THE FOLLOWING ARE THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE BOOK OF EXODUS CHAPTER 25, VERSES 10 TO 16:
25:10 And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. 25:11 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about. 25:12 And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it. 25:13 And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. 25:14 And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them. 25:15 The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it. 25:16 And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.
The individual vessels of the tabernacle are listed several times, firstly with the initial instructions regarding the tabernacle, in Exodus 25:10-40, 27:1-8, 30:1-10, 30:17-21; then again in Exodus 37:1-28, 38:1-8, when Bezaleel made them; then when the tabernacle was first erected, in Exodus 40:1-32. In Numbers 4:1-15 details are given of the procedure when the tabernacle was to be moved through the wilderness. Finally, they are listed in Hebrews 9:1-5. In the case of the Old Testament lists of vessels, whereas the order differs, the ark is always first. This is highly significant, since the ark is the vessel which especially symbolises the presence of God, and God alone has the right to put Himself first. The fact that the ark is last in Hebrews 9 is significant too, for the chapter deals with approach to God, and the end in view is God Himself. This is reinforced by the fact that the Epistle to the Hebrews begins with the word God, and not, as was usual in letters of those times, the name of the writer. The Being of God and approach to Him is in view in the whole of the epistle. The only one who can introduce us to such a God, and give us access into His presence, is His Son. He does this through who He is and what He did at Calvary, and these are the twin themes presented to us in the ark and the mercy seat.
That the ark is especially associated with the presence of God is seen from the following: Exodus 25:22- “there, (at the ark), I will meet with thee…” Leviticus 16:2- “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat”. Numbers 10:35,36- when the ark set forward, then Moses said, “Rise up, Lord”. When it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord”. 1 Samuel 4:7, when Israel brought the ark into the field of battle, the Philistines said, “God is come into the camp”. 1 Samuel 4:21, when the ark was captured by the Philistines, Phinehas’ wife said, “the glory is departed from Israel”. Psalm 132:5, when David vowed to bring up the ark he spoke of finding “a place for the Lord”. Psalm 68 chronicles the progress of the ark through the wilderness, into the land, and finally to its place of rest in Jerusalem. The climax being when the ark ascended on high into the Hill of Zion, verse 18. As a result, David can sing, “They have seen thy goings, O God; Even the goings of My God, My King, in the sanctuary”, verse 24. When Paul quotes Psalm 68:18, he relates it to the ascension of Christ to heaven, Ephesians 4:8.
We shall find as we proceed, that the ark is a dwelling-place for God, a keeping-place for the tables of testimony, a meeting-place and a speaking-place for Moses, and a sprinkling-place for the blood of propitiation.
In Hebrews 9:5 the writer, after having described the vessels of the tabernacle as they were arranged for the Day of Atonement, declares “of which we cannot now speak particularly”. Or to put it in other words, “of which things it is not now the time to speak in detail”, Newberry margin. This implies that it is possible to speak in detail about the vessels of the tabernacle listed in verses 2-5, but then was not the time to do it. We are encouraged by this to study the vessels in detail, as long as we follow the guidance of the Spirit of God in the Word of God, and do not let our imagination run away with us. It is always helpful when considering the symbolism of the Old Testament to ask what the original, practical purpose of the object was, before seeking to interpret the meaning. By doing this, we shall be saved from turning the Old Testament into an allegory.
25:10 And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. 25:11 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.
And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold- here we have the bringing together in a remarkable way of two very dissimilar materials. Whereas the shittim wood was reckoned by men to be almost valueless, the gold was most precious, the standard for the value of everything else. The wood grew up on the earth, whereas the gold was discovered in the earth because God had put it there. So with the person of the Lord Jesus. There is in Him the bringing together of two completely different natures, Godhood and manhood, in one indivisible Person. We are not told enough about the ark to enable us to reconstruct it accurately, and this would caution us against thinking that we, with finite minds, may understand fully the person of Christ. Indeed, He Himself said that “No man knoweth the Son, save the Father”, Matthew 11:27. The Father may be known, as the Son reveals Him, but the Son, being God and man, is unknowable as to the deep mystery of His person. The gospel records insist on the reality of His manhood, and the genuiness of His Godhood, but how those two interrelate it is not possible to know fully. Our duty is to give due weight to both, and not seek to defend His Deity by denying His manhood, or vice versa.
