This article was first published in the Adventist Review (August 26, 1993). Look, however, for links, new text, and pictures not in the original.
Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
Almost as frequently as I am questioned about the finding of Noah's ark I am asked about the Ark of the Covenant. Has the Ark of the Covenant really been found? If so, where is it?
The Ark of the Covenant as a Symbol of Truth
The Ark of the Covenant was a center-piece of Israelite worship. It was into this golden box, adorned with angels, that Moses placed the Ten Commandments (Exod 40:20; Deut 31:26). By the end of Moses' life this same sacred chest also contained the "book of the law" (Deut 31:26). A plate of manna and Aaron's rod were to be placed before it as a memorial of God's provision (Exod 16:32-34) and the Israelites' rebellion (Num 17:10). And most important of all, it was over the Ark of the Covenant on the mercy seat that the very presence of God existed (Exod 25:22; Lev 16:2). The ark, itself, was kept within the veil of the "holy of holies" in the tabernacle (Exod 26:33, 34; 40:20-21).
During their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the ark was carried by the children of Israel and it was the first thing to be brought into the promised land. As the feet of the Levites, who carried the ark, touched the edge of the Jordan river, the waters stopped flowing (Josh 3:15-17). After the Israelites settled in Canaan, the Ark of the Covenant is only occasionally mentioned. We know it had a home in Bethel (Judg 20:18, 27), Shiloh (1 Sam 1:3, 25; 3:3, 4:3), Kiriath-jearim (1 Sam 7:1-2), and Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:12-17). The Bible also says that the ark was carried from (and returned to) Jerusalem, when David was fleeing from his son to Transjordan (2 Sam 15:24-25, 29).
The last major biblical event involving the Ark of the Covenant was when the priests carried the ark into Solomon's temple (1 Kng 8:6-11; 2 Chron 5:1-10). It was recorded that at that time only the Ten Commandments were in the ark (1 Kng 8:9; 1 Chron 5:10). Much religious apostasy passed between the time of Solomon, who put the ark of God's covenant in his temple, and that of good king Josiah, who revived the worship of the true God (2 Chron 34:14, 18-21, 29-33). Whether Josiah was quoting the words of David (2 Chron 17:8) or whether he was encouraging the priests himself, is not clear, but it may be that the ark was not permanently in the temple of Solomon after Solomon's time (2 Chron 35:3).
Where is the Ark Today?
The only possibly historical reference to the ark after the time of Josiah (639-609 B.C.) is found in the 2 Maccabees 2:4-8:
It was also in the writing that the prophet (Jeremiah), having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense, and he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: "The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated.
The Book of Jeremiah does not record this story. How much credibility should be given to this story depends on how credible one sees the book of 2 Maccabees. Scholars believe that 2 Maccabees was composed during the first century B.C., about 500 years after Jeremiah lived. Because Jeremiah sees no theological use for the Ark of the Covenant at the end time, it seems unlikely to me that he in particular would have taken the time to hide it (Jer 3:16). In any case, according to 2 Maccabees, Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant on Mount Nebo (Deut. 32:49). Ellen White agreed that the ark was hidden "to place [it] beyond the reach of ruthless hands," but does not specify who hid it.
To summarize, there is no biblical nor extrabiblical account, contemporary to the event, that explains when the ark disappeared or where it went. The only ancient source that speaks to this question is 2 Maccabees, which was composed 500 years after the events it supposedly recorded.
Ellen White and the Ark of the Covenant
Many Seventh-day Adventists are especially interested in finding the ark because they see in its recovery the fulfilling of one of Ellen White's prophecies. I have read Ellen White's statements about the finding of the Ark of the Covenant many times and it seems to me those who think they are fulfilling God's plan are really trying to disprove a prediction of Ellen White! Consider her words:
That sacred ark is yet hidden. It has never been disturbed since it was secreted. Prophets and Kings, p. 453
The precious record of the law was placed in the ark of the testament and is still there, safely hidden from the human family. But in God's appointed time He will bring forth these tables of stone to be a testimony to all the world. . . .The tables of stone are hidden by God, to be produced in the great judgment-day, just as He wrote them I BC 1109 (emphasis supplied)
When God's temple in heaven is opened, what a triumphant time that will be for all who have been faithful and true! In the temple will be seen the ark of the testament. . . .These tables of stone will be brought forth from their hiding place, and on them will be seen the Ten Commandments engraved by the finger of God. These tables of stone now lying in the ark of the testament will be a convincing testimony to the truth and binding claims of God's law. 7 BC 972 (emphasis supplied)
What I understand from these statements is:
1. The Ark of the Covenant was hidden
2. The ark has remained hidden
3. The ark will be brought forth by God on the great judgment-day
On the other hand, from these and numerous other Ellen White statements it is obvious that Mrs. White's emphasis, contrary to the ark searchers, is on the Ten Commandments, not on the ark of the covenant. It is equally clear that the purpose of displaying the commandments is not to bring universal salvation, for this display occurs at the final judgment as testimony against the wicked by God's eternal law.
