The Ark, Yahweh’s Throne
The Ark of the Covenant is more than just a prop from an Indiana Jones film, it’s in the Bible! What is it, you ask? Well, we know it was an important story in Judah, but not in northern Israel, since it is never mentioned in the E source, and that it was the claim to fame of the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem. According to their claim, it was mysteriously housed in the temple in a back room called the Holy of Holies to keep it out of the curious eyes of the public. It was mythically used as a storage vessel for the broken pieces of the Ten Commandments and carried before Joshua’s army into battle. Oh, yeah, and God sat on it.
Was the Ark an invention of the Deuteronomist to encourage people to make the trip to Jerusalem to worship at the temple? In the middle ages churches would often claim to have a relic of some sort or another to increase tourism. If a religion enthusiast heard that a church had the thumb bone of a saint or the death shroud of Jesus, they made the trip to see it. Hell, I just read a testimonial of a lady to traveled to Italy to see a piece of meat in a jar that she hole heartedly believes is the result of the transformation of a Eucharist cracker! So, it works. Joshua, who is largely tied with the Ark, is largely a legend. There may have been some military leader named Joshua at some point, but there’s no evidence to make us think so. The cities mentioned as having been conquered are real cities and do show signs of having been set afire at some point, but the dates of the destruction layers are hundreds of years apart and it appears that the Hebrews were merely taking credit for every military victory in the area. Perhaps the Ark is a legendary invention as well. Or perhaps it was a ceremonial alter that gained legendary status. Or maybe god asked some desert people to make him a chair?
Storywise, the Ark makes it first appearance in Exodus:
“Have them make a chest of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. (Exodus 25:10)
A gold seat was put on top for Yahweh to sit upon:
And thou shalt make a mercy-seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.
And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, at the two ends of the mercy-seat.
And make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end: of one piece with the mercy-seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof.
And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, covering the mercy-seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy-seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.
And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 25:17-22)
Not sure why a seat would be needed for a god. Perhaps Yahweh was still resting from his six day creation exercise.
Once they started marching around the desert, though, the Hebrews would carry it in front of them (Numbers 10:33).
And, whenever they ran into some undesirables and needed that little godly touch, there was, apparently, a ceremony performed to tell god to “rise” and “return”. Kind of like a séance of some sort.
Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,
“Rise up, O LORD!
May your enemies be scattered;
may your foes flee before you.”
Whenever it came to rest, he said,
“Return, O LORD,
to the countless thousands of Israel.” (Numbers 10: 35-36)
Even after they got to Canaan and got to build a real army, Joshua would have his troops carry it before them:
So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, (Joshua 3:14)
And there is a thrilling story in 2 Samuel about the amazing power of the Ark. It tells of a priest that wasn’t properly prepared to touch it (didn’t say the necessary prayers or burn the right incense or whatever) and got smote. The ark was being carried on an ox cart on a tour of Zion. The cart hit a bump and the Ark was about to tip off the holy cart and into the ditch. The driver of the cart reached out his hand to steady the Ark, which was, of course, the last mistake he ever made. BAM! Smited. (2 Samuel 6)
Both Isaiah and Samuel speak of the throne on the Ark:
“…the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark.” (2 Samuel 6:2)
“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Isaiah 37:16)
Weird stuff, indeed. I’ve always figured all the “Yahweh on his throne” stuff was leftovers from a much earlier period of Judaism, but the P source is dated (according to Richard Friedman) to the reign of King Hezekiah (715 – 687 BC), and many people have dated it to the Babylonian Exile. That seems a bit late for all this hoodoo voodoo stuff, but who knows. There are some pretty weird beliefs out there today, who knows what people thought back then.