There are certain things we may say, however, as guided by the Scriptures. First, He gained the attributes of man without losing the attributes of God. He who is in the form of God took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, Philippians 2:6,7. It is in John’s Gospel, that especially emphasizes the Deity of Christ, that He describes Himself as “a man that hath told you the truth”, John 8:40. His manhood is real, for He was born of Mary, but His manhood is ideal, for He was not begotten of Joseph.
Second, He united manhood and Godhood for ever in His person. John insists in his epistle that one way of discerning an anti-christ is by asking whether he believes that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2,3. The sense of the participle he uses for “come” is, “having come in the flesh and continuing to be in the flesh”. The precision of the Greek language expresses the truth that the manhood Christ has taken, He will never discard. The Jesus of Nazareth who was here, is the Jesus of Nazareth who spoke to Saul of Tarsus from heaven, Acts 22:8; and the same Jesus that will come again to earth, Acts 1:11.
Third, He did not merely come in man’s guise, as angels have done when visiting men, but became flesh. Not flesh in contrast to spirit, (as if He became a body, or clothed Himself with one), but flesh consisting of spirit and soul and body, the constituent parts of man, 1 Thessalonians 5:23. When Isaiah spoke of all flesh seeing the salvation of God, he meant all mankind. So Christ became flesh by taking the nature that man has. Adam was a real man before he sinned, so a sinful nature is not an integral part of man. Christ can be, and is, real man, yet has no sinful nature.
Fourth, He now possesses two natures, yet remains one Person. He never spoke of Himself as “Us”, as the Godhead does at times, Genesis 1:26;3:22;11:7. Who can begin to understand the great mystery of godliness, that “God was manifest in flesh”? 1 Timothy 3:16. We dare not pry or probe, for to “lift the lid of the Ark” is to invite Divine judgement, 1 Samuel 6:19. If the god Dagon “fell on his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord”, 1 Samuel 5:3, how much more should we, before Him of whom the ark speaks. If we do try to pry and probe the person of Christ, bringing human logic to bear on the mystery of His person, instead of being totally dependent on what Scripture indicates, we risk the same judgement as befell those who lifted the lid of the ark in 1 Samuel 6:19. The fact that they lived in a town belonging to the sons of Aaron did not exonerate them, Joshua 21:13,16. So with believers today, for being linked to Christ our High Priest does not give us licence to be daring. Reverence and godly fear should mark us, Hebrews 12:28.
Fifth, the attributes of both natures, His Godhood and His manhood, are properly ascribed to the one Person. This means, for example, that the one who stilled the storm was a man, even though to still storms is Divine work, Psalm 107:23-30, and the one who slept in the boat was God, even though the God that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep, Psalm 121:4. We ought not to say that He slept as a man and stilled the storm as God. He both slept, and stilled the storm, as one blessed, undivided Person.
It is vitally important to earnestly contend for the truth both of the real manhood of Christ, and His Deity, (Godhood). The doctrine of His Deity is central, consistent, and contested.
A central doctrine. The title Son of God as used of Christ means He is equal with God in every respect. We see from John 10:30,33,36 that the phrases, “I and My Father are one”, “Thou…makest Thyself God”, and “I am the Son of God”, mean the same. To be the son of someone means to share his nature. It should be distinguished from the idea of being the child of someone, which has to do with origin. The Lord Jesus is never called the child of God, (Acts 4:27 should read servant). It is true that angels, Adam and believers are all called sons of God, but if Christ were only son like that, then He could not be the Only Begotten Son. His Sonship is different in kind, not simply different in degree.
That the Deity of Christ is central is shown by the way in which His Sonship is related to vital truths of the gospel:
Salvation: “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life,” 1 John 5:12.
