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:5].And so the ark speaks of our Lord.
And the ark always speaks of grace and salvation.There are three arks mentioned in the Bible. One of them is the ark of Noah, how Noah was saved [Genesis 6:1-8:22]. The other, the second ark, is the ark laid upon the bosom of the Nile River in which the child Moses was saved [Exodus 1:13-2:10]. And the other ark, the third one, is this one in the Holy of Holies in which and by which we are brought nigh unto God through the propitiary, the mercy seat that covers the tables of the law and the testimony [Exodus 25:10-22]. These things all bring us into the very presence of the Almighty God to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, our Lord [Hebrews 10:19-22].
Now, in the sermon tonight, I can do nothing more than kind of introduce the subject. In the few moments that remain – and follow me just the best you can. These things have to be so briefly spoken and so much condensed in so little a while. In the brief time that remains, I want to follow the story of the ark which is the story of Jesus, the Son of God.
To begin with, the ark was placed in the center of the people. There was the court, and inside of the court was the tabernacle, and inside of the tabernacle was the holy place, and beyond the veil of the holy place was the Holy of Holies. And inside of the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant, the throne of God, the center of the moral government of the universe. And the camp was all around: three tribes to the right; three to the left; three in front; and three behind; and in the center, the throne of God, the ark of the covenant [Numbers 2:1-34].
And when the people of God marched, they marched six tribes in front, six tribes behind, and the ark of God in the center [Numbers 10:11-28]. The only time of exception to that was when the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days’ journey to search out a resting place for them [Numbers 10:33], when Jesus, three days and three nights was in the grave [Matthew 12:40] seeking out, searching out a resting place for the people of God.
The next time we see the story of the ark is at the waters of the Jordan [Joshua 3:14-17]. I prepare a sermon once in a while that means so much to my soul, and the sermon that I prepared this morning for the 8:15 o’clock hour was one of those messages.
I could not tell you how I was blessed in my soul as I prepared that sermon. It was on the ark at the purged, flooded waters of the Jordan River. And when the feet of the priests that bear the ark came down and touched the little wavelets of water, brown with mud and yeasty with foam in the descending torrent, the waves fled away and the waters shrank back [Joshua 3:15-16]. And the great, strong hand of God stayed the flood until the last little one that believed in Jesus had crossed through the waters of the Jordan [Joshua 3:17, 4:18]. So it is with God who holds back the day of judgment and the awful flood of the waters of the wrath of almighty God until the last little one of God’s redeemed have passed over [Matthew 24:14].
Then, when God’s people had passed over into their promised land, there is the ark again in the center of the church militant. In the center of the warriors of Christ as they march around the city of Jericho, there, in the center, is the ark [Joshua 6:3-5]. There in the center of God’s militant churches today, standing in the midst of the seven-branch lampstand, is the presence of our warrior Christ [Revelation 1:12-20]. When we have a great task to do, such as we face now in this vast stewardship program, there stands Jesus by the side of His people [Matthew 28:20] – the ark of the covenant, the warrior Christ – as they march in the name of Jehovah God.
And when they are defeated at Ai [Joshua 7:1-15], Joshua rent his clothes and fell down to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord even until eventide [Joshua 7:6-9]. When we stagger and fail and fall into difficulty, there we are on our faces before the ark of the Lord, before Jesus our Christ: "O God, lead us in the way and give us victory in Thy presence."
Then, at Gerazim and at Ebal, the mount of blessing and of cursing [Deuteronomy 11:29], there is the ark in between, and the people are on one side of it [Deuteronomy 27:11-13], and the people are on the other side of it, and the blessings are read [Deuteronomy 28:1-14] and the cursings are read [Deuteronomy 27:15-26].
So it is with Christ today as He goes among His people with blessings and with judgment upon our work. When we are faithful and do it well, God gives us His blessing. When we don’t have faith and unbelief seizes us, then we have from Christ – like in the messages of Christ to the churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22] – we have His rebuke and His call to repentance and a new quickened life in Him.
Then, the story of the ark is the story of Israel. Upon a day, they took the ark without the sanctity of God, using it as a fetish [1 Samuel 4:2-5] just like some people have shibboleths and some people trust in ordinances and some people trust in all kinds of things. Israel came to trust in this symbol as the thing itself, as God Himself, and they took it out into battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines fought and they slew Israel [1 Samuel 4:10], and Israel fled every man into his tent. And the ark of God was taken [1 Samuel 4:11, 22] just as it was in the life of our Lord: His disciples forsook Him and fled [Mark 14:50]. And Jesus was betrayed into the hands of sinners, and He was taken away [Matthew 26:45-56].
Then, you have the story which illustrates so well 2 Corinthians 2 and 16: "For this thing of the message of Christ is the savor of death unto death to them that don’t believe, and it is a savor of life unto life to those who accept it" [from 2 Corinthians 2:16]. That ark, in the hands of the Philistines, was a curse wherever it went.
They took it into their house, the god Dagan, and Dagan fell off of his pedestal and his head fell off and his hands fell off broken before the great God Jehovah represented in the ark [1 Samuel 5:2-5]. And then they took it to one city, into another city; and wherever it was taken, it was a curse to the people [1 Samuel 5:6-12]. And for seven months, it stayed there in the land of Philistia in the hands of those that did not believe [1 Samuel 6:1] – the blaspheming, uncircumcised Philistines – and it was a curse to them: death unto death to those who do not believe, but life unto life to those who receive it in faith and in love.
