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What Is the Ark of the Covenant?

What Is the Ark of the Covenant?

The Bible’s answer

 The ark of the covenant was a sacred chest made by the ancient Israelites according to the command and design of God. It housed and protected “the Testimony,” the Ten Commandments written on two stone tablets.​—Exodus 25:​8-​10, 16; 31:18.

  •   Construction. The Ark measured 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide, and 1.5 cubits high (111 x 67 x 67 cm; 44 x 26 x 26 in.). It was built of acacia wood and was overlaid inside and out with gold, with an artistic border. Its cover, made of solid gold, featured two golden cherubs, one at each end. They faced each other with their faces toward the cover and their wings extending upward, overshadowing the cover. The Ark had four rings of cast gold above its feet. Acacia-wood poles overlaid with gold were put through the rings and were used for carrying the Ark.​—Exodus 25:10-​21; 37:​6-9.

  •   Location. The Ark was initially kept in the Most Holy compartment of the tabernacle, a transportable tent of worship that was made at the same time as the Ark. The Most Holy was screened off from the view of the priests and the people. (Exodus 40:​3, 21) Only the high priest could enter this compartment, one day each year on Atonement Day, and see the Ark. (Leviticus 16:2; Hebrews 9:7) Later, the Ark was moved to the Most Holy in Solomon’s temple.​—1 Kings 6:​14, 19.

  •   Purpose. The Ark was an archive for sacred items that would remind the Israelites of the covenant, or agreement, that God had made with them at Mount Sinai. It also played a key role in the Atonement Day ceremony.​—Leviticus 16:​3, 13-17.

  •   Contents. The stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments were the first items placed in the Ark. (Exodus 40:20) A golden jar of manna and “Aaron’s rod that budded” were later added. (Hebrews 9:4; Exodus 16:33, 34; Numbers 17:10) Evidently, the jar and rod were removed at some point, because they were not in the Ark when it was moved into the temple.​—1 Kings 8:9.

  •   Transport. The Ark was to be carried by the Levites on their shoulders by means of the acacia-wood poles. (Numbers 7:9; 1 Chronicles 15:15) The poles remained attached to the Ark at all times, so the Levites never had to touch the Ark. (Exodus 25:12-​16) “The screening curtain” that separated the Holy and the Most Holy was used to cover the Ark while it was being carried.​—Numbers 4:​5, 6. a

  •   Symbolism. The Ark was associated with God’s presence. For example, the cloud that appeared over the Ark in the Most Holy and at Israelite encampments was a sign of Jehovah’s presence and blessing. (Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 10:33-​36) Also, the Bible says that Jehovah “[sat] enthroned above the cherubs,” referring to the two cherubs on the Ark’s cover. (1 Samuel 4:4; Psalm 80:1) Thus, these cherubs were “the representation of the chariot” of Jehovah. (1 Chronicles 28:18) Because of what the Ark symbolized, King David could write that Jehovah was “dwelling in Zion” after the Ark was moved there.​—Psalm 9:​11.

  •   Designations. The Bible uses a variety of terms for that sacred chest, including “the ark of the Testimony,” “the ark of the covenant,” “the Ark of Jehovah,” and “the Ark of your [Jehovah’s] strength.”​—Numbers 7:​89; Joshua 3:​6, 13; 2 Chronicles 6:​41.

     The cover of the Ark was called “the propitiatory cover,” or “the mercy seat.” (1 Chronicles 28:11; King James Version) This term refers to the special function of the cover on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest of Israel would spatter the blood of sacrificed animals toward and before the cover. These actions of the high priest made propitiation for, or covered, sins “in behalf of himself and his house and in behalf of the entire congregation of Israel.”​—Leviticus 16:14-​17.

Does the ark of the covenant exist today?

 There is no evidence that it does. The Bible shows that the Ark is no longer needed because the covenant associated with it has been replaced with “a new covenant,” one based on Jesus’ sacrifice. (Jeremiah 31:31-​33; Hebrews 8:​13; 12:24) The Bible thus foretold a time when the ark of the covenant would be no more, yet God’s people would not miss it.​—Jeremiah 3:​16.

 In a vision given to the apostle John after the new covenant was established, the ark of the covenant appeared in heaven. (Revelation 11:15, 19) This symbolic Ark represents God’s presence and his blessing on the new covenant.

Did the Ark serve as a sort of magic charm?

 No. Possessing the ark of the covenant did not guarantee success. For example, the Israelites had the Ark in their camp when battling the city of Ai, yet they suffered defeat because of one Israelite’s unfaithfulness. (Joshua 7:​1-6) Later, they were defeated by the Philistines despite taking the ark of the covenant to the battlefield. That conquest was due to the wickedness of the Israelite priests Hophni and Phinehas. (1 Samuel 2:​12; 4:​1-​11) The Philistines captured the Ark in that battle, but God struck them with plagues until they returned it to Israel.​—1 Samuel 5:11–6:​5.

History of the ark of the covenant

Year (B.C.E.)



Made by Bezalel and his assistants using materials contributed by the Israelites.​—Exodus 25:​1, 2; 37:1.


Inaugurated by Moses along with the tabernacle and priesthood.​—Exodus 40:​1-3, 9, 20, 21.

1512​—After 1070

Moved to various locations.​—Joshua 18:1; Judges 20:26, 27; 1 Samuel 1:​24; 3:3; 6:​11-​14; 7:​1, 2.

After 1070

Brought to Jerusalem by King David.​—2 Samuel 6:​12.


Moved into Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.​—1 Kings 8:​1, 6.


Returned to the temple by King Josiah.​—2 Chronicles 35:3. b

Before 607

Apparently removed from the temple. It is not mentioned in the inventories of articles taken to Babylon when the temple was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. or of those articles later returned to Jerusalem.​—2 Kings 25:13-​17; Ezra 1:​7-​11.


Declared to be missing by Roman General Pompey when he conquered Jerusalem and inspected the Most Holy of the temple. c

a The Israelites faced grave consequences when they disobeyed God’s law regarding the transport and covering of the Ark.​—1 Samuel 6:​19; 2 Samuel 6:​2-7.

b The Bible does not state when, why, or by whom it had been removed.

c See The Histories, by Tacitus, Book V, paragraph 9.