The Ark of the Covenant is a biblical artifact described in the Old Testament as a gold-covered wooden chest with two cherubim on top, which contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. It was considered to be the most sacred object of the Israelite religion and was said to have been constructed under Moses’ direction according to God’s instructions.
The Ark was kept in the innermost sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, known as the Holy of Holies, and was believed to be the dwelling place of God on earth. According to the Bible, the Ark had various miraculous powers, including the ability to bring plagues and destruction to enemies of Israel, and to confer blessings and protection on the Israelites.
The Ark disappeared from history around the time of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, and its whereabouts are unknown. Its mysterious disappearance has led to many theories and speculations about its fate, but no concrete evidence has been found to confirm any of them.
What was kept inside of it?
According to the biblical account, the Ark of the Covenant contained the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, as well as other sacred objects. These objects included Aaron’s rod, which had budded as a sign of God’s choice of Aaron as high priest, and a golden pot of manna, which was the miraculous food that God provided for the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness.
The book of Exodus describes in detail how the Ark was to be constructed, including its dimensions, materials, and decorations, and how it was to be carried and cared for. The Ark was to be made of acacia wood and covered with gold, with a gold lid known as the “mercy seat” on top, which was decorated with two golden cherubim facing each other.
The contents of the Ark were considered so sacred that only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to approach it, and even he could only do so once a year on the Day of Atonement, after undergoing a rigorous purification ritual.
How was it used by the High Priest once a year?
According to the biblical account, the High Priest of Israel was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem, once a year on the Day of Atonement, which was the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The High Priest would perform a complex and elaborate ritual that involved the use of the Ark of the Covenant.
First, the High Priest would bathe and put on special garments, including a linen tunic, a robe, and a breastplate containing precious stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. He would then take a censer filled with burning coals from the altar and two handfuls of incense, and enter the Holy of Holies, where the Ark was kept.
Once inside the Holy of Holies, the High Priest would sprinkle blood from a sacrificial animal on the mercy seat of the Ark, to symbolize the atonement of the Israelites’ sins. This was a solemn and sacred moment, as it was believed that the presence of God dwelled in the Holy of Holies.
After performing the ritual with the blood, the High Priest would exit the Holy of Holies and perform other ceremonies outside the Temple, including the release of a scapegoat into the wilderness as a symbol of the removal of the Israelites’ sins.
The use of the Ark of the Covenant in this annual ritual was considered to be the most sacred and important function of the High Priest, and the entire ceremony was a powerful symbol of the Israelites’ relationship with God and their need for forgiveness and atonement.