Exodus 25 – How to Build the Ark of the Covenant

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Today’s PassageExodus 25

If anyone ever tells you that the Bible is outdated and has no application for modern life, just point them to Exodus 25 through 29. You’ll find these chapters immediately relevant whenever you have to build a furnished replica of the tabernacle and outfit the priests to offer sacrifices in it. All sarcasm aside, though, you may come away from these chapters wondering not only what they have to do with your life, but also what they even describe. They don’t have any helpful illustrations, and they’ve been translated for us English speakers from a several-thousand-years-old instance of a foreign language, so don’t be surprised if they’re less clear than Ikea instructions.

Chapter 25 covers the Ark of the Covenant, the table for the showbread, and the lampstand, so let’s dig in and see what significance we can wrest from these passages.

My gut instinct was to see if there’s any connection between the Ark of the Covenant and the Bible’s other most famous ark: Noah’s Ark. After looking at the Hebrew terms for each, though, I doubt they have much to do with each other. Noah’s Ark is a tebah (תֵּבָה), and the only time outside of Noah’s story that we see a tebah is in Exodus 2:1-9. The basket in which the infant Moses is ferried down the Nile? It’s a tebah made of reeds. Perhaps all arks of this sort are able to preserve their contents by virtue of being able to float. But perhaps not.

The Ark of the Covenant, however, is a different sort of ark, one which isn’t constructed to be a seagoing vessel. It’s an aron (אָרוֹן), and we might also translate it as “chest.” We’ve already seen another aron in Genesis 50:26: the coffin Joseph was buried in. The Ark of the Covenant is overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:11), transported via gold-overlaid wooden poles through golden rings (Ex. 25:12-14), and decorated with a golden mercy seat and statues of cherubim (Ex. 25:17-22). Joseph’s sarcophagus likely used copious gold in its construction too, in order to show respect for the man whose remains it contained. In the same way, the Ark of the Covenant’s construction shows reverence for the God that it’s dedicated to.

God gives all these instructions to Moses to relay to the people. But before he starts telling Moses how the Ark, the table, and the lampstand are to be built, he instructs Moses, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution” (25:2). God, being omniscient, already knows how much of the various materials the people will be moved to donate, and he gives the building instructions with those resources in mind.

And that, I think, is a worthy takeaway for this chapter. When God calls us to build things, to accomplish things, to do things, he doesn’t leave us in the lurch. If the task God calls us to requires materials, they’re either materials God has supplied already, or else God has already given us the means to get them. Immaterial resources? God can outfit us with those too, and if he hasn’t already, he’s glad  to do so if we simply ask him. When God wants all of you to build a tabernacle with all its elaborate furnishings, he’ll enable you to build a tabernacle with all its furnishings. And that goes for tabernacles of any sort.

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