Lecture 11.

The Ark

(Exodus 37:1-9.)

We have now before us the completed building, with the hanging at the entrance and the veil before the holy of holies. We come next to consider the ark and the mercy-seat upon it, whose place was in the inmost sanctuary.

It was a chest or coffer of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits broad, and one and a half cubits high. It was overlaid with gold, within and without, so that nothing but gold was visible. Around the top was a crown of gold, and on the four corners were placed four rings of gold, two on a side, through which were passed two staves of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, which were never to be removed from the ark. Upon the ark was a cover of pure gold, with a cherub at each end beaten out of one piece with it. This was called the mercy-seat, which will occupy us later.

Into the ark was put "the testimony," or two tables of the law, and in addition also, as we learn from Hebrews 9:4, "the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded."

We are already familiar with the significance of the acacia and the gold — the perfect humanity and deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will therefore see what we can learn from the dimensions of the ark; and may we approach the subject, not in the spirit of Uzzah who thought the ark needed his hand to steady it (2 Sam. 6:6-7), nor of those at Beth-shemesh who looked within and were judged for their irreverence (1 Sam. 6:19), but in something of what is suggested in the attitude of the cherubim — reverence, godly fear and worship.

May not these half cubits remind us, as we have already suggested (page 193), that the knowledge of Christ given to us now is but partial; "we know in part" (1 Cor. 13:9). None but the Father can fully know the Son (Matt. 11:27). Those who have the deepest knowledge of Him are the first to say, in the language of the Queen of Sheba, "It was a true report that I heard … and, behold, the half was not told me" (1 Kings 10:6-7). So with our all-glorious Lord, the scale is reduced — may we say? — that our finite minds may grasp something of the wondrous fulness of that which passeth knowledge.

But if the scale be thus reduced, in one sense, in another the same truths are preserved, for we seem to gather from the proportion of these dimensions just the lessons that we should gather were they double what they are. The height of the tabernacle boards was ten cubits, which, as

we have seen, taught a special lesson — ten being the number of responsibility, fully met in Christ. This measure seems to govern the height of the tabernacle. Now if the ark had been double the size given, it would have been too large, out of proportion for the tabernacle. But if all the dimensions are reduced one half, the scale is simply reduced, but the relative proportions remain the same. Thus if we double these dimensions we have, instead of 5/2 x 3/2 x 3/2, 5 x 3 x 3. Let us then look at the significance of these numbers.

Five, as we have seen, is composed of 4 + 1 four being the number of the creature, and one of the Creator. Christ our Lord has brought these together and united them in His own person. He is Man and He is God. Were we to look at the five as composed of three and two, we reach a similar thought, from a different point of view. Three is the number of full, divine manifestation. It is therefore the number which speaks of the Trinity — the three divine persons in the Deity. Our Lord was the embodiment of Deity: "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). Two on the other hand speaks of redemption, through His death. Thus in His blessed and perfect person we have the fulness of Deity and redemption forever united. In whichever way we take it, therefore, the five would speak of the Son of God and Son of Man in the one person.

The ark was the same in breadth and height; so there was divine equality in our Lord in the perfect manifestation of all that God is. Every attribute was fully and consistently exhibited — justice and love; holiness and grace; wisdom and power. And these divine characteristics were connected with those which speak of Him incarnate. Three is also the number of resurrection, and thus is a reminder that He in whom all this perfection exists is the risen One — "alive for evermore," and thus "declared to be the Son of God with power" (Rom. 1:4). We have therefore in these two numbers the reminder that it is with God manifest in the flesh we have to do.

