THE ARK AND ITS CONTENTS
The general significance of the tabernacle and its ordinances, of which the ark was the kernel, was a negative one, as is declared: “The Holy Spirit this signifying that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while the first tabernacle was yet standing” (Heb. 9:8). Such an enunciation was necessary. God had taken the seed of Abraham according to the flesh to Himself as a nation; and it was natural for them to assume that He had taken them into complete communion. Any assumption to this effect was constantly barred by the tabernacle and its ordinances, whose effect was to hold the nation at a distance and make them feel that their union with God was far from perfect. A way of reconciliation, peace, and union was in purpose, but it was “not yet made manifest ”while the tabernacle was in use.
But the tabernacle was more than a proclamation of this fact. It was a prophecy of the way that should be manifest in due time, as is evident from its various apostolic descriptions as “a shadow of good things to come”, “the shadow of heavenly things”, “the form of knowledge and of the truth”, “the shadow of things to come”, “having their substance in Christ” (Heb. 10:1; 8:5; Rom. 2:20; Col. 2:17); and also from the statement of Christ that he had come to fulfil the law as “the way”, We know what is testified of Christ in simplicity and fulness and truth. We need not to grope for the light in the midst of shadows. Nevertheless, the shadow being the rude prophecy of the substance it is interesting to trace the correspondence between the one and the other—not for information but for edification. Knowing the exact shape of the body casting the shadow backward from the future light of eternal glory, we need not to study the shadow to ascertain the shape of the substance. We rather go back to the shadow with our knowledge of the substance to note the form of the outline which the substance has thrown. In doing this we must not limit the substance to the individual Christ. Though applicable to him in the first instance, it comprehends every accepted constituent of the multitudinous Christ. We must remember that the individual Christ is but the head of a body, and that the body and the head are one; and that the full purpose and manifestation of Christ is not realised till this whole community with head and body—Bridegroom and Bride—are in the immortal occupation of the earth to the glory of God the Father.
With this broad view, we can profitably consider the ark, which has been described literally already. Its first and most characteristic feature is its capacity as a container. It was constructed to receive the tables of the law, inscribed by the finger of God: and afterwards were placed in it, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a golden pot containing a sample of the manna with which God fed Israel in the wilderness for forty years. On the basis of which things concealed in the ark, rested the blood-sprinkled cover lid or mercy-seat, overshadowed by the cherubic figures bearing the glory of God.
Taking these items separately, we shall see the most perfect correspondence between shadow and substance. The Christ-body in the largest sense is a container and not a mere utensil of beauty. It is not a mere society of beautiful men and women ignorant of God and interested only in themselves. It is a society with internal contents to make it precious to God and advantageous to man.
First of all, the law of God, as represented by the tables of stone, is enshrined in every heart. It is this that distinguishes them from the ordinary run of human beings. The ordinary run of human beings is fitly described in the words of Paul: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness unto him” Also, “The carnal mind is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” What a dreadful picture. It is ugly and true. A man that is not subject to the law of God is an abortion even now: how much more if such a one were immortal. Such a one cannot become immortal. The ark with its tables of stone inside is a prophecy that excludes it. It is obedience to divine law that makes a man beautiful to man and well-pleasing to God, and fit for divine use in the age to come. The purpose is to give the earth into the hands of an order of men who have learnt obedience as the first law. Paul testifies that even Christ “learnt obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8), and Peter describes the accepted members of his body as “obedient children, not fashioning themselves according to the former lusts in their ignorance” The Psalms are full of the enunciation of this principle: indeed we may say it shines everywhere in the Scriptures: “The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment. The law of his God is in his heart: none of his steps shall slide” (Psa. 37:30). Christ affirmed of himself that it was his meat and his drink to do the will of Him that sent him.
How happy will the earth be when it is in the hands of men like Joseph who” fear God”, and whose controlling feeling towards all forbidden things is, “How shall I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” How different will such an order of men be from the arrogant and merciless possessors of power in the present evil world. When Joseph’s brethren rule the world, God, in them, will be seated on the anti-typical throne of His holiness, resting on the anti-typical table-furnished ark, consisting of His manifested sons, on whose hearts the law is written. This will be the blessedness promised from the beginning for “all families of the earth” The blessing of Moses, the man of God, pronounced upon Israel, will then be applicable to universal man: “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, who is the sword of thy excellency?” Then may it truly be proclaimed to the ends of the earth: “The Lord reigneth: let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubim: let the earth be moved. The Lord is great in Zion: and he is high above all the people … Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise… Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof: the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands, and the hills be joyful together before the Lord.”
