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Gleanings In Exodus

35. The Ark


Exodus 25:10-16

Of the seven pieces of furniture which were found in the Tabernacle the Holy Spirit has described first the ark and the mercy-seat. Though these two are intimately related, so intimately that together they formed one complete whole—the mercy-seat being the cover or lid of the ark—yet are they mentioned, and are therefore to be considered, separately. The ark was a wooden chest, slightly over four feet in length and about two and a half feet broad and high, The wood of which it was made was overlaid with gold, both within and without, so that nothing save gold was visible to the eye.

The great importance of the ark is clear from several considerations. When Jehovah gave instructions to Moses concerning the Tabernacle, He began with the ark. It was first in order because first in importance. Before any details were communicated concerning the sanctuary itself, before a word was told Moses about its court and chambers its priesthood and ritual, its furniture and garniture, minute directions were given regarding the ark; without the ark the whole service of the Tabernacle had been meaningless and valueless, for it was upon it, as His throne, that God dwelt. The ark was the object to which the brazen altar pointed, the sacrifice of which gave right of access to the worshipper, who came to the ark representatively in the person of the high priest. It was the first of the holy vessels to be made and made by Moses himself (Deut. 10:1-5). It was the place where the tables of the law were preserved. Its pre-eminence above all the other vessels was shown in the days of Solomon, for the ark alone was transferred from the tabernacle to the Temple.

"The ark was a symbol that God was present among His people, that His covenant blessing was resting upon them. It was the most sacred and glorious Instrument of the sanctuary; yea, the whole sanctuary was built for no other end, but to be as it were a house, an habitation for the ark (see Exodus 26:33). Hence sanctification proceeded unto all the parts of it; for, as Solomon observed, the places were holy whereunto the ark of God came. 2 Chronicles 8:11" (A. Saphir). We shall consider the ark in seven connections.

1. Its Significance.

The ark typified the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is so obvious that it is hardly necessary to pause and furnish proof. The other two arks that of Noah, in which he and his family found shelter from the flood; and that in which the infant Moses was preserved, plainly foreshadowed Christ Himself. The fact that the ark of the covenant was composed of two materials and of two only—the wood and the gold—clearly point to the two natures of our Lord: the human and the Divine. The fact that the two tables of stone were preserved in the ark, and the words of the Savior, "Thy law is within My heart" (Ps. 40:8) supply us with a sure key. The fact that the mercy-seat (where God received the representative of His sinful but blood-cleansed people) rested upon the ark furnishes additional confirmation.

It is the typical significance of the ark which explains its pre-eminence over the other sacred vessels. Each of them pointed to same aspect of Christ’s work. or its effects, but the ark spoke of His person: they of what He has done, this of what HE is. It is the blessed person of Christ which gave value to His work. Today, in evangelical circles, the emphasis is placed on what the Savior has done for us, rather than on what He is in Himself. Scripture ever reverses this order. Note how in the typical ritual on the annual day of atonement, the high priest first entered the holy of holies with his hands full of sweet incense (Lev. 16:12), before he took in and sprinkled the blood (v. 14)—God would first be reminded of the fragrant perfections of Christ’s person, ere that which spoke of His redemptive work was placed before Him! Mark the order in the announcement of the Lord’s forerunner "Behold the Lamb of God" (first His person) which taketh away (second His work) the sin of the world," (John 1:29). So with the apostle Paul, "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ (His person) and Him crucified"—His work" (1 Cor. 2:2). So again, in the apocalyptic visions: ‘I beheld . . . and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb (His person) as it had been slain"—His work (Rev. 5:6). Thus it was in this order of the Tabernacle furniture: first the ark which tells of Christ’s person, then the mercy-seat, etc., which point to His work.

2. Its Materials.

The ark was made of "shittim wood," a species of the acacia, which is said by many to be imperishable. It is a tree which is found in the arid desert. The "shittim wood," grown here on earth, typified the humanity of our Savior. Isaiah 53:2 speaks in the language of this type: "For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." "There are three things about this shittim-tree which makes it a peculiarly fitting as a type of this. It is the tree now called the acacia seyal—the only tree that grows to any size in the deserts through which Israel passed. First it is a tree that can thrive in a very dry soil. Second, it has very long, sharp thorns Third, it is the tree from which is obtained the gum arabic so largely used in medicinal preparations, which is procured simply by piercing the tree at nightfall, and that which oozes out is, without any preparation, the gum-arabic of commerce. To the spiritual mind these facts are sweetly suggestive of Him who, in a dry and thirsty land, where surely there was naught to sustain His spirit, was in the constant freshness of communion with God, for other than an earthly stream sustained Him. Though indeed crowned now with glory, a crown of thorns was all this world had for Him. And we remember too that it was He who was pierced for us in that blackest night of guilt, when the blood flowed forth from His side, to be the only balm for the troubled soul and sin-burdened conscience" (Mr. C. H. Bright).