We notice next that this ark was overlaid with gold within and without. While the acacia boards gave form and dimensions to the ark, the appearance was all gold — no wood was visible. Thus our Lord's humanity gives Him the form in which He was and is. Light of light, the Creator and Upholder of all things, He became a Man, and was and is eternally "the Man Christ Jesus." But how God guards us from having a single low view of this most lowly One. The gold covers all. Look at Him! Gaze, as far as finite minds and hearts can, upon the majesty of His being, and all is divine! The divine nature is displayed over the "form of a servant," and wherever the all-seeing eye of God rests, within that pure and holy mind, affections and will, as well as without upon that blameless walk, meekness and obedience, He owns Him as His equal, His co-eternal Son. It is all gold, though the form of the Servant was there, with perfect human faculties and dependence — everything that belongs to man, sin apart. But spread all over this is the glory of His deity. And does not faith see the same?

This leads us to inquire what was the primary purpose of the ark? The answer to this will bring us to two great truths, which we shall take in the order in which they would naturally come; though, unquestionably, in God's mind they might come in the reverse order.

"At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto Me into the Mount and make thee an ark of wood: and I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them into the ark. And I made an ark of shittim wood … and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the Lord commanded me" (Deut. 10:1-5).

This is interesting as showing the character of the narrative in Deuteronomy, and illustrating the perfection of Scripture, the exactness of inspiration, and how lines of divine truth converge. In reading this passage we would not have thought of a tabernacle, nor of a gold-covered ark with a mercy-seat and cherubim of gold, and yet there can be no question that this is "the ark of the testimony," which we are now studying. Moses, through the Spirit of God, here in Deuteronomy, was going over the people's past ways and God's ways with them. Scripture is never a mere repetition, even where the same passage is quoted. This will account for the freedom with which words and clauses are sometimes changed when quoted in the New Testament from the Old. The Spirit has a purpose in view, and without violence to the former meaning of the passage, may give new light in connection with it; or He may omit all except that which in divine wisdom is to be laid before us in the present connection.

Here in Deuteronomy, Moses was recounting to the people, in much the same way as psalms 78, 105 and 106, how God had led them and cared for them, and how they had utterly failed. The object of this was to magnify God, beget in them real humility, and thus induce a true dependence and obedience. The chapter preceding had recounted their sin in making the golden calf, and how the first tables of the law had consequently been broken. A second set of tables was provided in divine mercy, but how were these, with the same holy requirements and prohibitions as the first, to be aught but a curse to the stiff-necked and rebellious people? Alas, these tables should have been safe, "unbroken," in the tent of any Israelite. But such was not the case: a special coffer must be prepared for them; and thus Moses speaks of the ark of shittim wood. Every Israelite would know something of this ark, its overlaying gold, its mercy-seat and cherubim, so none would be misled by the omission of all these. The one thing Moses would remind them of was the need for a coffer for the law's safety and of a special guard to bear this coffer (Deut. l0:8). All this would bring home to them the sanctity of the law and the absolute need of obedience to it — may we not say, of their guilt too, and helplessness? God had to provide a shrine for that which should have been enshrined in their hearts.

All this beautifully accords with the significance of the shittim wood, and its mention apart from the gold. Here was a disobedient and rebellious people who could not be entrusted with God's perfect law. He must either judge them, or provide in mercy that which, typically, could be entrusted with it. Where could such an one be found? In the very wilderness scene where His people had failed, where even the leader Moses can only acknowledge the hand of God upon them all for sin — a sin which ran back to Adam — God raises up the Second Man (see Ps. 90, 91). Of Him the shittim wood speaks: One who, in all the circumstances in which the people failed, is subjected to greater trials far than they ever passed through; One who perfectly kept the law of God in His heart. A Man, but infinitely more than a man. He was tempted, tried, subjected to all that could possibly come upon men, and in it all never swerved in heart from absolute delight in God's law, nor in act from perfect obedience to it; therefore, in view of the utter inability of Levitical sacrifices to take away sin, He says, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart" (Ps. 40:7-8). Man may, from habit, example, self-interest, or even from some inclination, outwardly keep some of the commandments, but no unregenerate man could ever say he delighted to do the will of God. As soon as his own will is opposed it rebels against God. "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). There was no shrine therefore for the law of God except in the Ark of God — in Him who could say: "I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 6:38); "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John 4:34).

