The Ark of the Covenant

“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood…,” Exodus 25:10 (NKJV).

There are two main sections dealing with the construction of the tabernacle.  In Exodus 25-31, God gives instruction concerning the various parts of the tabernacle and of the priesthood that would minister there.  In Exodus 35-39, we read of the actual preparation for and construction of the tabernacle.

Though the rest of the posts will look at the tabernacle from the standpoint of an Israelite who was approaching it, this post will look at the first item God told Moses to make:  a piece of furniture called “the ark of the covenant.”

It’s interesting to me that, in these instructions, God begins with Himself, for the ark signified the place where He would “dwell” and where He would meet with Israel.

So it always is.

God begins with Himself.

It was that way with this planet:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  The earth didn’t create itself, or develop from some lesser thing, in spite of the best efforts of those who would tell us otherwise.

It was that way with Abraham.  He didn’t sit down one day and decide to write down his thoughts about the possibility of “a higher power.”  Genesis 12 and Hebrews 11:8 tells us that God appeared to Abraham and told him to move to “a land that I will show you,” Genesis 12:1.

It was that way with Israel and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20.  They didn’t get together and write down some ideas for how they would govern themselves.  In Exodus 20, God called Moses to the top of a mountain and gave him The Ten Commandments, though these are only a summary of the Law, there being a lot more that God gave Israel before He was done.

And it’s that way with us.  Scripture says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, Ephesians 1:4.  I can’t think of another subject that will make people angry more quickly than the idea that God chose us simply because He wanted to.  I’ve dealt with this at length elsewhere on this blog.  Let me just say here that if He hadn’t chosen us, we would never “choose” Him, would never be saved.  There are some folks who focus on “whosoever will.”  That’s alright; it’s a Biblical concept.  The problem is that, apart from the grace of God, we’re all “whosoever won’ts”.

Folks want to get around this by saying that God “looked down the corridors of time for those who would ‘accept Him’, and chose them on that basis.”  Is that how He did it?  Scripture itself uses this idea of God “looking”:
The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God,
Psalm 14:2.
If the “foreknowledge” folks were right, the Psalmist would continue that God did see some who “understand,” who “seek” Him.

Is that what the Psalmist wrote?

Not in the least.

They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,
No, not one, Psalm 14:3, emphasis added.

It begins with God.

Because it would never begin with us.

The ark of the covenant was a chest of wood, covered with gold, Exodus 25:10.  It was a little less than four feet long and a little more than two feet wide and high.  Except for the high priest once a year, no one ever saw it because it was kept in the holy of holies in the tabernacle.  Even when Israel moved during its wilderness journeys, it was covered to keep it from prying eyes.  I don’t think God was “hiding,” but, rather, was impressing on Israel the seriousness of their relationship with Him.  Indeed, when an Israelite touched the ark during of these moves, God struck him dead, 2 Samuel 6:6; 1 Chronicles 13:9.  I think there might be a lesson for us with our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity.  I know that a suit and tie don’t guarantee spirituality, but neither do flip-flops and shorts.

There were three items kept inside the ark:  the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant, Hebrews 9:4.  Exodus 13:33 tells of the pot of manna, which was to be kept to show future generations of Israelites how God had provided for Israel during her wilderness travels.  Aaron’s rod reminded Israel that the descendants of Aaron and they alone, could perform the office of priest, Numbers 17.   The tables of the covenant were the original tablets that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai, Exodus 20.

Lord willing, we’ll consider this “covenant” more closely in our next post.

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The Book of Deuteronomy: On The Threshold.

(Once again, we’re taking a little side-trip from our study in Acts, although it may turn out not to be so “little”.)

This may seem a rather strange title for the book, but we have to remember two things in this regard.  Moses himself was on the threshold of eternity, cf. Deuteronomy 32:48-50,  and Israel, 40 years after leaving Egypt, was finally on the threshold of entering the Promised Land.  Deuteronomy includes Moses’ instruction to her about this.

