Chapter 17 The Ark

They shall make an ark (Exodus 25:10).

This is probably the most important chapter in the writings of Moses. God had redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt and, in the ways of grace, had gathered them to be His people by covenant relationship. The Lord now looks for an affectionate response to Himself from His redeemed people. They are to bring an offering, which suggests a most energetic response.

They were to build God a sanctuary that He might dwell among them (25:8). The materials required are listed inverses 3-7, and there is rich symbolism in these materials. All spoke of Christ in His Person and work, and each of the redeemed had to make this “willing offering” as an appreciation for his redemption. All offerings were to come out of their affections as an expression of gratitude. It was, therefore, a spiritual house—all the materials, and each and every part of it spoke of Christ. The building of it, according to God’s instructions given to Moses, was to be an expression of their spiritual apprehension and appreciation of their Saviour. Each had to contribute, but all was to be brought to a corporate and unified whole.

The first command was the construction of the ark. This was to be a distinctive type of Christ. For this the Tabernacle was built. It was the most treasured thing in the hallowed building. All that concerned God was to be secured in His beloved Son, and all that was ruined in God’s universe was to be recovered and restored in and through Him. The ark takes precedence, then, for God would have all it represented of His Son enshrined in the first place of the affections of His people. During the wilderness wanderings it was to be known as “the ark of the covenant [or testimony]”—a testimony amidst the barren world around them.

The substance of the ark was acacia or shittim wood, which set forth our Lord’s incomparable humanity and exhibited His kinship with our race. Acacia wood was no common wood. It was not subject to decay and thus pictured our Lord’s undefilable humanity.

But the ark was more than wood. The ark was covered with pure gold within and without. This speaks of the Lord’s deity, for the Saviour of men is the Mighty God. Were He not so, His merit would have no worth. His wounds, His blood, His agony, and His death would be valueless to redeem. Thus we see in the wood and gold a figure of man conjoined to Deity—the God-Man—all that God is, embodied in man.

There was “a crown of gold round about” (Exodus 25:11). This pointed to His Kingship. He is the Father’s appointed King (Psalm 2:6; Revelation 19:6), and though crowned with thorns by wicked men, yet “crowned with glory and honour” by the Father, and with a crown of divine glory.

The ark was made to hold a rich treasure. The first set of tables of the moral law given by God was smashed by Moses for, when he came down from the mount and saw the wickedness of the people, he realized that all parts of the law were already broken. The second set was placed in the ark and not one part was ever broken by Him whom the ark represented. Then, also, the golden pot of manna was laid up in the ark, which declared Christ to be the true Manna of His people (John 6:32-33). Aaron’s budded rod was also in the ark, which spoke of Christ as God’s chosen and true High Priest (Hebrews 7:3, 17).

Then we note that the ark was covered with a lid of solid gold. It hid the law from every eye. The law carried a curse upon all who broke it, but the Lord Jesus covered all its terrible demands, and spread Himself as a satisfaction over it. He covers all claims against us.

The lid had a special name—the mercy seat. It was of pure gold since mercy is wholly a divine attribute. It is such mercy which shelters when the sinner is overwhelmed with his sin and filled with terror and dismay. Divine mercy saves.

As the ark supported the mercy seat, so did Christ support God’s mercy in the way of righteousness. It is through His death that He becomes a Mercy Seat (Romans 3:24-26). God is able to be merciful to sinners because of our Lord’s total righteousness. The two cherubs, one at either end of the mercy seat, were of the same piece of gold as the ark, and they covered it with their wings. All God’s rights in being merciful are protected by His own attributes. Their outspread wings, too, spoke of the readiness of divine mercy to spread its gracious message to every place, and if their eyes looked downward, it was only to be absorbed with the beauties and excellencies of Christ as “the ark of the testimony.”

A gracious promise was given by God concerning the ark: “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:22). Thus the place is fixed where man can meet with God, which is only in Christ. If we come to God in Christ, then God will draw near unto us.

The ark had staves (Exodus 25:13). By these it was borne by the priests. Everything that is of God in Christ has to be carried in testimony through this wilderness world. From time to time it found a resting place for the Lord’s people, as we find here and now in Christ when we meet in the assembly of saints.

Let not the ark speak in vain. Obed-Edom was blessed for retaining it (2 Samuel 6:11). When we come to the waters of Jordan, symbol of death, the ark, which is Christ, will lead us through to the land of heavenly rest.

Incarnate Word, God over all!
Compassions’s depths, in Thee that dwell,
Moved Thee to call from creature-fall
Our guilty souls, Immanuel!

Eternal fragrance fills the scene,
Eternal glories cast their spell
Where Thou, once slain to rend our chain,
Didst Love unvail—Immanuel!

Now love and light, divinely bright,
Shine forth forever, to dispel
The glooms of night, and thrill our sight
With beauty—Thine, Immanuel!

Frank Allaben