Biblical Definition Of
An ark was a box-like container. In older English versions of the Bible, the word is used of Noah’s floating animal-house (Gen 7:8-9), of the floating basket made for the baby Moses by his parents (Exod 2:3-5), and of the sacred box in the inner shrine of Israel’s tabernacle (Exod 26:33).
God’s purpose in commanding Noah to build an ark was to provide a way of preserving people and animals through the judgment of the great flood (Gen 6:5-13; see FLOOD). The ark was not designed to sail the seas like a huge boat, but to float on the floodwaters like a huge box. It was about 133 metres long, 22 metres wide and 13 metres high, with a door in the side and a 44 centimetre light and ventilation opening running around the top of the wall, just below the roof overhang. It was divided horizontally into three decks, and vertically into a number of rooms. This helped to separate the animals and to brace the whole structure (Gen 6:14-20).
More important than the preservation of the animals was the preservation of the family of Noah. Noah’s building of the ark demonstrated his faith and made possible the survival of a nucleus of believers through whom God could build a new people (Heb 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20).
Ark of the covenant
The gold covered wooden box known as the ark of the covenant, or covenant box, was Israel’s most sacred religious article. It was approximately 110 centimetres long, 66 centimetres wide and 66 centimetres deep. Its ornamented lid, over which were mounted two golden cherubim, was the symbolic throne of God known as the mercy seat (Exod 25:10-22). (For fuller details of the ark and for its significance in the tabernacle rituals .)
When the Israelites moved from one camp to another, the ark was first covered with cloth, then carried by the Levites on shoulder poles. The ark usually went in front of the main procession (Num 4:5- 6; 10:33). When the people crossed the Jordan River to enter Canaan, the Levitical priests carrying the ark again led the way. They stood in the middle of the dry river bed till all the people had crossed over (Josh 3:11- 17). For the first battle in Canaan, God directed the priests to take the ark from the tabernacle and carry it around the city that had to be conquered (Josh 6:1-5).
Several generations later, Israelites again took the ark from the tabernacle and carried it into battle, this time against the Philistines. But they had not done so by God’s directions, and the Philistines captured the ark (1 Sam 4:3-4,11).
After suffering terrible plagues during the time the ark was with them, the Philistines sent it back to Israel (1 Sam 5:1-12; 6:1-16). By striking dead some Israelites who looked into the ark, God impressed upon his people that the ark was sacred. They were not to treat it as an object of curiosity or superstition (1 Sam 6:19-20).
For the next twenty years the ark remained in a country house in Kiriath-jearim (1 Sam 6:21-7:2). When David conquered Jerusalem, he decided to take the ark there as part of his plan to make Jerusalem the religious centre of the nation. In putting the ark on a cart instead of using Levites to carry it, he was following the Philistines’ practice instead of God’s directions. The attempted move ended in tragedy (2 Sam 6:2-10). Three months later, after he had realized his mistake, David again tried to transport the ark, this time doing things properly (2 Sam 6:12-13; 1 Chron 15:13-15). With much rejoicing he brought the ark to Jerusalem and placed it in a tent specially prepared for it (2 Sam 6:14-19; 1 Chron 15:23-29).
When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, he placed the ark in the Most Holy Place (1 Kings 8:6-11). Apparently it was removed during the reign of the wicked Manasseh, but Josiah restored it to its rightful place (2 Chron 35:1-3). The Babylonians probably took the ark with them to Babylon after their destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC (2 Kings 24:13). There is no record of what happened to it after that.