As the shittim-wood was one that never rotted, it was a most appropriate emblem of the sinless humanity of the Lord Jesus. It is indeed striking to find that in the Septuagint (the first translation ever made of the Old Testament—into Greek) it is always translated "incorruptible wood." Now it is of paramount importance that we should hold fast and testify to the fundamental truth conveyed by the "incorruptible wood," namely, the real but absolute untainted humanity of Christ. That Christ was truly Man is clear from. His repeated use of the title "the Son of Man." and from the Holy Spirit’s appellation "the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). But His humanity was uncorrupt and incorruptible. In Him was no sin (1 John 3:5) for He was the Holy One of God; and therefore disease and death had no claim upon Him Begotten by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin, His immaculate humanity was pronounced "that holy thing which shall be born" (Luke 1:45).

The wood of the ark was overlaid with gold within and without. This prefigured His Divine nature. "While the acacia boards gave form and dimensions to the ark, the appearance was all gold—no wood was visible. Thus our Lord’s hum-inanity gives Him the form in which He was and is, Light of light, the Creator and Upholder of all things, He became a Man, and was and is eternally ‘the Man Christ Jesus.’ But how God guards us from having a single low view of this most lowly One. The gold covers all Look at Him, gaze, as far as finite mind and heart can, upon the majesty of His being, and all is Divine! The Divine nature is displayed over the ‘form of a servant’ and wherever the all-seeing eye of God rests, within that pure and holy mind, affections and will, as well as without upon that blameless walk, meekness and obedience, He owns Him as His Equal, His co-eternal Son. It is all gold, though the form of the Servant was there, with perfect human faculties and dependence—everything that belongs to man, sin apart. But spread over all this is the gold of His deity. And does not faith see the same?" (Lectures on the Tabernacle by S. Ridout).

Thus, in the wood and the gold together forming the ark we have foreshadowed the great mystery of godliness—God manifest in flesh. Here we see, in symbol the union of the two natures in the God-man, a Scriptural conception of whom is so important and vital—important, as God has shown us by making the ark to be the first object of contemplation as we take up the study of the Tabernacle; vital, because sound views of Christ are inseparable from our very salvation: "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).

3. Its Dimensions.

The ark was two and a half cubits in length, one and a half in breadth, and one and a half in height. The repeated half at once arrests attention. The word "half" in the Hebrew comes from a root which means to cut in two. Another has pointed out that these half cubits suggest that the knowledge of Christ given to us now is only partial: "Now we know in part" (1 Cor. 13:9). "Those who have the fullest knowledge of Christ are the first to say, in the language of the Queen of Sheba, ‘it was a true report that I heard.. and behold. the half was not told me’ (1 Kings 10:6-7). So with our all-glorious Lord, the scale is reduced—may we say?—that our finite minds may grasp something of the wondrous fullness of that which passeth knowledge" (Mr. S. Ridout).

Two and a half is half of five, and one and a half is half of three, and both of these numbers have a meaning in Scripture which is deeply significant. Take the latter first. Three is the number of manifestation, that is why it Is the number of resurrection, for only in resurrection is life fully manifested; for the same reason three is the number of Deity, for God is fully manifested in the three persons of the Holy Trinity. How significant then that the breadth and height (which both have to do with the display of an object) of the ark were both half of three. Remembering that the ark speaks of the person of Christ and three is the number of manifestation, do we not find here more than a hint that when Christ came to the earth He would not fully manifest Himself? Nor did He: Had He completely unveiled His glory men had been blinded as was Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:8), or had fallen at His feet as dead, as did John (Rev. 1:17). But blessed be God we shall yet "see Him as He is," and then shall we eat of "the hidden Manna" (Rev. 2:17). So, too, with the other number. Five stands for grace, and the length of the ark speaks of the span of God’s grace in Christ. That span is eternal; but eternity is endless duration both backwards and forwards. Therefore is the five halved for though believers now know of the grace that was given them in Christ before the foundation of the world (2 Tim. 1:9), the endless ages yet to come await its future display (Eph. 2:7).

