Ark - Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words

Usage Number: 1
Strong's Number: H727
Original Word: ’arôn
Usage Notes: "ark; coffin; chest; box." This word has cognates in Phoenician, Aramaic, Akkadian, and Arabic. It appears about 203 times in biblical Hebrew and in all periods.

In Gen. 50:26, this word represents a coffin or sarcophagus (as the same word does in Phoenician): "So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt." This coffin was probably quite elaborate and similar to those found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

During the reign of Joash (or Jehoash), when the temple was repaired, money for the work was deposited in a "chest" with a hole in its lid. The high priest Jehoida prepared this chest and put it at the threshold to the temple (2 Kings 12:9). In most occurrences, ’arôn refers to the "ark of the covenant." This piece of furniture functioned primarily as a container. As such the word is often modified by divine names or attributes. The divine name first modifies ’arôn in 1 Sam. 3:3: "And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep…." ’arôn is first modified by God's covenant name, Yahweh, in Josh. 4:5. Judg. 20:27 is the first appearance of the "ark" as the ark of the covenant of Elohim. 1 Sam. 5:11 uses the phrase "the ark of the God [’elohîm] of Israel," and 1 Chron. 15:12 employs "the ark of the Lord [Yahweh] God [’elohîm] of Israel."

Sometimes divine attributes replace the divine name: "Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength" (Psa. 132:8). Another group of modifiers focuses on divine redemption (cf. Heb. 8:5). Thus ’arôn is often described as the "ark of the covenant" (Josh. 3:6) or "the ark of the covenant of the Lord" (Num. 10:33). As such, the ark contained the memorials of God's great redemptive acts, the tablets upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments, an omer or two quarts of manna, and Aaron's rod. By Solomon's day, only the stone tablets remained in the ark (1 Kings 8:9). This chest was also called "the ark of the testimony" (Exod. 25:22), which indicates that the two tablets were evidence of divine redemption.

Exodus 25:10-22 tells us that this ark was made of acacia wood and measured 3 3/4 feet by 2 1/4 feet by 2 1/4 feet. It was gold-plated inside and outside, with a molding of gold. Each of its four feet had a golden ring at its top, through which passed unremovable golden carrying poles. The golden cover or mercy seat (place of propitiatory atonement) had the same dimensions as the top of the ark. Two golden cherubim sat on this cover facing each other, representing the heavenly majesty (Ezek. 1:10) that surrounds the living God. In addition to containing memorials of divine redemption, the ark represented the presence of God. To be before it was to be in God's presence (Num. 10:35), although His presence was not limited to the ark (cf. 1 Sam. 4:3-11; 1 Sam. 7:2, 6). The ark ceased to have this sacramental function when Israel began to regard it as a magical box with sacred power (a palladium).

God promised to meet Moses at the ark (Exod. 25:22). Thus, the ark functioned as a place where divine revelation was received (Lev. 1:1; Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89). The ark served as an instrument through which God guided and defended Israel during the wilderness wandering (Num. 10:11). Finally, it was upon this ark that the highest of Israel's sacraments, the blood of atonement, was presented and received (Lev. 16:2ff.).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words