Updated: Oct 9, 2022
Diagram of the position of the ark's poles by Moshe Ben-Chaim in his article, "The Temple and Tabernacle" illustrates the position of the poles as depicted in the Hebrew Bible.
For further information regarding the placement and purpose of the holy vessels see Moshe's full article at, https://www.mesora.org/temple.html
Over the years preparing lessons and turning some into blogs or educational videos I have received a lot of feedback from many of Gods people. There are questions concerning the sources of information offered as well as where the teaching props can be purchased. Sometimes the feedback is very good encouraging and comes as conformation but sometimes a bit confrontational. This blog is one example my passion is for the Bible and my attempt to understand all that is written, even if it is one verse I never noticed before.
Below is a viewer’s response to one of my most watched video presentations concerning the contents of the ark of the covenant.
The Tabernacle Man is a False Teacher
“Beware of the Tabernacle Man. Stay away from this man’s teachings. He teaches things that are not in the Bible. The Bible does not say a scroll was in the Ark of the Covenant! He is a false teacher.”
This is a viewer comment is in response to my YouTube video: “The 5 Contents of the Ark of the Covenant.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2e7rRGlrv0 In the video I teach there may have been up to five holy items placed “inside” or “alongside” the Ark of the Covenant after the Levites placed the ark inside the Holy of Holies.
As illustrated in the drawing by Jan Luyken and Pieter Mortier, "Ark of the Covenant," the teaching that a scroll was placed inside or outside the Ark is not a new concept. At first reading the viewers comments stung. But then I said to myself, “Wait a minute. He is the one not reading the Bible. Deuteronomy clearly states a scroll or book was placed inside or alongside the ark of the covenant.
Too often we base our "biblical knowledge" on drawings, pictures or even movies. Notice the Luyken and Mortier depiction of the Ark. The illustrators may be correct by showing the scroll outside the Ark. However, their positioning of the poles is incorrect according to Exodus 25:12-14. (for more details see the blog "5 Contents of the Ark of the Covenant, part 2: Proper position of the poles"
Deuteronomy 31:24-27 JPS 1917
And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, that bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: ‘Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck; behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?
“Inside or Alongside”
Notice that the Book of the Law or scroll was not placed inside the ark, but “put it by the side of the ark.” This is why the scroll is not mentioned in I Kings 8:9 as being in the ark. The scroll, along with the pot of manna (Exodus 16:33-34) and Aaron's rod, was kept beside the ark, not in it. The Greek word found in the Letter to the Hebrews 9:4 translated "in which" (wherein, KJV) is hou. Hou is a general word that does not necessarily mean "wherein," "within," or "in." It simply means "in the same location as." Hou is a general word that does not necessarily mean "wherein," "within," or "in."
There are different opinions on what was contained inside the Ark of the Covenant. Christians tend to believe that there were three items in the Ark, the rod of Aaron, the golden pot of manna and the whole or second set of tablets. We learned in previous blogs and as illustrated below, the Jewish viewpoint is quite different than the Christian.
Another depiction of the placement of the holy instruments outside the ark of the covenant can be found in the Article, "The Temple and Tabernacle," written by Moshe Ben-Chaim at
Contemporary Synagogues and Ark Cabinets
Based upon Deuteronomy 31:24-27 the Jewish tradition of placing one or more Torah scrolls with the Ark of the synagogue continues today. In the photo by Peter B. Jordan we see the Torah scrolls resting inside the ark within the old city of Exeter, Devon, and is the third oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom.
Long Span of History
The primary mistake readers of the Bible make is they forget the fact that there is a long span of time between the construction of the ark of the covenant and the portable place of worship the tabernacle in the desert and its relocation to Shiloh, the ark’s capture by the Philistines, the building of Solomon’s Temple and destruction followed by Zerubbabel’s Temple and eventually Herod’s Temple.