“Aaron’s rod that budded” was the next object contained in the ark. This represented a similar but not an identical principle to the one symbolized by the tables of the law. It was similar in so far as it stood for the ascendancy of the will of God, but dissimilar as to the direction of its application. The tables of the law represented the will of God as the rule of life in everything. The budded rod stood for the principle of divine choice and appointment as the basis of acceptable service. We see this when we consider the history of the rod. It originated in the rebellion of Korah and his company against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1).
These were envious against Moses and Aaron, and accused them of taking too prominent a place and making themselves over-important in the congregation. Turning their thoughts on themselves, they argued that they were equally entitled to the authority of the priesthood, seeing they had equally been the subjects of deliverance from Egypt, and of sanctification by divine choice. “Ye take too much upon you”, said they to Moses and Aaron. Moses answered that Moses and Aaron were nothing in the case: that Korah and his company were setting themselves against the Lord’s appointment. But Korah and his company were inaccessible to reason, as envious men usually are, and the dispute had to be brought to a divine settlement—which was very effectual. Korah and his company were swallowed up in an earth fissure which opened under their feet, and closed upon them again. But this settlement, though effectual so far as they were concerned, did not stop the murmurs of their sympathizers in the congregation; who were numerous. These attributed the overthrow to the power of Moses: “Ye have slain the people of the Lord”. It was here that the rod came in: “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod according to the house of their fathers… twelve rods: write thou every man’s name upon his rod. And thou shalt write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi … And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you. And it shall come to pass that the man’s rod whom I shall choose shall blossom … And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod. And the Lord said unto Moses, Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not” (Num. 17).
Thus the budded rod (secreted in the ark of the testimony) stood for the principle of divine appointment as against the voice of the people in the matter of divine service. It was fitting that this principle should receive expression in the allegorical ark: for it not only lay at the bottom of the whole Mosaic institution as a system in literal use in Israel, but is at the root of the anti-typical Christ institution, and is, we might say, the natural basis of that institution and of all corporate arrangements among men capable of yielding them blessedness. As divine appointment preceded and caused physical creation, it is the natural precursor and foundation of heaven and earth, political, religious, and social. Divorced from this foundation, both government and religion must work confusion, as we see in the present unhappy state of the world. Let God give rulers, and He will give peace. This is His purpose, and He will work it out. The rod in the ark is the allegorical pledge of this.
There is something in the budding of the rod peculiarly appropriate to the anti-typical bearings of the case. The budding was the resuscitation of life in a dead rod by divine power as proof of a divine selection. Who can fail to see in this the foreshadowing of the kind of “assurance unto all men”, which Paul declared at Athens God had already given of His purpose in Christ in raising him from the dead, and which He will again give in the resurrection of His people? Christ was not only the chosen of God, to draw near to him as the antitypical Aaron, but he was proved to be such in being brought to life again after being put to death by the murmuring people. The budded rod deposited inside the ark of the covenant seems a prophecy of this. That an ark representing him should contain the foreshadowing of such a detail is beautiful.
The only other thing inside the ark was the pot containing a sample of the manna with which God fed Israel during their sojourn in the wilderness. The significance of this in its application to Christ becomes perfectly plain when we consider the facts of the type and the hints of interpretation that fell from his lips. The two main facts in the type were that the manna came from heaven, and that the children of Israel were so situated that if they had not received it, they must have perished. Almost of their own force, they speak of eternal life through Christ. This meaning becomes absolutely certain in the presence of Christ’s promise “to him that overcometh” of permission to “eat of the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17), and of his declaration during a conversation on the Mosaic manna that he is the living bread that came down from heaven, whereof if a man eat, he shall not die (John 6:51). This interpretation involves the doctrine that man is mortal, and will die apart from Christ; and also the truth that Christ is not of human origin, as the Josephite school alleges, but of Divine origin by the Holy Spirit in the way narrated in Luke 1:35.
That all these truths should have received representation in so simple a manner in the contents of a simple object like the ark of the testimony is something more than beautiful: it is sublime: it is divine.
The material of which the ark was formed carries on the harmony in other directions: wood covered with gold; two substances differing much from one another; the wood of a valuable sort, but still wood, and very inferior to the imperishable and beautiful metal with which it was clothed. We have not to look far to find the analogy to this combination. Paul said, “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared”, The ark was the symbol of this manifestation—represented by the glory between the cherubic figures resting on the mercy-seat, surmounting an interior occupied by the tables, the budded rod, and the pot of manna. The object of the whole manifestation was the salvation of man for the glory of God. The symbol combines the two features prominently—“glory to God in the highest” in the cherubim on top; “goodwill to man” in the law-holding cavity below, on which the whole rests. Obedient man is represented by this cavity—therefore wood covered with gold; an inferior clothed with a higher nature—first morally, then physically. Gold stands for both phases. We know how constantly it is used as a figure for tried faith: it also stands for the recompense of that faith in the golden city and the golden reed by which it was measured by the angel in John’s presence (Rev. 21:19). It was therefore a perfect symbol for the sons of God in both stages: the present, when the inferiority of the natural mind is covered over by the golden armour of a Spirit-provided faith, and the future, when the earthly house of this tabernacle is clothed upon with the golden house which is from heaven, in being changed by the Spirit from the mortal to the immortal.
