CDPCKL · Building a House For God: the Ark (Exodus 25:10-22)

Building a House For God: the Ark (Exodus 25:10-22)

In the beginning, scripture tells us, God created the heavens and the earth. But the next verses reveal that the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

In other words: God began by creating the raw materials that he was going to use to build something else. 

And that building project began when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light darting down into the darkness, revealing the lifeless earth. Then God spoke again, and created a roof over the earth. 

In other words, a building was beginning to take shape: the earth was the floor, with mountains as pillars and walls, and a vaulted roof over everything. And it becomes obvious, as the story of creation proceeds, that the structure of the earth was designed to be a kind of container for biological life — plants and animals and human beings — and a place where God could connect with his creation. 

Now, you may be wondering why we are talking about events in the Book of Genesis here. Aren’t we supposed to be in Exodus? 

Well, if you worshiped with us last week, you will remember that we have just started into the second half of the book. The first half was focused on bringing God’s people up to worship him on Mount Sinai. But the second half is going to be focused on bringing God down to travel with his people through the wilderness to their eternal home. 

And it became clear last week that the process of bringing God down will require the construction of a special house for him. 

If you recall, last week God called Moses up into his presence at the top of the mountain. But before God allowed Moses to actually enter his presence, he made him wait for six days. Only on the seventh day was Moses finally called into God’s direct presence. That pattern of six days followed by a seventh was a signal that what is about to happen is going to be some kind of new creation process. 

And then, when God began to speak, he started by telling Moses that the first step in this new construction project would be collecting raw materials, just as God did at the beginning of his great construction project. 

Which suggests that Moses and the people of Israel are going to be in some way building a copy of creation, a model of the universe itself. 

Which is interesting, because last week we realized that the tabernacle is also supposed to be a miniature version of God’s heavenly house on Mount Sinai: 

God is sitting on his throne in the inner room of his house at the top of the mountain. We could say that the top of the mountain has actually broken through the floor of heaven — or, perhaps more accurately, that heaven has come down to rest upon Mount Sinai. However we want to think about it, the point is: heaven and earth are now connected at Mount Sinai. 

Further down the mountain, where the 70 elders of Israel are waiting for Moses to come back, is the outer room of God’s house: the reception room, the dining room, the living room. We know this because, two weeks ago, when the elders were called up onto the mountain to eat with God, they were able to look from the dining room into the throne room, where they saw the God of Israel. And under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky — as bright blue as the vaulted ceiling God constructed over the earth in the beginning, the vaulted ceiling that is the floor of heaven. 

And then, at the foot of Mount Sinai we find the yard, the garden just outside God’s house, where the people of Israel are camped. 

So we already realised last week that the tabernacle is going to take the same structure as the mountain: innermost throne room, outer dining room, garden, and wilderness outside of that. 

But now, as we realize that the tabernacle is going to be a miniature version of the universe as well as a miniature version of God’s house on Mount Sinai…that actually suggests that Mount Sinai is actually a miniature version of the universe. So the tabernacle is a model of the mountain, and the mountain is a model of the universe. 

Which suggests that God’s creation itself has a structure of innermost throne room, outer dining room, garden, and wilderness outside. 

Okay. But what does it all mean? 

We do not know yet. So let’s keep reading and find out: 

The Lord is speaking to Moses. Last week he said that the first step of the project is collecting the raw materials. Next, he says, [10] “Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.” 

Now this word “ark” is just a fancy word for box. And in general, when someone makes a box, they intend to store something inside it. 

Of course, if you are familiar with the Book of Genesis, then you know that this word “ark” has a history to it. Back in Genesis God told a man named Noah to make a wooden box called an “ark”, didn’t he? In that case, God ended up storing Noah and his whole family inside that box, along with all the raw materials he would need for a new creation. So we should already associate this word “ark” with the idea of salvation from judgement and death. 

This ark in Exodus is much smaller, however: just a little more than one meter long. So it is not going to be storing people. What is going to be stored inside? 

Reading on: [11] “Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. [12] Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. [13] Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. [14] Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. [15] The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed.” 

Okay. So apparently this box is meant to be carried. 

Which makes sense: God’s house is going to be a tent, after all; the furniture needs to be as portable as the house. 

[16] “Then, God says, “put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.” 

And now we know: this is a box designed to contain the stone tablets that God wants to give to his people as their engagement present. 

And it does make sense that God would want a special box for those tablets, because those stone tablets contain the marriage contract that he just signed with the people of Israel. Like us, God wants to preserve and protect his marriage license. 

And now: [17] “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.” 

This is a top for the box. A very important protective feature, I think we all can agree. 

But why is it called an “atonement cover”? What does that mean? 

