Category: Covenants

The Noahic Covenant, found in Genesis 9:8-17, is the promise that God made to Noah and his descendants after the flood which destroyed the world. The Noahic Covenant has several distinguishing features. First, it is an unconditional covenant. Second, it was made to Noah and all his descendants as well as “every living creature” and the earth in general (Genesis 9:8-10). Third, it was sealed with a sign, the rainbow.

The Noahic Covenant is an unconditional covenant because it does not depend upon anything Noah or his descendants had to do to fulfill the covenant. The promise is based upon God’s faithfulness alone. Because of God’s faithfulness to always do what He says He will do, we can know today with certainty that there will never be another worldwide flood as there was in the days of Noah, no matter how wicked mankind becomes. Neither the wickedness nor the righteousness of mankind affects this unconditional covenant. There is no “condition” under which God will renege on His promise. This does not mean that God will never again destroy the earth, however. He has promised to one day destroy the earth by fire (2 Peter 3:10, 11; Revelation 20:9, 21:1 ) in the terrible events known as the “day of the Lord.”

After the flood God promised that He would never again send a worldwide flood to destroy the earth as an act of His divine judgment for sin. As a sign to remind Noah and his descendants of His covenantal promise, God “set the rainbow in the cloud” (Genesis 9:12-13). Just as circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, the rainbow is the sign of the Noahic Covenant. The lesson to us is that when we see a rainbow we should always be reminded of God’s faithfulness and His amazing grace. We should also be reminded that our God is a holy and righteous God who has a holy hatred for sin and who will not allow sin to go unpunished forever. Also, just as God provided a way for Noah and his family to be saved in the ark, He also has provided a way for us to be saved through Jesus Christ. Noah and his family were saved from the wrath of God that came in the flood, just as those who are in Christ are saved from the “wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

The Edenic Covenant is the covenant that God made with Adam in the Garden of Eden. This covenant is also sometimes called the “Covenant of Works” and is the first covenant that God made directly with man.

In Scripture we see two different types of covenants that God makes with men. Some are unconditional covenants, which God will keep regardless of man’s actions. Others are conditional in that man must obey the terms of the covenant in order to receive the promises related to it. The Edenic Covenant is an example of a conditional covenant because Adam was required to obey the terms of the covenant in order to not suffer the consequences of breaking it.

The Edenic Covenant or Covenant of Works can be found in the opening chapters of Genesis where God makes some conditional promises to Adam. The Edenic Covenant is not explicitly called a covenant in Genesis; however, it is later referred to as a covenant in Hosea 6:7, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with Me” (ESV).

While some theologians will list as many as six different obligations that Adam was to keep, the heart of Edenic Covenant is really God’s command to Adam to not eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16–17). That command sets forth God’s promise as well as the penalty if Adam disobeys.

In the Edenic Covenant, God promises Adam life and blessing, but that promise is conditional upon Adam’s obedience to God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:16–17) Adam’s penalty for disobedience would be physical and spiritual death as well as a curse on the ground so that Adam would have to work harder to grow crops. One of the results of Adam’s sin was that he would have to toil all of his days until his death (Genesis 4:17–19).

This covenant plays an important part in the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption, as it shows man’s inability to maintain a right relationship with God even when he is in the earthly paradise that God created for him.

Adam’s sin broke this conditional covenant with God and left man in a fallen state, but God would soon make a second, unconditional covenant of redemption with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:14–24). Like the Edenic Covenant, this one is not explicitly referred to as a covenant in Genesis, but it is a significant promise that God makes to mankind. It is the first promise of redemption and the first promise of Christ’s coming (Genesis 3:15). Here, only three chapters into this remarkable book, God is already giving us hope of a Redeemer. Genesis 3:15 is sometimes referred to as the protevangelium, the first announcement of the gospel in Scripture. God’s promise to Eve that the seed of the serpent would bruise the heel of the seed of Eve and the seed of Eve would bruise the head of the seed of the serpent, is the foretelling that Satan would wound Christ on the cross, but that Christ would triumph over Satan on that same cross.

