Ark of the covenant – good luck charm?

I did an internet search the other day looking for artist’s conceptions of the ark of the covenant so I could add one to this blog.  I found a few, but none of them really seemed right to me. Their cherubim looked too much like human beings with wings attached to their shoulders.  Ezekiel describes cherubim as man-shaped but with four faces and four wings each!  Scary looking, if you ask me.  None of the images I found on the internet looked much like that.

While I was looking for that, I kept coming across other references to the ark, especially people’s ideas of where it might be today.  And of course, the Indiana Jones movie about searching for the ark…

It seems that lots of people have searched and some folks claim to know where it is.  Ethiopia is one place.  Beneath the remnants of the Temple in Jerusalem is another.

Then there’s all the fantastic hype about what a treasure-trove it would be, if somebody actually found it and controlled it!  What kind of power would it wield?!  And what would that kind of power be worth?!

Atomic energy!  Uranium!  Black-hole, worm-hole, doorway to some other universe, creative power!

Huh?  Hogwash.

The only power in that metal-covered wood box-shaped chair resided in its resident.  Almighty God may have “sat” on it whenever he came in visible form to visit Moses and dictate laws, ordinances, rules and regulations, as well as to accept worship from Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and whoever else showed up to worship in the prescribed manner.

In any case, he spoke to Moses from there, and the cloud and fire the people saw emanated from there, whenever God was in the building.

When God left the building, the power left the building.

The ark wasn’t an atomic-energy, radioactive good luck charm then and it wouldn’t be one today.  It was a chair and a container, and because God was the only legitimate user of that chair, it was holy to God.  Set apart. Dedicated.  For his use only.

Sure, the fellow Uzzah (II Sam. 6) who tried to keep it from falling off the cart died for his troubles.  So, was he zapped by some form of electricity, as some claim? Or did his unclean, unsanctified, unprepared, unbelieving and disobedient state earn him the death penalty?

If you read Numbers chapter 4 about the proper way to move the ark whenever God was ready to break camp, you’ll see in v. 15, “…they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.”  The ark (and everything else in the Tabernacle) had to be carefully packed up for the move.  The ark had to be wrapped up, first in its covering veil, then in the heavy tent roofing materials, then finally in a blue cloth. And could only then be carried by specific men, the sons of Kohath, who himself was one of Levi’s sons.

If it had been packaged up like God instructed, the ark would have been completely covered up and Uzzah’s hands couldn’t have reached it to touch it.  Its magical nuclear power, or whatever people seem to think it had, didn’t kill Uzzah, disobedience killed him.

If anybody ever does really find the ark, it won’t be some kind of new energy source.  It won’t be a good luck charm.  It will be an unusual gold-plated chair-topped wooden box that God used, and since He’s particular about how his belongings are handled, I wouldn’t touch it “with a ten foot pole.”

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God’s timetable and textile factory

Interesting things keep jumping out at me as I read in Exodus about Israel’s wanderings, if you really should call them that, in the wilderness. Most of them probably thought of it as wandering, but I’m sure God had a map, an itinerary and an agenda – in order words, a plan.

One thing I wondered about was how long it took to do certain things. Getting from Egypt over to the territory across the Red Sea and make camp that first time, for instance. How long did that take? Well, to know that you need to know when they departed from Egypt, don’t you.

According to Ex. 12:40-41, “The Lord’s people left Egypt exactly four hundred thirty years after they had arrived.” (Contemporary English Version). Notice that word exactly. Somebody thought it was important to keep track of the dates. There are about 600,000 Israelites, not counting women and children, and many other people went along with them too for one reason or another. (v. 37-38)

Three days after crossing the Red Sea, they arrived at Marah (bitter water), and later came to Elim where they made camp. (15:27). No date is mentioned there, but they stayed there a while – because on the 15th day of the 2nd month, they left Elim, heading toward Mount Sinai. They moved several times, were attacked by Amalekites at Rephidim, and went on toward Mount Sinai.

They arrived at Mount Sinai two months after leaving Egypt and set up camp at the foot of the mountain. (19:1-2) Here’s where they stayed while Moses went to the top of the mountain to meet with God and receive His instructions. This included what we call the 10 Commandments and many other regulations, rules, and instructions for daily living and worship.

It took Moses a long time to get it all recorded, and he came down and went back up more than once. It was actually longer than 40 days and 40 nights, if you read the texts. (24:15-18)

While he was there with God, God gave him a shopping list. He didn’t tell Moses what it was all for at first. Read Ex. 25. The Israelites had brought with them all the wealth of Egypt (12:35) and these items on God’s list were to be gathered from that stuff. Gold, silver and bronze metals. Blue, purple and red wool. Fine linen. Goat hair. Tanned ram skins. Fine leather. Acacia wood. Olive oil. Sweet-smelling spices. Onyx stones. Wow, what a list!

Then God explained to Moses what he wanted done with all those things – “I also want them to build a special place where I can live among my people.” (25:8) And not just any old design – “Make it and its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (25:9)

The pattern was intricate and detailed, including the curtains for God’s special place. There was a large courtyard, hung with curtains for walls. There was a large tent inside that courtyard, hung with curtains for outside walls, more curtains to divide the tent into two rooms, and further curtains for a tent roof.