The name of the book – “Deuteronomy – comes from the Latin and means, “second law”.  This doesn’t mean that it’s merely a repetition of what was given 40 years earlier at Sinai.  Most of the generation which was at Sinai was dead; most of the people who were here on the border of Canaan had been born in the wilderness.  While indeed giving the Law to a new generation, it was also a time of application of Moses’ 40 years’ experience in leading a rebellious, ungrateful people through a barren, uninhabited wilderness.  It is his counsel to them, showing them how various facets of life are to be handled.  He has much to say to us, as well, even though we don’t live “under the Law”.

Here is an outline of the book:

  1. The Preaching of Moses, 1:1-28:68.
    A. Reflections on the Wanderings,1:1-3:29.
    1. Departure from Horeb, 1:1-18.
    2. Disaster at Kadesh, 1:19-46.
    3. Desert Wanderings, 2:1-3:11.
    4. Division of the Eastern Conquest, 3:12-22.
    5. Denial of Moses’ Request, 3:23-29.
    B. Review of the Word, 4:1-26:19.
    1. Serious Warnings, 4:1-40.
    2. Setting Up Cities of Refuge, 4:41-43.
    3. Substance of the Law, 4:44-8:20.
    4. Stubbornness of the People, 9:1-11:32.
    5. “Statutes and Judgments,” 12:1-26:15.
    6. Special Responsibilities and Relationship, 26:16-19.
    C. Regarding the “Memorial” and the “Mountains”, 27:1–28:68.
  2. The Promise Given Through Moses, chs. 29, 30.
  3. Passing The Torch, 31:1-13.
    A. Raising A New Leader, 31:1-8
    B. Reading of the Law Before the People Established, 31:9-13.  Leaders come and go; God’s word abides forever.
  4. The Passing of Moses, 31:14-34:12.

1.  The Preaching of Moses, 1:1-31:13.

Reflections on the Wandering, 1:1-3:29.

“Wandering” is usually the term applied to this time in Israel’s history, and specifically of the time between their rebellion at Kadesh and their long-delayed entrance into the Land.  It isn’t a bad word, but remember that even then they were under the control and direction of God, Numbers 9:15-23.  Though their rebellion delayed their entrance into the land, it did not derail God’s purpose for them.
1. Departure from Horeb, 1:1-18.
Israel had camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai for nearly two years, Exodus 19:1; Numbers 1:1.  During this time, they had been entrusted with the oracles of God, Romans 3:2, which would eventually consist of the adoption, the glory, the covenants [note the plural], the giving of the Law, the service of God, and the promises, Romans 9:4.  They weren’t given everything at Sinai.
2. Disaster at Kadesh, 1:19-46.
Though it might have seemed a good idea to send spies into the land to see what was there, it wasn’t necessary.  With a pillar of cloud or of fire, God had led them through “a great and terrible wilderness,” Numbers 9:20-23.  If they hadn’t send the spies, they wouldn’t have learned about the incredible obstacles facing them: the gigantic people, the fortified cities, perhaps some sickness infecting the people of the land, Numbers 13:28, 32.  Even though they saw the land was incredibly fertile – it took two men to carry one cluster of grapes, Numbers 13:23! –  they refused to go forward.  They even went so far as to accuse God of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them, Numbers 14:3; Deuteronomy 1:27!  Because of this rebellion, they would spend 38 more years trudging through the wilderness, instead of enjoying “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
But they weren’t done with their foolhardiness!  Even though God told them to turn back into the wilderness, they decided that, after all, they would go up and fight, v. 41.  They were soundly defeated, and even though they returned and wept before the LORD, He paid no attention to them.  Sometimes, there is no “second chance,” as Moses himself found out because he struck the rock the second time and was forbidden to enter the land on account of it, Deuteronomy 3:23-27; Exodus 17:5, 6; Numbers 20:7-12
Eventually, though, Israel’s time of wandering was over, and they were ready to enter the land.  The rest of Moses’ review is taken up with some of the things they experienced, the battles that were fought, a decision by some of the tribes that they wanted their land on the east side of the Jordan, and not in the actual Promised Land itself.  They had a very great multitude of livestock and the east side was a place for livestock, Numbers 32:1-5.  God gave it to them, but they were often the first ones attacked later on.  Like Eve and Lot before them, they found out that what looks so good sometimes isn’t, Genesis 3:6; 13:10.  The saying, “Be careful what you wish for” might be applicable here.
3. Desert Wanderings, 2:1-3:29.
Driven back into the wilderness because of their rebellion at Kadesh, as Moses put it later, they circled Mt. Seir for many days, 2:1.  What ordinarily was an 11-day journey took 38 years, Deuteronomy 1:2!  Granted, during this time, they conquered the lands on the east side of the Jordan and the families of the tribes who wanted it were settled there, but there was still a lot of wasted time.

