The Ark of the Testimony
The ark is possibly the greatest of all the types of Christ; for it is the one type which never failed. When men in the Bible are typical of Christ, as many are, there is failure, but there is no failure whatsoever with the ark.
Now the Scriptures speak of the ark in a number of ways: sometimes it is described simply as the ark; but at other times qualifying words are added. Thus we read of the ark of the testimony, the ark of the covenant, the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, the ark of Jehovah and the ark of God. My consideration here, however, is with the ark as the ark of the testimony.
The ark of the testimony is the first qualifying phrase that the Spirit of God uses in regard to the ark. It is referred to in such a way for the first time in Ex. 25: 22 and for the last time in Jos. 4: 16 at the crossing of the Jordan. It is apparent, therefore that the description of the ark as the ark of the testimony belongs to the wilderness and to the wilderness alone. It is never referred to as the ark of the testimony when in the land. What is the significance? Simply this: for you and I, the testimony of Christ belongs to the present time. The crossing of the Red Sea put Israel into the wilderness; it didn’t put them into the land. If I am true to my baptism, of which the crossing of the Red Sea is a figure (see 1 Cor. 10: 1, 2), then this world becomes a wilderness to my soul, a scene of death, a place destitute of spiritual food. It is also, however, the place of testimony to Christ. There will be no opportunity for testimony in heaven; when I am in heaven opportunity for testimony is gone for ever.
Now throughout the wilderness journey, the ark had to be carried, and in being carried it was a testimony to other nations. So who carried it? There were twelve tribes in Israel, but only one was occupied with the service of the tabernacle, namely the tribe of Levi. None of the common people were allowed to serve the tabernacle for it was a spiritual matter. Furthermore you will find that of the Levites only the sons of Kohath could bear the ark for it was of “the most holy things”, (Num. 4: 4, AV). Thus bearing the testimony of Christ in this scene is a most holy matter. All believers are entitled to be Levites (in a typical sense), but carrying the testimony of Christ is not to be taken up carelessly - it demands spirituality and holiness.
Wherever Israel went in the wilderness, the ark had to go, and the Kohathites had to carry it. To go without the ark spelt disaster. There was one memorable occasion when Israel failed and even admitted their failure saying “we have sinned” (see Num. 14: 40-45). They then sought to go up to the hill-top to enter the land even though Moses had warned them that it would not prosper. The Spirit of God records “Yet they presumed to go up to the hill-top; but the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, and Moses did not depart from the midst of the camp”, (Num. 14: 44). The result was that they were cut to pieces by the Amalekites and the Canaanites. The lesson for the Christian is very clear: He must never go where he cannot take Christ in testimony.
It is also important to note that the ark was carried directly by men. It was not to be carried on a cart as some of the tabernacle fittings were, but those responsible for it were to feel the full weight of bearing it. Now the ark was heavy, and in the same way the testimony of Christ is no light thing. As well as being spiritual and holy, it is the most weighty of matters. Thus no single person could carry the ark - it was a collective service. How many Levites carried it? I suppose that most of you will reply, four. Are you sure? Where did you get that from? Probably every picture depicting the ark being carried that you and I have ever seen, showed it being carried by four Levites. Certainly it was a very heavy object and could never be carried by one man alone. In just the same way, the testimony of Christ cannot be borne by a single individual - it is a collective matter. Thus when Peter stood up to introduce the Gospel to Israel, he stood up “with the eleven”, Acts 2: 14). So why restrict the carrying of the ark to four? God doesn’t! This idea of four bearing the ark is man’s natural, logical, reasonable idea - but it is not in the Bible!
