The sacred ARK OF THE COVENANT is designated by a different Hebrew word, “'arown,” which is the common name for a chest or coffer used for any purpose (Genesis 50:26; 2 Kings 12:9-10). It is distinguished from all others by such titles as the “ark of God” (1 Sam. 3:3), “ark of the covenant” (Josh. 3:6; Hebrews 9:4), “ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25:22).
It was made of acacia or shittim wood, a cubit and a half wide and high and two cubits long, and completely covered with the purest gold.
Its upper surface or lid, the mercy-seat, was surrounded with a rim of gold; and on each of the two sides were two gold rings, in which were placed two gold-covered poles by which the ark could be carried (Num. 7:9; 10:21; 4:5, 19-20; 1 Kings 8:3,6).
At each end, there were two cherubim over the ark, with their faces turned toward each other (Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89). Their outspread wings over the top of the ark formed the throne of God, while the ark itself was his footstool (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9).
The ark was deposited in the “holy of holies,” and was placed so that one end of the carrying poles touched the veil which separated the two sections of the tabernacle (1 Kings 8:8).
CONTENTS—Stored in the ark were the ten commandments on two tablets of stone which were the “testimony” or evidence of God's covenant with the people (Deut. 31:26), the “pot of manna” (Exodus 16:33), and “Aaron’s rod that budded” (Num. 17:10) (Hebrews 9:4). (See TABERNACLE)
When it was carried, the ark was always wrapped in a veil, the badgers’ skins, and blue cloth, and carefully concealed even from the eyes of the Levites who carried it.
The ark and the sanctuary were “the beauty of Israel” (Lam. 2:1). During the journeys of the Israelites the ark was carried by the priests in front of the crowds (Num. 4:5-6; 10:33-36; Ps. 68:1; 132:8). It was carried by the priests into the bed of the Jordan, which separated, opening a pathway for the whole host to pass over (Josh. 3:15-16; 4:7, 10-11, 17-18). It was carried in procession around Jericho (Josh. 6:4, 6, 8, 11-12).
After Israel settled in Canaan, the ark remained in the tabernacle at Gilgal for a while. It was then moved to Shiloh till the time of Eli, between 300 and 400 years (Jer. 7:12), when it was carried into the field of battle in an attempt to guarantee victory. However, it was taken by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:3-11), who later returned it after seven months when they realized it was bringing a curse on them (1 Sam. 5:7-8).
The ark then remained at Kirjath-jearim (7:1-2) till the time of David (twenty years), who wished to move it to Jerusalem; but because they did not move it in the proper way, Uzzah was killed for putting “forth his hand to the ark of God.” Therefore, the ark was left in the house of Obed-edom in Gath-rimmon for three months (2 Sam. 6:1-11), after which David moved it in a grand procession to Jerusalem, where it was kept till a place was prepared for it (12-19).
Solomon later deposited the ark in the great temple he built (1 Kings 8:6-9). When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple, the ark disappeared. Some believe it was taken away by Nebuchadnezzar and was destroyed at some point. No definite later trace of it has ever been proved.
One reason that the second temple of Jerusalem was inferior to the first is that it did not contain the ark.