Start at Part 1. Back to Part 3. This is part four 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. (The image above is of a mountain near the probable site of biblical Bethel – image taken from this website.)
Deuteronomy means ‘second law’ or covenant. In it, as part of a renewal of the covenant, Moses recounts much of their history, and in chapter 10 he mentions the ark repeatedly. It comes after a lengthy account and warning about the incident of the golden calf in chapter 9, where Moses had destroyed the first tablets of the covenant. In chapter 10.1-5 he continues:
At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.”
So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. The Lord wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now.
Notice that there is at least a hint of the pattern to come here. The first tablets of the covenant law were destroyed by Moses, the mediator between God and man, because of the sin and idolatry of the Israelites, but it was the second set of tablets of the covenant that the ark of the covenant was made to house. In the same way, the New Testament writers tell us, the first covenant law was broken because of the sin of the Israelites, but the second or new covenant is a lasting one, because Jesus obeyed and did not sin or rebel, and he himself is the very Word of the covenant keeping God.
Deuteronomy 31 tells of how Moses, just before his death, wrote out a copy of the entire law or covenant of the Lord (perhaps Deuteronomy itself) and said it should lie beside the ark for all generations to come. Just an additional note here, but I find it very interesting that in v28 Moses, here at the climax of his farewell address, calls all the elders and officials of Israel to him, and then in v29 tells them:
For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger by what your hands have made.”
What I find interesting is that much of our New covenant writings were written by Paul, and in a similar way, he called the elders of the Ephesian church to him and warned of almost exactly the same thing in his farewell address to them, in Acts 20.29-30:
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Anyway, most of us are familiar with what happens next – Moses climbs to the top of Mount Nebo and dies, and God buries him. Joshua, his successor leads the nation into the promised land. The same formation was in place, with the ark some distance before the army and the people as they marched, and in Joshua 3-4 God enables the nation to cross the Jordan dry, whilst the ark and its bearers were stations in the dry river bed. As the bearers feet stepped in to the river, it was blocked upstream, and after the ark left, the waters flowed again. The Israelites followed the ark repeatedly around Jericho, as the Lord commanded, in Joshua 6, and a great and supernatural victory was won. In chapter 8, Joshua and all the people obeyed the command of the Lord through Moses and renewed the covenant at Mount Ebal , which is now above the Palestinian city of Nablus, some 25 km north of Jerusalem. The area is a natural amphitheatre, and the whole nation could hear and witness the renewal of the covenant law, which was written on stones, and read out to all the people.
In Joshua 18 we are told that the entire nation went to Shiloh and set up the Tent of Meeting there, and presumably, although not explicitly stated, the ark was there too. Shiloh would remain the central place of worship of the Lord for Israel for centuries, up until the time of Samuel. However, we do find explicit mention in Judges that for at least a period of time, the ark of the covenant was at Bethel. Up until chapter 16, Judges is a more or less chronological account of the ‘Judges’ of Israel, but chapter 17 on contain a series of stories depicting how bad and lawless the period was, and it is not entirely clear when each story was set. One of those accounts is of a civil war between Benjamin and the other tribes of Israel. In chapter 20 the tribes of Israel repeatedly go to consult God at Bethel, and in verse 29-30 it explains:
In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.
This means this incident happened pretty early on. It is possible that the ark of the covenant was moved around various locations, in much the same way as Samuel the prophet and judge later went around a regular circuit of several locations to minister to Israel. However, chapter 21 makes it clear that Shiloh was still a, if not the, major centre for worship, as immediately after it talks of the great festival of the Lord being held there. Bethel and Shiloh are very close together.