It is to be noted that the ark measured, the same in height as in breadth, which at once points to the perfections and uniqueness of Christ. The "breadth" would speak of Him in His dealings with man, the "height" His relations Godward. How far our spiritual height falls short of our breadth! For example how much more cautious are we against displeasing our fellows than God! Not so with the Perfect One. In meeting the needs of men, He never lost sight of the claims of His Father: Mark how in responding to the appeal of Lazarus’ sisters, the glory of the Father was His only motive and consideration (John 11:4-6).

4. Its Contents.

These are described in Hebrews 9:4: "The ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant." Some have seen a contradiction between this verse and 1 Kings 8:9: "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone." But there is no conflict between the two passages, for they are not treating of the same point in time. Hebrews 9:4 is speaking of what was in the ark during the days that it was lodged in the Tabernacle, whereas 1 Kings 8:9 tells us of what comprised its contents after it came to rest in the Temple. Thus we see how quickly disappears one of the stock ‘contradiction’ arguments of infidels!

The distinction noted above between what was inside the ark during its respective sojourns in the Tabernacle and in the Temple supplies the key to the typical significance of its contents. The three articles specified in Hebrews 9:4 point to God’s provisions in Christ while they are Journeying through the wilderness, This becomes abundantly clear when we consider the first thing named, "the golden pot that had manna." The manna was the food which Jehovah gave to Israel while they were Journeying from the house of bondage to the promised inheritance. It foreshadowed Christ as the Bread of life, the food of His pilgrim people. But most blessed is the added word here. In Exodus 16:3, we simply read that Moses said unto Aaron "take a pot and put an omer full of manna therein and lay it up before the testimony, to be kept; whereas in Hebrews 9:4, the Spirit tells us it was "a golden pot." The Old Testament could not give us that. it is reserved for the New Testament to bring it out. The Manna was the grace of God meeting the need of His people in the wilderness. Now while the Old Testament makes it plain that Israel’s deepest need would be met through the promised Messiah, yet it was by no means clear that the Messiah would be a member of the Godhead; rather was the emphasis thrown upon the fact that He was to be the seed of Abraham and of David. But with the New Testament before us, we have no difficulty in perceiving that naught but a vessel which was holy and Divine was adequate to hold what God had for fleetly sinners and that that vessel was no other than His beloved Son incarnate. It is in John’s Gospel, particularly, that we get the truth of the "golden pot." There we see the Vessel which was capable of holding the grace of God for His people: "full of grace and truth" is found only in John!

There is no doubt, an additional thought connected with the golden pot," which contained the manna. The amount stored therein was "one omer" which, as we learn from Exodus 16:16, was the quantity for each man. Thus the amount preserved was the measure of a man; but the golden pot which contained it tells us that this Man is now glorified, the same thought being found in the "crown of gold which was round about the ark." This is confirmed by a comparison of Exodus 25:18 with Hebrews 9:5 where the cherubim of "gold" are called the cherubim of "glory." It is, then, in the Man Christ Jesus, now crowned with glory and honor, that God’s food for His people is to be found. Just as in another type, when the famine stricken people came to Pharaoh for corn, he referred them to the once humbled, but then exalted Joseph.

The second article within the ark was "Aaron’s rod that budded." This takes us back to Numbers 17 where we have the historical account of it. In Numbers 16, we read of a revolt against Moses and Aaron headed by Korah, a revolt occasioned by jealously at the authority God had delegated to His two servants. This revolt was visited by summary judgment from on High, and was followed by a manifest vindication of Aaron. The form that this vindication took is most interesting and instructive. The Lord bade Moses take twelve rods, one for each tribe, writing Aaron’s name on the rod for Levi. These rods were laid up before the ark and the one that should be made to blossom would indicate which had been chosen of God to be the priestly tribe. Next morning it was found that Aaron’s rod had "brought forth buds, and blossomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." Afterwards, the Lord ordered Moses to bring Aaron’s rod before the testimony "to be kept for a token against the rebels." The spiritual and typical significance of this we shall now endeavor to indicate.

The issue raised by Korah and his company was that of priestly ministry—who had the right to exercise it? In deciding this issue the tribal rods (symbols of authority) were laid up before the Lord, to show that the matter was taken entirely out of the hands of man and was to be decided by God alone. Thus the question of the priesthood was determined solely by Jehovah. The manner in which God’s mind was made known on this momentous point is very striking. The "rods" were all of them lifeless things, but during the interval that they were laid up before the testimony, unseen by the eye of man, the mighty power of the living God intervened, a miracle was wrought, the dead rod was quickened, and resurrection-life and fruit appeared.