And the men of Beth-Shemesh rejoiced when the ark was brought back to the household of faith [1 Samuel 6:12-15]. And it was taken finally to the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite [2 Samuel 6:10-11; 1 Chronicles 13:13-14], and the ark of the Lord stayed in the house of Obed-Edom,and the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all of his household.
And David said,"We must bring it back to the holy city" – to Jerusalem – and they brought the ark of the Lord [2 Samuel 6:12, 15; 1 Chronicles 15:2-29]. And David built for it there, in Jerusalem, a temporary dwelling place: a tabernacle that David had pitched for it [2 Samuel 6:17; 1 Chronicles 15:1].
And then David said, "Son, I have gathered together 100,000 pallets of gold and 1,000 talents of silver to bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord into the house to be built in the name of the Lord" [1 Chronicles 29:1-9]. And Solomon built the house of God [2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1].
And Solomon assembled the elders of the people and the heads of the tribes to bring up the ark of the covenant of God into its final resting place [2 Chronicles 5:2-3]. And they brought up the ark of the Lord [2 Chronicles 5:4-5]. And the priests brought it into its place and set it underneath the wings of the overspreading cherubim [2 Chronicles 5:7-9], and they drew out the staves of the ark. It had finally came to its ultimate resting place.
Then the people forget God, and they turn to the idols of the heathen around them [2 Chronicles 36:14-16]. And God brought upon them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men and carried away the sacred vessels of God and burnt the house of the Lord and break down the walls of Jerusalem and carried the ark into Babylon to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah [2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10]. And Jeremiah said, "It will never be found in this earth. You shall seek it but not find it. God has taken it away" [from Jeremiah 3:16].
And where? Where is the ark of God today? Where is our Savior who was refused by men and crucified beyond the city walls?
Where is the ark of God today? Where is our Savior now? In the eleventh chapter of the Revelation, he sees into the heaven of heavens: "And behold, the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there I saw in the temple the ark of the covenant of the Lord" [from Revelation 11:19].
John saw it in the temple of the Lord in heaven – all of it a picture of our Savior Jesus Christ in heaven, in the heart of its glory, before whom the angels and the saints, world without end, sing praises of love and adoration and glory and thanksgiving and honor now and forever and forever.
O what a fullness, what a meaning, what a story of love and grace to be found in the holy pictures God hath given us of His only begotten Son [John 3:16] even centuries before He came and now for the centuries since to comfort us, to encourage us, to enhearten and quicken us as we lift up our eyes to the heaven of heavens where God doth keep in store all that we have loved and lost for a while. The ultimate, final victory of our pilgrimage in this earth for us in heaven, in the Holy of Holies, where God dwells and where Jesus sits on the throne at His right hand [Hebrews 10:12]: the ark of the covenant in heaven.
While we sing our song, in this balcony round, somebodyyou, on this lower floor, a familyyou giving your heart in faith to Jesus or coming into the fellowship of this church, would you come and stand by me? "Tonight, I take Jesus as Savior," or, "Tonight, we’re putting our lives into the fellowship of the church." While we sing the song and while we make appeal, would you come? On the first note of its first stanza immediately: "Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus," or, "Here we come, pastor, putting our lives with these beloved people in the fellowship of this precious and wonderful church." Would you do it now? Would you do it tonight? Would you come on the first note of that first stanza, now, tonight, while we stand and while we sing?
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 9; Exodus 25:10
I. Beyond the veil
A. Most sacred spot on earth – the Holy of Holies
1. Dwelling place of God for 500 years
2. Here God held communion with man, accepted offerings
3. Ark of the Covenant
B. Holy of Holies four square, like city of God(Revelation 21:16)
1. No light except shekinah glory of God (Revelation 21:23)
2. Entrance only on Day of Atonement(Hebrews 9:12, 24-28)
C. A throne in a sanctuary, out of which God rules the universe (Psalm 99)
D. Figure of God’s throne in heaven(Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 43:7, Revelation 4:1, 7:10-11, 15)
II. The Ark of the Covenant
A. Symbol of the invisible God – no eye ever gazed upon it(John 1:18)
1. When it was moved, veil was lowered upon it, then covered with badger skins and a cloth of blue(Numbers 4:5-6, 20)
2. Our only sight of God is in our sight of Jesus Christ(John 14:9)
B. Represents in all parts and ways the incarnation of the Son of God
1. Made of acacia wood and pure gold
a. Hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ(Colossians 1:19)
C. The three things it contained(Hebrews 9:14, Revelation 2:17)
D. Three arks in Scripture, all connected with salvation(Genesis 6:14, Exodus 2:3, 25:10-22)
III. History of the nation intimately connected with the history of the ark
A. In the center of the camp, with one exception(Numbers 10:11-36)
B. At the passage of the Jordan(Joshua 3:1-17, 4:4-18)
C. In the center of the warriors (Joshua 6:6-20, 7:6, 8:30-35, 1 John 5:5)
D. The ark was taken (1 Samuel 4:10-18, 5:1 – 7:2, Psalm 78:56-61, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, 2 Samuel 6:6-7, 10-11, 17, 15:24-29, 1 Chronicles 22:15, 22:19, 1 Kings 8:1-21)
E. Disappears(2 Chronicles 36:14-21)
1. John sees it in heaven(Revelation 11:19)