The Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place: Christ at the Throne of Grace

25:10-16 and 37:1-5

    DIG: As a cubit was about eighteen inches, how big was the ark of the Covenant? What in your home would compare in size? What memories should the ark rekindle for the Israelites? Why was the ark portable? How does it point to their relationship with the LORD? Since idols were prohibited, why were the cherubim on the ark’s cover?

    REFLECT: Do you know anyone who has gone the way of Korah (Jude 11)? What might you carry around with you to remind you of God’s past actions and continuing presence in your life?

    As the priest passed through the gate into the courtyard of the Tabernacle, he brought his animal sacrifice, which pointed to Christ, the Lamb of God. As he went on toward the Holy Place, he washed his hands and feet in the bronze basin, foreshadowing Christ’s cleansing of the believer. Once inside the Sanctuary, he would see the golden lampstand on his left, a picture of Christ as the light of the world. On the right, the priest saw the table of bread of the Presence, prophetic of Christ as the bread of life, on whom the believer feeds. Before him, the priest would see the altar of incense, a beautiful picture of Christ, our intercessor to the Father. But at that point he could go no further. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement. And there, behind the inner veil, would be the throne of grace, the ark of the Covenant, which was the sixth piece of furniture.

    The Most Holy Place was a perfect cube of fifteen feet. In it there were two pieces of furniture. If you looked at them, you would visualize it as one. But they are always described separately. They were the ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat. The ark and the mercy seat above it was the place where ADONAI would meet with the children of Isra'el. It was there that the Shechinah glory, or the visible manifestation of God’s presence, dwelt.

    There was no window in the Most Holy Place, and there was no lampstand as in the Holy Place. The only light was the Shechinah glory above the mercy seat and between the cherubim of gold. As the aged Apostle John saw the New Jerusalem in a vision, he wrote, saying: The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there (Revelation 21:23 and 25). There was no artificial light in the Most Holy Place of the Sanctuary, and there will be no artificial light in heaven. When Peter, James and John saw the face of Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration they said: His face shone like the sun before them (Matthew 17:2). When John saw the risen Lord on the Isle of Patmos, he also said: His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Revelation 1:16b). The eternal glory that He had with the Father before the world began, will shine from within His very being, and will fill heaven with its light. One day we will see Him, for we will be like Him (First Corinthians 2:2-10; First John 3:2).

    The ark of the Covenant was a chest of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. It was a perfect symbol of Jesus Christ in His deity and in His humanity. Messiah was called the God-man. His deity represented the gold and the wood represented His humanity. The Hebrew word for the ark is aron, and refers to a chest or coffin of small dimensions used to contain money or other valuables.601 It measured three feet, nine inches long, two feet, three inches wide, and three feet high, with an ornamental gold border around it (25:10-11, 37:1-2). The rabbis teach that its golden border symbolized the crown of the Torah. That mere box of wood and gold, truly stretches our thinking. God chooses the simple things of this world to confound the wise. For the Bible tells us that in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).602

    Altogether, the Bible gives us seven different names for the ark. First, it was called the ark of the Covenant (Joshua 3:6); second, it was called the ark of the Testimony (Exodus 25:22); third, it was called the ark of ADONAI’s Covenant (Numbers 14:44); fourth, it was called the ark of the covenant of ADONAI (Deuteronomy 10:8); fifth, it was called the ark of the covenant of ADONAI your God (Joshua 3:3); sixth, it was called the ark of the covenant of ADONAI’s armies (First Samuel 4:4 CJB); and last, it was called the ark of Your might (Psalm 132:8).

    The holiness of the ark was the reason why it could not be touched. You could not merely walk up to it and pick it up. Touching the ark meant death (Second Samuel 6:3-7; First Chronicles 13:9-10).603 Instead, four gold rings were cast for it to be carried. The ark was to be mounted on four short legs, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Two poles of acacia wood, which were overlaid with gold, remained in the rings of the ark and were not to be removed (23:12-15, 37:3-5). It is widely recognized that the design of the ark (and the entire Tabernacle, for that matter) was distinctly Egyptian. That is not a problem, since ADONAI may have used a pattern, or model, which the Israelites were accustomed to seeing.604

