When God told Moses how to make the ark of the covenant he included this command.
You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.
Exodus 25:13-15 ESV
The poles were needed during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Eventually Solomon built a temple to house the ark and it appeared that it would no longer need to be carried from place to place, but in obedience to God’s command the poles were left in it.
The cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day.
2 Chronicles 5:8-9 ESV
It turned out that the still was a need for the poles. Josiah, the last good king of Judah, prepared to celebrate the first Passover after he had repaired and cleansed the temple.
Josiah kept a Passover to the LORD in Jerusalem. And they slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month. He appointed the priests to their offices and encouraged them in the service of the house of the LORD. And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to the LORD, “Put the holy ark in the house that Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built. You need not carry it on your shoulders. Now serve the LORD your God and his people Israel.”
2 Chronicles 35:1-3 ESV
Solomon had the ark placed in the temple with the intention of leaving it there permanently; later Josiah told the Levites they should put the ark in the temple and no longer had to carry it. The apparent contradiction between these two events can be resolved by looking at what happened between them.
The temple was often attacked by enemies, both internal and external. The first attack took place during the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.
So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. He took away the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything.
2 Chronicles 12:9 ESV
The last one took place during the reign of Josiah’s grandfather Manasseh.
And the carved image of the idol that he had made he set in the house of God, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever.
2 Chronicles 33:7 ESV
Whenever the ark was in danger the priests and Levites removed it from the temple and hid it some place where it would be safe.
There was one more attack on the temple after Josiah’s reign, the final attack by the Babylonians which ended with the destruction of the temple.
And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels.
2 Chronicles 36:18-19 ESV
Was the ark among the treasures removed or was it hidden by the priests? The ark is never mentioned again in the Old Testament. In 63 BC the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem and entered the temple’s most holy place and found it empty. It appears that the priests did succeed in hiding the ark but during the 70 years of captivity in Babylon the knowledge of where it was hidden was lost.
There is a reference to the ark being in Heaven.
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
Revelation 11:19 ESV
The tabernacle that Moses made was intended as a picture of the true tabernacle in Heaven.
When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV
The ark mentioned in Revelation is probably the original ark, of which the ark Moses made was a copy.
2 Maccabees 2:4-7 gives another possible explanation of what happened to the ark.
The same document also tells how the prophet, in virtue of an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should accompany him, and how he went to the very mountain that Moses climbed to behold God’s inheritance. When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a chamber in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he sealed the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it. When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: “The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy.”
This could be true, even though 2 Maccabees is part of the apocrypha and isn’t inspired scripture.
What good would be accomplished if we did find the ark? The purpose of the tabernacle and the sacrifices associated with it was to serve as a picture of what Christ would do when he died to atone for our sins. Now that the sacrifice has been made the picture is no longer needed. In fact, finding the ark could lead people into idolatry if they focused on the ark itself rather than in its meaning. That sort of thing has happened before.
The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Numbers 21:5-9 ESV
Later generations began worshiping the bronze serpent and Hezekiah had to destroy it.
He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).
2 Kings 18:4 ESV
If we found the ark of the covenant many would regard it as a object of veneration and would focus their attention it it rather than on God. I believe God has hidden it to keep this from happening.
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