Cleansing from sin: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin”, 1 John 1:7.
Security: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one”, John 10:28-30. The work of Calvary: “He that spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all…” Romans 8:32.
Christ’s love for His people: “The Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me”, Galatians 2:20.
The foundation of the church: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God…on this rock I will build My church”, Matthew 16:16,18.
The preaching of the gospel: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us…” 2 Corinthians 1:19.
A contested doctrine. There are heretics who suggest that since the Lord Jesus is described as the Firstborn of all creation, that He is the first being to be made. These false teachers fail to note the way the apostle continues in Colossians 1:16 with the word “for”, or because. The reason He is firstborn of all creation is because He is the Creator.
The gospel of John was written so that we might know and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, John 20:30,31. In his first few verses John sets out the truth with regard to the Deity of Christ.
The eternal existence of the Word In the beginning was the Word- When the first thing that had a beginning began, then the Word already was. This is a clear indication of His eternal existence. That the Lord Jesus is meant is evident from verses 14 and 17, but John deliberately refrains from giving Him any personal name here, however, so that we may concentrate on His attributes. A word is an expression of what is in the mind, so John is telling us that if God is going to be told out, it must be through Him who, because He is the Word, is able to perfectly express His mind. He is not a Word, one option among many, but the one and only discloser of the mind of God. The use of the word “beginning” shows there is clearly a link with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created…”, but whereas Moses is starting at the beginning and going forward, John is starting at the beginning and going backwards into eternity, before time was. Thus John is telling us of One who is able to bring eternal realities within the reach of men.
The distinct personality of the Word And the Word was with God- If the first phrase tells of the pre-existence of the Word before time began, and therefore indicates His eternal being, this phrase tells of His co-existence. To be with God tells us much more than that the Word was in the presence of God, although this is true. By using a preposition that indicates “motion towards”, John is informing us that the Word was actively towards God, concentrating, in eternal perfection, on Him. This gives us great confidence, for it indicates that there is perfect harmony between the Word and God- their interests are the same, and nothing disturbs their communion. This being the case, believing in His name is a safe thing to do, for it forges a link with God that cannot be broken. The fact that weight is given to both “Word” and “God”, is indicative of the distinct personality of the Word.
The substantial Godhood of the Word And the Word was God- A clear statement as to the Deity of the Word. Note that although there are distinctions of Persons in the Godhead, for “the Word was with God”, yet there is identity of essence, for “the Word was God”. This expression assures us that the One who is pre-existent, and co-existent, is co-equal with God as well. This truth is emphasised not only in the teaching of the Lord Jesus, (see for instance John 5:17-29 and 10:30), but also in His miracles, which clearly demonstrated His Deity. For example, He who had made the vine on the third day, Genesis 1:12,13, now acts on another “third day”, John 2:1, as He accelerates the lengthy process by which rainwater is made into vintage wine, and thus manifests His power as Creator, “And His disciples believed on Him”, John 2:11. The same was in the beginning with God- John makes it clear that the truths stated in verse one were all true together at the beginning- there was no development or progress. It was not that He was the Word, and then was with God, and then was God, but rather that He who was with God, and was God, was this eternally, for the nature of God cannot change. Deity does not develop, but is ever infinite. “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed”, Malachi 3:6- a great comfort to the remnant in Israel as they faced four hundred years of change until Christ came. Their preservation in those times is testimony to the unchangeableness of God. We who wait for the second coming of Christ may likewise take heart.