Well, we have already seen that this box is meant to safeguard God’s marriage contract with his people. But since the bride in this case — the nation of Israel — was purchased out of slavery and purified through the blood of many hundreds of sheep and cattle, that marriage contract is also a contract proving that they are now free, forgiven of any degrading thing they might have done to survive back when they were slaves. 

This cover is the seal preserving and protecting the documents contained inside the box. Since the documents are redemption and atonement documents, it makes sense to call the cover an “atonement cover.” 

And now, as we read on, we find that God does intend for there to be a very strong idea of protection built in to this cover, because he goes on to say: 

[18] “And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. [19] Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. [20] The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.” 

Now, what are cherubim? 

Well, the first place cherubim are ever mentioned in scripture is back in Genesis: right after Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden of Eden, God placed on the east side of the garden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. The only other place in scripture that cherubim are seen is in God’s heavenly throne room. 

So cherubim are some kind of extremely powerful guardian spirits. They are protectors of God’s holiness, God’s honour. And since God’s promise to marry Israel is now written in stone, God’s honour is now bound to those tablets. So it makes sense that God would commission cherubim to hover over the box containing the physical copies of God’s covenant promise. 

These solid gold cherubim hovering over the atonement cover are the physical symbols of that spiritual reality. 

Now, for the final instructions: [21] “Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. [22] There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.” 


So, to summarise: last week, we realised that God’s people have been called to participate in building a house for God, a tabernacle so he can travel with his people. God’s first instructions were to collect the raw materials, just has he did at the beginning of creation. And we realized in our application last week that in this day and age we are the raw materials that God is collecting and shaping into his Church. And we have been called to participate in building Jesus’ Church by offering our lives to be shaped. 

This week, God’s instructions are about how to build a strongbox that will contain the foundational covenantal documents of the nation. Today we would call this kind of box a safe: it would be very heavy, it would have some kind of lock on it, we might post guards around it, and we would keep our family’s most precious documents inside. So we can understand that basic concept. 

But now we have to ask: how are we supposed to apply these instructions to our church construction project here in modern Malaysia? Is God telling us that we are supposed to install a safe here in our church? 

Well, to answer that question properly, first we have to make sure we fully understand the significance of this ark in the Old Testament. 

Because, yes, the ark is a kind of strongbox, a kind of safe. But that is not all it is. 

See, when God told Moses right at the end here that he is going to meet with Moses from above the cover, that revealed that this strongbox is actually a part of God’s throne. God is seated above the ark, between the two cherubim. But here’s the thing: the ark is not the whole throne, it is actually just the footstool of God’s throne. This is confirmed for us later on in several scriptures that say, explicitly, that the ark is the footstool of our God.  

Now, why is that significant? 

First, because it means that God’s throne itself is in heaven, invisible to Moses; only the footstool takes symbolic physical form upon the earth. Which is meant to teach us something about the extreme holiness of God’s throne, the extreme holiness of God himself: God is so holy that, really, Moses only gets to see his feet. Actually, no: God is so holy that Moses only really gets to see the thing that God’s invisible feet rest upon. But that does not mean the ark is unholy, or dirty somehow. Quite the opposite: that means the ark is the connecting point between heaven and earth. So: 

The first significance of the ark as God’s footstool is that this is what connects God to his people. 

The second significance of the ark as God’s footstool is this: ancient thrones often had a footstool that was also a strongbox, and that strongbox often contained the constitutional documents of that kingdom. So the kings of that time would be enthroned with their feet on the symbolic foundations of their kingdom. This communicated two things: first, that the king’s reign depended upon those documents; second, that as long as the king had his feet upon them, those documents were safe — because it is very hard to steal or destroy the sacred constitution of a kingdom when the king is standing on them surrounded by his heavily armed bodyguard. So: 

The second significance of the ark as God’s foostool is that this ark contains the constitutional heart of God’s kingdom. It is the symbolic foundation stone of God’s kingdom. 

And all this makes the ark absolutely the most holiest and precious object in all of creation. Which explains why God would begin his house with instructions on how to build this particular strongbox. And it explains why the ark is going to be the only piece of furniture in the tabernacle’s innermost chamber, the throne room of the living God: this box is the foundation stone at the very center of the universe. 

Okay. So now we understand more fully the significance of this piece of furniture: the ark is the connecting point between heaven and earth, between God and his people; and the ark is the cornerstone of God’s kingdom, a strongbox containing the covenantal marriage contract between God and Israel, the documents upon which God’s entire relationship with his people depends. 

Which means we are ready now to go back and try to answer the question we asked earlier: how are we supposed to apply this passage to our church today? Is God commanding us to install a safe in our church here? 

