For years, the Lord God accompanied his Chosen People in a special way in the wilderness—a tabernacle that he overshadowed (Exod. 40:34-35)—which eventually became the most important part of the Temple in Jerusalem. At the heart of the tabernacle, in the holy of holies, God manifested his presence most intimately—and powerfully—atop the Ark of the Covenant, telling Moses,
And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark. . . .There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel (Exod. 25:21-22).
Apart from Moses, with whom God sealed the Old Covenant (Exod. 24), only the high priest could go beyond the sacred veil into the holy of holies, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). To do otherwise would result in death for the high priest or anyone else (Lev. 16:1–2; Num. 3:10; 18:7). And yet, in traveling through the wilderness to the Promised Land, God permitted the Ark to be brought outside the tabernacle to show forth his power.
For example, when the priests who carried the Ark dipped their feet into the River Jordan, the waters of the Jordan miraculously parted and the Israelites passed through the river bed—on dry ground, no less (Josh. 3:14-17). Soon after, the walls of Jericho would fall on the seventh day, after the people had circled them seven times with the Ark (Josh. 6). Earlier in salvation history, a group went up to the hill country God had promised Israel, but they did so without the Ark, and they were defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites (Num. 14:39-45). The Philistines later discovered that capturing the Ark from Israel was a short-lived celebration (1 Sam. Ch. 5,6).
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