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Part 1: What's the Ark? (Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog)


EVER GO TO SUNDAY SCHOOL?


Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic from my childhood, one of my all-time favorite movies, and easily one of the greatest action/adventure movies ever made. (Watch the 1981 trailer here.)


In the movie, Indiana Jones – professor of archeology, expert on the occult, “obtainer of rare antiquities,” and “man of many talents” – is commissioned by U.S. army intelligence agents to find ancient Israel's lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. Apparently, Hitler had a thing for finding supernatural artifacts, and he believed that by possessing this object from Old Testament biblical times, his evil Nazi army would be unstoppable.


Frankly, Hitler had bad theology. But we’ll get into that in a later post.


In Indy’s meeting with the army intelligence agents, we’re given the back-story of the Ark. (Watch the conversation here.) We’re told the Ark contains “thee” 10 Commandments, the actual stone tablets carried down from Mount Sinai by Moses—“if you believe in that sort of thing.” The Ark was carried by the ancient Israelites into battle, and it was kept in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. But then it disappeared from history.


One possibility, Indy explains, is the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak took the Ark when he invaded Jerusalem in about 980 BC. He then took the Ark to the ancient city of Tanis and placed it in a chamber called The Well of Souls. A year later, Tanis was “consumed” by a year-long sandstorm and disappeared. Indy’s colleague Marcus Brody adds that Tanis and all traces of the Ark were “wiped clean by the wrath of God.”


Indy shows the agents artwork in a book with Israel’s enemies in disarray before the power of the Ark. When asked about a beam of yellow light shooting from the Ark, Indy explains it as “lightning – fire – the power of God or something.”



Brody says, “The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.” This is not something we want Hitler to get his hands on!


Indy takes a little jab at the agents when they seem clueless about the history of the Ark, asking, “Any of you guys ever go to Sunday School?”


But how well does what Indy and Brody say about the Ark line up with the Bible?

INDIANA JONES and THE TEMPLE OF BLOG


In this series, we’ll be looking at what the Bible tells us about the lost Ark, even what the Bible tells us about some raiders of the Ark. We won’t be talking about The Temple of Doom, but you’ll learn about the Temple of God in Jerusalem where the Ark was kept. We won’t discuss the Last Crusade, but you’ll learn about Israel’s crusade into the Promised Land with the Ark. And we certainly won’t be talking about The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but hopefully you’ll learn something about the Kingdom of God. (For the record, I only acknowledge 3 Indiana Jones movies and pretend the 4th movie doesn’t exist. I'll have to see how I feel after seeing the fifth and final movie.)


Here’s some stuff we’ll explore in this series:

  • WHAT IS THE ARK & WHAT'S A COVENANT?

  • SO, WHAT’S ALL THIS OLD TESTAMENT STUFF ABOUT?

  • THE ARK IN ACTION

  • SO, WHERE DID THE ARK GO?

  • SKEPTICS, LEGALISTS, & THE SUPERSTITIOUS in RAIDERS

  • DON’T LOOK, MARION! FACE-TO-FACE WITH GOD’S WRATH


WHAT IS THE ARK?


In the book of Exodus, after freeing the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God gives Moses “the Law.” This includes civil, moral, and religious laws, including the 10 Commandments. In the section of Scripture where God gives Moses specific instructions about the design of the tabernacle, which is essentially a portable temple (the Israelites were nomadic at this time and lived in tents), God also gives the specifics on how to build the Ark of the Covenant (See Exodus 25-26).


The directions, preserved in the Bible, are specific and give the precise dimensions. It was to be made of acacia (shittim) wood and completely overlaid with gold. There were to be gold rings in the corners so golden rods could be inserted into the rings and the Ark could be carried by the priests and Levites. This is the only way the Ark was to be carried (and this is an important detail to remember when we talk later about a man named Uzzah).


In Raider of the Lost Ark, we see Indy and Sallah use rods and the rings to lift the Ark from its stone container when they find it in the Well of Souls. Because of the detailed directions in the Bible, it must’ve served as a good guide for the prop designers of the Raiders movie. (See Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9; Deut. 10:2-5)


On the top of the Ark, sits the Mercy Seat (or Cover). Two winged cherubim spread their wings towards each other, “overshadowing” the Mercy Seat (Ex.25:20). Recorded in Exodus 25:21, God says, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”





WHAT’S IN THE ARK?


The “testimony” God gave Moses (i.e., the 10 Commandments written on stone tablets) were to be kept in the Ark (Exodus 25:21; Deut. 10:2-5), but other objects were also kept in the Ark.


