What we know about the Ark of the Covenant is that is was also known as the Ark of the Testimony, its a gold-covered wooden chest with a lid cover described in the Book of Exodus as containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. According to various texts within the Hebrew Bible, it also contained Aaron's rod and a pot of manna. (Hebrews 9:1–5)
Aaron's rod refers to any of the staves carried by Moses's brother, Aaron, in the Torah. The Bible tells how, along with Moses's rod, Aaron's rod was endowed with miraculous power during the Plagues of Egypt that preceded the Exodus. There are two occasions where the Bible tells of the rod's power.
Moses's rod is cited in Exodus 4:2 and later in Exodus 4:20, it becomes his symbol of authority over the Israelites (Psalm 2:9, Psalm 89:32, Isaiah 10:24 and 11:4, Ezekiel 20:37). The rods of both Moses and Aaron were endowed with miraculous power during the Plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7:17, 8:5, 8:16-17, 9:23, and 10:13); God commanded Moses to raise his rod over the Red Sea when it was to be parted (Exodus 14:16) and in prayer over Israel in battle (Exodus 17:9); Moses brings forth water from a stone using his rod (Exodus 17, Numbers 20:11).
Aaron's rod is cited twice as exhibiting miraculous power on its own, when not physically in the hands of its owner.
The Pot of Manna, which was also in the Ark, was an edible substance which God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert during the forty-year period following the Exodus and prior to the conquest of Canaan.
One year after the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, the Ark was created according to the pattern given to Moses by God when the Israelites were encamped at the foot of biblical Mount Sinai. Thereafter, the gold-plated acacia chest was carried by its staves while en route by the Levites approximately 2,000 cubits (approximately 800 meters or 2,600 feet) in advance of the people when on the march or before the Israelite army referred to as the host of fighting men.
When carried, the Ark was always hidden under a large veil made of skins and blue cloth, always carefully concealed, even from the eyes of the priests
and the Levites who carried it. God was said to have spoken with Moses "from between the two cherubim" on the Ark's cover.
Beside the classic Ark of the Covenant made of the wood and gold plating described in Exodus, there is a second and less known ark described only in Deuteronomy 10:3-5.
3 And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand.
4 And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the Lord spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the Lord gave them unto me.
5 And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the Lord commanded me.
This modest ark is made of shittim wood, in the Bible, wood of the shittah tree is also referred to as an acacia, from which the Ark of the Covenant and furniture of the Tabernacle were made. Researchers do not know whether both arks belong to the same tradition, an older and a more recent, or belong to two different traditions
The Book of Exodus gives detailed instructions on how the Ark was to be constructed. It is 2½ cubits in length, 1½ in breadth, and 1½ in height (approximately 131×79×79 cm or 52×31×31 in). Then it was to be gilded entirely with gold, and a crown or molding of gold was to be put around it. Four rings of gold were to be attached to its four corners, two on each side—and through these rings staves of shittim-wood overlaid with gold for carrying the Ark are to be inserted; and these were not to be removed. Exodus 25:10–22
It is often forgotten that Moses received different parts of the law from God at Sinai on three main separate occasions all described in the Book of Exodus and he gave a general summing up of those events in the Book of Deuteronomy.
The first event in the third month after having left Egypt, God for the only time “spoke” to all the people giving at that time the ten commandments and a series of civil laws. (Exodus 20-24)
God then called upon Moses to:
” Come up to ME into the mount and be there and I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written, that thou mayest teach them.” – Exodus 24:12.
And so Moses goes up to the mountain for his first 40 day visit where he is given a set of stones made by God together with comprehensive instructions regarding the sanctuary. As part of those instructions God is very explicit. Moses is to make an ark of acasia wood which shall be overlain with pure gold which was to be topped by two cherubim also of gold. Most importantly for our story:-
” And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony WHICH I SHALL GIVE THEE” – Exodus 25:16
We shall see that this sentence is crucial, because these first stones are the ONLY ones that God gave to Moses.
The rest of that event is well known. Moses came down from the mountain and broke the stones “Which God had given him” Ex. 25:16
A meeting took place at “The Tent of Meeting” where Moses pleaded For or a second chance which was then granted.
The event to follow was NOT the same as the first visit to the mountain. This time God was not going to give Moses a new set of tablets. Instead the Lord said to Moses:
“Hew thee two tablets of stone like unto first; and I will write upon the tablets the words that were on the first tables, which thou didst break.” – Exodus 34:1
This set of stones cannot be the ones God referred to when he orders Moses to put them in the Ark of Gold. In fact God goes even further, He orders Moses to bring another ark with him, one of simple wood.
“Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto ME into the mount; and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which thou didst break and thou shalt put them in the ark…….And I turned and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as the LORD commanded me.” – Deuteronomy 10: 1-5.
But this was written 40 years after the Exodus and we know that some stones were placed in the Golden Ark “on the first day of the first month” of the second year after the Exodus - Exodus 40:1.
“And he took and put the testimony into the ark” – Exodus 40:20.
There were two arks, two sets of stones and in accordance with God’s orders, the broken stones which God gave were placed in the Golden ark and the stones which Moses cut were placed in the wooden ark.
