On Aug 14th, 586 B.C, a man named Nebuzaradan entered the just-conquered city of Jerusalem. He was the commander of the armies of Babylon. I wonder sometimes if the man had any clue how significant his arrival in that city truly was. After all, he had conquered so many cities, so many nations, and there were so many kings that had been executed after he had proven himself to be a brilliant tactician with the world’s most powerful troops at his disposal.
I imagine that if he felt anything, it was relief at an overdue job finally done. The Jews had rebelled – again – and they needed punishment.
He set fire to Solomon’s palace, Solomon’s temple, and every other important building. He looted what few treasures were left in Solomon’s temple the last time Judah pulled this stunt. They broke up the bronze sea and the pillars, and took all the bronze to Babylon – more than could be weighed. They took the basins, censers, sprinkling bowls, pots, the golden lampstand, the dishes, the bowls used for drink offerings…
And the Ark?
Strangely – very strangely – the Bible falls utterly silent about what is considered the most important article of the temple. So: where is the ark?
I did some research. Turns out there’s a number of theories. One is that a decade or two before Jerusalem was destroyed, the priesthood took the ark and hid it in a cave below the site of the Holy of Holies. In fact, one archeologist claims to have almost made it to that cave, before the Muslims in Israel threatened violence to stop the digging. I understand that this view is held by many orthodox Rabbis.
Another view is that Jeremiah the prophet took the Ark to the same mountain that Moses climbed before he died. There, in a cave, he hid the ark, and then sealed up the entrance. Again, some archeologists have gone looking, but since we don’t even know what mountain this Mount Nebo was, it’s kind of like taking a good section of the entire middle east and searching from scratch. I understand that this account of Jeremiah is written about in the Maccabees.
Another, even more outlandish, theory is that the Ark was removed from Jerusalem much earlier, already in the days of Solomon. The theory goes that Solomon and the Queen of Sheba had a child together, and that child, a man named Menelik, took the ark out of the temple and brought it to Ethiopia, where it now sits in the St. Mary of Zion church.
One more is that the ark was taken by God through divine intervention into a temple not made with hands, the heavenly temple, and that the apostle John saw it in his revelation from God (Revelation 11:19).
What I note about these stories and rumours is that not one of them has a shred of evidence to support them, and that all of them rely very heavily on speculation (especially the one about the Queen of Sheba).
I believe in the authority of Scripture, and thus, when Revelation says that John was shown the ark of God’s covenant, then John saw the ark of the covenant. But John also saw a beast coming out of the earth, identified as the antichrist. Christians today have correctly interpreted that part of revelation as symbolic. When the antichrist is reveled, he will not crawl out of the earth, looking like a lamb, and speaking like a dragon (how does a dragon speak, anyway?) Thus, I believe that when John saw the ark, that was supposed to symbolize something, not give him the answer to an archeological puzzle. It probably symbolized the fulfillment of the covenant in Christ. It certainly seems strange to me that a manmade object (made by Bezalel) would be literally, physically in a temple not made with human hands.
So what do I think? I think that Ezekiel saw, in a vision, the glory of the LORD leave the temple. When that happened, the temple became a pretty building with some flashy curtains in it. It was no longer God’s house, because of the sin and rebellion of Israel. That’s why when Nebuzaradan entered Jerusalem, the Temple burned just as well as Solomon’s palace did. That’s why the bronze sea could be broken up and taken away. That’s why the lampstand could be taken, the priests executed, the instruments taken as plunder.
As to the Ark, there are two possibilities in my mind. The first comes from 1 Kings 14:25-26. Shishak, king of Egypt, invaded Judah during the reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. Apparently, he made it all the way to Jerusalem, but as it turned out, it looked like his objective was plunder, not conquest, because Judah’s monarchy and national sovereignty remained intact. But “He carried off the treasures of the temple of the LORD and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything…” If that’s the case, then possibly the ark was gone then already, though it seems strange that it wasn’t mentioned.
The other possibility comes to mind when Nebuzaradan came to Jerusalem and burned down the temple of the Lord. Babylon was in Jerusalem, not for plunder, but for punitive destruction. So they took everything made of gold, silver, or bronze. But I imagine that when the soldiers stormed the holy of holies, and found nothing more than a wooden box with some strange bread, a budded stick, and a couple of engraved slabs of stone, they would have snapped the golden cherubim off the lid, and then left the box to burn up with the rest of the temple.
I favour the Babylonian destruction theory over the Egyptian plunder theory. It’s just too weird in my mind that Solomon threw an enormous party to celebrate the ark’s arrival in Jerusalem, and then there’s no mention at all of the ark being taken away just a few decades later by the Egyptians.
Then there’s Jeremiah making mention of the ark in his prophecy that he made well before Jerusalem was destroyed, as if people were relying on the ark’s presence to save them from Babylon.
So to me, it is most likely that the ever-present quest to find the ark of the covenant is a vain one. I think the ark was reduced to ashes and melted down gold on Aug 14th, 586 B.C.