The spiritual eye will have no difficulty in perceiving what all of this pointed forward to. Numbers 16 foreshadowed Israel’s rebellion against Him, whom Moses and Aaron jointly prefigured. Moses, the prophet proclaimed the truth of God; Aaron the priest, expressed His grace; both were hated without a cause. So He who was full of grace and truth was despised and rejected of men; not only so but put to a shameful death. And what was God’s response? He fully vindicated His beloved Son by raising Him from the dead. Moses entering the Tabernacle on the morrow (Num. 17:8) and there beholding the evidences of God’s resurrection power, reminds us of the disciples entering the empty sepulcher and beholding the signs that Christ had risen from the dead. Moses bringing out the rods and showing them to the people (v. 9), finds its antitype in the resurrection of Christ established before many witnesses (1 Cor. 15:6). In the rod laid up before the Lord, we have a picture of Christ, now hidden, at the right hand of God.

But it is with the rod in the ark that we now have to do. All that was in the ark speaks of the wondrous provision which God has made for His people in Christ. Now what is before us in Numbers 17, is not God dealing in judgment, but in grace: "And the Lord said unto Moses. Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from Me that they die not." Thus, the priestly ministry of Aaron Was to preserve God’s people before Him while they were passing through the wilderness. How plain is the type. That which answers to it is found in the ministry of our great High Priest in heaven, who secures our salvation to the uttermost by His constant intercessions for us (Heb. 7:25). Here, then, is God’s provision for us in Christ: food to strengthen, priestly grace to sustain.

One other point remains to be considered in connection with Aaron’s rod. In Hebrews 9:4, it is referred to simply as "Aaron’s rod that budded" whereas in Numbers 17:8, we are told that it "brought forth buds and blossomed blessings, and yielded almonds." We believe that the omission in Hebrews 9:11 of the latter part of this statement is infest significant. Numbers 17:8 refers to resurrection-life in three stages, all, of course pointing to Christ. We would suggest that the "budding" of the rod found its fulfillment in the resurrection of Christ Himself; that the "blossomed blossoms" will receive its realization in the resurrection of "them that are Christ’s at His coming"; while the "yielded almonds" points forward to the raising of Israel from the dead who shall then fill the earth with fruit. As the "blossoming" and the "yielding almonds" is yet future, the Holy Spirit has most appropriately omitted these in Hebrews 9:4.

The third thing in the ark was the two tables of stone on which were written the ten commandments. The reader will recall that the Lord gave to Moses on two separate occasions tables of stone engraved by His own finger. The first ones Moses dashed to the ground when he beheld the idolatry of the people (Ex. 32), thereby intimating that fallen man is unable to keep the law. But God’s counsels cannot be thwarted, neither will He abate the requirements of His righteousness: "At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and came up unto Me into the Mount, and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write in the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou breakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark" (Deut. 10:1-2).

The second set of tables of stone were deposited in the ark. The careful student will observe a notable omission in the above quotation from Deuteronomy 10:1-2, an omission emphasized by its repetition in the next verse—"And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone." Nothing is said of the wood being overlaid with gold, nor of the cherubim of glory on its cover. It is simply said that the two tables of stone were to be placed in "an ark of wood." The law which fallen man had broken was to be preserved intact by the perfect Man, It was as "the second Man, the Last Adam" that Christ "magnified the law and made it honorable" (Isa. 42:21). How perfect is every jot and tittle of Scripture, even in its omissions!

The fulfillment of this aspect of our type is given in Psalm 40 where, speaking by the Spirit of prophecy, our glorious Surety exclaimed, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will O My God yea Thy law is within My heart" (vv. 7, 8). The blessed Substitute of God’s elect was "made under the law" (Gal. 4:4), and perfectly did He "fulfill" it (Matthew 5:17). Therefore is it written "By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19), Christ has answered every requirement of God’s law for His people. He has fully discharged all their creature responsibilities. In Christ, as our type plainly shows, and in Christ alone, is found that obedience which meets every demand of God’s throne. Therefore may each believer joyfully exclaim "In the Lord have I righteousness" (Isa. 45:24). Thus can the whole ransomed Church hail its covenant Head as "The Lord our Righteousness" (Jer. 23:6).

In our next chapter, God willing, we shall ponder the coverings of the ark, its various names and its remarkable history. In the meantime may the Holy Spirit occupy both writer and reader, more and more, with Him whom the ark typified.


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