The arkless tabernacle
A large portion of the law of Moses was dedicated to the design, building, and ceremonies of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-Leviticus 27 and parts of Numbers and Deuteronomy). It was to be the center of Israel’s relationship with God in the wilderness and in the promised land. The book of Deuteronomy is the written record of Moses’s final speech to Israel before his death and their entry into the promised land. In that book he mentions the place where God will choose to place His name nine times (12:5 & 11 & 21, 14:23-24, 16:2 & 6 & 11, 26:2). There was going to be particular place where the tabernacle would be set up which Israel was to utilize as a spiritual headquarters. That place turned out to be Shiloh. From the time of Joshua until Solomon built the temple, the tabernacle was mostly in Shiloh, although it spent some time at Gibeon also (1Chr 16:39, 1Chr 21:29, 1Ki 3:4-5, 2Chr 1:3-13). There were six pieces of furniture in the tabernacle – the altar of sacrifice, the laver, the candlestick, the table of shewbread, the altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant. These all have symbolic meaning for the New Testament (Heb 9). The most important item was the ark of the covenant. It was a hollow wooden box covered with gold. It had a lid called the mercy seat which had two cherubim on it. It was in the most holy place of the tabernacle. From there God would manifest His presence and would communicate with Moses (Ex 25:22, Ex 30:6, Lev 16:2, Num 7:89). The high priest could only approach it once each year on the day of atonement.He would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice of atonement on it (Lev 16:14-17).
Twice the Israelites removed the ark from the tabernacle to use it as a weapon of war (1Sam 4, 1Sam 14). They thought the ark would bring the presence of God and thus victory to their army despite their failure to keep God’s commandments. They tried to use it like a magic religious relic to bring them luck. God only told Israel to bring the ark to the battle site once - when they were marching around Jericho (Josh 6). After Solomon built the temple, the ark was placed inside it (1Ki 8:3-9).
There is a strange part of the history of the ark. There were seven times the ark was not in the tabernacle:
1. The Philistines have it 7 months (1Sam 6:1)
2. It was in Kirjathjearim 20 years (1Sam 6:21-7:3)
3. David brings it to Jerusalem to the tent he pitched (2Sam 6:17)
4. David brings it to Jerusalem to the tent he pitched (2Sam 6:17)
5. The tabernacle was in Gibeon (1Chr 16:39, 1Chr 21:29)
6. The tabernacle was in Gibeon, but the ark was in Jerusalem (2Chr 1:3-4)
7. It was with Solomon in Jerusalem (1Ki 3:15)
It seems strange to imagine the tabernacle without its most important piece of furniture. The most holy place would be empty. How would the high priest perform the atonement?
We no longer perform the religious ceremonies of the tabernacle because their symbolic meaning is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:24, Heb 8-10). In fact, it is not known what happened to the ark. The last mention of it in the Bible is in the days of king Josiah (2Chr 35:3). When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and sacked the temple, there was a detailed list made of the items they took from it to Babylon (2Ki 25:13-17). There was also an inventory of what items were later returned after Babylon fell to Medo-Persia (Ezra 1:7-11). An item as important as the ark probably would have been mentioned had it been part of the inventory. One theory is that the Jews removed it before Jerusalem fell and took it to a secret location. There are many theories as to what the location was and whether or not it was lost or is still kept in a secret location waiting for the next temple to be built in Jerusalem. Christians in the new covenant do not need the ark to have the presence of God or to communicate with Him. They are filled with the Holy Ghost (Jn 3:5, Jn 7:37-39, Acts 2:4, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 19:1-7, etc.). Their bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost (1Cor 6:19, 2Cor 6:16). They have permanent atonement through the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:11, Eph 1:7, Col 1:14, Heb 10:12-19). They go past the veil and enter the most holy place through His blood.
Yet today we see still both issues with “the ark”- using it as a magic box of religion and having a tabernacle with no ark at all. Some people approach God as though He is a good luck charm to wave around and ward off evil. His name is a tag line to place at the end of their prayers which they think then obligates God to do what they want Him to do. They have little regard for knowing and keeping His commandments, which is how we love Him (Jn 14:15, 1Jn 5:3). God does not care how “spiritual” or “supernatural” we are if we do not follow the truth of the scriptures (Mt 7:21-29). God certainly wants us to experience His presence and power, but there is no greater manifestation of God to and through people than His divine nature being developed in us (Gal 5:22-23, 2Pet 1:1-11). So, there is the out of balance extremism of what is called charismaticism. There is also the error on the other extreme of having a place of worship where the presence and power of God are not manifested. People attend religious services in “tabernacles” where there is no ark. There is no real manifestation of God. People do not hear His voice impacting them. There is no real communion with God. They go in and perform the rituals, but they are not being changed. They are not developing a better relationship with God. There are religious sacrifices offered, but Biblical atonement, redemption, justification, and sanctification are not really happening. This begins through placing our faith in the Jesus of the Bible and obeying the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 19:1-7). In the book of Acts, the apostles told people to repent, be baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and to receive gift of the Holy Ghost which was initially, outwardly evidenced by speaking with tongues. It continues through pursuing a daily relationship with Him through prayer, His word, and the ministry of the church (Acts 2:42, Eph 4:10-16).