Both the Edenic Covenant and the Covenant of Redemption that follows are significant for several reasons. First of all, they establish a pattern to be repeated throughout the Scriptures: 1) man sins, 2) God judges the sin, and 3) God bestows grace and mercy by providing a way to redeem man and restore man’s relationship with God. Second, the covenants show us that sin always has consequences. Understanding the different covenants in the Old Testament and their relation to each other is important in understanding God’s covenantal relationship with His chosen people as well as His plan of redemption as revealed in Scripture.

The so-called Palestinian Covenant is recorded in Deuteronomy 29:1–29 and Deuteronomy 30:1–10 and was made between God and Israel  right before Moses died and Israel entered the Promised Land. The Bible never  uses the term “Palestinian Covenant,” and Moses certainly never would have  called the land “Palestine,” but the term has become common usage. This covenant  is also called the Land Covenant because many of the promises relate to Israel’s  possession of the land. God made this covenant with Israel after the Mosaic  Covenant and after Israel had wandered in the wilderness for forty years. God  made this covenant with Israel while they were in Moab waiting to go into the  Promised Land, and the covenant would serve this new generation of Israelites as  a reminder of their special covenant relationship with God.

The  Palestinian Covenant has many similarities to the Mosaic Covenant made at Mount  Sinai but is a separate and distinct covenant as clearly seen in Deuteronomy 29:1.  “These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with  the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made  with them in Horeb.” Before making this covenant with Israel, God reminded them  that if they obeyed the Mosaic Law, He would bless the nation abundantly and  warned them that disobedience to the Law would result in His cursing the nation  (Deuteronomy 28:1-68).

Besides the promises that  God would bless them if they obeyed His commandments and curse them if they  disobeyed, the Palestinian Covenant also contains some special promises to  Israel that many believe will not be completely fulfilled until the millennial  reign of Christ. First, God promised to gather the scattered Israelites from all  over the world and to bring them back into the land He had promised to their  ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:3-5). Second, God promised to regenerate  the Israelites of that time and their descendants by circumcising their hearts  so that they would love Him totally (Deuteronomy  30:6). Third, God promised to judge Israel’s enemies (Deuteronomy 30:7), and,  fourth, He promised that the Israelites would obey God and that God would  prosper them in their obedience (Deuteronomy 30:8-9). While some might see these promises  being fulfilled when Israel was returned from captivity in Babylon at the time  of Ezra and Nehemiah, there seem to be some aspects of this that have not been  fully realized yet.

For example, the promised restoration of Israel to  the land would not happen until all the blessings and curses promised them were  fulfilled (Deuteronomy  30:1), and we know that Israel as a nation rejected Jesus Christ as their  Messiah and was once again cursed and cut off from the land when the Romans  conquered Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Second, we see that one of the promises in this  covenant was that God would circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 30:6) so  that they and their descendants would obey Him (Deuteronomy  30:8). These same promises are repeated in Jeremiah  32:36-44 and Ezekiel  36:22-38 and are part of the blessings and promises of the New Covenant.  Also, it seems that the final or ultimate restoration of Israel to the land and  to an everlasting relationship with God is what Paul is looking forward to in Romans 11:25-26 when he  says that “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the  Gentiles has come in and thus all Israel will be saved.”

The Palestinian  Covenant also serves to reinforce the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob  that God would establish Israel as His chosen people (Deuteronomy 29:13).  Even though God set before Israel the promise of His blessings for obedience and  His curses for disobedience, He knew full well they would turn from Him and His  covenant and turn to idols. This is why He also promised to one day restore them  to the land and have compassion on them (Deuteronomy 30:1-3). Therefore, the ultimate outcome of  this covenant does not depend on Israel and its obedience, but instead it  depends on God and His faithfulness. The Palestinian Covenant focuses on what  God is going to do more than what Israel is supposed to do. While Israel’s  prosperity is closely tied to her obedience to God’s commands, and they will  still be punished for their disobedience to God, there is coming a day when God  will return them to the land (the full extent of the land as outlined in Genesis  15:18-21), and they will possess it, and God will bless them  forever.

