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Unlocking the Mystery of the Ark of the Covenant - part 1, Exodus 25:10-11by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark

It was made famous over three decades ago in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The ark displayed by The Tabernacle Man may be found in “Indiana” but not by a man named “Jones.” Is the filmmaker’s depiction of the ark, correct? Is there information recorded in the Bible the movie left out? Should we fear this wooden box overlaid with gold as they did in the movie? Why do Jews and Christians disagree on the five contents of the Ark of the Covenant? What did the ark contain and at what time were these items placed or removed from the ark? Is there a discrepancy between the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) and the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament?

We will explore these questions in the next seven articles entitled: “The five contents of the Ark of the Covenant.” Come with me as we pass through the veil separating the holy place from the holy of holies as we explore fresh insights into the word of God.


Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.


During the forty years following their deliverance from Egypt, the presence (She-key- nah) inhabited the wilderness Tabernacle built by Moses and the people of God. The Bible records that God’s presence not only dwelled amid the Israelite camp, but He communicated from between the two cherubs of the Ark of the Covenant. God’s detailed directions to the Hebrews regarding the ark of the covenant are relevant for the Jewish people and Christians alike for the ark contained the word of the Lord.

Construction Materials - Exodus 25:10-11

25:10 And they shall make an ark of acacia-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.

Acacia wood is mentioned as being one of the materials used in the construction of the Tabernacle. The KJV refers to acacia as “shittim” wood which comes from the Hebrew word shittah. Exodus 35:24 indicates that acacia wood was also one of the freewill offerings the people brought for the construction of the Tabernacle. All the structural supports (boards, pillars) of the tabernacle were made of acacia wood. It was also used in the altar of burnt sacrifice, table of showbread, Ark of the Covenant, and the poles that were made to carry these objects. The altar of incense was no exception.

Incorruptible Character

Because these trees grow at a slow rate the wood is hard and dense. The density causes the wood to be very heavy. The heart is dark reddish-brown. The wood is resistant to decay, disease, and rotting because the tree heartwood contains certain substances that make it difficult to be penetrated by water and other decay agents. It is especially unpalatable to insects seeking a home. This wood is incorruptible!

Length of Cubit

We understand there is a difference of opinion on what constitutes a cubit. The general understanding is a cubit equals 18 inches. With this understanding, the length (’ā-rə-kōw) or the front and back of the ark measured 45 inches or 2 ½ cubits. The breadth or sides (tsay-law') of the ark and the height or stature (qō-mā-ṯōw) both measured 27 inches or a cubit and a half. The cherubs are not included in the height of the box/ark.

The Bible does not indicate the measurements of the cherubs only their function connected with the ark. Jewish tradition suggests the cherubs were an additional 28 inches tall.

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.

The ark was overlaid with pure gold. All the most sacred vessels are made with pure gold. But what does this mean? Regular gold contains dross or impurities that could only be used for the accessories such as rings and crowns. Regular gold was used for the rings because the mixture of other elements inter-mixed with the pure gold renders it harder and stronger and would not easily break under the weight of the ark.

Pure gold is more pliable since its composition is without impurities and therefore renders it softer and is easily hammered into thin sheets like modern 24K gold leafing is used to guild harps. What is more important to note is the pure gold was “plated” or “gold-leafed” onto the acacia wood “within and without or “inside and outside” the box-like structure.

Importance of Integrity and Authenticity

Notice description starts with the “inside” of the box! In the Bible gold often symbolizes the divine. This means that what you see on the inside of the box is the same thing you see on the outside of the box – “pure gold.” This speaks to the integrity of the Ark of the Covenant.

Psalm 119:11

Thy word have I laid up in my heart, That I might not sin against Thee.

Psalm 119:105

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And a light unto my path.”

