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Ark of the Covenant


2_Shiloh2_P_FIXED After conquering the land, the Israelites claimed the site of Shiloh as the religious center of the nation, and there they placed the tabernacle.  However, after Hophni and Phinehas lost the Ark of the Covenant in battle, the archaeological record indicates Shiloh was destroyed soon thereafter, possibly by Philistines following up their “victory” over Israel’s God by also destroying Shiloh.

The Ark in Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives.NOTE: This is the final post in a series on locations associated with the Ark of the Covenant. To see earlier posts, just enter "Ark of the Covenant" in the search bar. The Ark has had a long journey. After being built by Moses (and his people) while en route to the Promised Land, the Ark made a number of stops as the children of Israel worked to secure the land. Finally, the Ark was located at the house of Abinadab in Kiriath Jearim where it remained for a long time. Finally, David came to the throne and wanted the Ark moved to Jerusalem.

Along the way, David and his men were transporting the Ark by use of an ox cart. (This, by the way, was not according to God's instruction.) At one point, the Ark stumbled and Uzzah, one of the sons of Abinadab, touched the Ark to steady it. Because of this, God killed Uzzah instantly.

Once in Jerusalem, David put the Ark in the tabernacle.

So they brought the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. - 2 Samuel 6:17

Later, once Solomon built the temple, the Ark was moved from the tabernacle to the Most Holy Place in the temple.

And he prepared the inner sanctuary inside the temple, to set the ark of the covenant of the Lord there. - 1 Kings 6:19

So, what happened to the Ark? Where is it now? These are questions that are commonly asked, but difficult to answer. In 586BC, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and one theory is that they may have either destroyed or taken the Ark with them. Another theory states that Jeremiah, being warned by God of the oncoming Babylonian invasion, took the Ark and hid it in a cave near Mount Nebo. Even today, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claim to be in possession of the Ark. In 1981, Steven Spielberg make a feature length movie claiming that the Ark was found in the 1930s by Professor Henry Jones, Jr in the lost city of Tanis.

For hundreds of years, the Ark of the Covenant represented God's presence with His people. For people who obeyed God, the Ark brought safety, security and prosperity. For those that disobeyed God, it brought punishment.

The Ark at Kiriath-Jearim

The Arab village of Abu Ghosh, which sits on the ancient town of Kiriah-Jearim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.NOTE: This is the seventh in a series of posts about locations that are associated with the Ark of the Covenant. Previously, we have discussed: the Plains of Moab, the Jordan River, Jericho, Mount Ebal and Gerizim, Shiloh, the Land of the Philistines and the Sorek Valley. The citizens of Beth-Shemesh received the Ark from the Philistines as it made its way through the Sorek Valley. However, they made a mistake and looked into the Ark, for which they were punished by God.

Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people, and the people lamented because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter. - 1 Samuel 6:19

After this event, they sent to the people of Kiriath-Jearim to take the Ark.

And the men of Beth Shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall it go up from us?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up with you.” Then the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. - 1 Samuel 6:20-7:1

The Ark remained in the house of Abinadab for many years before David eventually took the Ark to Jerusalem.

The ancient city of Kiriath-Jearim is located about 15 kilometers (9 miles) west of the city of Jerusalem. The modern Arab village of Abu Ghosh sits on the location and can be seen just north of the main highway that runs between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is first mentioned in Scripture in Joshua 9:17 as one of the cities of the Hivites. It is also mentioned in Judges 18:12 as one of the encampments of the Danites as they made their way from their allotted territory to the northern location that they moved to.

Years later, as the Ark was leaving Kiriath-Jearim, we have the story of Uzzah being punished by death for touching the Ark.

The Ark in the Sorek Valley

Looking west down the Sorek Valley from the tel at Beth Shemesh.NOTE: This is seventh story in a series of posts following locations where the Ark of the Covenant visited. Other places we have visited include the Plains of Moab, the Jordan River, Jericho, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, Shiloh and the Land of the Philistines. For seven months, the Ark of the Covenant plagued the Philistines. Consequently, no one wanted the Ark and it was passed between the cities of Ashdod, Gath and Ekron. Finally, they decided that the only way to rid themselves of the tumors was to return the Ark to the Israelites.

And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it to its place.” So they said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but by all means return it to Him with a trespass offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why His hand is not removed from you.” - 1 Samuel 6:2-3

So, the Philistines loaded the Ark onto a cart pulled by two milk cows and sent it down through the Sorek Valley toward the Israelite city of Beth Shemesh. Along with it, they included a chest that had five golden tumors and some golden rats to represent the plague that had been wrought upon them. As the cows and cart neared Beth Shemesh, the people were in the valley working in the fields and saw it coming.

Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley; and they lifted their eyes and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. Then the cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and stood there; a large stone was there. So they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the chest that was with it, in which were the articles of gold, and put them on the large stone. Then the men of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices the same day to the Lord. - 1 Samuel 6:13-15

Possible path the Ark of the Covenant took as it travelled from Ekron through the Sorek Valley to Beth Shemesh.

This section of the Sorek Valley runs basically east to west through the Shephalah. It is also mentioned a couple of other times in the Bible.

  • It served as a portion of the boundary between the Tribe of Dan and the land of the Philistines.
  • Samson's first wife came from Timnah, which sat in the western end of the valley (Judges 14:1-3)
  • Another one of Samson's wives, Delilah, lived in the Sorek Valley. (Judges 16:4)

The Ark in the Land of the Philistines

The tel of Gath, located in Tel Tzafit National Park.In the last post in this series, we learned that the Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines in the battle with the Israelites at Ebenezer. Just as the Ark generally brought prosperity for the Israelites, the Philistines' experience was not nearly as positive. First, they took the Ark to the city of Ashdod and placed it in the house of Dagon. The next morning, when the Philistines went to the house, they found Dagon had fallen face first before the Ark. The following morning, the god Dagon had fallen before the Ark and broken into pieces. However, it was worse for the citizens of Ashdod. God struck them with tumors.

Having had their fill of the Ark in their city, they sent the Ark to Gath. Unfortunately, for the citizens of Gath, the results were similar.

Therefore they sent and gathered to themselves all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” And they answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried away to Gath.” So they carried the ark of the God of Israel away. So it was, after they had carried it away, that the hand of the Lord was against the city with a very great destruction; and He struck the men of the city, both small and great, and tumors broke out on them. - 1 Samuel 5:8-9

By this time, the citizens of Ekron had heard of what had happened in the other cities and were not excited about the Ark's arrival.

Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. So it was, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, “They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to us, to kill us and our people!” So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go back to its own place, so that it does not kill us and our people.” For there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. And the men who did not die were stricken with the tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven. - 1 Samuel 5:10-12

All of these cities were in the region of Israel that we often call the "Coastal Plain". It is a region about 10-15 miles wide between the Shephelah and the Mediterranean Sea.

The path the Ark of the Covenant took as it was passed through the land of the Philistines.

In the next post of this series, we will look at how the Ark was delivered back to the Israelites and where this took place.

The Ark at Shiloh

This picture of Tel-Shiloh in the Hill Country.  Photo taken by Ferrell Jenkins.NOTE: This post is the fifth in a series of posts about locations where the Ark of the Covenant visited. I have previously written about the Plains of Moab, the Jordan River, Jericho and Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. With the Israelites on the western side of the Jordan River, Joshua led them as them began to conquer the land. Joshua 9-21 details the battles that Joshua led, the cities that he conquered and the division of the land among the tribes. At the end of Joshua 19 we read,

These were the inheritances which Eleazar the priest, Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel divided as an inheritance by lot in Shiloh before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So they made an end of dividing the country. - Joshua 19:51

The Israelites had set up the tabernacle at Shiloh, and in it, the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Joshua used this location as the place where he divided the land for the Israelites.

Shiloh is located in the hill country about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. Today, Shiloh is identified with Tell Seilun and a lot of excavation work has been done there.

Shiloh is where Samuel grew up. When Samuel was born, Hannah, his mother, promised to give the child back to God. When Samuel was old enough, she took him to live with Eli, who lived in Shiloh.

Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there....Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli. - 1 Samuel 1:1-3, 24-25

The Ark remained at Shiloh for a few hundred years through most of the time period that we know as the "period of the judges". In 1 Samuel 4, the Ark was taken from Shiloh to a battle against the Philistines. This decision turned out to be a bad one. The Ark was captured by the Philistines. When the news of this reached Eli, who was an old man by this time, he fell off his chair in the gate of the city of Shiloh and died.

Then a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line the same day, and came to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. Now when he came, there was Eli, sitting on a seat by the wayside watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told it, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the noise of the outcry, he said, “What does the sound of this tumult mean?” And the man came quickly and told Eli. Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were so dim that he could not see. Then the man said to Eli, “I am he who came from the battle. And I fled today from the battle line.” And he said, “What happened, my son?” So the messenger answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has been a great slaughter among the people. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead; and the ark of God has been captured.” Then it happened, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years. - 1 Samuel 4:12-18

The Ark never returned to Shiloh again.

The Ark Between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim

Jacob's Well, which is located in the basement of an Eastern Orthodox monastery in Nablus.  Nablus is located in a narrow valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of posts on locations associated with the Ark of the Covenant. We have previously discussed the Plains of Moab, the Jordan River and the city of Jericho. After the defeat of Ai, Joshua gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law to them. He placed the Ark of the Covenant between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. The people then divided themselves on the two mountains and listened to Joshua.

