The Expository Files

What They Would Have Really Found on the "Lost Ark"

There were a series of movies starring Harrison Ford as "Indiana Jones", an archaeologist and adventurer. In the first movie, "The Raiders of the Lost Ark", Jones battles the Nazis in the days just prior to the Second World War. The Nazis had found the ark of the covenant and were seeking to discover and employ it's mysterious powers to help them one day conquer the world. Interestingly enough, though the movie is fiction, there was an army that really did foolishly try the same thing once. The Philistines once took the ark in battle, but gave it back when they began to be plagued with problems. But even Israel also had some erroneous ideas about it. They thought it had some sort of mystical power (much like the "Raiders" movie did), not realizing that the power was God's and that without faith and obedience it was just a box.

In the movie, when the lid is raised and the Nazis peer inside, at first they see dust. The Gestapo agent sneers, thinking it has all been wasted effort, but then the dust begins to swirl and a light bursts forth up into the clouds. Then, spirits begin to rise up out of the ark and the flesh of the Nazis begins to melt from their bodies as they scream in anguish. Oops! Jones, who has been tied up with a companion, closes his eyes and says, "Don't look!" and so they are spared.

We do not know what became of the real ark of the covenant. It became lost from history about six centuries B.C. when Babylon conquered Jerusalem. But assuming it survived intact, and its contents were left undisturbed (these are big assumptions. Again, we do not know for sure what happened to it), what would a modern day discoverer of the lost ark find if he or she was to raise the lid and look inside?

The Last Place it Was

The last time the ark's location was known was about six centuries before Christ. It was in Jerusalem, in the temple, in the most secluded chamber known as "the most holy place. " It had been moved to Jerusalem about three centuries before by King David. Previous to that, it had been located in the tabernacle after it's construction during the wilderness wanderings when Israel had been freed from slavery in Egypt. (Hebrews 9:1-4; 11). We note that three items were kept inside the ark. The Bible describes the "most holy place" as "having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant." (Hebrews 9:4).

That makes three items: a golden jar holding manna, Aaron's rod and the two stone tables of the covenant. Each of these three items reminds us of God's character. Consider:

The Golden Pot of Manna

The manna reminds us of God's care and providence for His people. God provides all with blessings such as sun, water, food and air (Matthew 5:45; Acts 17:24-28). He also provides special blessings for His people. He always has (1 John 3:22-24).

The manna reminds us to trust in God. After Israel left Egypt, they lived in the wilderness for forty years before coming into Canaan. There would not be nearly enough food for so many people in such a desolate place. The Lord would cause manna to fall and the people would gather it together and eat it. The first morning this occurred, the Bible says, "When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, 'What is it?' For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, 'It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.' (Exodus 16:15). It was white in color and tasted like wafers with honey. It was evidently very nutritional because the people thrived and continued to increase in number even in the wilderness. The people were instructed to keep a serving of the manna throughout their generations to remind them of God's care. He commanded, "Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 16:32). This reminder was kept in the ark.

It is always good for God's people to remember God's blessings and to give praise and thanks unto God (1 Timothy 4:4-5). It is also helpful to know God is trustworthy and deserves our absolute confidence, no matter what present distress we may face (Romans 8:37-39; 2 Timothy 4:16-18).

Aaron's Budding Rod

The second item mentioned as being in the ark was Aaron's walking staff. The rods of the leaders of the twelve tribes were gathered together, and overnight God showed His selection of Aaron by causing his to miraculously bud overnight. "Now it came about on the next day that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." (Numbers 17:8).

This had all occurred because of a man named Korah who had instigated a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. There had been much bloodshed, and though Korah's rebellion had been put down, the earth itself opening up and swallowing them, the people began accusing Moses and Aaron of causing their deaths. This was the Lord's demonstration to the people not to rebel. "But the Lord said to Moses, "Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they should not die." (Numbers 17:10). Let it be remembered by us as well to submit humbly unto our God as we faithfully obey His word, and that to do otherwise is to forget this important lesson.

The Tables of the Covenant

The third and final item is actually two items; the tables of stone upon which the ten commandments had been written. God had instructed, "And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you." (Exodus 25:16; see also 40:20). The Lord wanted Israel to remember that these were the Laws of God, not man. God's commandments are always important for the people to whom He gives them, whether the old covenant written on stones or the new covenant brought into force by the blood of Christ (Psalm 119:9-16; see also Hebrews 9:15-16, 8:6; 10:28-30 and 2:2,3).

So there you have it. Not all that mysterious, but very powerful to one who looks at the items, and remembers God's providential care, the need to be loyal to Him and to respect His Divine will. Good lessons from inside the ark!

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 11.2, February, 2004