Outward Appearances Deceive

Too often we focus on the outside of the person or the perception of the person we think we see. There is an adage that says, “Do not judge a book by its cover.” We lend an ear to the sound of a deep voice, become attracted to a tall stature, or become enamored by a person’s wealth, success, or number of degrees. Are these external accomplishments and outward images an accurate assessment of the principles and standards that a person lives by?

In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, there is a scene in which a beautiful young wealthy woman named Portia, is being wooed with hopes of marriage by several suitors. The Prince of Morocco is now before Portia. There is one problem. Portia cannot make her own decision as to who she will marry. Prior to his death, Portia’s father stipulated in his last will and testament, for his wealth to transfer with the marriage of his daughter, the suitor must rightly choose the one metal box (casket) of three that contains his daughter’s picture. One casket is made of gold, the second of silver, and the third of lead. The character of the proper suitor will be revealed by his selection of the right casket.

The Prince of Morocco selects the gold casket believing only gold could be the right selection. As he unlocks the caskets, he is disheartened to find a picture of death not of Portia. Inside the eye of the portrait of death was a message that begins with a beautiful metaphor, “All that glisters is not gold.” The message of things that appear to be the most valuable or worthy on the surface, like gold, is often deceptive. An example of misleading appearances is found in 1 Samuel.

1 Samuel 16:7 JPS 1917

The Bible recalls the story of the selection of Israel’s second king. If you recall it was not God’s intention for Israel to be like the other nations. But God’s people cried to be like other nations and have a king. That selection was King Saul. Scripture recounts how Saul’s reign was not ideal. 1 Samuel 16 recalls how Israel’s second king would be selected.

1 And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? fill thy horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite; for I have provided Me a king among his sons.’ 2 And Samuel said: ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.’ And the LORD said: ‘Take a heifer with thee and say: I am come to sacrifice to the LORD. 3 And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will tell thee what thou shalt do; and thou shalt anoint unto Me him whom I name unto thee.’ 4 And Samuel did that which the LORD spoke and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said: ‘Comest thou peaceably?’ 5 And he said: ‘Peaceably; I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and called them to the sacrifice. 6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he beheld Eliab, and said: ‘Surely the LORD’S anointed is before Him.’

The authenticity of the Heart

7 But the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him; for it is not as man seeth: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.’

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said: ‘Neither hath the LORD chosen this.’ Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said: ‘Neither hath the LORD chosen this.’ 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse: ‘The LORD hath not chosen these.’ 11 And Samuel said unto Jesse: ‘Are here all thy children?’ And he said: ‘There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold, he keepeth the sheep.’ And Samuel said unto Jesse: ‘Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he come hither.’

Although the appearances of the young shepherd boy David went unnoticed by his natural father, David’s heavenly father peered into his heart and found good intentions.

12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of beautiful eyes, and goodly to look upon.

And the LORD said: ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is he.’ 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him amid his brethren, and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.

The Lesson of the Ark of the Covenant - Be Authentic.

Living a life of authenticity is not an easy task. Being a person of integrity requires determination. Individuals striving for authenticity and integrity are often misunderstood as naive and idealistic. We live in a world of mixed values that causes internal conflicts when we are faced with ethical dilemmas in the workplace, business decisions, and governmental politics. Unfortunately, the budgets, motions, and votes on the table of our religious board meetings are not exempt from ethical dilemmas and politics.

When I served as a trustee or president board I had to constantly remind myself, "I am in the House of God, a place of prayer and study - act accordingly. Let my actions and decisions reflect the principles of the Bible. Listen to my conscience." This is easier said than done when a heated topic is before the board.

Our external appearance, our words, our actions, and what people perceive of us should reflect our inner character and principles - our sense of integrity and authenticity. A person of integrity (inner and outer character) will reflect the Bible we have studied and the scriptures we have pondered.

The condition of our hearts will authentically represent the principles we live. Principles that are guided by the word of God. If we nourish the heart, our inner person, the external will take care of itself.

If you would like the watch the entire video on the "5 contents of the Ark of the Covenant" here is a link to my video on YouTube:

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