About the biblical…

What is an ark?

An ark is literally a box or chest. The word “ark” appears many times in the Bible (KJV: 230 times / NRSV: 227 / NIV: 219). Listed in historical order, here are the 3 most important biblical arks.

Ark of the Covenant

Artist’s impression of Ark of the Covenant. Copyrighted. Licensed (dp: 13481804)

Hebrew: אָרוֹן —transliteration: aron

also known as: Ark of the Covenant, Ark of God, Ark of the Testimony

The sacred Ark of the Covenant is designated by a different Hebrew word transliterated as aron. It is the common name for a chest or coffer used for any purpose (Genesis 50:26; 2 Kings 12:9-10). This particular chest is distinguished from all others by such titles as the “Ark of God” (1 Samuel 3:3), “Ark of the Covenant” (Joshua 3:6; Hebrews 9:4), “Ark of the Testimony” (Exodus 25:22).

Construction of Ark of the Covenant

This ark 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 (Numbers 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 (Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 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 of the Ark of the Covenant

Stored in the ark was evidence of 3 miraculous events: the ten commandments written by God on two tablets of stone which were the “testimony” or evidence of God’s covenant with the people (Deuteronomy 31:26), the “pot of manna” (Exodus 16:33), and “Aaron’s rod that budded” (Numbers 17:10) (Hebrews 9:4). (See TABERNACLE)

Moving the Ark of the Covenant

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 (Numbers 4:5-6; 10:33-36; Psalm 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 (Joshua 3:15-16; 4:7, 10-11, 17-18). It was carried in procession around Jericho (Joshua 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 (Jeremiah 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 Samuel 4:3-11), who later returned it after seven months when they realized it was bringing a curse on them (1 Samuel 5:7-8).

The ark then remained at Kirjath-jearim (7:1-2) till the time of David (20 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 Samuel 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). The only Hebrew temple where the Ark of the Covenant was ever located is Solomon’s temple.

One reason that the 2nd temple of Jerusalem and Herod’s temple (the 3rd temple) were inferior to the 1st is that they never contained the Ark of the Covenant.

Disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant

When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple, the ark disappeared. Some believe it was taken away by King Nebuchadnezzar and was destroyed at some point. No definite later trace of it has ever been proved. However, the Israelites certainly had advanced warning of the attack and could have hidden it or taken it far away for deposit in a safe place.

Streaming video— 
“What Happened to the Ark of the Covenant?”
Video by Israel MyChannel (2021)
Length: 10 minutes

Noah’s Ark on the flood waters

Noah’s Ark

Hebrew: תֵּ֣בַת

The great ark that Noah and family built was a giant rectangular barge constructed of wood. Scripture says “gopher wood” and that it was covered with pitch. It is unclear whether the ancient word “gopher” represented an unknown type of pre-Flood tree or whether this word refers to a process performed on the wood, i.e., gophering it, as in covering it with pitch, or planing it, or squaring it into lumber.

The ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits broad, and 30 cubits high (Genesis 6:14-16). It had 3 stories, with a door in the side and a window in the roof. It built over a period of 100 years (Genesis 5:32 7:6).

It was intended to preserve all air-breathing land animals and all the world’s remaining righteous people, of which there would be only 8 (all others failed to heed Noah’s hundred years of earnest warnings), and Methusaleh died before the cataand .

When the door closed, only 8 persons had boarded (Noah and wife, plus three sons and their wives) (Genesis 7:13; 2 Peter 2:5). Everyone else rejected God’s protection.

God brought the animals to Noah; the family did not have to go get them. The animals included seven pairs of each type of “clean” animal and of the “unclean” one pair each. Birds included seven pairs of each type (Genesis 7:2-3).

Nations and tribes throughout the Earth have ancient legends about the great flood, Noah and the Ark.

Ark of bulrushes

Hebrew: תֵּ֣בַת

The floating ark was a specially prepared wicker basket/chest/box in which the infant Moses was laid (Exodus 2:3. The Hebrew word is transliterated as tebat, a word derived from the Egyptian teb, meaning “a chest,” the same word used for Noah’s ark.

It was daubed with slime and with pitch to make it water-resistant. The bulrushes were papyrus reeds.

Read our illustrated story of Moses and the bulrush ark—GO

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Article Version: March 30, 2024