Now let me ask you, just how was the ark carried? Oh, you say it was to be carried by two staves passed through rings, one on each of the corners of the ark - the Bible says so. Right, and how long were the staves? Probably your reply is that you don’t remember. Fair enough, get your concordance and see what you can find. Nothing! The length of those staves is nowhere given. Yet they must have had some specific length since everything connected with the tabernacle was made according to the pattern given to Moses in the mount, (Heb. 8: 5). Why then has God seen fit to hide that measurement from us? He tells us the dimensions of the ark itself, and of many other items of the tabernacle, but not the length of the staves. Why is the length of the staves not given? For our instruction, that is why. As many another has said, the silence of God can be as instructive as what God does say. Now if you will look in 2 Chron. 5: 9 you will find these words regarding the staves that bore the ark: “and the staves were long”. They were not short, they were long, but God has never recorded any limit on their length. What does this vagueness, if I may so describe it, say to our souls? What is the spiritual teaching? I believe it suggests that there is room for all who want to have their Levitical part in carrying the testimony of the Christ. Man would restrict it to four. God says the staves are long. Thus there is room for you. There is a place for every believer in carrying the ark by Levitical service through the wilderness; a place for all of us in the testimony of Christ.
Now for a little more on those staves. While God was not specific on their length for good reasons, He was very specific on their materials. If the vagueness (in regard to length) of Scripture is instructive; so the clarity of Scripture (as to their composite materials) is just as instructive. The staves that bore the ark were to be made of the self-same materials as the ark itself. The ark was constructed of acacia wood covered with gold, and the staves were also made of acacia wood covered with gold. (I might just add incidentally that this was so with regard to all the major items of the tabernacle). Well, what does that say to me? In 1 Cor. 2: 13, Paul lays down a principle and it is this: “communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]”. That tells me that the means of carrying everything connected with the divine testimony must be in keeping with that testimony itself. If the ark was acacia wood covered with gold, then the means of carrying it must likewise be of acacia wood covered with gold. Similarly, if I am to communicate spiritual matters, then the method used must be spiritual.
Now let me ask you if you consider the Gospel of God a spiritual matter. You can hardly answer other than in the affirmative. The preaching of the Gospel is a spiritual, holy and weighty matter. Well if Christ is to be communicated as a Saviour in the Gospel to men, it must be by spiritual means. Yet, in spite of all this I am told that Gospel preaching, which is God’s method of testimony, is not suitable for today. It was all right in the apostles’ day, but things have changed. You have got to move with the times and employ modern methods. You must use acting, plays, and dance. You must add entertainment with music and song and you must make it attractive to people. You must be up to date. And results are assessed in the numbers that confess Christ to justify the means used. It is the old adage of the end justifying the means. Such an argument taken to its logical conclusion effectively denies the inspiration of Scripture, because it substitutes the ideas of man for the commandments of the Lord. The methods of the first century of Christianity set on by God are just as effective in the twentieth century. God’s Word is up to date. So what is God’s method? It is preaching. The Lord, when He was here preached, (Matt. 4: 23), and the apostles likewise preached (Acts 4: 2). Again I say that you must communicate “spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]”.
What did Amelek, and the other nations who belonged to the wilderness, see of the ark as it passed through the wilderness? They never saw the gold of the ark, only the covering of animal skins. When the ark travelled through the wilderness it was covered firstly with “the veil of separation” (Num. 4: 5), “then with a covering of badgers’ skin”, and finally with “a cloth wholly of blue”. They only saw the blue, not the gold. What does that tell me? Blue is the colour of heaven. Our testimony to Christ should be heavenly in character. It should be obvious that we do not belong here, that we are strangers and sojourners (Heb. 11: 9). We must not be earth dwellers, (Rev. 3: 10).
This now leads me to my final point. Imagine that you could have observed Israel as they carried the ark for the first thirty-eight of the forty years that they spent in the wilderness. What would you say about their movements? Well I think the one thing that you would say is that they seemed to be getting nowhere. Year in and year out they just seemed to be going round in circles. The observation of their movements wouldn’t show you that they were going anywhere in particular. Just wandering around in circles. You could not have guessed where they were going. You would not have realized that they were going to the Promised Land. Now is that so with us? Is this the impression our testimony creates? Do we appear to be wandering around all over the place? Or is it clear in testimony where we are going? Our movements through this scene should be a clear journey. We should know where we are going and look as if we are going there. We are “strangers and sojourners on the earth”, (Heb. 11: 13). A stranger is one who is not at home; a sojourner is one who is going home. And where is home? “our commonwealth has its existence in [the] heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ [as] Saviour”, (Phil. 3: 20). We are going home to heaven and our testimony should make that crystal clear to a lost world. If it doesn’t, then our testimony is defective.