We are sometimes taught that Christ's obedience to the law was imputed to us instead of our obedience to it. This is contradicted by Gal. 4:5, which tells us that His incarnation and obedience to the law was "to redeem them that were under the law;" and how that was done we learn in the preceding chapter: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). He could not have been a substitute to bear the judgment of a broken law, unless He perfectly kept it in His own heart. But His keeping the law did not undo man's breaking it. It was necessary therefore that He bear upon the cross the curse deserved by us.

We return for a moment to the thought of the law enshrined in His heart. Under His divine control it was carried out for Him as a Babe; the only One who never needed sacrifice for purification was brought to the temple by the parents "to do for Him after the custom of the law" (Luke 2:27); and twelve years later, according to the custom of the Jews, He was again brought to the temple to be presented to God. How far beyond all that He goes, as He tells them, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" And so it was throughout His entire life. They might accuse Him impliedly of violating "the tradition of the elders" (Matt. 15:2), but never truly of the slightest violation of a command of God; so in all the consciousness of perfect rectitude, He answers: "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" (Matt. 15:3). He could ask, "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" (John 8:46) and declare, "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29). The Jews had so mingled their traditions with the law of the Sabbath that they mistook the one for the other. This brought our Lord into frequent collision with them regarding alleged violations of the command. But He showed how their so-called Sabbath-keeping was but an empty, lifeless thing, which violated the first principle of the divine rest, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt. 12:7). Neither Satan's nor man's malignity could ever find in Him a single violation of that holy law. His heart was the chosen shrine for it.

The time is coining when, under the terms of the new covenant of grace, sealed by "the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb. 13:20), God will at last have a resting-place for His law in the hearts of His people: "I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people" (Heb. 8:10). Then the law will be their delight, and their whole language be used to set forth its perfections: "Oh how love I Thy law! it is my meditation all the day" (Ps. 119:97). But this is the fruit of grace through redemption, enjoyed now too by every regenerate heart, for to all such have the blessings of the new covenant been ministered. But even though it may be truly said of all such, "Whosoever is born of God Both not commit sin" (1 John 3:9), yet of such it is also said. "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). So that in the believer there are two principles, two natures, the old and the new: "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other" (Gal. 5:17).

Here then, even in those who are partakers of divine grace, there is a contrast with our Lord. He is the only One who in Himself had absolutely nothing contrary to the law of God. He stands alone, the theme of praise and worship by all who have through the Spirit partaken of His perfect nature. He is the true, the only Ark.

But beside the tables of the law within the ark, was also the golden pot of manna. The manna was the daily food for the people throughout their wilderness journey. "When the dew that lay was gone up, behold upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoarfrost on the ground … and when the sun waxed hot, it melted" (Ex. 16:14, 21). They were distinctly forbidden to lay up any of it; it was to be daily gathered for their daily need. Spite of this, some left of it till the morning, and it turned to corruption: "It bred worms and stank" (Ex. 16:20). On the day before the Sabbath. however, they gathered a double portion, and it preserved its purity and sweetness on the day of rest.

All this is beautifully clear. In John 6:32-33, our Lord declares Himself to be the true manna: "The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." Christ come down into the world, and giving Himself unto death, is life for the believer and the sustenance of that life, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, whose one work is to glorify Christ. The dew fell, and when it had passed the manna was visible. The Spirit, suggested by the dew, does not manifest Himself, but presents Christ, and then withdraws from view: He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:14).

But this heavenly food is most sensitive; it does not tarry after the sun has risen, when this world's attractions or cares absorb the mind. If Christ is to be the food of our souls there must be the "early rising," of which Scripture is full (Gen. 22:3, etc.) — that purpose of heart which overcomes nature's indolence — "That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:12). "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33) — it is to have preeminence. Where Christ's things are given the first place, there will always be food and sustenance for the soul. But when "the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches" (Matt. 13:22) come in, the heavenly manna melts away.