At that time God will circumcise their hearts so they will obey  Him (Deuteronomy  30:6). This covenant is again reaffirming the Abrahamic Covenant in that  someday the seed of Abraham will possess the Promised Land forever. Unlike the  Mosaic Covenant whose promises are conditional upon Israel’s obedience to the  Law, ultimate fulfillment of the promises of the Palestinian Covenant are not  dependent upon Israel’s obedience. Instead, the Palestinian Covenant is an  unconditional, eternal covenant (Ezekiel  16:60) because it is a part of the Abrahamic Covenant and an amplification  of it.

The new covenant is spoken about first in the book of Jeremiah. The old covenant  that God had established with His people required obedience to the Old Testament  Mosaic law. Because the wages of sin is death (Romans  6:23), the law required that people perform rituals and sacrifices in order  to please God and remain in His grace. The prophet Jeremiah predicted that there  would be a time when God would make a new covenant with the nation of  Israel.

“‘The day will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new  covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. . . . But this is the new covenant  I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put  my law in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their  God, and they will be my people'” (Jeremiah  31:31, 33).  Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law of Moses (Matthew  5:17) and create a new covenant between God and His people. The old covenant  was written in stone, but the new covenant is written on our hearts, made  possible only by faith in Christ, who shed His own blood to atone for the sins  of the world. Luke 22:20 says, “After supper, [Jesus] took another cup of wine and said, ‘This wine is  the token of God’s new covenant to save you – an agreement sealed with the blood  I will pour out for you.'”

Now that we are under the new covenant, we  are not under the penalty of the law. We are now given the opportunity to  receive salvation as a free gift (Ephesians  2:8-9). Through the life-giving Holy Spirit who lives in all believers (Romans 8:9-11), we can now  share in the inheritance of Christ and enjoy a permanent, unbroken relationship  with God. Hebrews  9:15 declares, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant,  that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that  He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first  covenant.”

The Mosaic Covenant is a conditional covenant made between God and the nation of  Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-24). It is sometimes called the Sinai Covenant  but is more often referred to as the Mosaic Covenant since Moses was God’s  chosen leader of Israel at that time. The pattern of the covenant is very  similar to other ancient covenants of that time because it is between a  sovereign king (God) and his people or subjects (Israel). At the time of the  covenant, God reminded the people of their obligation to be obedient to His law  (Exodus 19:5), and the people  agreed to the covenant when they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will  do!” (Exodus  19:8). This covenant would serve to set the nation of Israel apart from all  other nations as God’s chosen people and was as equally binding as the  unconditional covenant that God made with Abraham because it is also a blood  covenant. The Mosaic Covenant is a significant covenant in both God’s redemptive  history and in the history of the nation of Israel through whom God would  sovereignly chose to bless the world with both His written Word and the Living  Word, Jesus Christ.

The Mosaic Covenant was centered around God’s giving  His divine law to Moses on Mount Sinai. In understanding the different covenants  in the Bible and their relationship with one another, it is important to  understand that the Mosaic Covenant differs significantly from the Abrahamic  Covenant and later biblical covenants because it is conditional in that the  blessings that God promises are directly related to Israel’s obedience to the  Mosaic Law. If Israel is obedient, then God will bless them, but if they  disobey, then God will punish them. The blessings and curses that are associated  with this conditional covenant are found in detail in Deuteronomy 28. The other  covenants found in the Bible are unilateral covenants of promise, in which God  binds Himself to do what He promised, regardless of what the recipients of the  promises might do. On the other hand the Mosaic Covenant is a bilateral  agreement, which specifies the obligations of both parties to the  covenant.

The Mosaic Covenant is especially significant because in it  God promises to make Israel “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Israel was to be God’s light to the dark  world around them. They were to be a separate and called-out nation so that  everyone around them would know that they worshiped Yahweh, the covenant-keeping  God. It is significant because it is here that Israel received the Mosaic Law  that was to be a schoolmaster pointing the way towards the coming of Christ (Galatians  3:24-25). The Mosaic Law would reveal to people their sinfulness and their  need for a Savior, and it is the Mosaic Law that Christ Himself said that He did  not come to abolish but to fulfill. This is an important point because some  people get confused by thinking that keeping the Law saved people in the Old  Testament, but the Bible is clear that salvation has always been by faith alone,  and the promise of salvation by faith that God had made to Abraham as part of  the Abrahamic Covenant still remained in  effect (Galatians  3:16-18).

