The Ark contained the 2 tablets of stone which Moses received on Mt Sinai (the law), which in Christ is fulfilled. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17:-18, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled”. Jesus fulfilled the law by the sacrifice of himself on the cross, declaring all Righteous! Romans 7:4 (HCSB), “Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah, so that you may belong to another—to Him who was raised from the dead—that we may bear fruit for God”.
What are the tablets of the law?
They were stone tablets inscribed with the law (10 commandments) by the finger of God and given to Moses on Mt Sinai. We don’t know how big these tablets were. Were they as small to fit in one hand or as big as a man? According to the 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments” the tablets were appr. 60X60 cm and 2 1/2 cm thick.
Why was the law given to the people of Israel?
Even before the 10 commandments were given at Mt Sinai ( Ex. 20:1-17) the law was already in action. In the Garden of Eden, sin (believing the lie of becoming like God compared to already having this position of being one with God) had entered the world. Cain slew Abel; the consequences of this action brought sin in the open. But the law “do not kill” was already in action and was to continue through the generations from Noah, to Abraham and to Moses. After God let the people of Israel out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery towards the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the people had to learn how to behave/relate to each other within their community, to look after one another, to be mindful of each other, therefore they were given the law. Given by God for their instruction to learn as little children learn (Ex. 24:12 and Deut. 4:13-14.)
The law was given at Mt Sinai (Ex. 31:18) “when God finished speaking with Moses, he gave him the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God.” These two tablets were broken/smashed by Moses when he came down the mountain and found the people worshipping a golden calf as being their God (vs 19), Moses took the golden calf burned it up, ground it to powder, scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink the water (vs 20).
A second set of tablets were given to Moses (Ex. 34:1-28 and Deut. 10:15). These tablets were placed in the Ark, by Moses, as instructed.
Why in the Ark? For safekeeping? Yes, and as a testimony of God’s faithfulness and of his covenant with the people of Israel as they travelled! It was not a covenant between God and humanity, but for Israel. Therefore the Ark was also called the Covenant box, or Ark of the Testimony. On top of the Ark, as a lid, was placed the mercy, or judgement seat as it is also called. Inside the Covenant Box the tablets of law were placed, together with Aaron’s budded staff and a pot of manna as they travelled.
Throughout the Old Testament we can read of the travels of the Ark. Captured by the Philistines, recovered by David, and ending up in Solomon’s temple which was destroyed in 587 BC. And then the Ark disappeared, with the tablets. There are many stories where the Ark may be now, but the truth is: we don’t know.