The answer is: Yes! That is what God is commanding us to do. 

But if you have been a Christian for a while, then you already know that our “safe” is no longer a physical strongbox contained in a physical tent. You have probably already keyed in to a certain key word that I just used, and you already know what form our ark has taken. That key word was “cornerstone”. So you have already figured out that Jesus Christ himself is the ark, the living connecting point between heaven and earth, the living covenantal Word of God upon which God’s entire relationship with his people depends. 

But if you are new to our faith, or if you are not very familiar with the Christian bible, then this may not be obvious to you. So let me explain: 

For a thousand years after Moses made the ark, it served as the connecting point between God and his people, the covenantal foundation stone of their relationship as husband and wife. 

But the people got bored with the marriage. They did not care about the ark or what it contained. So, during the time of the prophet Ezekiel, God actually got up and walked away from his footstool, leaving it unguarded. His attitude was: if you don’t care anymore, then I don’t care anymore! This is how the prophet Jeremiah described it: “The Lord has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger!” And right away after God left his footstool unguarded, the Babylonians swept in and stole it — they stole the heart right out of God’s kingdom. And no one has seen that ark since. 

And so the people of Israel were driven out of God’s garden back into the wilderness. They became orphans again because they had lost their adoption papers, they could no longer prove they had a Father. They became a divorced wife because they had lost their marriage license, they could no longer prove that God was their legitimate husband. They became slaves, and terrible things happened to them in the wilderness, until they finally began to cry out once again for deliverance. 

And at that point they remembered a prophecy made by a man named Isaiah. Isaiah had predicted that God’s people would lose the ark, lose everything. But then he promised that, at some point in the future, God himself would become a holy place for his people, “a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Isaiah quoted God himself speaking: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.” And in order to understand Isaiah’s words, the people looked even further back into the Psalms, where King David once prophesied the arrival of a future king who would be rejected by the world, but turn out to be the cornerstone of God’s kingdom. 

And the people realized that Isaiah and David were talking about God’s promised Messiah, a new and final Moses who would be the foundational cornerstone of a new tabernacle, a new temple, a new kingdom that would grow up to fill the earth. 

Well, when Jesus showed up 2000 years ago, he claimed to be that promised cornerstone. And he proved that he was by being rejected and dying and being buried in the ground just as the foundation stone of a building must be. 

But of course he did not remain there. The foundation of God’s eternal temple was laid in Jesus’ death; once that phase of construction was complete, Jesus was raised back to life to continue to oversee the project. Because of his obedience to his Father, the bible tells us that God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him we too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. 

So that is why we say that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament ark at the center of God’s Church. 

And this is why we say that that we — as God’s Church — are the living tabernacle built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 

So how then are we supposed to obey God’s command to make sure we have a “safe” here in our church? 

This is how we obey: we center our worship, our entire lives, around Jesus Christ, our living ark. 

But how are we supposed to do that, since Jesus is right now enthroned in heaven, invisible to us here on earth? 

This is how: since Jesus is living embodiment of God’s Word, and since all our knowledge of his Word comes to us through these written scriptures, we center our worship and our lives around these foundational documents. 

This is why, in our church — and in other churches like ours — the sanctuary is focused on the pulpit from which the Word of God is preached. 

Now some Christians think our worship ought to be centered around the altar of sacrifice, which they assume to be this table here, containing the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Which is why, in some churches, they call this table “the altar”. 

But that belief is based on a misunderstanding of God’s instructions here in Exodus. The worship of ancient Israel was not focused on the altar; the altar — as we are going to find out in a few weeks — was in the garden outside God’s house. The altar of sacrifice was essentially the doorway through which the people had to pass in order to get to the ark that really was at the very center of God’s house, the very center of Israel’s worship. And at the center of the ark was God’s written covenantal promises: God’s Word. 

This is why, in our church’s tradition, the reading and the preaching of God’s Word is the central point of our worship every week: we are striving to obey our Father’s command to make sure his ark is the foundation and center of everything we do. Because without these documents, without this 1000+ page marriage contract, we would have no relationship! And we know that because history is full of churches that — like ancient Israel — stopped caring about the ark and what it contained and eventually lost their relationship with Jesus. 

All this is why the flow of our weekly worship — and even the way our room is structured — is all purposely designed to communicate how central and precious and important the Word that is Jesus Christ is to us. This is the substance of our obedience: we do our utmost to worship the holiness of the Christ at our center because it is the Christ at our center who makes us who we are as God’s people. 