Also, the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Covenant did  not really take away sins (Hebrews  10:1-4); it simply foreshadowed the bearing of sin by Christ, the perfect  high priest Who was also the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews  9:11-28). Therefore, the Mosaic Covenant itself, with all its detailed laws,  could not save people. It is not that there was any problem with the Law itself,  for the Law is perfect and was given by a holy God, but the Law had no power to  give people new life, and the people were not able to obey the Law perfectly (Galatians 3:21).

The Mosaic Covenant is also referred to as the Old Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:14Hebrews 8:6, 13) and was replaced by the  New Covenant in Christ (Luke 22:20; 1  Corinthians 11:25; 2  Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:88:13; 9:15; 12:24). The New Covenant  in Christ is far better than the old Mosaic Covenant that it replaces because it  fulfills the promises made in Jeremiah  31:31-34, as quoted in Hebrews 8.

The Davidic Covenant refers to God’s promises to David through Nathan the  prophet and is found in 2 Samuel 7 and later summarized in 1 Chronicles  17:11-14 and 2  Chronicles 6:16. This is an unconditional covenant made between God and  David through which God promises David and Israel that the Messiah (Jesus  Christ) would come from the lineage of David and the tribe of Judah and would  establish a kingdom that would endure forever (2 Samuel  7:10-13). The Davidic Covenant is unconditional because God does not place  any conditions of obedience upon its fulfillment. The surety of the promises  made rests solely on God’s faithfulness and does not depend at all on David or  Israel’s obedience.

The Davidic Covenant centers on several key promises  that are made to David. 1) God reaffirms the promise of the land that He made in  the first two covenants with Israel (the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants). This  promise is seen in 2 Samuel  7:10, “Moreover I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant  them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; nor shall  the sons of wickedness oppress them anymore, as previously.” 2) God promises  that David’s descendant or “seed” will succeed him as king of Israel and that  David’s throne will be established forever. This promise is seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-13, “I  will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will  establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish  the throne of his kingdom forever.” This is a reference to the coming Messiah,  Jesus Christ.

The provisions of the covenant are summarized in 2 Samuel 7:16, “And your  house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne  shall be established forever.” The promise that David’s “house,” “kingdom” and  “throne” will be established forever is significant because it shows that the  Messiah will come from the lineage of David and that He will establish a kingdom  from which He will reign. The covenant is summarized by the words “house,”  promising a dynasty in the lineage of David; “kingdom,” referring to a people  who are governed by a king; “throne,” emphasizing the authority of the king’s  rule; and “forever,” emphasizing the eternal and unconditional nature of this  promise to David and Israel.

A covenant is an agreement between two parties. There are two types of  covenants: conditional and unconditional. A conditional or bilateral covenant is  an agreement that is binding on both parties for its fulfillment. Both parties  agree to fulfill certain conditions. If either party fails to meet their  responsibilities, the covenant is broken and neither party has to fulfill the  expectations of the covenant. An unconditional or unilateral covenant is an  agreement between two parties, but only one of the two parties has to do  something. Nothing is required of the other party.

The Abrahamic  Covenant is an unconditional covenant. God made promises to Abraham that  required nothing of Abraham. Genesis  15:18-21 describes a part of the Abrahamic Covenant, specifically dealing  with the dimensions of the land God promised to Abraham and his  descendants.

The actual Abrahamic Covenant is found in Genesis 12:1-3. The  ceremony recorded in Genesis 15 indicates the unconditional nature of the  covenant. The only time that both parties of a covenant would pass between the  pieces of animals was when the fulfillment of the covenant was dependent upon  both parties keeping commitments. Concerning the significance of God alone  moving between the halves of the animals, it is to be noted that it is a smoking  furnace and a flaming torch, representing God, not Abraham, which passed between  the pieces. Such an act, it would seem, should be shared by both parties, but in  this case it is doubtless to be explained by the fact that the covenant is  principally a promise by God. He is the one who binds Himself. God caused a  sleep to fall upon Abraham so that he would not be able to pass between the two  halves of the animals. Fulfillment of the covenant fell to God alone.

