Thanks to Hollywood, no other piece of Temple furniture is as
Much has been written about the Ark of the Covenant but many questions remain unanswered. In part because it is not understood that it, like all other the temple furniture, is multi-symbolic, depicting more than one thing simultaneously within Mosaic and Solomonic periods.
Scholars believe the Ark depicts at least three things: a golden chest, a throne-chair, and a footstool (Ref. Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel by Prof. Menahem Haran of Hebrew University, Israel, pp. 246, 253, 254). On this website you will find a fourth, the nose and nostrils of Temple Man, More Secrets of the Holy Ark. But in this section we are interested only in first three.
The Ark as a Chest
The Ark is identified in a variety of ways: Ark
of God, Ark of the Lord, Ark of the Covenant, Ark of the Testimony, etc.. All
these refer to the same item, the Ark. Its dimensions and description are given
in Exodus 25:10-22; 37:5-10, wherein it is simply called an "ark" or "ark of
acacia wood." In both places the dimensions are given as 2.5 cubits in length
and 1.5 cubits in width and height (1.1 x 0.7 meters, or 3.75 x 2.25 feet),
forming a rectangular box or chest made of gold-plated wood .
Finally, the Ark had a cover or lid (kapporet, rendered as "mercy seat" in the AV), whose description and that of its small twin cherubim is given in Exodus 25:17-21 along with its dimensions. The kapporet, though, was made of a single piece of solid gold, no wood at all, a noteworthy distinction.
The Ark as a Throne-Chair
It's well known that the Ark served as a chest or receptacle for the tablets of the Ten Commandments. But it also portrayed the Lord's heavenly throne-chair, as indicated by what is said about its cherubim:
Exodus 25:22: the Lord says he will speak to
Moses from between the cherubim, but "above" the kapporet.
These are some of the verses that refer to the small cherubim of the Ark and/or the heavenly cherubim, either of which is a reference to God's throne. The AV's translation of the Samuel verses errs by saying only that the Lord sits "between" the cherubim, not above or upon them (check other translations). Rather, he is positioned between but "above" them, indicating that the Ark symbolized the Lord's throne-chair.
According to Professor Menahem Haran of the Hebrew University in Israel, the two major scholarly views are that the Ark was a chest for the Decalogue, but also a depiction of the divine throne (Temple and Temple Service in Ancient Israel, p. 246), and this is partially supported by other works such as The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 389 which assures us that "cherubim thrones" were well known in ancient Syria-Palestine (see also The JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus by Nahum M. Sarna, 1991 edition by The Jewish Publication Society).
Finally, compare Jeremiah 3:16 which refers to a future time when the Ark shall not be remembered or mentioned but, instead, "Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord," v. 17. This clearly shows the Ark was his throne in the past (in Moses' days), but in the future his throne will be the city of Jerusalem.
The Ark as a Footstool
There are no verses that say indisputably that the Ark is a footstool, but there are some which imply it "" a view that naturally arises if the the Ark depicts a throne. And as Professor Menahem Haran notes in his book (p. 254), if the kapporet and cherubim are the throne of God, then the Ark "" meaning the chest "" must be the the footstool, what else? He further argues (p. 255) that it is not logical to conceive of any throne without a footstool.
Here are some verses seeming to say or imply that the Lord's throne has a footstool.
I Chronicles 28:2: Possibly the Ark is God's footstool.
If the heavenly throne has a footstool (the earth), the Ark -throne must have one also. But how or where?
Harmonizing the Chest, Throne, and Footstool Ideas
The question, therefore, is how "" in a clear and visible way "" does the Ark depict a chest, throne and footstool? As I have shown graphically, the kapporet is a separate piece from the chest (its dimensions are given separately in Exodus 25:17 "" a significant fact) and is made of solid gold. It is this particular piece which is the throne seat. The reason we cannot visualize it very well is because the backrest and armrests are missing. But installed in their place the Ark becomes a throne-chair, and the chest below a footstool.
But we may ask, "If this is so, what happens to the cherubim?"
The answer is found in how monarchs of the ANE (Ancient Near East) designed their thrones "" cherubim were portrayed on the armrests, or sometimes shown supporting the throne. But in the biblical Ark, the backrest and armrests were omitted, leaving the cherubim standing alone atop the kapporet. The footstool was then moved under the kapporet (seat) and became the "chest" underneath (see the slightly-rearranged Ark at right).
Possibly the throne design was concealed to discourage ancient and spiritually-immature Israel from imagining the Lord as a human monarch or demigod sitting on his throne, encouraging idol worship. It is easy to demonstrate that the bible conceals information for certain purposes. See for example Daniel 12:8, 9 where the prophet is not allowed to understand the book he himself wrote.
Throne-Chairs in the Ancient Near East
Below is my drawing of a throne chair found in Meggido, an ancient city in northern Israel from which the name "Armageddon" is derived (the original drawing has a lion with a human head). You may find it on the Internet or see the New Bible Dictionary, p. 1190, Inter-Varsity Press.
The evolution of the throne and footstool into an ark mounted with cherubim, though, was not a Jewish idea necessarily, but a development of the Ancient Near East (ANE).
According to the Anchor article, though, it appears that scholars earlier in this century were not certain the biblical Ark depicted a throne. For if so, how? Unable to answer satisfactorily their own question, they concluded that it must be a footstool only. However, other scholars insisted that the Ark must represent a throne too, somehow. Unfortunately, such persons never bothered illustrating how the original transformation "" from throne-chair and footstool to Ark "" might have taken place; this is why I decided to create the drawings shown here.
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