To complicate matters, readers often point to the reference in the Letter to the Hebrews, as evidence of what was contained in the ark of the covenant. The letter to the Hebrews was written between C.E. 64 to 69. There is disagreement among scholars as to whether the Ark of the Covenant still existed or was the ark safely stashed away by the time of the Roman destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD/CE 70.
The Ark of the Covenant donated by The Tabernacle Man to be used in the upcoming film, "The Great I Am" produced and directed by Bruce Marchiano.
Depending upon your dating system the dates range anywhere from 1446 BCE (before the common era) through AD/CE 69. We are looking at a period of approximately 1500 years. There is scriptural reference that the contents of the Ark of the Covenant changed during this 1500-year time span. From a plain reading of the Bible, certain items originally placed in the Ark of the Covenant may have been removed by the priests to later be returned and additional items placed inside or alongside the Ark of the Covenant.
Listed below are references that support the theory during the time of the Exodus up through the time of the letter to the Hebrews the contents of the Ark of the Covenant may have changed. The jar of manna and Aaron’s rod were temporarily removed and then later returned to the Ark. At one point a Torah scroll was placed inside or near the Ark of the Covenant. (photo credit istock.com)
Exodus 25:16 and Talmud Bava Batra 14b
The original set of Tablets of the Covenant placed inside the Ark of the Covenant with the broken tablets.
“And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.”
The broken shards of the first tablets are stored in the ark together with the whole ones.
Talmud Bava Batra 14b.
The Bible does not reveal what happened to the broken tablets given on mount Sinai. We only know the second set of tablets were stored in the Ark of the Covenant. In his article, The Broken Tablets, Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider, references the Talmud to answer the question of the location of the smashed tablets. Whatever became of the tablets smashed by Moses? The Talmud answers: The broken tablets were placed in the holy Ark along with the second, intact set ; ‘luchot ve’shivrey luchot munachim be’aron”(Talmud Bava Batra 14b). The broken tablets were not buried, which is what we generally do with holy items no longer in use. They were placed in the most sacred place, in the Aaron Hakodesh, the holy Ark. Eventually they sat next to the second tablets, the whole set of the Ten Commandments. Together they remained securely protected as the nation journeyed through the wilderness (see “The Broken Tablets” at aish.com)
Replacement set of the Tablets of the Covenant
“At that time the LORD said unto me: ‘Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first and come up unto Me into the mount; and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which thou didst break, and thou shalt put them in the ark.’ So, I made an ark of acacia-wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in my hand. And He wrote on the tables according to the first writing, the ten words, which the LORD spoke unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them unto me. And I turned and came down from the mount and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as the LORD commanded me.”
God tells Moses to put the gold jar of manna inside the Ark of the Covenant.
“And Moses said unto Aaron: ‘Take a jar, and put an omerful of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept throughout your generations.’ As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.”
It appears that Aaron's staff or rod returned to the Ark of the Covenant after removed at a previous time.
“and the LORD said unto Moses: 'Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept there, for a token against the rebellious children; that there may be made an end of their murmurings against Me, that they die not.'”
1 Kings 8:9
When Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the other contents, Aaron’s rod and the jar of manna, must have been removed at some point before the Ark was brought into the temple.
“There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel when they came out of the land of Egypt.”
Torah Scroll inside or placed near the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.
‘Take this book of the law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.
Hebrews 9:1-5 (KJV)
At the time of this letter the sacrificial system is still in place. The Temple was not destroyed by the Romans. This passage indicates the Ark of the Covenant contained gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff, and the stone tablets. Is the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaking about the contents of the Ark of the Covenant during the time the letter is being written or is the author making a reference to certain information contained in the Torah?
“Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid roundabout with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.”
I pray this short blog provides a better understanding of the contents of the Ark of the Covenant. I realize readers will not find the reference from the Talmud as authoritative regarding the broken tablets. However, it does answer the question readers of the Bible have about the fate of the broken covenant between God and man.
