Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/796

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ABK


722


ARK


dwelling-place of God; hence we read in scores of passages of the Old Testament that Yahweh "sitteth on [or rather, />//] the cherubim". In the last years of Israel's history, the Je^vish rabbis, from a motive of reverence to God's holiness, avoided pronouncing any of the names expressing the Divinity in the Hebrew language, such as El, Elohim, etc., and still less Yahweh, the ineffable name, i. e. a name un- utterable to any human tongue; instead of these, thej' used metaphors or expressions having reference to the Divine attributes. Among the latter, the word shekinah became very popular; it meant the Divine Presence (from shakhdn, to dwell), hence the Di\'ine Glory, and had been suggested by the belief in God's presence in a cloud over the propitia- tory. Not only did the Ark signify God's presence in the midst of his people, but it also betokened the Divine help and assistance, especially during the warlike imdertakings of Israel ; no greater evil accordingly covild befall the nation than the capture of the Ark by the enemies, as, we shall see, happened towards the close of the period of the Judges and perhaps also at the taking of Jerusalem by the Baby- lonian army, in 587 B. c.

(2) History. — According to the sacred narrative recorded in Exodus, xxv, 10-22, God Himself had given the description of the Ark of the Covenant, as well as that of the tabernacle and all its appur- tenances. God's command was fulfilled to the letter by Beseleel, one of the skilful men appointed "to devise and to work in gold, and silver, and brass, and in engraving stones and in carpenters' work" (Ex., xxxvii, 1-9). Before the end of the first year after the Exodus, the whole work was completed, so that the first month of the second year, tlie first day of the month, everything belonging to the Divine service could be set up in order. Moses then "put the testimony in the ark, thrusting bars underneath, and the oracle above"; he "brought the ark into the tabernacle" and "drew the veil before it to fulfil the commandment of the Lord" (Ex., xl, 18, 19). On that day God showed His pleasure by filhng the tabernacle of the testimony with His Glory, and covering it with the cloud that henceforward would be to His people a guiding sign in their journeys. All the Levites were not entitled to the guardianship of the sanctuary and of the .4rk; but tills office was entrusted to the kindred of Caath (Num., iii, 31). Whenever, during the desert Hfe, the camp was to set forward, Aaron and his sons went into the tabernacle of the covenant and the Holy of Holies, took down the veil that hung before the door, wrapped up the Ark of the Testimony in it, covered it again with dugong skins, \hen with a violet cloth, and put in the bars (Num., iv, .5, 6). When the people pitched their tents to sojourn for some time in a place, everything was set again in its customary order. During the journeys the Ark went before the people; and when it was lifted up they said: "Arise, O Lord, and let Thy enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee from before Thy face!" And when it was set down, they said: "Return, O Lord, to the multitude of the host of Israel! " (Num., x, 33-36). Thus did the Ark preside over all the journeys and stations of Israel during all their wandering life in the wilderness.

As has been said above, the sacred chest was the visible sign of God's presence and protection. This appeared in the most striking manner in different circumstances. When the spies who had been sent to viev/ the Promised Land returned and gave their report, murmurs arose in the camp, which neither threatenings nor even the death of tlic authors of the sedition could quell, .\gainst the will of God, many of the Lsraelites went up to the mountain to meet the Amalecites and Clmnaanites; "but the ark of the testament of the Lord and Moses departed not


from the camp". And the enemies came down, smote, and slew the presumptuous Hebrews whom God did not help. The next two manifestations of Yahweh's power through the Ark occurred under Josue's leadership. When the people were about to cross the Jordan, " the priests that carried the ark of the covenant went on before them; and as soon as they came into the Jordan, and their feet were dipped in part of the water, the waters that came down from above stood in one place, and swelling up like a mountain, were seen afar off . . . but those that were beneath ran down into the sea of the wilderness, until they wholly failed. And the people marched over against Jericho: and the priests that carried the ark of the co\'enant of the Lord, stood girded upon the dry ground, in the midst of the Jordan, and all the people passed over through the channel that was dried up" (Jos., iii, 14-17). A few days later, Israel was besieging Jericho. At God's command, the Ark was carried in procession around the city for seven day.s, until the walls crum- bled at the sound of the trumpets and the shouts of the people, thus giving the assailing army a free opening into the place (Jos., vi, 6-21). Later again, after the taking and burning of Hai, we see the Ark occupy a most prominent place in the solemn assize of the nation held between Mount Garizim and Mount Hebal (Jos., viii, 33).

Thelsraehtes having settled in the Promised Land, it became necessary to choose a place where to erect the tabernacle and keep the Ark of the Covenant. Silo, in the territory of Ephraim, about the centre of the conquered country, was selected (Jos., xviii, 1). There, indeed, during the obscure period which pre- ceded the establishment of the Ivingdom of Israel, do we find the " house of the Lord " (Judges, xviii, 31 ; XX, 18), with its High-Priest, to whose care the Ark had been entrusted. Did the precious palladium of Israel remain permanently at Silo, or was it carried about, whenever the emergency required, as, for instance, during warhke expeditions? — This point can hardly be ascertained. Be it as it may, the narra- tion which closes the Book of Judges supposes the presence of the Ark at Bethel. True, some commen- tators, following St. Jerome, translate here the word Bethel as though it were a common noun (house of God); but their opinion seems hardly reconcilable with the other passages where the same name is found, for these passages undoubtedly refer to the city of Bethel. This is no place to discuss at length the divers explanations brought forward to meet the difficulty; suffice it to say tliat it does not entitle the reader to conclude, as many have done, that there probably existed several Arks throughout Israel. The remark above made, that the .\rk was possibly carried liither and thither according as the circumstances required, is substantiated by what we read in the narration of the events that brought about the death of Hefi. The Philistines had waged war against Israel, whose army, at the first encounter, turned their backs to the enemy, were utterly de- feated, and suffered very heavy losses. Thereupon the ancients of the people suggested that the Ark of the Covenant be fetched unto them, to save them from the hands of their enemies. So the Ark was brought from Silo, and such acclamations welcomed it into the camp of the Israelites, as to fill with fear the hearts of the Phihstines. Trusting that Yahweh's presence in the midst of their army betokened a certain victory, the Hebrew army engaged the battle afresh, to meet an overthrow still more disas- trous than the former; and, what made the catas- trophe more complete, the .\rk of God fell into the hands of the Pliilistinos (1 Kings, iv).

Then, according to tin- Biblical narrative, began for the sacred chest a sorii's of eventful peregrinations througli the cities of southern Palestine, until it was