The Hebrew word aron is used more than 190 times in
the Old Testament. In its first occurrence (Gen. 50:25) it is
translated coffin. Six times it is translated chest, and in all the
other instances, it is translated ark, referring invariably to the
ark placed in the Holy of Holies. A different Hebrew word,
tebah, is used for both Noah's ark, and the ark of bulrushes in
which the infant Moses was placed. In the six passages where
the word aron is translated chest, it refers to a box or chest
made at the command of King Joash by Jehoiada the priest as
a receptacle for the people to put their offerings for the
repairing of the temple. However, it appears likely that this
chest was intended to be a facsimile or replica of the ark in the
Holy of Holies, for its fabrication and use seemed to stimulate
the people to an unusual degree of liberality in their offerings.
It is not likely that a mere box or chest would have stirred them
It seems evident that the primary meaning of aron is coffin. Though there is no record that the Israelites (in their own land) used coffins, the Egyptians did use them, and no doubt the Israelites also did so (to some extent) during their sojourn in Egypt. At any rate, when Joseph died, his body was embalmed and placed in an aron or coffin. There is no reason to depart from this obvious meaning of the word when we find it attached to a box-like object which was placed in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle. It was indeed the coffin of God, being an anticipative symbol of the death of God the Son in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It may be argued that the dimensions of the ark indicate that it was not intended to represent a coffin, since it was 27 inches square at the ends and only 44 inches long. However, this objection is more apparent than real. The truth is that in Egypt, in earlier times, it was customary to bury a body not in the prone position, but with the knees drawn up to the chest. Coffins were used during the period of the Israelite's sojourn in Egypt that resemble our modern cedar chests more than they do even our most primitive type of coffin. Such a coffin is pictured in the article on Egypt in the 1950 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. While its actual dimensions are not given, its relative dimensions are obviously not much different from those of the ark. It resembles a modern cedar chest decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The English word ark has, since the appearance of the King James Version in 1611, been associated almost exclusively with the three objects to which it is applied in that Version: the ark of Noah, the ark of Moses and the ark of the tabernacle. We have therefore largely forgotten that the word ark in its Anglo-Saxon form earc denoted a coffin, or a type of chest suitable for a coffin. The Anglo-Saxon earc was borrowed from the Latin arca which meant chest, but which was used by both Horace and Livy in the sense of coffin.
Whether we turn, then, to the Hebrew, or the English; we are faced with the fact that the ark was intended to represent a coffin, the coffin of God, the coffin of the covenant, and the coffin of the testimony.
In the ark (or coffin) were deposited three items: the stone tables of the law, the pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that budded. We now undertake to set forth, Deo Volente, the significance of these items' being placed in the ark. Let us first consider the tables of the law - the ministration of death.
The law (or ten commandments as placed in the ark) was engraved upon two tables of stone. The Hebrew word for stone is eben, which is very similar to the Hebrew word for son. In fact, both nouns are derived from the same Hebrew verb. Because of the common derivation of the words for stone and son the idea of stone is often used figuratively in the Bible to denote sonship. The two stones, then, seem to speak of the dual sonship of Christ; a sonship which involved him in a dual responsibility - toward both God and man. This dual sonship and responsibility is further brought out by the fact that the commandments actually were divisible into two parts: the first dealing with the individual's responsibility to God, and the other with his responsibility to man. The fact that the law was written upon the stones reminds us that Christ in his dual role as Son of God and Son of Man, has the law written on his heart.
"Then said I, lo, I come ... I delight to do thy will 0 my God:
yea, thy law is within my heart."
As the one who kept the law unconditionally, Christ is
the agent of condemnation upon all men. By keeping the law
himself, Jesus demonstrated that it was possible for all men to
keep it. If someone should object that Jesus was able to keep
the law because he was God as well as man, but that we cannot
keep it because we are only man; the writer challenges such an
objector to point out just one commandment of the law which
is beyond his ability to keep! It is unthinkable that God would
have required man to keep a law that was beyond his ability,
and then punish him because he did not keep it! The
unflattering truth is that men fail to keep the law because they
are unwilling to keep it, not because they are unable to. If we
could but honestly say as Jesus did, "I delight to do thy will, 0
my God," we would have little difficulty in keeping the law.
But to be honest we have to say, "I delight to do my will."
Thus, because Jesus has demonstrated that it is possible for a
man to keep God's law if he wants to do so, his life stands as
an indictment against every man who has not kept it. He is
therefore the best qualified person in all the universe to sit on
God's throne of judgment and pass sentence upon those who
have refused to do the will of God.
However, when a man exercises faith in Christ as his savior, he is accounted to have been judged and executed by the law in the person of Jesus. Through identification with Christ Jesus, the believer has become dead to sin, to the law and to the world. Thus his sins are taken care of. But a person must be more than merely sinless to be saved; he must have a positive righteousness. Note Matthew 5:20:
"For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
The positive righteousness needed by the believer is received by him through imputation. That is, the righteousness of God (which is the righteousness wrought by Christ in his earthly life and ministry) is credited, or imputed, to the believer in response to his faith:
"For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God and
it was counted unto him for righteousness."
"Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him. But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead."
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth."
