Questions From Readers
Did the ark of the covenant contain only the two stone tablets, or did it also hold other items?
At the time of the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 1026 B.C.E., “there was nothing in the Ark but the two tablets that Moses had given at Horeb, when Jehovah covenanted with the sons of Israel while they were coming out from Egypt.” (2 Chronicles 5:10) However, this was not always the case.
“In the third month after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt,” they entered the wilderness of Sinai. (Exodus 19:1, 2) Thereafter, Moses went up into Mount Sinai and received the two stone tablets of the Law. He relates: “Then I turned and went down from the mountain and placed the tablets in the ark that I had made, that they might continue there, just as Jehovah had commanded me.” (Deuteronomy 10:5) This was a temporary ark, or container, that Jehovah had told Moses to construct to hold the tablets of the Law. (Deuteronomy 10:1) The ark of the covenant was not made ready until about the end of 1513 B.C.E.
Shortly after their deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites began to murmur about food. So Jehovah provided manna for them. (Exodus 12:17, 18; 16:1-5) At that time, Moses instructed Aaron: “Take a jar and put in it an omerful of manna and deposit it before Jehovah as something to be kept throughout your generations.” The account states: “Just as Jehovah had commanded Moses, Aaron proceeded to deposit it before the Testimony [an archive for the safekeeping of important documents] as something to be kept.” (Exodus 16:33, 34) While Aaron undoubtedly gathered manna into a jar at that time, the depositing of it before the Testimony had to wait until Moses made the Ark and placed the tablets in it.
As already noted, the ark of the covenant was constructed late in 1513 B.C.E. Aaron’s rod was placed in that Ark much later, after the rebellion of Korah and others. The apostle Paul mentions “the ark of the covenant . . . , in which were the golden jar having the manna and the rod of Aaron that budded and the tablets of the covenant.”—Hebrews 9:4.
The manna was a provision made by God during the 40-year sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness. It was no longer provided when “they began to eat some of the yield of the land” of promise. (Joshua 5:11, 12) Aaron’s rod was placed in the ark of the covenant for a purpose—to serve as a sign to or a witness against the rebellious generation. This suggests that the rod remained there at least for the duration of the wilderness journey. It would, then, seem logical to conclude that some time after Israel entered the Promised Land and before the dedication of Solomon’s temple, Aaron’s rod and the golden jar of manna were removed from the ark of the covenant.