The creatorial majesty of the Word All things were made by Him- Having stated fundamental truths as to the nature of the Word, John now indicates the way in which the Word showed Himself to be God, even by bringing all things into being, something only God can do. Literally rendered, the verse reads- “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being which has come into being”. John is writing about things coming to be that did not exist before- they are not revealed from their hiding-place. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”, Hebrews 11:3. All things came into being by, or through, the Word when “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast,” Psalm 33:9. It follows logically, then, that He is not part of creation. There are those who appeal to this word “by” to say that the Word was only a high angelic intelligence, who was used by God to make all things as His subordinate. But in Romans 11:36 it is said of God that all things are through Him, (and the apostle uses the same word as “by” here), so on this theory of subordination, God Himself must be acting for another! This, of course, is impossible. Perhaps as he penned these words the apostle John thought of the language of Isaiah 44:24, “I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself:”. Isaiah declared that the Lord, the God of heaven, had made all things by Himself, yet John, a sincere believer in the One True God, did not hesitate to say that the Word had made all things. Since John was inspired by the same Spirit as Isaiah was, then we are forced to the conclusion that the Word is God, not only by the plain statement of verse 1, but also by the fact that He is Creator. And without Him was not anything made that was made- there is no secret store of matter that derives its origin from some other power-source. Note how John puts things positively and negatively, (“all things were made by Him…without Him was nothing made…”), in order that the truth might be hedged about on every side. The first phrase “all things were made by Him”, might be thought by hostile minds to refer only to things, and not beings with life, leaving the way open to say that the Word was created first, and then brought things into existence. This second statement of the apostle instantly and conclusively disposes of such a blasphemous notion. Everything that has moved from non-being to being has done so through the Word, therefore the Word did not come into being, but ever is.
We return now to a consideration of the ark. Shittim wood It might be wondered how it is that a wooden box can be thought of as symbolic of Christ. A consideration of the following scriptures will help us here. The items of furniture in the tabernacle were called vessels. This is the word that is used of Paul in Acts 9:15, for God said he was “a chosen vessel unto Me”, and also of believers in 2 Timothy 2:21, “a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use”. There is support, then, for using this word vessel of people.
Then again, the apostle Peter sees in the ark of Noah the means whereby eight souls were saved, and then relates that truth to the passing of the Lord Jesus through death and into resurrection, associating His people with Him in that process, 1 Peter 3:20,21. So if one ark may illustrate Christ, then certainly the ark in the tabernacle can. Incidentally, there were three other arks in the Old Testament, the coffin of Joseph, the ark of bulrushes that Moses’ mother placed him in, and the chest that was placed in the temple courts in order to receive the offerings of the people. All five arks had in common the fact that they contained persons or things that were precious to God.
Scripture uses wood as a figure of the Messiah on several occasions and in several ways. For instance, He is called the Branch in ways which correspond to the four gospels, see Jeremiah 23:5, “I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper…” Zechariah 3:8, “I will bring forth My servant the Branch”. Zechariah 6:12, “Behold the man whose name is the Branch”. Isaiah 4:2, “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious…” He is the root out of a dry ground, Isaiah 53:2; the rod out of the stem of Jesse, Isaiah 11:1; the true vine, John 15:1; and He Himself described Himself as a green tree, Luke 23:31. So we see there is ample support for the idea of likening the ark of shittim wood to the person of Christ. Shittim wood was the wood of the desert; hard, knotty, and certainly not favoured by a cabinet-maker if a special item was required. Solomon used cedar wood, with its fine grain and beautiful appearance, extensively in his temple, but in the wilderness sanctuary, it was fitting that the wood used was one which grew there. This was the wood Divinely-chosen to make this most holy and significant of vessels. And this because it symbolised the lowly manhood of Christ, who “made himself of no reputation”, and who, when He was publicly manifested, (“when we shall see Him”), was “despised and rejected of men”, and a “root out of a dry ground”, with “no form or comeliness”, Isaiah 53:2,3. Yet for all this, He was a “tender plant” as far as His Father was concerned, thriving despite the desert conditions in Israel. This was because His springs, (sources of supply), were in God, Psalm 87:7.
Despite the fact that shittim wood was neither valued by men nor beautiful to them, it was renowned for one feature, namely its resistance to decay and attack. (Indeed, the equivalent to “shittim” in Greek means “incorruptible”). How like the nature of the Lord Jesus! He is holy in His nature, and therefore is incorruptible, and when tempted, showed himself to have no tendency or ability to sin at all. If He does not fall when attacked by the Devil, who exceeds all the forces of evil in his power and cunning, He will never fall. Compare Israel in the Vale of Shittim, Numbers 25:1-3, where they fell when attacked by the daughters of Moab. Was this valley so-called because of the impressiveness of its shittim trees? And was this the valley the shittim wood for the ark came from?