Some object to identifying the righteousness of God, which Paul
refers to so frequently in Romans, as the righteousness which
Christ wrought out during his earthly life; pointing out that the
expression is the righteousness of God, rather than the
righteousness of Christ. However, such an interpretation puts an
unwarranted stress on the use of the word God in this case, for
in the Greek it is anarthrous (i.e. not preceded by the article)
so that the word is used in a qualifying sense. If Paul had
intended to refer to the righteousness of God, the Father, as
contrasted with that of the Son and the Spirit; or if he had
meant the righteousness of the Godhead, the word for God
would have been preceded by the article. Since he did not use
the article, his meaning is not the righteousness of God, the
Father, or the righteousness of the Godhead, but merely divine
righteousness, as contrasted with the best that man has achieved.
Therefore the term as used by Paul would easily apply to the
righteousness worked out by Jesus during his earthly life.
Though this righteousness was worked out by Jesus in his
human capacity, it is a divine righteousness in that it is made
available to men by the grace of God. See I Cor. 1:30.
Jesus, having the law written on his heart, and having lived on the earth in perfect obedience to the law; was then put to death by the requirement of the law on behalf of, and in the place of, those who have not kept it. Like Barabbas we go free, because Jesus went to the cross in our place.
continued at top of next column
The second item placed in the ark was Aaron's rod that
budded. The budding of this rod is described in the
seventeenth chapter of Numbers. Aaron's position as High
Priest had been questioned; and in order to settle the matter
God had the head of each tribe bring his rod to Moses to
be laid up in the tabernacle overnight. Aaron represented the
tribe of Levi, and in the morning his rod was found to have
budded, blossomed and yielded almonds. This was the sign by
which God had promised to designate the rightful high priest.
Three facts about Aaron's rod are noteworthy: it was a rod of power, of life and of fruitfulness. Many works of power had already been performed through the medium of this rod, and when it budded and brought forth fruit overnight, it was shown to be also a rod of life and of fruitfulness. However, the fruit yielded was almonds. The Hebrew word for almond is shaqed which comes from the verb shaqad, meaning to be sleepless, to watch, to guard, to be circumspect. It therefore denotes faithfulness in guarding or keeping.
Aaron's rod, of course, being the emblem of his priesthood, points to Christ as our great High Priest, and the characteristics of that rod illustrate the characteristics of the priesthood of our Lord. In Heb. 3: 1-2, His faithfulness as our High Priest is stressed:
"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house."
But the rod was also an instrument of power and life, and in Heb. 7: 14-15, these are shown to be characteristics of the Priesthood of Christ:
"And it is far more evident that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life."
Thus, as Christ is our righteousness, he is also our life.
The third object placed in the ark was a pot containing some of the manna which had come down from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness. It therefore speaks of the nourishment of God's people, and here again we are pointed to Christ who not only is our life, but is also the heavenly bread that sustains that life. The manna was completely sufficient for Israel's needs. Though not always, perhaps, pleasing to the flesh, it was entirely adequate as a diet and gave them the strength needed to march and fight for forty years.
An omer of the manna was placed in the ark. This was the amount that was allotted to each Israelite for one day. They were to gather that much and no more. This teaches us that Christ as the bread of life must be appropriated each day. We do not need any more of Christ than we can assimilate today; but on the other hand, we cannot be sustained today by having partaken of Christ yesterday. This fact is, no doubt, what Jesus had in mind when he taught the disciples to pray, "Give us this day, our daily bread." There is also little doubt that he was alluding to the manna stored in the ark when he wrote, through the Apostle John, to the church at Pergamus:
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden
Many Christians seem to be on a spiritual fast just at the time when they most need spiritual food. Personal problems, conflicts and worries seem to keep them away from the house and table of the Lord, instead of attracting them thereto. Yet when a prize fighter knows that he is facing a fight, he does not stop eating; but eats with deliberate intent and with particular regard for those foods that will give him strength and stamina. No wonder Jesus said:
"The children of the world are in their generation wiser than
the children of light."
Let us remember, in summing up, that the ark was a symbol of the death of Christ; and the articles which were placed in it would, therefore, seem to symbolize those privileges and blessings which become ours by entering into his death. When we believe on him as our Savior, we are reckoned to have entered into his death or (symbolically speaking) into the ark. What blessings do we find there? We find that we are dead to sin, to the law and to the world; but that the perfect righteousness of him into whose death we have entered, has been credited, or imputed, to us. But if we find death there, we also find life as symbolized by the rod of life. We are not only buried with Christ, but are also risen with him to walk in a newness of life. The rod not only reminds us of new life, it assures us that we have entered into the priesthood.
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy
nation, a peculiar people."
I Peter 2:9.
Then, to sustain this new-found life, there is the hidden manna,
the bread of God, which came down from heaven that a man
might eat thereof and not die. So, in the ark (or death of
Christ) we enter not only into death, but also into life, into
priestly service; and find the food needful to sustain and nourish
that new life.
It is sobering to remember that by the time the temple was built, the ark had lost its true significance as a symbol of the coming redemption through the death of God the Son, and was regarded by the people as being merely a religious talisman. Is not this what the cross (and the gospel it symbolizes) have become for most of the nominal people of God today? Very fittingly, we read that when the ark was placed in the temple, there was nothing in it but the tables of stone - the law. See I Kings 8: 9. Thus, to those who fail to appreciate the rod and manna of life, there is nothing left but the ministration of death. The gospel, good news to those that are saved, will be the basis of judgment for those who are lost. See Romans 2:16.
John H Mattox