In Exodus 16:32-34, God commanded Moses that some of the manna God provided from heaven to feed the Israelites in the desert to be kept in a container. In Numbers 17, to show that Aaron had God’s authority behind him, God made Aaron’s staff sprout and “put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds” (Num.17:8). Both of these important artifacts from Israel’s history must’ve been later placed in the Ark for safe keeping, because in the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament, the Ark is described as containing “a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Heb. 9:4).


It must’ve been decided to keep these additional two things in the Ark many generations later, because even during the reign of King Solomon the Ark only contained the stone tablets. As the Ark was placed in Solomon’s newly built temple in Jerusalem, we’re clearly told, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:9).


So, Indy and the Nazis should’ve expected to find more than just the tablets of the 10 Commandments in the Ark. When Belloq opens the Ark at the end of the film, all he finds is sand. Had the stone tablets disintegrated? Or had they been removed – along with the container of manna and Aaron’s staff? Were the writers of Raiders even aware that the manna and staff should also be in the Ark?

WHERE WAS THE ARK KEPT?


Within the holy Tabernacle, Israel’s portable temple, there was a special place called the Most Holy Place. A veil separated it from the rest of the Tabernacle. This is where God’s presence would reside among his people, and, thus, the Ark was to be kept there (Exodus 26:33-34). So, in a way, Indy’s arch-nemesis Belloq is right when he calls the Ark “a transmitter. It’s a radio for speaking to God.”


The Tabernacle & Temple


The Most Holy Place was to only ever be entered once a year on the Day of Atonement by the high priest of Israel alone. For anyone else to enter into the presence of God meant certain death, and the high priest could only enter after completing all sorts of rituals to atone for his sins and to be ritualistically clean. Then, and only then, could the high priest enter the Most Holy Place with the blood of the goat sacrificed for the sins of all of Israel, where he would sprinkle some of the blood over and in front of the Mercy Seat of the Ark. (See Leviticus 16.)


There’s a popular idea that the Israelites would tie a rope around the ankle of the High Priest before he entered the Most Holy Place so if he died, they could drag him out. The lack of historical evidence leads many to believe this practice may simply be a legend.


The Book of Exodus ends with the tabernacle being completed and the glory of the LORD filling the Tabernacle (Ex.40:34). Several generations later, we see the glory of God again fill the more permanent structure in Jerusalem when Solomon completed the building of the first Temple (2 Chronicles 7).


Later, in the New Testament (and in this blog series), we will learn what all this represents.


WAIT, WHAT’S A COVENANT?


But why is the Ark called the Ark of the Covenant? What’s a covenant? And what is THE Covenant?


Essentially, a covenant is a sort of binding agreement – similar to a vow or contract – between two or more parties. Sometimes it’s one of mutual obligation, but it can also be a one-sided obligation. Often covenants were made between a king and a group of people. Marriage can be also considered a covenantal relationship both on a personal and legal level.


Long before Moses and the exodus from Egypt, God called upon Abraham (Abram at the time), the forefather of Moses and the Israelites, and made a covenant with him.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

In his covenant, God promised to grant Abraham and his descendants land (Gen. 15:9-21) and that Abraham’s descendants will be God’s people and he will be their God. When Abraham was ninety-nine years old (and still called Abram), God appeared to him and said,

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations... And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations." (Genesis 17:1-9)

Sometimes, God would remind his people of these covenant promises or renew them or even make new ones. Over 400 years later, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God appeared to Moses and said,

“I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant… I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” (Exodus 6:2-8)

After freeing Israel from slavery, God made a new covenant with Israel. This one was one of mutual obligation: God will protect Israel and bless them, and Israel would be loyal to God, being his representative people on earth, and live by his guidance and law (See Exodus 19-24).


To seal the covenant, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood [of the peace offerings] and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:7-8).


TWO LAST THINGS ABOUT COVENANTS


Let me close with two quick final facts dealing with covenants:


(1) Now, the thing with mutual obligation covenants is if one party doesn’t keep up their end of the agreement, the contract is null and void. As you’ll see later, Israel didn’t uphold their side of the contract.


(2) In the New Testament, Jesus took up a cup [1] during the Last Supper on the night before he was crucified and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).


But we’ll talk more about both these things later.


NEXT: What's all this Old Testament stuff about anyway?



[1] By the way, if you’re hoping to get a blog series about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and what the Bible tells us about the “Holy Grail,” you just got it. The verse above is basically all the Bible has to say about the “Grail.” The Holy Grail is considerably more folklore than Bible. Fortunately, there’s a lot more we can learn about the Ark of the Covenant from the Bible.


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