Useful Bible Studies > Hebrews Commentary > chapter 9

What was in the ark of the covenant?

Hebrews 9:4

The tabernacle (or afterwards, the temple) was Godís house on this earth. Its inner room was called the Holy of Holies, which means the Most Holy Place. It was the most sacred place on earth. And the most sacred object there was the ark of the covenant.

An ark is a box. The covenant means the promises that established the relationship between God and his people. The ark acted as evidence of Godís covenant with Israel. You can read a description of the ark in Exodus 25:10-22.

The author of Hebrews mentions three things that were inside the ark:-

(1) The two stone tablets. These tablets were flat pieces of stone. On them, God had written his commands (Deuteronomy 9:10).

Godís commands are part of the law that he gave to Moses. The list of them appears twice in the Bible: Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. We believe that these commands are for all people at all times. Jesus said that people should obey them (Matthew 19:17-19; Matthew 5:19). And he taught that these commands should direct not just our actions, but also our thoughts and our attitudes (Matthew 5:21-30; Mark 7:20-23). Godís commands prove that we are all guilty in front of God (Romans 3:9-20; James 2:10-11).

The stone tablets were the original contents of the ark (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). And they were still there at the time of Solomon (1 Kings 8:9). But it seems that Moses put two other objects in the ark. We do not know who removed them, or why.

(2) A gold pot of manna. Manna was the food that God gave to Israelís people during their 40 years in the desert. By means of that food, God provided for them. Manna was a strange food. It was like bread, but it appeared on the ground each morning. So it really was the peopleís Ďdaily breadí. Originally, the people did not know what it was. But they baked it, or they boiled it. And it was good to eat. It tasted sweet, like honey. God told Moses to place some manna into a pot. The priests should put it in front of God (Exodus 16:32-35). It would remind people in the future how God had provided for them.

(3) Aaronís staff. A staff is a stick that people lean on, in order to walk better. Aaron was Israelís first chief priest. He was Mosesí brother.

The people in Israel complained about Mosesí and Aaronís authority. And they tried to oppose Moses and Aaron. There were great troubles in Israel as a result.

Afterwards, God said that he would do something to stop this behaviour (Numbers chapter 17).

God told Moses to take the staffs from the leaders of each tribe (group of families) in Israel. Moses wrote the name of each leader on his staff. And he put the staffs into the tabernacle.

When Moses collected the staffs on the next day, something astonishing had happened. The staffs were just dead sticks of wood. But Aaronís staff had become alive. In fact, it had even grown flowers and fruit (the nuts called almonds)!

God told Moses to return Aaronís staff to the tabernacle. It would remind people that they must not oppose God.

Hebrews 9:4 also mentions another object in the Holy of Holies. Most translations call it a gold altar for incense. An altar is a table where priests burn things. Incense is a substance with a sweet smell. But Exodus 30:6 says that this altar was in the outer room. However, the original words in Hebrews 9:4 could have another meaning. The object could be a gold censer for incense. A censer is a pan that holds burning incense. The chief priest used a censer on the day when he entered the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:12-13). So perhaps that is the correct meaning here.

Next part: What was the purpose of the Holy of Holies? (Hebrews 9:5)


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© 2014, Keith Simons.