    The golden covered ark was not empty. Within it were the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and later, Aaron’s staff that budded; all graphic pictures of the Messiah's keeping the Torah, His Word as the bread of life, and Him being a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Exodus 16:33, 25:16; Hebrews 9:4). All of these rich and meaningful truths, we will consider most carefully in our study. But before we do, let us realize that as we enter, by faith, into the Most Holy Place we recall God’s words to Moses at the burning bush: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground (3:5).605

    The Ten Commandments within the ark. ADONAI said to put the Ten Commandments into the ark (25:16 and 21). Like other Suzerainty Treaties, the Torah had a deposit and a recording (see ??). Therefore, the Ten Commandments were deposited into the ark to serve as a recording. To better understand the significance of Christ perfectly keeping the Torah, let us go back to Israel’s previous history. God had dealt with Abraham upon the grounds of unconditional grace, for His promises and His grace go together. His promises rest solely upon His power and unchangeableness. That is why salvation before the LORD requires nothing on our part but faith (Hebrews 11:1). Abraham had taken the ground of a guilty sinner before a gracious God.

    Up to the time of Israel’s arrival at Mount Sinai, the LORD had dealt with His people upon the basis of unconditional grace. He delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians through the water of the Sea of Reeds. He fed them manna. He sent them quail for them to eat. He gave them water out of the rock, even though from the very beginning they were rebellious and grumbling. Yet, God blessed them, because He was dealing with them on the basis of grace.

    Then at Mount Sinai, Israel presumptuously asked for the Torah. In ignorance and spiritual pride, she said she would do all that the Torah required. But once the Covenant was made, no one could annul it. Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for. It was a Covenant that held Isra'el to a perfect standard, and it bound ADONAI to punish anything less than perfection. It was a Covenant that rested upon Israel’s own faithfulness and strength; a Covenant in which God had nothing to do, so to speak, but to watch the results of their actions and to deal with them accordingly.

    And what was Israel? They were a nation of poor, lost sinners who could only act sinfully. This was a train wreck from the very beginning. I am sure it sounded great when they said they would obey ADONAI faithfully and to make their relationship to Him depend upon their own efforts. But in reality, it was merely an expression of the helplessness of their spiritual condition and the holiness of God. It was proof that sin had blinded their eyes to the extent that they were unable to understand how lost they were. In other words, they were like you and me before we were saved.

    However, although Isra'el was blinded to her own spiritual condition, as ADONAI knew only to well, He commanded the ark of the Covenant to be made. So that, the ministry that brought death, or the Ten Commandments, would be shut out of their sight. It condemned men, which came with temporary brightness that was fading away after the death and resurrection of the Messiah (Second Corinthians 3:7-11). But how can the engraved letters on stone bring death when Paul calls the Torah holy (Romans 7:12)? He answers in his other letters to the Church. He explains that the Torah can be said to bring death in at least four ways. First, it declares death as the penalty for sin (Romans 5:12-21). Secondly, in defining transgression it increases sin (Galatians 3:21-31), which leads to death. Thirdly, it provides an opportunity for sinful people to pervert God’s holy Torah into legalism, that is, a dead system of rules intended to earn God’s favor when followed without trusting in Him (Romans 7:1-25). Fourthly, because it is engraved letters on stone, it does not have within itself the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, who alone can bring righteousness (Romans 3:19-31).

    But those who are not legalists, those who do have faith, are not under the curse (Galatians 3:10), because Christ redeemed us who trust in Him and in God from the curse pronounced in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. He could never lower His standard and mankind had no way to meet it. The penalty for breaking the Torah was death, and every Israelite had broken it. What could be done? God Himself would bear the curse of the guilty sinner (Galatians 3:10-13). He wasn’t surprised by this. He knew it would happen before the foundations of the earth were laid. Let One be found, a perfect man born from a woman, born into a culture in which legalistic perversion of the Torah was the norm (Galatians 4:4 CJB). Let Him be the sinner’s Substitute and the debt of sin would be paid forever.606

    The golden jar of manna within the ark. When ADONAI fed Israel in the wilderness with the manna from heaven, He told Moses to put some of it in a golden jar to be placed in the ark (Exodus 16:32-36; Hebrews 9:4). The manna, like the bread of the Presence, was a type of the Messiah, the bread of life, and the golden jar reminds us once more of His deity. He Himself was the bread from heaven (John 6:32-35). As the manna was Israel’s daily food in the wilderness, so Christ is Food for our daily pilgrimage, as we journey from Egypt to Canaan, from this world to the Promised Land.

