Searching for The Lost Ark
Has the Ark of the Covenant been discovered?
The Ark of the Covenant was the central furnishing in the Tabernacle and also later in the Temple of Solomon. It was a chest made of acacia wood covered by gold, 3 ¾ feet in length and 2 ¼ feet wide and high. Within were the two tablets of the Law. It was from above this Ark, between the cherubim attached to the mercy seat resting upon the Ark, that Jehovah communed with Israel (cf. Ex. 25:22).
In recent years reports have surfaced that an American group has discovered the Ark of the Covenant in Jordan. Although no pictures of the Ark have been released and no qualified archaeologists have confirmed the discovery, the rumor has spread quickly and caused many to wonder and ask questions. The attitude of any sensible person ought to be that until solid evidence of the Ark’s discovery is revealed and confirmed by competent authorities, a skeptical opinion must be held. The reason for this is evident when some basic historical and biblical facts about the Ark are understood.
The Bible simply does not reveal what happened to the Ark when the Solomonic Temple was destroyed In 587 B.C. Although it may have been carried off to Babylon as a trophy of war, there is no mention of its being among the confiscated Temple items in 2 Kings 25. The explanation offered in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is that it was carried off by Pharaoh Shishak when he plundered the “treasures” of the Temple in 925 B.C. (1 Ki. 14:25-26). It is not clear, however, that the Ark was among those “treasures.”
A Jewish tradition later appeared that the Ark had been buried under the “Chamber of Wood” in the Temple prior to the Babylonian destruction. However, the rabbi that mentioned this tradition was opposed by other rabbis in the Talmudic discussion on this subject in Yoma 53b. The fact that this discussion took place in approximately 160 A.D.and that such an act of burying was not recorded either in the Bible or in previous apocryphal books makes this tradition highly unlikely. This does not prevent, however, some orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem today from believing that the Ark is underneath the Temple Mount and will be recovered someday by archaeologists. This possibility may exist, but only time will tell.
An apocryphal book written during the century prior to Jesus’ birth records an interesting idea about the fate of the Ark. Second Maccabees 2:4-7 reads: “It was also in the writing that the prophet [Jeremiah], in obedience to a revelation, gave orders that the tent and the ark should accompany him, and that he went up and beheld God’s inheritance. And Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he took the tent and the ark and the incense altar into it, and he blocked up the door. And some of those who followed him came up to mark the road, and they could not find it. But when Jeremiah found it out, he blamed them and said, ‘The place shall be unknown until God gathers the congregation of his people together and shows his mercy.’” It is this reference that the modern ark-hunters have utilized in claiming their discovery of the Ark on Mount Nebo in Jordan. The following should be kept in mind, however, concerning this passage. While scholars acknowledge that 1 Maccabees is a very reliable source of historical information, 2 Maccabees is marred by many legendary and miraculous tales recorded nowhere else. For example, it is in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46 where the offering of prayers and sacrifices for the dead is mentioned, a practice which is nowhere mentioned in the canonical Scriptures. It is highly questionable, therefore, that Jeremiah did what the above account declares he did. Again we must ask, “Why did not Scripture record this very important deed if it really happened?”
Modern ark-hunters often defend their efforts by saying that the discovery of the Ark is necessary for the rebuilding of the Temple. They forget, however, an important established fact of history. It was not necessary for the Ark to be present in either Zerubbabel’s Temple or in the later, greatly enlarged Temple of Herod. Josephus records that when Pompey entered the Temple in 63 B.C., he did not find the Ark there (Antiquities XIV, IV, 4). Furthermore, it was acknowledged by later rabbis that after the Ark had been taken away by the Babylonians, the only thing that remained in the Holy of Holies was a “foundation stone.” On this stone the high priest sprinkled the blood on the Day of Atonement that he formerly sprinkled on the Ark during the days of the first Temple (Mishna Yoma 5:2-3).
Although discovery of the Ark would be an astounding event, its discovery is not necessary for the rebuilding of the Temple indicated in Daniel 9:26-27; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4; and Revelation 11:1-2.
An amazing prophetic statement by Jeremiah, who witnessed the Temple’s destruction, should not be overlooked in this regard: “And it shall come to pass, when ye are multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord; neither shall it come to mind, neither shall they remember it, neither shall they miss it, neither shall that be done any more (Jer. 3:16). In the context Jeremiah is speaking of the future millennial restoration of Israel. He clearly states the lack of necessity for an Ark during this time of future blessing. Moreover, it is significant to note that Ezekiel 40-44 describes the millennial Temple and makes no mention of the Ark, although many other details of its gates, chambers, furniture, and ritual are given.
All of the above information should cause each of us to be very careful in evaluating any stories about the supposed discovery of the Ark of the Covenant. Scripture is a veritable storehouse of information on God, the world, Israel, salvation, the future, and hundreds of other important doctrines and subjects. Let us labor to study what God has clearly revealed, and not get caught up with extra-biblical ideas and teachings. We have enough in God’s Word to keep us busy – let’s not get sidetracked!