The cover-lid or mercy seat was all of gold. This is an intimation that the Mediator (who is the anti-typical propitiatory or mercy-seat) should be without fault, and would exercise his function as intercessor in the immortal state. The over-arching cherubic glory-bearers were also all of gold and of one piece with the mercy-seat. This takes us forward to the kingdom when the perfect mediator will also be the perfect ruler of all the earth; for the cherubic figures relate to the day of power. Yet since the glory to be revealed springs out of the sufferings of Christ, therefore the cherubic figures stand upon and form part of the blood-sprinkled cover-lid or mercy-seat. The glory shining out between the outspread cherubic wings and resting on the mercy-seat represents the active participation of the Eternal Father, without whom the whole apparatus would be meaningless, and its whole prophecy impossible of fulfilment. The ark and its appurtenances were the allegorical form of God’s purposed manifestation among men for their salvation and the honour of His name; but without God Himself, it would have had no power or truth. The kernel lay there. Therefore, the apparatus was incomplete as a symbol until the glory of God had take possession. It is God we see at every stage. God in creation, God in the promises, God in the Egyptian deliverance: God in the prophets, and when Christ appeared—Emmanuel—God in a more direct and especial form—the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ—whose return and enthronement upon the earth will be the pitching of the tabernacle of God with men—One Eternal Father in glorious manifestation of kindness, wisdom, justice and power.
The crown (or ornamental border) all round the top of the ark, is an intimation of the royal character of the whole organization. It is a kingly institution that is contemplated in the finished work of God on the earth. Christ and his brethren, manifesting the glory of God, will be a community of kings and priests, exercising power, receiving honour, and conferring blessedness—on the basis of God exalted in sacrificial vindication, and honoured by a tried faith (gold) in previous times of evil (wood).
The rings on the four corners of the ark, to receive the gold-covered wood staves by which the ark might be carried, speak to us of the pilgrim stage of mortal life—during which the ark is carried from place to place as a matter of faith. The rings are gold, because they are part of the complete symbol of the perfect future carried by the poles. The poles are wood, covered with gold, because they represent mortal minds qualified by the knowledge and belief of the truth—a qualification that constitutes them priests, by whom only was the ark to be carried during its wanderings.
The staves were to be left in the rings and never withdrawn (Exod. 25:15), which was an intimation both that the hand of faith would never be taken by faithful men from the divine work as contained in the gospel (for the ark was the gospel in symbol), and that they were to be ready to follow that work in all its movements. The priests never knew where next the ark would have to be carried. The staves left in the rings were a hint to be ready at a moment’s notice for the next movement, wherever it might be. The meaning of the parable in our own times can only be that faithful men are expected to follow the fortunes of the truth wherever they may lead.
The only other object in the “Holiest of all” was the golden censer (Heb. 9:4), which Aaron used on the day of atonement in the manner prescribed as follows: “He shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil: and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not” (Lev. 16:12). Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two sons, diverged so far from these directions, as to get the “burning coals of fire” somewhere else than from the altar of burnt-offering: and they were struck dead on the spot—a sharp lesson of obedience that was not soon forgotten. The spiritual significance of the incense we ascertain from Rev. 8, where John records having seen an angel with a golden censer, who took the censer, and filled it with fire from the altar: “And there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” Prayer, then, is indicated by the presence of the golden censer in the Holiest of all. It is on this basis that mercy is dispensed: “the cloud of the incense” was to “cover the mercy-seat”—“that he (Aaron) die not”. For a prayerless man there is no mercy.
But the incense had to be of the sort prescribed: prayer in harmony with the truth alone is acceptable. Prayer bawled out presumptuously in the utterance of things that are not true, and in the making of requests that are inconsistent with the revealed purposes of God—(as illustrated in the popular devotions, whether in the gross and vulgar excitement of Salvation Army knee-drill, or the refined whisperings of an educated and paganized State or Nonconformist theology)—is not the sweet incense of the sanctuary, but the rank compound of heathenish art.
And the right incense had to be “beaten small”—not offered in lumps. Some people neglect God in daily habit, and seem to think they can make up for lost time by being specially religious at certain times. This must be as odious to God as intermittent friendship would be unsatisfactory to man. The will of God is that we “pray always” (Luke 18); “in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18), be exercised in His fear all the day long (Prov. 23:17).