Review of the Word, 4:1-26:19.

1. Declarations and Warnings, 4:1-40.
These and other verses seem as if God didn’t want Israel to “have a good time.”  This is certainly how the world views such things.  As a co-worker once told me, “God forbids all the things we want to do!”  It’s thought that Christians have to “give up” too much, and settle for a dreary and dull life of “religion”.  As far as Israel was concerned, Moses refutes this in v. 1:  these things were in order that Israel may live and go in and possess the land which the LORD…is giving you, a land described a little later in the book as filled with large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses filled with good things which you did not fill, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant…, 6:10, 11.
While the New Testament Christian doesn’t have promise of similar material blessing, Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8 that godliness…has promise for the life that now is and of that which is to come.  The true Christian has eternal life, and the things of this world, some of which may be necessary for sustaining physical life, like food and shelter, can never satisfy the innate recognition that this world does not know and cannot provide a “good life” that will last forever.
Besides, Moses’ reference to Baal Peor, v. 3, shows that a “good time” as far as the world is concerned is often filled with gross immorality, against which the Lord has pronounced severe judgment, as shown by what happened to the men who sinned there, Numbers 25:1-9.
Further, Israel was reminded that it was God with whom they had to do.  They were to have no other gods, or worship Him by pagan methods.  They had been blessed like no other nation in the world; they were to live like it.
2. Setting up the Cities of Refuge, 4:41-43.
According to Numbers 35:9-34, these cities, three each on either side of the Jordan, were to be set up as places of safety for those who accidentally killed another Israelite, without premeditation or intent.  One of the very few Scriptures unbelievers and skeptics seem to want to live by is the one which says, “Do not kill.”  Using this verse, they rail against the death penalty for even the most heinous crimes.  However, they fail to notice that there are more than 40 such sins in the Old Testament.   But. as we see in Numbers 35, there is a distinguishing between accidental death and murder.  The murderer was not to be spared; the innocent were protected, though even the accidental taking of life had consequences.
3. Substance of the Law, 4:44-8:20.
In these verses, Moses repeats the Ten Commandments and assures them that their days would be prolonged and blessed if they were obedient.  However, if they disobeyed, cursing, that is, punishment, would be their lot.  There were things they were to do, not only personally, but with regard to their children, their culture and society, and the inhabitants of the land.  With regard to this latter, folks get so worked-up over the “poor Canaanites,” but these were not innocent, childlike people, but wicked and depraved beyond words.  Leviticus 18 gives us a sampling of what they did.  Israel was not to be like that.  And our culture may not like it, but God has given clear and definite instructions about such things.
4. Stubbornness of the people, 9:1-11:32.
This portion includes the incident of the golden calf.  How quickly the people fell into gross sin!  Even though God continued to bless them, those who were guilty of sin perished.  This is a good example of “grace,” but that doesn’t mean that we can live as we like.  We are to live as God likes.

I had hoped to have just one post on the book, but there is just so much material.  Even this post just skims the surface.