“There were two arks, one which abode in the encampment, and one which went forth with them to war, and in it were the broken tables,’ as is said, ‘And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went.’ But the one with them in the encampment contained the roll of the Law.” – The Talmud, The Tabernacle – Chapter VII
Where is the Ark Now?
There are many legends and the fact is that its true location is unknown. That being said, here are the most accounts about its location today.
1. 2 Maccabees 2:4-10, written around 100 BC, says that the prophet Jeremiah, "being warned by God" before the Babylonian invasion, took the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Altar of Incense, and buried them in a cave on Mount Nebo, informing those of his followers who wished to find the place that it should remain unknown "until the time that God should gather His people again together, and receive them unto mercy."
4. It was also contained in the same writing, that the prophet, being warned of God, commanded the tabernacle and the ark to go with him, as he went forth into the mountain, where Moses climbed up, and saw the heritage of God.
5. And when Jeremy came thither, he found an hollow cave, wherein he laid the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door.
6. And some of those that followed him came to mark the way, but they could not find it.
7. Which when Jeremy perceived, he blamed them, saying, As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time that God gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy.
8. Then shall the Lord shew them these things, and the glory of the Lord shall appear, and the cloud also, as it was shewed under Moses, and as when Solomon desired that the place might be honourably sanctified.
9. It was also declared, that he being wise offered the sacrifice of dedication, and of the finishing of the temple.
10. And as when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the sacrifices: even so prayed Solomon also, and the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offerings.
Mount Nebo is the place where Jeremiah refers to as the heritage of God Moses climbed to see, described in Deuteronomy 34 as the site from which Moses views the Promised Land, and is his final burial place. Mount Nebo is approximately 47 km (29 miles) slightly south of due east from Jerusalem, near the east bank of the Jordan River.
2. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant, also known as the Axum Tabot. The object is currently kept under guard in a treasury near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, which is located in the town of Axum in the Tigray Province. The original church was built during the reign of Ezana the first Christian ruler of the Kingdom of Axum (Present-day Eritrea and Ethiopia), during the 4th century AD, and has been rebuilt several times since then.
Replicas of the Axum Tabot are kept in every Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church, each with its own dedication to a particular saint.
Much of Jewish tradition holds that it disappeared before or while the Babylonians sacked the temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
But through the centuries, Ethiopian Christians have claimed that the ark rests in a chapel in the small town of Aksum, in their country's northern highlands. It arrived nearly 3,000 years ago, they say, and has been guarded by a succession of virgin monks who, once anointed, are forbidden to set foot outside the chapel grounds until they die.
3. The Lemba people of South Africa and Zimbabwe claim that their ancestors carried the Ark south, calling it the ngoma lungundu or "voice of God", eventually hiding it in a deep cave in the Dumghe mountains, their spiritual home.
4. Chartres Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres is a Gothic Catholic cathedral of the Latin Church located in Chartres, France, about 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Paris. The current cathedral, mostly constructed between 1194 and 1220 AD, is the last of at least five which have occupied the site since the town became a bishopric in the 4th century. The priory claimed that the Ark was taken to the Chartres Cathedral by the Knights Templar and taken to the Rennes-le-Château at the outbreak of World War I to the United States.
5. The Ark was said to have been kept in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, surviving the pillages of Rome by Genseric and Alaric I but lost when the basilica burned.
6. In 1922 in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun was opened by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon. Among the artifacts was a processional ark, listed as Shrine 261, the Anubis Shrine.
Almost immediately after publication of the photographs of this find, some claimed that the Anubis Shrine could be the Ark of the Covenant.
The problem with this claim is the Anubis Shrine measures 95 centimeters (37 in) long, 37 centimeters (15 in) wide, and 54.3 centimeters (21.4 in) high in the shape of a pylon. The Biblical Ark of the Covenant is approximately 133 centimeters (52 in) long, 80 centimeters (31 in) wide, and 80 centimeters (31 in) high in the shape of a rectangular chest.
The bottom line is that since its disappearance, some 2,000 years ago, any number of theories have arisen about its fate. The most well known theory is that of Levitical priests who moved the Ark to Egypt just before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
From there it was supposedly moved to Ethiopia, where it resides to this day in the town of Aksum, in the St. Mary of Zion cathedral as I have described. Only one man, a monk known as “the Guardian,” is allowed to see the Ark, and church authorities have never allowed it to be studied to determine its authenticity.
The main problem with this claim, is that if it truly were the Ark of the Covenant, even the tiniest remnant of Gods presence would kill the priest and everyone near the Ark. Consider the power of the Holy Spirit that was in the bones of a dead Elisha who was in an open grave and caused a dead man, after ouching him to come back to life.
2 Kings 13:20-21
20 And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.
21 And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulcher of Elisha. And when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet.
The point is that the Ark was a sacred and Holy artifact to God. With all respect the the Ethiopian Church, their belief system and idolatry associated with praying to saints or dead people and to Angels disqualifies them as keepers of one of Gods secret things.
I would be more inclined to believe the Macabees account and that the Ark remains buried in an unknown location as is the bones of Moses.
4 And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.
5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.