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[Heb. aron, "ark," "chest," "box"; Gr. kiboµtos, "ark."] The chest or ornate box that served as the depository for the tables of stone on which were engraved the Ten Commandments. It was housed in the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary of ancient Israel's tabernacle (Ex 26:34; 30:6) and, later, of the Temple (1 Ki 8:6). It was 21/2 cu. long, 11/2 cu. wide, and 11/2 cu. high (Ex 25:10), or, if measured by the Egyptian cubit, about 4 ft. 4 in. (1.32 m.) long and 2 ft. 7 in. (76 cm.) in breadth and height. The ark was constructed of acacia wood and overlaid, inside and out, with pure gold (Ex 25:10-22). Two golden rings on each side at the bottom enabled the ark to be carried on two poles borne on the shoulders of the Kohathite Levites when Israel moved (Num 3:29-31; 4:5-15; Jos 3:3) and on certain solemn occasions (Jos 8:33; 1 Ki 8:2, 3). On the solid-gold lid, which has been called the mercy seat, stood two golden cherubim, one on either end, looking down at the place where the Lord dwelt when He spoke to His people (Num 7:89; Ex 25:22).

The ark was central object of all the furnishings of the sanctuary. At first it contained only the stone tables of the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:21; Deut 10:3, 5); but later Aaron's rod that budded, a pot of manna, and the "book of the law" were placed "before the testimony" or "in the side of" the ark (Ex 16:33, 34; Num 17:10; Deut 31:24-26). The first two items may actually have been preserved inside of the ark (Heb 9:4), but were apparently removed at a later period in the troubled history of Israel, as the author of Kings indicates (1 Ki 8:9).

As Israel journeyed from Sinai toward the Promised Land, the ark "went before them" (Num 10:33). Its bearers stood in the midst of Jordan's parted waters while the people passed over (Jos 4:9-11). The ark was carried 7 days around Jericho in the march that preceded the city's fall (ch 6:1-20). After the conquest of Canaan it remained in the tabernacle in Shiloh (ch 18:1), apparently until captured in the time of Eli. In the hope that the ark's presence would turn the tide of war against the Philistines, Eli's sons, neglecting to consider the conditions under which God cooperates with men, carried it into battle, only to have it captured by the enemy (1 Sa 4:1-11). It was returned to Hebrew territory (chs 5:1 to chs 6:15) and resided successively at Beth-shemesh (ch 6:15-21), Kiriath-jearim (ch 7:1, 2), and in the house of Obed-edom at Perez-uzzah (6:1-11; 13:5-14). David finally removed the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sa 6:12-17; 1 Chr 15:25 to 16:1), where it was placed "in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it" (2 Sa 6:17; 7:1, 2; 16:1, 4-6). Later it was placed in the Most Holy Place of Solomon's Temple (1 Ki 8:1-9), where it remained until the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The Scriptures are silent concerning its fate at that time or its subsequent history -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.

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