But now, before we close, there is one more thing we should go back and understand about the ark’s significance. The ark in the Old Testament was a kind of strongbox; it did symbolise how God is bound to his people through his covenantal Word; it was the symbolic foundation stone of God’s kingdom; and all of these symbols have been fufilled in Jesus Christ. But that is not all the ark was made to model. 

Going back to where we started today, we saw that, first, God created his raw materials; then he built a structure that turned out to be the earth, a container for biological life. In the same way, God’s people were instructed to collect their raw materials; then they were instructed to build a structure that is the ark, a container for the Words of Life. 

So the ark is also meant to be a model of the earth, at the center of the tabernacle that is also meant to be a model of the universe. 

And we can be certain of this because, later on in scripture, the connection is made explicit. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” Jesus also made this comment: “Do not swear an oath by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool.” 

So that is one last layer of symbolism wrapped around this most precious piece of furniture in God’s house. 

But what does it mean? Why should it matter to us? 

This is what it means: 

In the beginning, the earth was God’s footstool. It was a sacred strongbox containing the covenantal Word that is the Light of Life; it was the holy temple at the center of the universe where God meets with his creation. And God created a son — Adam — and gave him the job of protecting that footstool. If Adam had proven faithful at that small task, he would have been promoted to greater responsibilities. 

But we know what happened: the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, crept in like a thief and persuaded Adam to rewrite those Covenant Documents of Life. In this way, the devil stole the heart out of the relationship between God and Adam; and so death was introduced into that relationship. 

But even in the midst of that first devastating collapse, God promised that one day Adam would have a son who would not fail. That son would crush the serpent’s head under his feet and restore the Covenant of Life. And then — as a reward for his faithfulness — this truly begotten son would be promoted: God would place all things under his feet. 

That son of Adam — that Son of God — is Jesus. The apostolic authors of the New Testament make the point again and again: because of his obedience even to death on a cross, Jesus is now enthroned in heaven, seated at the right hand of his Father, and the earth is his footstool. The Covenant of Life between God and mankind has been rewritten and replaced in a strongbox that never be broken into ever again, because Jesus is now the unfailing guardian of that ark and those documents. 

So that is what it means; that is why the ark as a model of the earth as God’s footstool is significant. 

But why should this matter to us? 

Friends, this is why it matters: our first father Adam failed us. He tried to rewrite the Marriage Covenant of Life and condemned us all to death and judgement. But through Jesus, the second Adam, we have the chance now to be brought back into the Covenant of Life with God. 

So if you are here today and you are not a Christian, this is how God wants you to respond to this vision of the ancient ark: he wants you to see his Son, Jesus Christ, seated upon his throne in the heavens, with his feet upon the ark that is his earthly temple. And God wants you to see Jesus inviting you to take refuge within that ark. All you have to do to be saved from your covenant with death is recognise Jesus as your Lord, your King. And then come, take your place in the strongbox under his feet where you will be safe from judgement for all eternity. 

But now, what about the rest of us who have already submitted to the rule and the protection of Jesus Christ: how does knowing that the earth is Jesus’ footstool strengthen our faith? 

Brothers and sisters, just as God promised through the prophet Jeremiah, his new marriage contract has been written on our hearts. This makes us the living tablets of the covenant law contained in this structure, this strongbox that we call the Church, which lives for now in this larger structure that is the earth. Just as Noah and his family was the precious cargo contained in the ark during the flood, so also Jesus’ Church is the precious cargo contained in the ark of this age. 

And because Jesus’ Church is here — as long as we are here — the ark of the earth will continue under Jesus’ care. This is why the apostle Paul wrote that God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. Scripture tells us that, for our sake, little by little Jesus’ enemies are being crushed under his feet; little by little this earthly footstool is being sanctified until one day it will become the connecting point where the spiritual heavens descend to fill up the physical creation so that they can together be transformed into something that has not yet been seen. 

This is the source of our confidence as God’s children, as Christ’s Bride. This is his promise: “Behold, I am making all things new.” And here is the source of our comfort: that this new creation does not ultimately depend upon our faithfulness to these covenantal documents, our protection of these documents, but upon his faithfulness and protection. Like our first father Adam, we often fail to protect the Words of Life that have been entrusted to us. But those words live within us now; the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express; and over it all we find our Lord reconciling to himself all things… 

We have passed through many layers of meaning today — almost too many! How are we supposed to keep all of these images straight in our heads?  

Let’s simplify and close with this: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the end, he will create a new heavens and a new earth, where we will be presented holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusationif we continue in our faith, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

So, brothers and sisters, while we wait for the redemption of our bodies, let us do all that we can to remain centered upon Jesus Christ, who is the ark at the center of his Church, which is the ark at the center of this earth, which is the ark that lies at the center of God’s plan to make all things new. 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. 

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