THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
The Ark of the Covenant was as important to Israel, as the Cross is to Christians. Faith is more at ease with some visible “Presence” of God who cares. The Ark and the Cross are such reminders. Moses left Israel the Ark and Jesus left his followers the Cross. God, who did not want to be compared to any idol or to any symbol made by man, commanded Moses to built Him a chest to represent “His Presence” among the Israelites. The question is, “Why was there a need for an Ark to remind the people of God?” The Israelites were not ready to live on faith, without some visible object to lead them. The Ark of the Covenant filled that need, and so did the burned offerings and the sacrifices, that lent support to their faith in an “invisible” God. For God to move in front of the people, He had to be represented in a “visible” object. Every time the Israelites moved, “the Ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them” (Num. 10:33). Moses had the difficult task to wean the people off their idols and of their needless and senseless sacrifices. In Egypt, Pharaoh had become God; therefore, Pharaoh also became the recipient of the offerings, as well as the sacrifices. To deliver Israel from Pharaoh, God turned Moses into a greater god than Pharaoh, and Aaron became Moses’ prophet. “He (Aaron) shall speak for you to the people; and he shall be a mouth for you, and you shall be to him a God” (Ex. 4:16). And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet (spokesman). You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of the land” (Ex. 7:1-2). Pharaoh lost the contest against Moses and Israel was literally forced to leave Egypt. The Egyptians helped the Israelites pack and let them take whatever they wanted. The Israelites ended up plundering the Egyptians (Ex. 12:31-36).
God had empowered Moses to act as if he were God in delivering Israel from the Egyptian army by parting the sea, and supplying them with food and with water in the wilderness. When Moses was with God on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, the people panicked. “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the rings of gold, which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they (the makers) said, ‘This are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ And they rose up early on the morning, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (Ex. 32:1-6). What was so utterly tragic was that Aaron, the moral and spiritual leader, was so easily swayed to please the people, who preferred an idol to Moses and to God. Aaron, himself, took the initiative and even instituted the offering and sacrifice to an idol without being punished. Aaron had a brother called, “Moses.” Moses was on good terms with the Lord, the God of their Fathers. Christians, too, have the “One” called, “Jesus.” Jesus is in good standing with the Father in heaven. Jesus, too, intercedes in our behalf, and we avoid being punished. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8:1). “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time” (I Tim. 2:5-6). The proper time for everyone is when they come to Christ, their guilt has been absolved. We, too, can come “… to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more generously than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:24). What Moses became for Israel, Jesus, the Christ, has become for all men and women.
The question is, “Just how powerful is the support of the mediator for the transgressor?” God knew that the people were transgressing; yet, God allowed Moses to defend them and to give them a second chance. Again, God knew that the second chance would not alter the behavior of this stiff-necked people. Yet, God remained faithful to the promise He had made to Abraham. To me, Exodus 32:7-14 is one of the most important texts in the Bible. The text provides us with the historical evidence as to how merciful and how forgiving God, our heavenly Father is. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord. Why does thy wrath burn hot against thy people, whom thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.’ And the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do to his people.”
The idea that God does repent or change His mind is more or less a human perception. It was not Moses who argued God into repentance. It was God’s own covenant with Noah, and then with Abraham that kept the Lord from annihilating all of Israel. The Lord’s pledge to Noah was, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:21-22). And Moses did use the promise to Abraham in his argument from Genesis 22:15-18, but Moses failed to enlighten the reader from what God repented off. Moses exactly knew what he had to do because God had ceased to do the punishing after Noah. Man, himself, was entrusted with the responsibility to deal with evil and with his disobedience. Man replaced the fear of the Lord by God’s decree. And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hands they are delivered. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of a man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in His own image” (Gen. 9:1-7). This responsibility was placed on man for the duration of the world. This responsibility was never lifted. God said to Noah, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you” (Gen. 9:8-9).
Moses, without referring to the second part in the covenant with Noah, took charge of his responsibility. Moses dealt with the violators and with the transgressors of the First Commandment or the sin against God; namely, the Spirit. The sin against God or the sin against the Spirit is unforgivable. Later, in the history of Israel, Jesus reaffirmed the concept, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt. 12:31-32). The golden calf was a direct insult to God. The whole generation was not allowed to enter God’s earthly kingdom, Canaan. Only Caleb and Joshua were allowed to enter Canaan. Of course, the ten spies with the bad report were blamed for the delay to enter Canaan. Unfortunately, the real reason was the peoples’ blaspheming the Spirit of God by honoring the idol, which they made and worshiped. Moses broke the tables that contained the Law of God. Moses had the instigators of the golden calf killed. Then, Moses had to wait forty years for all the other people to die, outside the land of Promise. Aaron, the guardian of the Ark of the Covenant, and Moses, the friend of God, were not allowed to enter Canaan. The generation, that did not take part in the rebellion against Moses and against God, was introduced into a new way to communicate with God through the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant represented the “Shekinah” or the “Presence” of God in their midst. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, the staff of God or the staff of Moses (Ex. 4, 7), and Aaron’s budding rod (Num. 17:5). These three things became powerful symbols of God’s “Presence” or the “Shekinah” for the Israelites and for her neighbors.
The mission the Lord had for Moses was to transfer the “Shekinah” or “Presence” of God into a visible and a concrete objects, like a portable tabernacle (sanctuary), an Ark or a special chest, a table with handles for the Ark, an altar for burned offerings and for the sacrifices, a lamp stand, and a courtyard for the people, who were not allowed into the “Presence” of God. The Ark hid the items, that represented the power of God. The Ark allowed God to travel in front of the people. The Priests (only Levites) were to be adorned in special garments and with special ornaments. The Priests had to be anointed with oil and to observe certain rituals, like abstaining from their mates, to be eligible to serve (Ex. 25-31). It was during the time, that God instructed Moses how to make the transition from being “invisible” as the God of their fathers, to “One” that was to be “visible” in objects, that the people decided what their God was going to look like; namely, the image of a golden calf. Moses had to dispose of the golden calf by grinding it into powder. Moses put the powder of the golden calf into their drinking water. Also, Moses executed the instigators; and Moses persuade God to let the people live (Ex. 32). Then, Moses went back to the Lord on Mount Sinai. On Mount Sinai, Moses again received the same instructions, as to how make God real to the people (Ex. 33-40). It was also during Moses’ second “Presence” with the Lord, that God made a promise to Moses. That promise was also personal and that promise had lasting implications in the life of Israel’s history.
Immediately, Moses bowed to the ground, worshiped and pleaded with God, “If now I have found favor in they sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray thee, go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance.” And the Lord made this promise, “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord; for it is a terrible thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither you go, lest it become snare in the midst of you.You shall tear down their altars, and break their pillars, and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord whose name is jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they play the harlot after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and one invites you, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters play the harlot after their gods and make you’re your sons play the harlot after their gods” (Ex. 34:8-16). This promise was intended to avoid what happened to Noah’s generation (Gen. 6-9). The Ark saved Noah and so could the Ark of the Covenant save Israel. Christians, too, have a “visible” reminder of Christ’s redemptive work. This “visible” reminder is the “Cross” that stands between man and God. First Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”