Signs and Symbols

What is the Ark of the Covenant?

Part of the revelation Moses received at Sinai included specific instructions from God about how to prepare a holy place in which the people could come to be in the presence of God. First they were to fashion a special tent, called the tabernacle, then the Ark in which the tablets of the Law would be kept. The Ark was to be a gold-clad box of acacia wood of specific dimensions. It was to have two rings on either side to accommodate poles for carrying it, since the Ark had to be portable—the people were still on the move. On top there was to be a “mercy seat” made of gold in the shape of two cherubs facing each other, whose wings would spread over the mercy seat. Ironically, this feature of the most sacred of all ritual objects must have been one of the rare examples of three-dimensional figural art in the history of Judaism. The mercy seat was to be a symbol of the place to which God would descend to meet Moses. Inside the tabernacle a large veil was to separate the larger part of the space from a space called the Holy of Holies, in which the Ark would be kept. From then on, the Ark would travel with Israel, resting only temporarily in any given location, until Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem. In the temple the Ark was to reside permanently in the innermost part, also called the Holy of Holies.


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