If spiritual sloth fails to gather the manna, spiritual parsimony cannot keep it. There is no such thing as a hoard of spirituality. Daily must we feed upon Christ. The grace of yesterday will not do for today. How this strikes at the root of "attainments in holiness." We have practically only so much of Christ as we enjoy at the present moment. We are never to look back with complacency upon our past experiences: if we do, the corruption of spiritual pride soon manifests itself. God knows that our only happiness and holiness is in constant, present communion with the Lord, and He will not permit a dwelling upon the past in the way of excluding the present.

There will come a time, however, when we can safely remember the past, and feed upon Him who was our stay here below: "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years … and He humbled thee and fed thee with manna which thou knewest not" (Deut. 8:2-3). In glory, past experiences will be food for praise, with no possibility for pride to be developed. This is suggested in the preservation of the manna to be used on the Sabbath, God's rest, and emphasized in the golden pot filled with an omer of manna — the portion for one man — and "laid up before the testimony, to be kept" (Ex. 16:32-34). This is referred to in the promise to the overcomer in Pergamos, and is particularly appropriate in view of the nature of the evil there to be overcome — the seductions of the world. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna" (Rev. 2:17). Those who have turned from the world here, to feed upon Christ, will find all the blessedness enjoyed here day by day laid up and kept there in a glorified Lord.

The golden pot seems to emphasize the divine glory of Him who humbled Himself here to be the food of His people. In that very lowliness He was still "God over all" (Rom. 9:5, J. N. D.) But God has enshrined that lowliness in the glory of deity: He has reversed, we may say, the form in which He appeared here.

The thought of the manna laid up seems to be that it is "reserved for heaven's delights," rather than while our Lord was here. But we must remember it was here that He became the manna, and here also that the excellence of that character was manifest to God who saw it ever as in the golden pot. This perfect grace of Christ causes faith to worship Him now; while, in the day of His glory, "every knee shall bow" (Phil. 2:10).

We need not fear that anything truly of Christ can ever be really lost. What our hearts have treasured of Him here, we shall find and enjoy with Him there. Like the apostle, then, let us be "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, press toward the mark for the prize of of the calling on high of God, in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14 ); and when we reach "the land," as we gaze upon that divine One who in lowliness fed us in this desert scene with the "bread of the mighty" (Ps. 78:25), we shall exclaim, with Joshua of old, "Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you" (Joshua 23:14).

One thing more was laid up in the ark: "Aaron's rod that budded," which recalls a solemn epoch in the history of the people. In Numbers 16:1, etc., we read of Dathan and Abiram, of the tribe of Reuben, and Korah, of the tribe of Levi, who rebelled against divinely appointed authority — in Moses as leader and in Aaron as priest. The rebellion was formidable; two hundred and fifty princes of the people being connected with it. Dathan and Abiram belonged to the tribe of Reuben, which would naturally have had the leadership, being the first-born. But here, as so constantly in Scripture, the natural, the first-born, must give place to the spiritual — the new-born. Though to Reuben, the first-born, belonged "the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power," of him it is said, "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel" (Gen. 49:3-4). The first Adam is an example of this, quickly followed by Cain, Esau and others — all pointing to this, that the fallen, unstable first man must give place to the Second Man, the only One who could stand before God, and who stands for the feeblest of those who put their trust in Him.

Dathan and Abiram seem to have reasserted their claim to the first-born prerogatives, and their rebellion was primarily against Moses as leader. But Moses and Aaron cannot be separated here, for Christ, of whom they were types, is both King and Priest. So we find Korah, of the tribe of Levi, associated with the sons of Reuben, and Korah's rebellion was chiefly against the priesthood of Aaron. As a Levite he had special privileges in connection with the tabernacle and holy vessels; envious of Aaron, he desired to intrude into the priesthood. Typically it answers to that refusal of the sacrificial work of Christ and His exclusive place of nearness to God; the only One by whom any can approach to Him. It was not rebellion against man. "What is Aaron that ye murmur against him?" (Num. 16:11). It was the authority of God, and His provision in mercy whereby the guilty nation had been spared.

