If you've read the First Testament of the Bible, or watched Indiana Jones movies, you've probably heard of the Ark of the Covenant.
It's a wooden box, covered in gold, which God told the Israelites to construct during their time in wandering in the desert.
In short (very, very short), this box would represent the very presence of God. Especially the top of the Ark, frequently called the "mercy seat".
Recently, I was giving some thought to this sacred box, this Ark of the Covenant.
Hebrews 9:4 teaches us that there were three things that were placed inside this box:
- The stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
- A golden jar full of manna (the bread God gave the Israelites to eat in the wilderness)
- The budded staff of Aaron (when there was some rebellion and God wanted to show which leaders were appointed by God)
I started to wonder why these three things were placed in that Ark. What was it the Israelites wanted to remember and celebrate above anything else about God? And clearly, God approved. Nobody would be able to put anything into that Ark without God's approval. God took the representation of his presence very, very seriously.
Here's what I believe God, and the community of people who worshipped God, were recognizing about God with these items:
First the Ten Commandments - also known as the Decalogue. I believe this is recognizing and being grateful for God's guidance. God didn't leave his people to guess how to give honor to God. In a book called The Next Generation Leader, author Andy Stanley says that people will forgive a leader for making mistakes, but they will not forgive a leader that fails to communicate their expectations.
God is not a bad leader. He also does not make mistakes. God tells us what he asks of us very clearly so that we don't need to guess and wonder whether we're doing what pleases him. Thank God Christianity is not some sort of guessing game where we have to finish our lives wondering whether we we just completely off the mark.
Next, we see a jar of manna - the bread which fell from heaven when Israel was wandering through the desert of wilderness. This seems obvious to me that the community of God wanted to celebrate the provision of God. Without that manna, the people would have died. Even in the midst of God's punishment, they received what they needed. They wanted to celebrate and remember that as long as they were under God's care, they would have enough.
Finally, we see a budded staff which belonged to Aaron.The staff budded because there was a rebellion brewing against the leaders God has appointed. God put down this rebellion as an act of protection. God knew these other usurpers would lead the people away from his will, from the blessing he had for his people, and God would not sit idly by and watch.
So these three things: guidance, provision and protection are the three aspects of God's interaction with his community which it pleased both God and the community to remember and celebrate.
And remember, as all of these things were in the Ark, they were all both literally and symbolically present under God's presence.
It is in the presence of God where we find the guidance, provision and protection which we all desperately want in life to experience peace.
I believe that if we leave God's presence behind, we also leave behind these gifts which he gives to those who wish to be part of his community.
So Israel, at God's command, carried this Ark with them everywhere they went. As a clear reminder of these truths.
We are all invited to carry around the Ark as well, but with one big difference: it's no longer a box we need to lug around. Instead, it's within us. As the actual Ark of the Covenant resided in a temporary temple, Paul writes that now, our bodies are now temples, hosting the very presence of God in a similar, yet far more intimate manner, as what Israel saw in the days of the wilderness.
When I'm going through difficult challenges, I remind myself of the times God has given me guidance, provision and protection. That doesn't mean it's always easy. Sometimes it's very, very difficult. But I know that the God who gave these gifts to the people of Israel continues to provide these things for the people who seek his presence today.
May we all remember the gifts God gives and never forget to bring our Ark with us wherever we go.