Does it matter what was inside or outside the ark of the covenant? You decide if there is some meaning or instruction regarding the placement and removal of the sacred items of the ark of the covenant. When discerning the plain sense of the Bible I tend to think there is a hidden meaning waiting to be gleaned from the pages of the Bible each time a Hebrew name of a person or place is mentioned. When numbers and other details are given, we often glaze over these “unimportant” specifications. I’ve learned that that many times the pages of the Bible speak to my situation when I take the time to ponder and investigate these unimportant details.
I do not have this notion thought through all the way. However, when I ponder the possible meaning behind the addition and removal of holy objects from the ark of the covenant, this is where my heart and mind take me. The several places in the book of Judges the Bible states that,
"every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Let’s review the pattern of what was stored inside or placed outside the ark of the covenant.
We learn that the replacement tablets were placed inside the ark. At some point a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod were placed within the ark.
By the time of the book of Numbers Aaron’s rod appears to have been removed because the Lord commands that the rod be placed back in the ark
By the time of the Kings scripture indicates that only the tablets were in the ark and the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod had been removed.
By the time of Deuteronomy scripture indicates that the Lord commanded the Torah Scroll (5 books of Moses or Torah often referred to as the Pentateuch) was placed inside or near the ark.
Did these changes come about during the time periods when the ark was captured by the Philistines or when the ark supposedly was hidden away to prevent it from being captured again? Many scholars believe that by the time of Herod’s Temple in the first century the ark remained hidden for safe keeping and no longer sat in the Holy of Holies.
The Ark (which contained the tablets with the Ten Commandments) rested upon the rock during the First Temple era. During the Second Temple there was no Ark. Some say it was captured by Nebuchadnezzar; others say it was hidden beneath the rock; and still others say that it was hidden below the Wood Chamber in the Women’s Courtyard. (See The Holy of Holies: "Kodesh HaKodashim" at Chabad.org)
In my thinking each of these holy objects within or near the Ark of the Covenant represent some aspect of our relationship to the Lord.
Ark of the Covenant – God’s safety deposit box where the covenant agreement between man and God rests. The ark is placed in the Holy of Holies inside the House of God or Temple. Both Jews and Christians refer to our physical bodies as being the Temple of the Lord. Therefore, is our heart the Ark of the Covenant?
Broken Tablets -Represents God standards for living. His universal principles for a holy and healthy covenant life. The broken shards represent our frailty and brokenness in our attempts to do what we agreed to do (Exodus 24).
Replacement Tablets – represent God’s desire to restore us and renew the covenant that we have broken. These tablets represent the heavenly restoration available to all. They are made of blue Sapphire, the color that represents the heavens.
Pot of Manna – the everlasting reminder that God wants to sustain us provide for our needs, But we must acknowledge this promise of provision – Manna in the wilderness. “What is it” for you today?
Aaron’s Rod – the almond branch that budded when God confirmed his choice that tribe of Levi would serve with his authority for the kingdom of priests.
Torah Scroll – the first five books of the Bible, a recollection of the initial history of a rag tag bunch of slaves becoming a new nation with a covenant mandate from God to be his light, his representatives in a broken and dark world. They were to remember their history and where they came from and the purpose for their lives.
Is it possible that when the covenant nation wavered on their commitment to the agreement with the Lord, that the various items within or near the ark lost relevance or importance? When I ponder that I am God’s representative here on earth and I am the Temple of his spirit then my heart is like an Ark of the Covenant. My heart is God’s safety deposit box where his covenant, his word, his authority must reign.
“Thy word have I laid up in my heart, I might not sin against Thee.” Psalm 119:11
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105
The contents and missing items from the Ark of the Covenant may shed light on why Israel struggled to maintain their covenant with the Lord when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Likewise, when we neglect or we become rebellious against the word, his principles, his authority and do not acknowledge his sustaining provisions and his blessing “to give us the ability to make wealth,” we are in jeopardy of breaking into shards our covenant with the Lord. I fear we live in such times as too many of us do that “which is right in our own eyes.”