The incense had to be vaporized by fire taken off the altar. The use of other fire brought death, as we have seen. There is a deep import in this. The altar is Christ (Heb. 13:10)—the fire, his sufferings. The prayer of a sinner offered in his own name, or in the name of Mahomet, or in neglect or slight of the Christ-name, is a prayer that will not be as the sweet-smelling incense, but as the pungent and offensive smoke in the nostrils, with which God compares certain people (Isa. 65:5).
The employment of incense to symbolize prayer is a proof that prayer is a source of pleasure to God—provided the conditions are right. That the prayer of the wicked should be abomination (Prov. 28:9) seems easy to understand; but that “the great and the terrible God who made heaven and earth” should find pleasure in the feeble recognitions of mortal man, however sincere, is a revelation which we require. It is a revelation which we have received, “The prayer of the upright is his delight” (Prov. 15:8). We could not have imagined it possible that so small a circumstance in the universe could have yielded satisfaction to the stupendous Being upholding all by the word of His power. Jesus took pains to put us on our guard against making too little of the small because of the largeness of the great. A sparrow falls not without Him. Ye are of more value than the sparrows; the hairs of your head are numbered. He that seeth in secret shall openly reward the man who prays in secret. Such are some of his sayings. It remains that the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much by reason of the pleasure it affords the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth.
The presence of the censer in the Holiest of all, as one of its permanent furnishings, is a proof that prayer is not confined to the present dark and evil state, but has a place in the immortal state. We assume in our first impressions of these subjects that “when that which is perfect is come” the necessity for prayer will have passed away. This idea is based on the erroneous supposition that prayer consists exclusively of request to be delivered from evil. The largest part of prayer is thanksgiving and praise; and it is manifest that there can never come a time when these will be out of place. Indeed, we may say that the true time for them does not arrive till we are clothed with that immortal strength that will enable us to indulge in them with true effectiveness, both as regards our own enjoyment of them and God’s pleasure in them. “Burdened”, is the apostolic and true description of our present state. “The spirit of heaviness”, is the prophetic counterpart of this description. When the change to the immortal comes, we are said to receive “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3). Praise, therefore, is the natural adjunct of the emancipated state, and always appears in this light in the apocalyptic exhibitions of the saints in glory, e.g., “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and honour and power (be ascribed) unto the Lord our God, for true and righteous are his judgments”. If the prayers of feeble mortals, whose words often die on their lips from very weakness, are a source of pleasure to Almighty God, it stands to reason that He must find great delight in the praises of a host of strong and glad and fully enlightened immortals. The presence of the golden censer in the Holiest of all tells us as much.
One other point remains to be noticed before leaving the Holiest of all. It is evident that as a whole, it stands for the perfect state in which “the tabernacle of God shall be with men”, the way unto which Paul says had not been made manifest while the first tabernacle was yet standing. This being so, it may strike the mind as an incongruous element in the case, that blood should have been sprinkled once a year upon the mercy-seat of pure gold. We easily assign a place for the incense of prayer in the perfect state, but what parallel can there be to the blood of sacrifice? In finding the answer, we must remember the qualified description of the Mosaic type as a shadow—“not the very image” of the things represented. There must be some corresponding feature in the perfect state to the sprinkling of the sacrificial blood on the day of atonement. But it cannot be that there is actual sacrifice, which would involve death, of which it is expressly testified there will be none—that is, among those symbolized by the typical ark-throne of Yahweh in the midst of Israel. There will be death and sacrifice among the subject populations during the thousand years preliminary reign of reconciliation; but it is not the subject populations that are the subject of representation by any of the elements of the Holiest of all. Where, then, is the counterpart? In the history of the matter undoubtedly—preserved in vivid memory never to be forgotten. The saints who constitute the antitypical Holiest of all, in the age to come, will have attained to their position through the shed blood of Christ. This is prominent in their song of glory as heard by John in vision: “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood… and hast made us unto our God kings and priests” (Rev. 5:9–10). The bloodstains on the pure gold coverlid of the ark find their antitype in the memory of the shed blood of Christ in the immortal hearts and minds of those who shall have attained to the golden state through “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” That this is no strained or unnatural interpretation will be apparent to all who can realize how essential an element in the joy of the perfect state—in regard to the Father, and Christ, and the Saints —must be the constant recollection and recognition of the means by which salvation has been accomplished. If the angels veil their faces in the presence of Eternal Glory, how much more an assembly of men and women, who, though their equals, have to remember with a sense of humiliation that they were originally sinners under condemnation, and that they owe it entirely to the appointment of God’s mercy in Christ that they stand there in the strength and honour and gladness of immortal life. If the object of the Father’s methods now is that no flesh may glory in the Father’s presence, we may be sure that that object will be attained to its fullest then, and that consequently thanksgiving only, in the memory of a humiliating past, will be the sentiment inspiring the bosoms of those who ascribe “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving to him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever.”