Start at Part 1. Back to part 2. This is part three of a talk I gave at Beit Yeshua in January 2017, or at least I got through what I could in the time limits available, and what I did get through was well received.
Although the ark is not specifically mentioned, in Leviticus 10, two of Aaron’s sons were killed, even though they were priests, because the offered ‘unauthorized fire’ before the Lord and were consumed by fire. It is no coincidence that when the ark is mentioned next, in Leviticus 16, even the High Priest, Aaron, was told that he could not come whenever he liked into the holy of holies where the ark was, but only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on pain of death. He could only do so then after an elaborate ritual involving multiple sacrifices, bathing in water and special linen clothes. He had to sacrifice for himself and his family first, and then for all Israel, with the blood of the sacrifices being sprinkled on the mercy seat or cover of the ark. V16-7 tell us:
In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
Now, I think I’m correct in saying that most scholars don’t think that the blood of the sacrifices was effective in taking away or covering over sins themselves. The repeated message in the Old Testament is that God freely forgives those who repent of their sins and turn back to righteous living and true worship. However, sacrifices were always associated, in some sense needed. What this passage in Leviticus is telling us that the blood of the sacrifices was necessary to deal with the accumulated impurity or damage in the Tabernacle that was the result of the sin and rebellion of the people. God forgave, but the damage or impurity in his Holy dwelling is what needed blood. In the same way, in the New Covenant, Jesus’ message was ‘Repent of your sins, for the kingdom of heaven is near’. He freely forgave, and continues to freely forgive, those who truly repent of their sins. His better blood was shed to cleanse a greater Tabernacle, the heavenly Tabernacle of which the earthly Tabernacle was only a copy or shadow.
Numbers 3 and 4 tell us that the specific clan of Levites that was responsible for the care of the main articles of the Tabernacle, ’the most holy things’, including the Ark and its shielding curtain. All the holy things were to be covered in curtains when they moved, and if the Kohathites were to touch the holy items, they would die. Numbers 7 ends by telling us that Moses often went into the ‘Tent of Meeting’ and heard the voice of God speaking to him from between the Cherubim that stretched above the mercy seat of the ark. Numbers 10 tells us that the ark went before the nation of Israel when the travelled, bearing the presence of the Lord, and ends by telling us that:
Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.”
Whenever it came to rest, he said, “Return, Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel.”
Whatever the ark did on the shoulders of the Levites, Moses regarded the Lord himself as doing – rising up and settling down – scattering enemies, and resting among the people of God.
In Numbers 16, there is another rebellion in Israel around the issue of priesthood, leading to the terrifying, supernatural deaths of the rebels and their families, swallowed alive by the earth. This rebellion twice nearly resulted in the destruction of all Israel. In the next chapter, God takes the initiative to re-iterate to the community that he had chosen the Levites, and especially Aaron to the role. The leaders of each of the 12 tribes placed their staffs in the tent of meeting before the ark, and God said he would make the staff of his chosen sprout overnight. Aarons not only sprouted, but ‘budded, blossomed and produced almonds’. Aarons staff was to be kept before the ark as warning to the rebellious Israelites.
I should just say that later on, this staff, along with the pot of manna, were later stored inside the ark, as Hebrews 9 tells us. The pot of manna, Exodus 16 tells us, was kept originally in the ‘Tent of Meeting’ along with the tablets of the law of God, even before the building of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.