Pure gold The shittim wood of the ark was completely enclosed in gold, within and without. This might lead us to think that the wood was not seen. However, the word for “overlay”, is often translated “to see”, or “to watch”. There is the suggestion in this that the wood was seen through the gold, much as the grain of a wooden door may be discerned through varnish. That which spoke of the Deity of Christ did not obscure that which spoke of His manhood, but rather enhanced it. Conversely, the manhood of Christ did not devalue His Deity, for the gold was clearly seen, as well as the wood.
Several things may be said about the gold that covered the ark: It is pure, Exodus 25:11. God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity, Habakkuk 1:13. The simple mention of His holiness is enough to make the posts of the doors in heaven shake, Isaiah 6:4. There is no mixture with God, no compromise. This was seen perfectly when Christ was here, manifesting utmost purity and sinlessness in a corrupt world. It is bright. The particular word for gold used in Exodus 25 is one which emphasises the brightness of its shining. God’s Son is the brightness of His glory, and the exact expression of His essence, Hebrews 1:3, margin. He is the answer to the prayer of the psalmist, for He who dwells between the cherubim has shone forth, and has caused His face to shine, Psalm 80:1,3. It is good, Genesis 2:12. When addressed by a young man as “Good Master”, the Lord Jesus asked him why he called Him good, “For there is none good but one, that is, God”, Matthew 19:16,17. Far from denying His Deity, this statement affirms it, since we are faced with the choice of either saying that Christ is not good, which is unthinkable, or that He is God. It beautifies. The psalmist desired that the beauty of the Lord his God might be upon him, Psalm 90:17. Just a gold enhances everything it attaches itself to, so to be vitally linked to God is to be made acceptable in the beauty of holiness. But Christ is equal with God, so does not need to be enhanced, but He did manifest the reality of His Deity even whilst here in manhood.
And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it- as an ark or chest, the inside of the vessel was accessible, at least as far as the placing of the tables of the law within it was concerned. Because it was overlaid within as well as without, the gold was always visible- there was never a sight of the wood without the accompanying gold. Just because He was not publicly manifested to Israel until the age of thirty did not mean the Lord Jesus was not God manifest in flesh before that. Ancient heresies as to this matter are still peddled today, by Jehovah’s Witnesses, (so-called), and others. No view of Christ we may have since His coming into manhood is devoid of a sight of His Deity. If we are shown Him in the manger, then the angel says He is “Christ the Lord”, Luke 2:11. If see Him as a baby being named, then He is Jesus, or Jehovah the Saviour, and “God with us”, Matthew 1:23. If we see Him as a young lad in the temple, then He must be about His Father’s business, Luke 2:49. If we see Him embarking on His ministry in Israel, then He does so with the words from heaven ringing in His ears, “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” Luke 3:22. He did nothing simply as a man, for He is one undivided person. He is weary with His journey because He is manifest in flesh, but He gives the gift of the Spirit because He is God manifest in flesh, John 4:6,10; 7:37-39. He sleeps in the boat, yet rises to rebuke the winds and the waves, for the same reasons. We dare not say He did the one because He is man, and the other because He is God, for this, too, is heresy. Of course there are difficulties abounding, but we do not rid ourselves of difficulties by doing away with truth. The person of Christ, in the unfathomable depths of His Being, is unknowable, even by those whose minds have been enlightened by the Spirit. Confronted by this mystery, we can only bow and worship, saying with the apostle “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in flesh”. The fatal error of the priesthood of Samuel’s day was to take the ark into the field of battle. This must not be done with Christ, His Person is not a matter for debate and controversy. Even though the gold within was not seen by the Israelites, yet the eye of God was upon it. So Christ, when here, was ever under the approving eye of His Father. What delight there must have been for Him to view one down here who had willingly undertaken to be found in fashion as a man, yet who, the Father knew, was equal was Himself.
And shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about- as we shall see, the mercy-seat was of the same length and breadth as the ark, so it completely covered the ark, forming a lid. But there was still the possibility that the mercy seat could be off-centre. To prevent this, there was to be a raised feature, which would ensure that the mercy seat was aligned perfectly with the ark. It was important to ensure that the tables of the law, (which were inside the ark), were not exposed to view. When the mercy seat was placed into position, verse 21 says, “And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark”. So the mercy seat was put upon the ark from above. It was not pushed sideways onto it, but lowered onto it from above, thus showing that the crown was a raised piece which ensured an accurate placement. Chrsit can be trusted to perform the work of propitiation with precision.
And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it- four is the number associated with the earth in the Scriptures, (Four corners of the earth, four winds Revelation 7:1; four directions, Genesis 13:14; four major classes of creature, Acts 10:12; four angelic representatives of the creatures on earth, in the midst of the throne of God in heaven, Revelation 4:6,7). This reminds us of the amazing fact that the very Son of God has been here. We should never tire of “looking upon Jesus as He walked”, John 1:36. God has graciously given to us four accounts of His life, that we may see Him from every direction.
A ring is that which has no beginning or end, and reminds us of eternity and eternal things. He who inhabits eternity, Isaiah 57:15, has manifested Himself in the person of His Eternal Son. He is “that Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us”, 1 John 1:2. Even in Old Testament times it could be asked, “What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if thou canst tell, Proverbs 30:4, so He was there then. But His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2, (the part of the passage in Micah 5 which, significantly, the scribes did not recite to Herod). From all eternity it has been the will of the Godhead that the Son should be the one who would come to earth to die. That will is described in Ephesians 3:11 as His eternal purpose, which cannot be frustrated. For the rings of gold were cast. That is, they were made of molten gold poured into a mould, ensuring there was no join in the circle, and consequently no point of weakness and possible fracture. As a result of the Son coming out from eternity, eternal things have been established, such as eternal redemption,, Hebrews 9:12; eternal inheritance, 9:15; and an everlasting covenant, 13:20. Christ has left the stamp of His eternal being on the work which He has done and the blessings He has gained for His people, who are those who possess eternal life from Him.
The directions as to the positioning of these rings is very clear. They must be in the four corners, with two either side of the ark. Being in the corners would ensure that the ark was as stable as possible while it was being carried, and being either side would ensure that it was balanced at all times, a vital need given that the cherubim on the mercy seat would tend to make the vessel unstable. We remember what happened to the ark at the threshingfloor of Ornan, and the way the oxen stumbled and caused the ark to be disturbed, 2 Samuel 6:6.
And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and cover them with gold. And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the side of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them- staves suggest pilgrimage. When Israel left Egypt to begin their journey to the Promised Land, they did so with their staff in their hand, for this would help them to make steady progress, Exodus 12:11. The shittim wood staves with their covering of gold were in complete harmony with the ark itself, reminding us that the movement of the Lord Jesus amongst men never compromised who He was. He was never found in a situation that was incompatible with His nature. As Psalm 1 tells us, He never walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful. Notice He did not even stand in the pathway sinners take, let alone walk that path, and if we say we abide in Him, then we should walk as He walked, 1 John 2:6. And Peter similarly reminds us that He has left us an example, that we should walk as He walked, 1 Peter 2:21.
We have already noticed that the rings ensured stability and balance, and we delight to see these features in the Lord Jesus. He was never in a position of instability, His equilibrium disturbed by men or devils. For example, we see Him going forth to meet the company that have come to arrest Him. All is calm in His spirit as He addresses the armed band and their leaders, and ensures that His disciples are allowed to go. Peter panics, and flails about with a sword, but the Lord, first asking permission to restore the ear His frantic disciple has severed, does so with dignity, Luke 22:50,51. And it was ever thus as He moved amongst men.
