What happened to the ark of the covenant?

Anyone who has seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is familiar with the ark of the covenant. In a dramatic scene ark is opened and ghostly creatures kill the German soldiers to climax the harrowing search for the long lost Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden box built by the Israelites shortly after their departure from Egypt. While camped around Mt. Sinai the Israelites constructed the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a kind of giant tent where the worship of God took place. God gave the Israelites precise instructions about building the Tabernacle and all its furnishings.

The ark of the covenant was a key piece of furniture in the tabernacle. It was a rectangular box about 4 feet long by 2 feet wide. The box was made out of shittim wood and completely covered with gold. Inside the ark were three items: the rod of Aaron, a pot of manna and the stone tablets on which the law was written. The lid of the ark was made of solid gold. On each end of the lid was a hand wrought golden cherub stretching it wings over the lid. This golden lid was called the mercy seat.

The ark of the covenant and the mercy seat were kept inside the back room of the tabernacle. Above the mercy seat rested the presence of God. This room, called the Holy of Holies, was closed off to everyone. No one entered the holy of holies, except for one time a year. On that one day the High Priest, and only the High Priest, would go into the holy of holies to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat.

When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem he did so according to the design of the tabernacle. The furniture of the tabernacle was moved into the new temple where each piece served the same purpose it had in the tabernacle. The ark of the covenant and the mercy seat were placed inside the Temple Holy of Holies. The ark and mercy seat were possibly the most sacred pieces of temple furniture. However, they have now been lost to history. What happened to them?

The Bible is silent on the fate of the ark. The last mention of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament is in 2 Chronicles 35. In the early 600’s BC Josiah, the king of Judah, restored the ark to its proper place in the temple. Several decades later in 586 BC the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. The furniture and vessels of the ark were taken as spoils of war, but the ark is not specifically mentioned in that list.

The book of 2 Maccabees, which is not Biblical but may be historically accurate, says the prophet Jeremiah hid the ark before Babylon took Jerusalem. The statement of Maccabees may or not be true, but it seems the ark was never again seen in Jerusalem. After the seventy years of captivity the Jews were allowed to return to their capital city. They rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple. They restored some of the temple furnishings, but could not restore everything. It seems the ark of the covenant was never returned to Jerusalem after the captivity. As a result, no one knows what happened to the ark of the covenant.