More than one sincere church member has contacted the Institute of Archaeology claiming they have good news from God. They see themselves as helping to bring about the end of all things because they know where the ark of the covenant is. Sincere as they may be, those who are now avidly searching for the ark must either believe they are "God" or they must believe that this is the great-judgment day or they must believe that Ellen White is wrong in her prediction. Her words are clear that God himself will bring-forth the ark of the covenant and He will do it on the great judgment-day.
Claims that the Ark of the Covenant has been found
According to the claims of seven different people, the Ark of the Covenant can be found in seven different locations. Where is the ark?
1. The ark is located in a cave near Gordon's calvary, the hill where since the late 19th century a few people believe Christ was crucified. This site was found when God took physical control of the finder's mouth and arm, making him aware that he had found the ark. The spot where this person thinks Christ was crucified was probably a stone quarry during Jesus' time and the tomb itself is known not to have been a "new" tomb in Jesus' day, contrary to the Bible (Mtt 27:59-60). Also, if the finders claims are true (that he has seen it), then the words of Ellen White are not true. She says that when the ark is seen it will be seen by the whole world on the day of judgment.
2. The ark was also discovered in Iraq. Almost a year ago I received a letter from a friend which included a Chinese newspaper and a translation of an article from that paper. According to this newspaper account the Ten Commandments were discovered near Kuwait 100 meters below ground. The article said Iraqi troops were hiding from the opposing army when an artillery shell exposed their hideout, and also exposed the Ten Commandments. This report does not mention the Ark of the Covenant, but I assume the ark and the Ten Commandments would be together. I personally tried to contact the archaeologists mentioned in this report without success. At the writing of this article, this newspaper account, now over a year old, has never been substantiated by any evidence other than the claims of the article.
3. It is said that the ark is also in Hezekiah's tunnel. Circulating among Adventists is a 2 hour video tape which claims that the ark, all the temple furnishings, and all the armaments of Sennacherib's 185,000 soldiers were secretly stored in a shaft of this 1750 foot tunnel. This idea is not new. Near the beginning of this century a man named Walter Juveliu persuaded several wealthy men to sponsor an expedition to Hezekiah's tunnel. Juveliu believed that a great treasure, including the Ark of the Covenant, was to be found in the tunnel, which was then filled with debris. After three years of digging, with guards posted outside, the searchers found no treasure. The best result of this project is that visitors to Jerusalem can now wade through Hezekiah's tunnel. The current tape is filled with "should haves" and "probablies" and other unconvincing sources of evidence, not to mention the implausibility of getting all the treasures the discoverer thinks were deposited in one small shaft of this tunnel. According to the tape, the ark would now be visible to the whole world except that the discoverer hurt his back on this godly mission.
4. It has also been claimed that the Ark of the Covenant is located near the Dead Sea in a cave at En Gedi, one of the hideouts of David (1 Sam 23:29; 24:1). Soundings made at the proposed spot at first seemed to indicate a hollow beneath some rocks. More sophisticated equipment revealed that the suggested area was nothing but solid ground. The Institute of Archaeology regularly gets letters from this site's discoverer, who claims to be the "greatest theologian of all time," and a woman supporting his discoveries with dreams, both blaming us for rejecting God's guiding hand and not helping them.
5. Of course, because of 2 Maccabees 2, the ark has also been found on Mount Nebo. Readers of the Adventist Review may remember that in the May 27, 1982 issue the editor found it necessary to respond to many inquirers wondering why the Adventist Review had not reported the finding of the ark. They may remember that a non-Adventist group from Winfield, Kansas claimed to have found the ark in a cave on Mount Nebo. A newspaper account quoted the leader of the group as saying, "It's there. It's very large, and looked just like I pictured it would. `The group said the gold-covered chest is 4 feet wide, 5 feet long and 4 feet high, with two 9-foot tall golden wings of cherubim on either side of a mercy seat.'" At least one SDA independent ministry newsletter produced pages of information about this discovery and at least one group of Adventists traveled to Jordan to see this wonderful thing. Its discovery was announced over ten years ago and that claim has never been substantiated with any evidence.
6. A few years ago, another Adventist thought he had found evidence that the ark was in a cave near Bethlehem. He built a structure in California to house the ark. Until this time he has produced no ark.
7. Readers may also be aware that some Ethiopian Christians believe that the ark is in Ethiopia in the church of Mary Zion in Axum. Their tradition states that when Menelik, the alleged son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba returned from a visit to his father, the Israelites that Solomon sent with him, secreted the ark with them to Sheba (Ethiopia). Nearly all scholars believe ancient "Sheba" was the ancient kingdom of Saba in Southwestern Arabia, not Ethiopia and the tradition itself comes from Christian times.
So where is the ark of the covenant? Right where God allowed it to be hidden long ages ago. If I understand Ellen White correctly, it will remain hidden until the last great judgment of God. In any case, the only cosmic event possibly associated with the ark, according to Mrs. White, really relates to the Ten Commandments, which God himself will exhibit at the final judgment.
Bible prophecy is becoming more descriptive of our age every year, especially since it seems that people, even some Seventh-day Adventists, are persuaded more easily than ever by rumors and foolish speculations. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths" (2 Tim 4:3-4).