He was perfectly balanced in His walk, also, for the staves were on either side of the ark. He was full of grace and truth, John 1:14, where the word “full” relates to both the grace and the truth. In other words, He was full of grace and full of truth. There was no imbalance, as if He were partly grace and partly truth. God is said by John to be light and love, and in Christ there was the perfect display of light in the form of truth, and love in the form of grace. We should remember, however, that John goes on to say, “And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace”, John 1:16. Since as believers we have eternal life, the life of God, we are enabled to express that life in terms of grace and truth. We need grace from God to do this, so John goes on to say, “and grace for grace”, that is, further grace or unmerited favour from God corresponding to the grace we need for particular situations as and when they arise.
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE BOOK OF NUMBERS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 4 TO 6:
4:4 This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things: 4:5 And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering veil, and cover the ark of testimony with it: 4:6 And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.
The moving of the ark Whereas the Gershonites and Merarites who were responsible for moving the boards, fabrics and sockets of the tabernacle and its court were supplied with wagons for the purpose, the Kohathites, who had the charge of the holy vessels, were required to carry them on their shoulders. We learn from this that for every duty God gives His people to perform, He supplies the necessary resources, but He also expects them to feel the weight of their responsibility too. So it was that the Kohathites carried the ark on their shoulders by means of the staves through the rings.
The one who is now in the heavenly sanctuary has arrived there by passing through this wilderness-world. But just as the ark was covered as it passed along, so Christ when here was available to those who genuinely desired to know Him. They had the opportunity of seeing Him for who He was, as Christ allowed them to uncover His glory. The outermost covering of the ark was a cloth of blue, then came a cloth of badgers’ skins, Numbers 4:6, and then, in contact with the ark itself, the holy vail of the tabernacle, Numbers 4:5. Blue is the colour of the paved work beneath the throne of God, which Moses, the priests, and seventy of the elders of Israel had seen immediately before the words we are considering were spoken, Exodus 24:10. The sky-blue sapphire paved work found its correspondence in the outer covering of the vail, So Christ, as He presenced Himself among men, brought heaven within their reach. “He that cometh from above is above all…and what He hath seen and heard that He testifieth” John 3:31,32. He did not lose His Divine authority by coming to earth- He was still above all, yet within the reach of men. As a God-fearing Jew, the Lord Jesus no doubt had a riband of blue on the hem of His garment, Numbers 15:38, and on more than one occasion needy souls touched that hem, and found that the resources of heaven were at their disposal, Matthew 9:20, 14:36. He did not need to enlarge His border, as the Pharisees did in Matthew 23:5, so as to make themselves noticed, for He could not be hid, and His heavenly character was evident to all. Their desire to be known as men in touch with God was spoiled by their worldly ambitions. The cloth over the ark, however, was wholly of blue, there was no clash of colours here, nor was there with Christ. Not only was He within the reach of men, but He was separate from them as well. This paradox is indicated to us by the bringing together of the cloth of blue and the badgers’ skins beneath. Not only did Christ represent the interests of God’s throne down here, but He also manifested the separateness of life which that throne demands of men. Like the badgers’ skins, He repelled that which was contrary to God, whilst at the same time, like the blue cloth, attracting the seeking and longing hearts around Him, who yearned for the blessing of heaven He came to bring. The innermost covering of the ark was the veil of the tabernacle itself, thus there was a link established between the structure of the tabernacle and the ark. At the very least this confirms the special character of the ark; but it does another thing The Epistle to the Hebrews interprets that veil as “His flesh”, Hebrews 10:20. This is highly figurative language, in which a literal object (the veil) represents a spiritual concept, in this case the real manhood of the Lord Jesus. As long as that life was not given up in death, and His spirit was not separate from His body, (remember that when this happened the veil in the temple was rent in twain, as if to manifest what was happening in the spiritual realm, Matthew 27:50,51), the way of approach into God’s immediate presence was not open. From the very beginning of His pathway here He was always conscious that He was to die, for that was why He had come. Lo, I come…a body hast Thou prepared Me, Hebrews 10:5-10. Only because He had taken manhood was it possible for Him to die, for it is when the spirit departs from the body that death takes place, James 2:26. If He is not real man, He cannot really die, and propitiation, which depends upon His blood being shed, is impossible. The “ark” is not an adequate support of the “mercy-seat” if this is the case.