Men speak lightly of the Son of God, of His sacrificial work; they deny the need of His precious blood which alone cleanseth from all sin. It is a repetition of the rebellion of Korah, the culmination of all evil: beginning with Cain's denial of sin, going on to Balaam's mingling of God's people with His enemies, and reaching its last development in Korah. Thus does the Spirit of God summarize the rise, growth and culmination of apostasy from divine truth: "Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah" (Jude 11). In the sight of God it is as already accomplished. Our Lord beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven (Luke 10:18); and the seer has narrated the end of the Beast and false prophet, so closely answering to the sons of Reuben on the one hand, and to Korah, as the Antichrist, on the other. "These both were cast alive into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone" (Rev. 19:20).

But these awful judgments inflicted upon the leaders and "sinners against their own souls" (Num. 16:38), were meant to turn the people from such madness and folly. It is divine love which withdraws the veil from the future, and warns men to "flee from the wrath to come" (Matt. 3:7). The plague which fell upon the people in connection with this rebellion was stayed by the censer of Aaron, the very one against whom in their blindness they had rebelled. Typically, how like Him it is who in mercy, though rejected by the multitudes, stands "between the dead and the living," and arrests the infliction of wrath (Num. 16:47-48).

God would, however, give a manifest proof in grace, of the priestly position of Aaron, as well as of His power. In the following chapter (Num. 17), He shows this therefore in Aaron's rod. Each tribe was to bring a rod with the name of its prince upon it, and Aaron's name for Levi. The rod of him whom God had chosen would blossom, and thus the whole question of priestly rule was to be finally settled. Aaron's rod having budded, blossomed and brought forth almonds, is thereby divinely designated. In his rod alone was the power of resurrection manifested. God had answered.

All this speaks in an unmistakable way of the true Priest, divinely set forth as the only one having right and power, which always go together in the things of God. The rod is the emblem of rule and authority, which has its source in God, to be exercised in the power of life. All possible claimants may present their rods — lifeless things, upon which already the sentence of death has passed. Along with these is His rod who also takes His place with the rest in death — "cut off out of the land of the living" (Isa. 53:8); in His case, however, not under penalty for Himself, but in grace, as the representative of His people. Who among the sons of men has received back his rod with marks of life? Who among all those in death has been "raised from the dead by the glory" of God? None save Him in whom alone was life, in whom alone there was no sin, therefore death had no claim upon Him; "It was not possible that He should be holden of it" (Acts 2:24). He alone then has competence to be the Priest before God. This is emphasized in Hebrews 7, where our Lord is seen as the One who "abideth a Priest continually" (ver. 3), "after the order of Melchizedek;" "of whom it is witnessed that He liveth" (ver. 8). He is thus a Priest after the power of an endless life (ver. 16), of which we are reminded by the flowering, budding and fruitage of the rod. The rod should also remind us of that rule in righteousness and peace seen in the Melchizedek priesthood of our Lord, as "King of righteousness" and "King of peace."

But there is more in connection with this wondrous "rod that budded." It was from the almond, which in Hebrew means "the hastener," being the first to bloom in the Spring; as Christ is not only risen, but "the First-fruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). This implies other fruits of His resurrection: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). God is "bringing many sons unto glory" through Him, and there is a suggestion of this divine fruitage in the almonds. So after His resurrection our Lord sends a message to His disciples, for the first time calling them "brethren" (John 20:17) — "not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2:11). This indeed is the fruit He desired, fulfilling the word of the prophet, "He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied" (Isa. 53:11). Thus we see His people forever united with Himself — one day to reign as priests with Him to the glory of His grace (Rev. 5:9-10).

What a divine reply this is, in infinite grace, to the unbelief which would murmur at His preeminence! He alone is worthy, who for us was slain and is now "alive forevermore;" and we, by purest grace, shall live with Him.