God determined to call out a special people for Himself through whom He would  bring blessing to all the nations. The Abrahamic Covenant is paramount to a  proper understanding of the kingdom concept and is foundational to Old Testament  theology. (1) The Abrahamic Covenant is described in Genesis 12:1–3 and is an  unconditional covenant. There are no conditions attached to it (no “if” clauses,  suggesting its fulfillment is dependent on man). (2) It is also a literal  covenant in which the promises should be understood literally. The land that is  promised should be understood in its literal or normal interpretation—it is not  a figure of heaven. (3) It is also an everlasting covenant. The promises that  God made to Israel are eternal.

There are three main features to the  Abrahamic Covenant:

1. The promise of land (Genesis 12:1). God called  Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees to a land that He would give him (Genesis 12:1). This promise  is reiterated in Genesis  13:14–18 where it is confirmed by a shoe covenant; its dimensions are given  in Genesis  15:18–21 (precluding any notion of this being fulfilled in heaven). The land  aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is also expanded in Deuteronomy 30:1–10,  which is the Palestinian  Covenant.

2. The promise of descendants (Genesis 12:2). God promised  Abraham that He would make a great nation out of him. Abraham, who was 75 years  old and childless (Genesis  12:4), was promised many descendants. This promise is amplified in Genesis 17:6 where God  promised that nations and kings would descend from the aged patriarch. This  promise (which is expanded in the Davidic  Covenant of 2 Samuel  7:12–16) would eventuate in the Davidic throne with Messiah’s kingdom rule  over the Hebrew people.

3. The promise of blessing and redemption (Genesis 12:3). God promised  to bless Abraham and the families of the earth through him. This promise is  amplified in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; cf.  Hebrews  8:6–13) and has to do with “Israel’s spiritual blessing and redemption.” Jeremiah 31:34 anticipates the forgiveness of sin. The unconditional and eternal nature of the  covenant is seen in that the covenant is reaffirmed to Isaac (Genesis 21:12; 26:3–4). The “I will”  promises suggest the unconditional aspect of the covenant. The covenant is  further confirmed to Jacob (Genesis  28:14–15). It is noteworthy that God reaffirmed these promises amid the sins  of the patriarchs, which fact further emphasizes the unconditional nature of the  Abrahamic Covenant.

God’s method of fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant is  literal, inasmuch as God partially fulfilled the covenant in history: God  blessed Abraham by giving him the land (Genesis  13:14–17); God blessed him spiritually (Genesis  13:8, 18; 14:22, 23; 21:22); God gave him  numerous descendants (Genesis  22:17; 49:3–28). The important element of the Abrahamic  Covenant, however, demands a future fulfillment with Messiah’s kingdom  rule:

(1) Israel as a nation will possess the land in the future.  Numerous Old Testament passages anticipate the future blessing of Israel and her  possession of the land as promised to Abraham. Ezekiel envisions a future day  when Israel is restored to the land (Ezekiel  20:33–37, 40–4236:1–37:28).

(2) Israel as a nation will be  converted, forgiven, and restored (Romans  11:25–27).

(3) Israel will repent and receive the forgiveness of God  in the future (Zechariah  12:10–14). The Abrahamic Covenant finds its ultimate fulfillment in  connection with the return of Messiah to rescue and bless His people Israel. It  is through the nation Israel that God promised in Genesis  12:1–3 to bless the nations of the world. That ultimate blessing will issue  in the forgiveness of sins and Messiah’s glorious kingdom reign on earth.

The story of Uzzah and the Ark of the  Covenant is found in 2 Samuel  6:1-7 and 1  Chronicles 13:9-12. As the ark was being transported, the oxen pulling the  cart stumbled, and a Levite named Uzzah took hold of the ark. God’s anger burned  against Uzzah and He struck him down and he died. Uzzah’s punishment does appear  to be extreme for what we might consider to be a good deed. However, there are  the reasons why God took such severe action.

