What is the Ark of the Covenant?

by Matt Slick

The Ark of the Covenant was the most important item in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and later in the Temple in Israel.  It contained the two tablets of the Law (the 10 Commandments) that were given to Moses (Exodus 25:16; 31:18), manna which was the food provided by God to the Israelites during their wandering in the desert (Exodus 16:33), and Aaron's rod that budded (Number 17:10).  The lid on top of the Ark of the Covenant is called the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25:17).  Once a year the high priest made atonement for the people of Israel by entering into the Holy of Holies and sprinkling blood from sacrificed bulls and goats (Leviticus 16:2-16) upon the Mercy Seat.  This was to atone for the sins of the nation of Israel.

The Ark was constructed of "acacia wood two and a half cubits1 long, one and a half cubits wide, one and a half cubits high," (Exodus 25:10), and overlaid with gold (v. 11).  In modern measurements, the Ark would have been about 45" x 27", or 114 cm x 69 cm. 

It was also referred to as...

  • The Ark, (Exodus 37:1)
  • Ark of the Testimony, (Exodus 30:6, 26; Numbers 4:5)
  • Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, (Numbers 10:33; 1 Chronicles 28:18)
  • Ark of the Covenant of God, (2 Samuel 15:24)
  • Ark of God, (2 Chronicles 1:4; 1 Samuel 3:3)
  • Ark of the Lord God, (1 Kings 2:26; 1 Chronicles 15:12) 
  • Ark of the God of Israel, (1 Samuel 5:7-8)
  • Ark of the Lord, (Joshua 3:13; 6:11)
  • Ark of Your might, (2 Chronicles 6:41)
  • Ark of Your strength, (Psalm 132:8)

No one knows what happened to the Ark of the Covenant.  Some think that it was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC; others think it might have been removed and has been secretly stored in Ethiopia.   Others have speculated that it was hidden somewhere in the Jerusalem area, but we don't know for sure.

"The ark played an important role in the crossing of the Jordan (Jos 3:13–17; 4:9–10), the conquest of Jericho (Jos 6:6–11), and the life of the Israelites in their new land (Jos 8:33; Jgs 20:27)."2


Ark of the Covenant

  • 1. a cubit was about 18 inches, or 46 centimeters
  • 2. Elwell, Walter A., and Philip Wesley Comfort. Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale Reference Library. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.