In Ch. 26 read the patterns for the curtains! Not too plain, were they?! Embroidered with pictures of winged creatures. The same pattern wasn’t used for every curtain, either. There were layers of curtains on that tent, (1) embroidered linen/wool, (2) goat hair, (3) ram skins dyed red, and (4) fine leather.

Now, that’s just the curtains. All the posts, the bases for the posts, the tables, altars, utensils, lampstands, everything had a distinctive pattern, metal-covered wood, inlaid, edged, carefully decorated. And then there was the clothing – including undergarments – for the priests. More detailed instructions. Sashes and turbans, robes and vests and breastplates, not to mention cords to hold things together, and decorative edging to make things beautiful.

How long do you think all that took to make?

Of course, in the middle of receiving all these instructions, Moses had to come down and discipline the impatient, disobedient people. To talk with God when he wasn’t up on the mountain, he set up an ordinary tent and went there from time to time. (33:7) All that took some time.

Then finally he went back up into the mountain for another 40 days and nights. Once he came down for good he began explaining this building project, appointing the right people for the job.

God’s textile factory got to work. It had taken two months to get to that campsite, over 80 days for Moses to get God’s instructions, say at least three months for that – and it took the rest of the year to weave and embroider all that linen/wool cloth, weave the goat hair into a curtain, make all the other curtains and the hooks to fasten them together.

Plus they had to cut the wood poles and cover them with assorted metals, create the bases for the poles, make one altar for the animal sacrifices and another for incense, make the tables and lampstand – not to mention the most important piece, the sacred chest and lid, what we call today the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat.

The actual work is described in Exodus chapters 35-39. Once it was all ready, God told them to set it all up in a specific order, which they did. (Ch. 40)

“And on the first day of the first month of the second year, the sacred tent was set up.” (40:17)

Up until this time, God’s appearance was as a thick cloud and fiery glory up on the mountain, or just thick cloud whenever Moses went into the tent of meeting. But those appearances were not close to the people, they were far off.

Now, however, God’s cloud and glory moved into this brand-new, specially designed and constructed tent, located smack dab in the middle of the camp. And “No matter where the people traveled, the Lord was with them. Each day his cloud was over the tent, and each night a fire could be seen in the cloud.” (40:38)

Timetable so far – one year, from time of leaving Egypt to the finished Tabernacle of Moses.

Tabernacle of Moses reproduction

Tabernacle of Moses reproduction

“At Timna Park, 20 miles north of Eilat in the Arabah, a life-size replica of the biblical tabernacle has been constructed. While no original materials (e.g., gold, silver, bronze) have been used, the model is accurate in every other way based upon the biblical description.”

Joshua, man of war and worship

A paragraph in yesterday’s Sunday School lesson (The Present Word) struck me as pretty inaccurate. It said that while artists depict angels as like little girl babies with wings, they are really tall and slim, non-gender and gentle creatures wearing flowing, shimmering robes — or some such nonsense as that. The Bible certainly doesn’t say that. In scriptural accounts angels looked pretty much like ordinary human men, except that they caused the people who saw them to be really frightened so usually the first thing they said was “Fear not.”

The lesson wasn’t about Joshua, by the way, it was about John the Baptist, and the paragraph was about his clothing. Made of animal skins, supposedly it was very different, peculiar, odd, strange, outlandish and weird. Not ordinary dress.

But he lived in the wilderness, what kind of clothes would you expect him to wear? The description of his usual work clothes seems perfectly appropriate for the environment to me.

Someone in the class commented that John the Baptist lived way off from civilization – but if that was true, then who did he preach to? No, he lived a few miles from any town but it wasn’t way off. He lived and preached near the busy north-south trade route that ran along the Jordan River, so there was always somebody to preach to.

As I thought about John the Baptist, I began thinking again about Joshua. He was no doubt a young man when Moses returned to Egypt, and along the way he became Moses’ assistant. He was one of those in charge of the fighters, and Moses took him along when he went up into the mountain to receive the commandments. (See Ex. 24:13) He is mentioned in quite a few interesting adventures, long before he was appointed as the successor to Moses.

But one particular verse struck me as particularly important, and illustrative of the character of Joshua. A little background — Moses had been speaking to God up in the mountain, but he needed a place to speak to God down on the flat ground also. So he went outside of the camp a ways and erected a tent (called a tabernacle in KJV, but tent of meeting in other translations) for this special purpose. Moses would go inside the tent, and God would come to the front of the tent, appearing as a pillar of cloud that could be seen a long way. Read Exodus 33 about this. Everyone back in the camp would watch all this happening, and they would worship God right in their own tent doors back in the camp.

The verse I mentioned is Ex. 33:11. The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, and afterward when Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua stayed in the tent of meeting. Hmmm. Why?

I think he had his priorities straight. Did he see God face to face, too? It doesn’t say, but I know he experienced something extraordinary, the presence of God. This puts everything else he did into perspective for me.