First, God had given Moses  and Aaron specific instructions about the Tent of Meeting and the movement of  the Ark of the Covenant. “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the  holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move,  the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy  things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in  the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers  4:15). No matter how innocently it was done, touching the ark was in direct  violation of God’s law and was to result in death. This was a means of  preserving the sense of God’s holiness and the fear of drawing near to Him  without appropriate preparation.

Notice how David took men with him to  collect the ark, rather than allowing Abinadab and his sons to bring it to him.  That was a great mistake, since it ought never to have been put upon a cart, old  or new. It was to be borne upon men’s shoulders, and carried by Levites only,  and those of the family of Kohath (Exodus  25:12-14; Numbers  7:9), using the poles prescribed. Failing to follow God’s precise  instructions would be seen as (a) not revering God’s words when He spoke them  through those such as Moses, whom He had appointed; (b) having an independent  attitude that might border on rebellion, i.e., seeing and acting on things from  a worldly, rather than a spiritual, perspective; or (c) disobedience.

Second, the ark had stayed for a period of time at Abinadab’s house (2 Samuel 6:3), where his  sons, Uzzah and Ahio, may well have become accustomed to its presence. There’s  an old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt,” that could apply in this case.  Uzzah, having been around the ark in his own home, could very likely forget the  holiness that it represented. There are times when we, too, fail to recognize  the holiness of God, becoming too familiar with Him with an irreverent attitude.

Third, the account tells us the oxen stumbled. The cart didn’t fall and  neither did the Ark, just as the boat carrying Jesus and the disciples rocked  fiercely in the storm, though it wasn’t necessarily in danger of sinking (Matthew 8:24-27). And  yet, just as with the disciples who failed to put their faith in their Master,  Uzzah, for a moment, felt it was his responsibility to save the integrity of  God, and that our almighty God somehow needed Uzzah’s assistance. He presumed  that, without his intervention, God’s presence would be dealt a blow. As Job  asks, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?” (Job 11:7). “His  greatness no-one can fathom” (Psalm  145:3). “His understanding no-one can fathom” (Isaiah  40:28). Moses lost his right to enter the promised land because he felt his  intervention was needed when he struck the rock, instead of speaking to it as  God had commanded (Numbers  20:7-12). We need to listen carefully to what God has to say to us, and in  obedience strive to do all He commands. Yes, God is loving and merciful, but He  is also holy and He defends His holiness with His power, and affronts to His  holiness sometimes bring about His holy wrath. “It is a dreadful thing to fall  into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews  10:31).

Something of God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant seems  to be lost in the church today. In the time of Moses, the people knew the  awesomeness of God’s absolute holiness. They had witnessed great miracles when  the ark was with them. They respected that God’s ways and thoughts are much  higher than ours (Isaiah  55:8-9). In truth, the more we try to bring God down to our worldly way of  thinking or reasoning, the further away He will seem to us. Those who would draw  near to God and have Him draw near to them are those who approach Him in  reverence and holy fear. Uzzah forgot that lesson, and the consequences were  tragic.

What happened to the Ark of the Covenant is a question that has fascinated  theologians, Bible students, and archeologists for centuries. In the eighteenth  year of his reign, King Josiah of Judah ordered the caretakers of the Ark of the  Covenant to return it to the temple in Jerusalem (2  Chronicles 35:1-6; cf. 2 Kings  23:21-23). That is the last time the ark’s location is mentioned in the  Scriptures. Forty years later, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured Jerusalem  and raided the temple. Less than ten years after that, he returned, took what  was left in the temple, and then burnt it and the city to the ground. So what  happened to the ark? Was it taken by Nebuchadnezzar? Was it destroyed with the  city? Or was it removed and hidden safely away, as evidently happened when  Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt raided the temple during the reign of Solomon’s son  Rehoboam? (“Evidently” because, if Shishak had managed to take the Ark, why did  Josiah ask the Levites to return it? If the Ark was in Egypt—à la the plotline  of Raiders of the Lost Ark—the Levites would not have possessed it and  therefore could not have returned it.)