    The manna was a beautiful type of Christ. It came down from heaven, as did our Lord and Savior. It came in the night, while Israel slept, even as Christ came into the world in the night of sin, as men were sleeping the sleep of spiritual death. The manna was white, as our Lord was spotless in His character, absolutely holy. The manna was sweet and tasted like wafers made with honey (16:31), just as Christ was gentle, compassionate, and loved the lost. The manna in the wilderness was seen upon the ground in the morning when the dew had disappeared; the Holy Spirit, suggested by the dew, does not reveal Himself, but points to Christ. Before Jesus died on the cross He spoke of the Holy Spirit, saying: He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (John 16:13-14).

    The ark, with its mercy seat, was the only piece of furniture from the Tabernacle to be placed in Solomon’s Temple some 480 years later. Articles of greater beauty took the place of the five other pieces of furniture. The golden jar of manna and Aaron’s staff that had budded were not there, because they had served their purpose during the wilderness wanderings. Neither were the poles left in the golden rings. The pilgrimage was over. Only the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept in the ark, beneath the mercy seat, beneath the sprinkled blood, in the Most Holy Place. When we get to heaven, when we see the greater than Solomon in all His glory (Matthew 12:42), then the manna will no longer be hidden in the ark, as it were. His radiance and beauty will shine in the New Jerusalem, filling it with His light and glory. He will prove to be the greatest of all wonders, of whom the Apostle Paul wrote, saying: No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (First Corinthians 2:9).607

    Aaron’s staff within the ark. The sixteenth and seventeenth Chapters of Numbers tell the sad story of rebellion against Aaron, God’s chosen priest, and of His vindication of the priestly family. The sons of Korah were not content with being Levites, they wanted to be priests also. But ADONAI had specifically taught His people that no one could be a priest except he who was called by God, just like Aaron (Hebrews 5:4). As a result of this rebellion, God sent his judgment upon the rebels. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and they went down to the grave, with everything they owned. And fire came out from ADONAI and consumed the 250 men who were offering incense. When Israel grumbled against ADONAI for this righteous judgment, He sent a plague where 14,700 people died in addition to those who had died because of Korah (Numbers 16:31-35, 16:49). Jude warns all of us not to go the way of Korah and reject God’s anointed (Jude 11).

    It was then that God told Moses to take twelve almond staffs, one for each tribe, and write each tribal leaders name on his staff, and on the staff of Levi write Aaron’s name (Numbers 17:1-3). Then ADONAI told Moses to place them in the Sanctuary in front of the ark of the covenant. And the LORD said to Aaron His servant: The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout and I will rid Myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites (Numbers 17:5). Moses obeyed God’s instructions and placed the staffs before God in the Sanctuary. The next day, Moses entered the Sanctuary and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted, but also budded, blossomed and produced almonds (Numbers 17:8). This was a sign to the nation of Israel that Aaron was indeed God’s chosen priest.

    The almond tree was the first to bud in the spring, and speaks to us of resurrection. When we study the priesthood next, we will see that Aaron is a type of Christ in His priestly ministry. Therefore, in the story here in Numbers, we find God’s choice of Aaron as His chosen high priest, which prefigures God’s choice of Christ as His chosen High Priest. The dry almond staff, severed from the tree, the source of life, budded and bore blossoms and fruit. What a picture of our Lord’s resurrection from the grave, which bore fruit, a harvest of millions upon millions of souls.

    Moses was told to place the staff in the ark of the Covenant as a sign against the rebellious (Numbers 17:10). Israel’s crucified and risen Messiah was then hidden from her view, but one day He will be revealed to His chosen people. In that day, Isra'el’s grumblings will cease forever. All her rebellion will be done away with and she will receive her King. This seems to be the reason why the staff that had budded was excluded from Solomon’s temple. The glory of Solomon’s reign was but a shadow of the yet future glory of the One who is greater than Solomon. And in that coming day, Israel’s Messiah will be fully and universally known as Isra'el’s chosen Priest, called of God, a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:17).608

    The sacrifices of the TaNaKh, the blood of bulls and goats, were interest only payments. They could only buy time, but not forgiveness. Today, in God’s New Covenant, the Most Holy Place, that is, ADONAI's presence, is open to all who believe in Jesus Christ. No blood or sacrifice is required other than the blood provided by Yeshua Himself. And no sacrifice needs to be repeated, because Messiah's sacrifice was once for all time. So Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people (Hebrews 9:28a).

 

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