Thus we have the purpose of the ark — an abiding repository for the law, then also for the pot of manna and Aaron's rod that budded. In close connection with these, we find also that the book of the law was laid up (Deut. 31:26), to be a witness against them in the day of their departure from God. God's word is but the enlargement of His law, the one unchanging expression of His will. The word law is frequently used for the entire Word, as in Ps. 1:2. It was enshrined in the heart of our Lord. He ever put honor upon the whole word of God, and said of it all, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

It has been well suggested* that each of the articles contained in the ark was a reminder and a witness of failure on the part of the people: the tables of the law were a reminder of the golden calf apostasy, the first tables having been broken on that occasion: the manna reminded them of their murmuring and unbelief and the rod that budded recalled the awful rebellion of Korah against the priest of God. For us, too, how all this speaks aloud — a broken law, unbelief and murmuring, and of pride that would rise against Christ!

{*Lessons from the Tabernacle of Jehovah, J. B. Jackson.}

Yet, blessed be His name, these reminders of sin are closely and eternally linked with the blessed One who has secured pardon and blessing on the very occasion of all this evil. A law broken by us has found an eternal home in His heart who magnified the law and made it honorable (Isa. 42:21). The manna tells of His grace in our unbelief, and the budding rod, the symbol of a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. Soon, in the day of glory, will all this be fully seen.

Well may there be a crown about the top of the ark! He for whom man had nothing but the crown of thorns is now "crowned with glory and honor" (Heb. 2:9). Upon the ark of acacia wood — "Jesus" — is placed the crown of divine glory, for He is also divine.

This, then, was the coffer, or casket, containing Israel's chief treasures — the covenant of their relationship with God and the witness of His love and care the realities of which are for us in Christ, "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3)* in whom these "unsearchable riches" are safely kept against all the cunning of Satan and the weakness of the believer. Complete justification, divine grace for every step of the way, and a union in life with Him, these are the treasures, with all the spiritual blessings which accompany them, safely kept for us "in Christ." It is now hidden from the eye of the world: "The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not" (1 John 3:1). Our life is "hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). What a day it will be when God displays "the exceeding riches of His grace" (Eph. 2:7)!

{*I am aware that this verse is translated also, "in which," making "the mystery" the antecedent and not Christ. But the reading "Christ" is well supported; besides, it seems more in accord with the whole theme of the epistle, the preeminence of Christ in all things. Ephesians dwells more upon the Church, the mystery. In either case, He is the centre of the mystery and gives value to all.}

There was another purpose, we may almost say the primary purpose, for which the ark was intended, distinct from and yet closely connected with what we have been dwelling upon. We merely mention it here, as it will form the subject of the next chapter. This was the golden mercy-seat or covering to the ark,with the golden cherubim beaten out of the same piece of precious metal.

It remains to say a word as to the staves which were to be put into the rings on the two sides (or, feet) of the ark, to carry it through the desert. Emphasis has been laid upon the "feet,"* as suggesting that the ark, when carried upon the shoulders of the priests, would thus be above their heads, a conspicuous object for the people to behold. It is clear that the staves in the rings remind us that our Lord ever journeys with His people. If they are pilgrims, He will be a pilgrim too, and fulfil His own word, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5).

{*The word for "feet" is not the ordinary one, regel, but paam, from a root meaning to strike, hence to tread the ground. With a numeral it is more frequently translated "times," measured by a tread or stroke. In the comparatively few places where it is rendered "feet," it refers chiefly to the footsteps the actual step taken: "Order my steps in Thy Word" (Ps. 119:133). This is in perfect accord with the rings being in the "steps" of the ark. Our Lord came down to put His feet, as it were, in the very steps which His people must take through the wilderness.}

The use of these staves was notable in the wilderness. The people were never to march without the ark. It was to go before them and mark out the way. When Moses, apparently forgetting this, asked Hobab to accompany them, "And thou mayest be to us instead of eyes" (Num. 10:29-33), there seems to be a rebuke as well as gracious response by God. The ark went before them in the three days' journey after leaving Horeb, to search out a resting-place for them. Thus Christ, in the power of resurrection, ever leads His beloved ones through the trackless waste. What need have we of "eyes," when such an One leads us on?