When the ark was captured by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 6:1012, and after they had been judged by God for it, they harnessed a two newly calved oxen to a cart, and they took the ark back to Israel despite the cries of their new born calves. So they knew that God was at work, overriding the natural instincts of the mother. They used a method of transport of their own devising even though the staves were in the ark as the means of moving it. Ignoring Divine provision, they invented their own method. Philistines may be allowed to use a cart and transport the ark in that way, but is no guide in the matter for the people of God. David found this out to his cost when he “sought not the Lord after the due order”, 1 Chronicles 13:6-11; 15:1-15, and made a new cart with which to transport the ark. Let us learn the lesson well; what passes for good policy in the religious establishment, is no guide for the people of God. It was after David had learnt his lesson, and he commanded the ark to be carried upon the shoulders of the Levites with the staves thereon “as Moses commanded”, that the ark made progress with joy, and David, instead of being displeased because God had come forth in judgement when the ark was carried on a cart, wrote a special psalm for the occasion, 1 Chronicles 16:7-36.
The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it- even when not being carried through the wilderness, the staves were to be in the ark. And this was to be true even when the ark had reached its final resting-place in Solomon’s Temple. Then the staves were drawn out only as far as to make them visible out in the Holy Place, 1 Kings 8:8. How precious to think that the pilgrim pathway of our Saviour will never be forgotten, for it will always be seen by those in the presence of God. No step that He took will need to be erased from our memory lest heaven be spoiled for us.
How different it will be with our pathway! Those many departures from the right way will need to be removed from our minds, lest there should be a dark side to heaven. It is not too late, however, to resolve that it will be different with us from this point on, so that, repenting of former lapses, we may forget those things which are behind, and press toward the mark with fresh vigour, Philippians 3:14.
And in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee- as previously mentioned, one of the purposes of the ark was to be the keeping place for the tables of the law, here called the testimony. How different was Israel’s sanctuary to the shrines of the heathen! Their temples housed their idol, which was a reflection of their own vices. The sanctuary of God in the wilderness however contained the tables of the law which condemned vices and upheld holiness. In the ark were unbroken tables of stone. Not the original pair, for these had been smashed by Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai. On the top of the mount God was forbidding idolatry, yet at the foot of the same mountain Israel were dancing around an idol! At the top of Sinai Aaron was being appointed to be High Priest, at the foot of the mount he was a ring-leader in rebellion against God! No wonder Hebrews 7:28 says that the law maketh men high priest which have infirmity. Clearly God would have to show grace if they were to continue as His people. And show grace He did, for when Moses asked to see God’s glory He declared His name in terms of grace and truth, Exodus 34:5-7. Having given this glimpse of His glory to Moses, God then wrote the ten commandments on the second tables of stone, and it was these that were placed in the ark. Thus the demands of the law were maintained despite the lawlessness of the people, but also it was shown that only in grace could the full glory of God be maintained.
The apostle John takes up this idea in John 1:17, when he declares that the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that the law had been given, the fulness of grace and truth could only be expressed and maintained by Christ. So it was that the ark contained unbroken tables of stone, as if to preserve them from the people. Only Christ could be trusted to “magnify the law and make it honourable”, Isaiah 42:21, for He alone could keep it. He could say that He did not come to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfil them, Matthew 5:17. This He did in two ways. Firstly by keeping the law of God to the letter, and also by explaining the meaning of the law as none other could. When a scribe sought to explain the law, he was said to be seeking to fulfil it, that is, filling it up full with meaning. Even so, the work of Calvary was needed if man’s lawbreaking was to be dealt with once and for all, and guilty sinners could be reckoned righteous by God. The law works wrath, Romans 4:15, whereas grace brings life, Romans 5:21.
Note that the tables are called a testimony, not a covenant, although they were this. They constituted a testimony to the demands of God, and also to the fact that the people were unable to keep the law.