The Ark and Its Contents: Tables of the Law

Hebrews 9:4  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 14
The believer has little difficulty in recognizing the significance of the fact that the two tables of the law found a resting place in the ark of the testimony. They formed the sum total of God's requirements as to the life and conduct of the people toward Himself and to each other. They were the conditions of the covenant under which Israel was to enter into the land and dwell there, and leave it for an inheritance to their children after them. The holy oracles were in this way committed to them as the people of God, and made binding by the sprinkling of blood. But inasmuch as they were a sinful people and totally incompetent to observe that holy law (in spite of their solemn professions that all that Jehovah hath spoken we will do), setting forth as it did the terms or conditions of their covenant relationship with Jehovah, the ark was made specially to contain it For if the throne of God was to be established upon earth for the government of His people and “righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne” (Psa. 97:22Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. (Psalm 97:2)) it could not be otherwise.
We know not at what time or in what way “the golden pot that had the manna” and “Aaron's rod that budded” disappeared from the ark in which they had been put, but we do know that when Solomon had finished all the work of the house of Jehovah, and the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of Jehovah into its place there was nothing there but the two tables of stone.
The necessities of a people passing through the wilderness had been fully met, in the riches of God's grace, by those things which witnessed to His faithfulness and goodness, and which also brought blessing to the people. The circumstances were now no longer the same. The son of David reigned in Zion, and righteousness must characterize his kingdom. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” So shall it be in millennial days when David's Son and Lord, the great Antitype of Solomon, shall reign in righteousness, and bring the nations into, at least, outward or feigned obedience (2 Sam. 22:4545Strangers shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as they hear, they shall be obedient unto me. (2 Samuel 22:45)).
The ark of shittim wood overlaid with pure gold, containing the testimony, was indeed a striking type of Him who was manifest in flesh, and in whom divine and human righteousness met. He alone could say, “I delight to do thy will, O God; yea thy law is within my heart.” The righteousness of God finds its full and perfect expression in that Blessed One risen from the dead and now glorified in heaven. He who in grace came forth from God to seek man, is the one who has gone back to God after accomplishing the work of atonement, and is in Himself the full display of divine righteousness. “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” Such is the blessed provision for the child of God, who, though confessedly weak and oft-times failing, has, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit, the power for good (Gal. 5:16-2516This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16‑25)), and the written word to guide, in order that we may not sin (1 John 2:11My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (1 John 2:1)). Satan is ever ready to act the part of accuser before God and may find, alas, too many an occasion in my walk here, yet am I represented on high by the righteous Advocate against whom he can bring nothing. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses from all sin.” I do not try to hide or extenuate my sins, but sorrowfully confess them, with the result that “He is faithful and just” (He cannot be otherwise) “to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-97But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7‑9)).
Such truths as these (so good and necessary for us to know as walking in the light as He is in the light) were but dimly foreshadowed by these patterns of heavenly realities, yet were they there in type. True, Israel could not, and were not expected to, enter into their full spiritual meaning. We, in the light of the New Testament, can look back and see clearly enough that God found His own deep joy in all that pointed to Christ's coming into the world, and in this scene where man had fallen, and God was dishonored, recovering in grace what man had lost in disobedience, and above all glorifying God in the holy judgment of our sins when on the cross he was made a sacrifice for sin.
It were well to glance briefly at the circumstances in which Moses placed the testimony within the ark at Horeb, the more so as the Spirit of God has been most explicit in recording the circumstance for our instruction, but has given no historic record of the placing of the other two objects within the ark. Thus, were it not for Heb. 9:44Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; (Hebrews 9:4) we could not have certainly known that they were actually within it. If we read carefully Ex. 25:10-2210And 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. 11And 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. 12And 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. 13And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. 14And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them. 15The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it. 16And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee. 17And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. 18And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. 19And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. 20And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be. 21And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. 22And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 25:10‑22) (particularly noticing vers. 16, 21, 22), we shall find that from the beginning God's purpose was that the ark should be prepared for the reception of the testimony. He well knew that His people were incompetent even to receive it, but it was necessary that Moses, faithful servant as he was, should learn this by sorrowful experience, for with what anguish of soul must he have listened to the revelation of the people's sin, from the lips of God Himself (Ex. 32:7-107And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: 8They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 9And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: 10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. (Exodus 32:7‑10)); and how bitterly must he have realized the awful nature of that moral catastrophe which had exposed them to the wrath of Jehovah, and the curse of a broken law, before even they had seen it! Yet had they not been made acquainted with its requirements? and with a light heart accepted it and promised to fulfill all its conditions (Ex. 24:33And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. (Exodus 24:3))? When Moses came within hearing and view of the profane revelry which witnessed to the apostasy of Israel, can we wonder that his anger waxed hot, and that, in sight of the evil-doers, he brake the two tables of stone casting them out of his hands at the foot of Horeb? Surely it must have been fatal to the whole nation to have brought them into the idolatrous camp! There was then no ark to receive them—this handwriting of the finger of God.
The whole history of God's way with His servant and His guilty people, as set forth in Ex. 32 is deeply instructive, as illustrating the principles of mediatorship, of God's sovereignty in mercy, and of His call to separation from evil, for such as sought the Lord outside the camp. Deut. 10:55And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the Lord commanded me. (Deuteronomy 10:5), however, shows us (what Exodus does not), that the solemn crisis which had arisen made it imperative for Moses to prepare the ark, before returning to God, so that immediately on his return to the people he might place the two tables of stone there. Perhaps, it was not then overlaid with gold; that remained for Bezaleel to complete hereafter (Ex. 37:22And he overlaid it with pure gold within and without, and made a crown of gold to it round about. (Exodus 37:2)). However, that may be, it appears clear, from a comparison of the two scriptures, that the ark was prepared for the reception of the law, in the interval between Moses' first descent from the mount and his going up the second time, so that on his return it was there for the reception of the testimony.
(Continued from p. 170)
(To be continued)