Now Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as he who was born among them. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them. - Joshua 8:30-35

These two mountains, located about 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of Jerusalem, face each other with the modern city of Nablus on a very narrow piece of land between them. Nablus is approximately 550 meters (~1800 feet) above sea level and the mountains each rise over 300 meters (1000 feet) on either side. As the Israelites sat on these mountains to listen to Joshua, it would have been very easy for them to look across the valley at their fellow family members on the other side.

This same area is the same location as the Biblical city of Shechem. Jewish tradition holds that the original meaning of the word is "saddle", which gives indication of the what it looks like. In Genesis 12, Abraham offered a sacrifice to God in this area. Later, Jacob built a well nearby that is mentioned a number of times in the Bible. Shortly after the nation divided, 1 Kings 12:1 tells us that capital city of the northern nation was briefly set up at Shechem.

And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king. - 1 Kings 12:1

In the New Testament, we read of Jesus coming through this area and has a conversation with a Samaritan Woman by Jacob's Well.

He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. - John 4:5-6

Given the history that the Israelites had with this area, as well as the geographical features that allowed for a large group of people to be gathered, it is no wonder that Joshua chose this location to remind the people of the Law with God had given to them.

The Ark around the City of Jericho

Archaeological work at Tell es-Sultan, otherwise known as ancient Jericho.NOTE: This is the third post of a series in which we are discussing some of the locations where the Ark of the Covenant was present. We've discussed the Plains of Moab and the Jordan River. After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they set out to fulfill the commandment that God had given to them. They needed to drive out and destroy all of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. In doing so, God would be with them and deliver the land to them. The Israelites put their sights on Jericho.

The city of Jericho (also known as "The City of Palms") is mentioned several times in Scriptures. Among them are:

  • Elijah and Elisha went through the city - 2 Kings 2:1-6
  • Jesus healed the blind man Bartimaeus in the city - Mark 10:46-52
  • Zacchaeus lived in the city - Luke 19:1-10

Jericho is located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of the Jordan River at an elevation of about 260 meters (850 feet) below sea level. Because of the warm tropical conditions, King Herod built a large palace in Jericho. The city is only about 15 miles from Jerusalem, but it is over 3000 feet lower in elevation. And due to the geography, Jericho only receives about one-fourth of the annual rainfall as Jerusalem.

At the time of the conquest, Jericho was a fortified city surrounded by a casemate wall. The harlot Rahab had a house on this wall.

Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall. - Joshua 2:15

For six days, the Israelites carried the Ark of the Covenant from Gilgal (where they were encamped) and walked around the city of Jericho. On the seventh day, the Ark of the Covenant led them around the city of Jericho seven times. After which, they blew their trumpets and the walls of the city were breached. It was a glorious victory for God and His people.

The Ark in the Jordan River

The Jordan River, just north of the where the river flows into the Dead Sea.This is the second in a series of posts featuring some of the locations where the Ark of the Covenant resided. The first post of the series featured the Plains of Moab. Now, we'll move on to the Jordan River. Granted, the Ark really didn't reside in the Jordan River, but merely paused there as a demonstration of God's power. As the Israelites approached the Promised Land, there was one remaining geographical stumbling-block in their way, the Jordan River. The Jordan River is a 250 kilometer (about 150 miles) river that flows from north to south along a fault line in eastern Asia. Today, a majority of it serves as the boundary between Israel & the West Bank to the west and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the east.

The Jordan River as it flows underneath the old Allenby Bridge. This picture was taken around 1920.A visit to the Jordan River today in the area where the Israelites crossed could leave the visitor with some confusion about why a miracle was needed to get the people across. As you can tell from the picture at the top of this post, the Jordan River is not much to look at and would not have been a major impediment to the Israelites as they crossed into Canaan. (I have discussed the low level of the water in other posts.) However, this is not what the river looked like at that time. Of course, we don't have photographs from that time, but we can make some estimates. Even as little as 100 years ago, the width of the Jordan River was much wider than it is today. Consider the other two pictures associated with this post. The first picture shows the Jordan River as it flows under the old Allenby Bridge. This picture was taken around 1920 and as you can tell, the river is much wider. The second picture is much more striking. This picture, taken in 1935, shows how the river could easily flood the region during the rainy periods. (NOTE: Both of these pictures are from Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.)

Now, let us look back at our story. In Joshua, we read:

So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan. - Joshua 3:14-17

The Jordan River, in 1935, as it overflowed its banks. The Allenby Bridge can be seen in the upper-right portion of the photographAs the Israelites approached the Jordan River, it had overflowed its banks. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant and as they put their feet into the waters of the Jordan River, it dried up. The waters piled up at Adam, and the Israelites were able to cross on dry land. After all of the Israelites had crossed, the priests walked out of the riverbed and the Ark of the Covenant entered the Promised Land for the first time. We will pick up the story here in our next post.