We have the opposite of this when the people refused to go up into the land after the spies had brought back an evil report of it. The people, with their eyes on themselves and on the giants in the land, deliberately turned back, except Caleb and Joshua, and the solemn word of God declared that the unbelieving people should never enter that good land; they should die in the wilderness. Then with strange inconsistency they insist upon entering the land to take possession of it. But God is not a man that He should repent. The people go up, but it is significantly added, "The ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp" (Num. 14:40-45). The result was utter discomfiture. So will it ever be with those who turn away from God in unbelief and who, without Christ, presume to lay claim to blessing.

Another notable instance of the ark going before the people was at the crossing of Jordan. This indeed was a new and untried way for them: "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." The ark, borne by the priests, led the way, and the people, at an interval of two thousand cubits, followed. When the feet of the priests bearing the ark touched the Jordan, its waters fled back; the ark in the midst of Jordan stayed the waters till all the people had passed over dry shod into the land of their inheritance (Joshua 3:14-17). The history of Jericho's downfall after being compassed by the ark seven days is of the same character. It is Christ who alone can lead His people to victory. And there must ever be the "space" between Him and the most faithful. Aaron and Moses fall in the wilderness, but the ark abides.

Our blessed Lord is thus manifestly set forth as the only sufficient Leader of His people. This is particularly marked in the passage of Jordan, the river of death and judgment. What man, the most faithful and devoted, could face that awful stream, unless Christ had been there before, that His people might pass on after Him dry shod? Moses, not allowed to enter the land, illustrates for us the fact that one violation of the law would exclude from the inheritance: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). One sin would shut us out of heaven as it shut Moses out of Canaan. But thanks be to God, He had heavenly blessings for Moses, though he had to be an example of God's governmental faithfulness.

It is Christ, then, who through the sacrifice of Himself, has opened the way into the heavenly inheritance — both as to the future glory and its present spiritual enjoyment, as in Ephesians: 3. He alone could arrest the power of death and judgment, and open up the way of blessing into the inheritance which grace has provided. He also is the Victor over Jericho, having "overcome the world." He has not left His beloved ones who are still in the conflict and weariness of the way.

But we see an abuse of these staves when, in the days of the Judges, the people bring out the ark to meet the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:3). Israel was in a wretched condition, and that of the priests was fearful. The holy things of God were despised; open sin was flaunted before the eyes of God and man. Will a holy God link His name with such? Impossible. Rather must He forsake His dwelling-place and deliver His ark into the hands of the enemy. So the holy Christ of God is never, never can be, "the minister of sin" (Gal. 2:17). Need we wonder that when sin is not judged, "Thou goest not forth with our armies?" (Ps. 44:9).

There is a merciful limit to the Lord's chastenings however, so He causes the ark to be brought back. The Philistines can make no use of the staves, which are only for priestly hands, so the ark is set upon a cart and drawn back by unwilling kine to the land of Israel. In the days of David it finds a resting-place in Mount Zion, and finally when the temple was built by Solomon, the ark found a permanent abode. Its typical journeys were over; so we read, "They drew out the staves, that the ends of the staves were seen out in the holy place before the oracle, and they were not seen without: and there they are unto this day" (1 Kings 8:8). Now the longing of David, "the man after God's heart," is fulfilled. That on account of which he would "not give sleep to his eyes" is now, after all his afflictions, granted him, and in the fulness of his joy he anticipatively says, "Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest; Thou, and the ark of Thy strength" (Ps. 132:8). God cannot enter into His rest till He brings His people also into it; so all waits till the conflict with sin is over forever — all divinely and eternally settled. Then, and not till then, will the staves be withdrawn, when our Lord's companying with His blood-bought people through the wilderness will be over: "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb. 4:9). Even then the "staves" will be visible, in memory of the past, and be the cause of fresh and eternal outbursts of praise. "In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isa. 63:9).

May Christ, the Ark of the Covenant, be increasingly dear, as the One who in Himself contains all our treasures, and who will keep them and us safe till the day of glory and of joy, to the praise of His grace!