The non-canonical book of 2  Maccabees reports that just prior to the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah,  “following a divine revelation, ordered that the tabernacle and the ark should  accompany him and…he went off to the mountain which Moses climbed to see God’s  inheritance [i.e., Mt. Nebo; cf. Deuteronomy 31:1-4]. When Jeremiah arrived there, he  found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of  incense; then he blocked up the entrance” (2:4-5). However, “Some of those who  followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it.  When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: ‘The place is to remain unknown  until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. Then the Lord  will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord will be seen in the cloud,  just as it appeared in the time of Moses and when Solomon prayed that the Temple  might be gloriously sanctified’” (2:6-8). It is not known if this secondhand  (see 2:1) account is accurate; even if it is, we will not know until the Lord  comes back, as the account itself claims.

Other theories concerning the  whereabouts of the lost ark include Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Yehuda Getz’s claim  that it is hidden beneath the temple mount, having been buried there before  Nebuchadnezzar could steal it away. Unfortunately, the temple mount is now home  to the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic holy site, and the local Muslim community  refuses to allow it to be excavated. So we cannot know if Rabbis Goren and Getz  are correct.

Explorer Vendyl Jones, among others, believes that an  artifact found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the enigmatic “Copper Scroll” of  Qumran Cave 3, is actually a treasure map of sorts detailing the location of a  number of precious treasures taken from the temple before the Babylonians  arrived, among them the lost Ark of the Covenant. Whether or not this is true  remains to be seen, as no one has yet been able to locate all of the necessary  geographical landmarks listed on the scroll. Interestingly, some scholars  speculate that the Copper Scroll may actually be the record referred to in 2 Maccabees  2:1, 4, which  describes Jeremiah hiding the ark. While this is an interesting speculation, it  remains unsubstantiated.

Former East African correspondent for “The  Economist,” Graham Hancock, published a book in 1992 entitled The Sign and  the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, in which he argued  that the ark had been stowed away in Saint Mary of Zion’s Church in Aksum, an  ancient city of Ethiopia. Explorer Robert Cornuke of the B.A.S.E. Institute,  also believes the Ark may now reside in Aksum. However, no one has yet found it  there. Similarly, archaeologist Michael Sanders believes the ark is hidden away  in an ancient Egyptian temple in the Israeli village of Djaharya, but he has yet  to actually find it there.

A doubtful Irish tradition maintains that  the Ark is buried under the Hill of Tara in Ireland. Some scholars believe that  this is the source of the Irish “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” legend.  Even less believable are the claims of Ron Wyatt and Tom Crotser, Wyatt claiming  to actually have seen the lost Ark of the Covenant buried under Mt. Calvary and  Crotser claiming to have seen it on Mt. Pisgah near Mt. Nebo. Both of these men  are held in low esteem by the archaeological community, and neither has been  able to substantiate the wild claims with any evidence.

In the end, the  ark remains lost to all but God. Interesting theories like the ones presented  above continue to be offered, but the ark has yet to be found. The writer of 2  Maccabees may very well be right; we may not find out what happened to the lost  Ark of the Covenant until the Lord Himself returns.

God made a covenant (a conditional covenant) with the children of Israel through  His servant Moses. He promised good to them and their children for generations  if they obeyed Him and His laws; but He always warned of despair, punishment,  and dispersion if they were to disobey. As a sign of His covenant He had the  Israelites make a box according to His own design, in which to place the stone  tablets containing the Ten Commandments. This box, or chest, was called an “ark”  and was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark was to be housed in the  inner sanctum of the tabernacle in the desert and eventually in the Temple when  it was built in Jerusalem. This chest is known as the Ark of the  Covenant.

The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took  place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy  seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse,  cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a  year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and  atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood  of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God  for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this  atonement could take place.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic  foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on  the cross for the remission of sins. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and one  familiar with the Old Testament, knew this concept quite well when he wrote  about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans  3:24-25: “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption  that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to  be received by faith.” Just as there was only one place for atonement of sins in  the Old Testament—the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant—so there is also  only one place for atonement in the New Testament and current times—the cross of  Jesus Christ. As Christians, we no longer look to the Ark but to the Lord Jesus  Himself as the propitiation and atonement for our sins.