The clearest Christmas memory I have from my childhood is the time my family went to Colorado for a family reunion. I remember it because of three distinct parts of the trip. First, it was the first, and I think, only time I have ever been on a train. We boarded in Sacramento, California, and made our way to Grand Junction, Colorado. We even had to stop because snow had covered the tracks to point were the train couldn’t proceed for a time. Once we arrived in Colorado, I spent several days with my mom’s extended family. Which is the second part of the trip. I spent those days with my cousins, one of which, I performed the ceremony for her wedding a few years back. The final part of the trip happen when we finally got home. While we were away from the house, there was a 100 year freezing that happened. Which caused the pipes in the house to bust. It was not a fun situation to return to, with a whole section of our garage underwater.
But out of all the Christmas I’ve had, and all the gifts that I’ve been given, that one Christmas stands out as a clear memory, above everything else. And the main reason is because I spend a lot of time on an adventure with my family.
And it’s this idea of being with people that we come back to our Christmas series on the Ark of the Bible. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be starting in Exodus chapter 25, verse 1 today. And as we open our Bibles to Exodus 25, verse 1, let’s look back to the two previous weeks, to see where we’re at in this series.
When we started this series two weeks ago, we started with the Hebrew word and definition of the word ark. We talked about how the word is tebah (tay-baw), which means a chest or box.
But when we looked at the first use of this word, it wasn’t exactly what I would use to describe what we saw. The first use of the word ark instead, was used of a giant boat that help Noah, his family, and the animals of the earth survive a major flood.
As we dove into this ark, we walked away calling this ark, the Ark of Regret, with Rescue. Because God regretted that he had to bring judgment upon the people for thinking of nothing but evil, but he provided a rescue for them as well.
Then, moving on to last week, we saw the second use of the word tebah in the Old Testament. This time not referring to a gigantic boat with all of the earth’s creatures, but rather a small basket containing one three month old baby. This baby was saved, not from a flood, but from the infanticide that took his fellow Hebrew people. Eventually, the baby was adopted as a son by the Pharaoh’s daughter and named Moses. He eventually killed a man, ran away, had an experience with God in a burning bush, returned to his home, and was used by God to rescue the Hebrew people from the enslavement of the king of Egypt. We walked away calling Moses’ basket, the Ark of Hearing, because God heard the cries of his people and he saved Moses to use him to bring about their freedom.
But one of the biggest take aways that I want us to see, is that God’s use of the word ark, does not necessarily follow the definition of the word. Instead of a box or chest, we’ve gotten a boat and a basket.
So, the first two arks of this Christmas series are done, and we have two to go before we get to Christmas.
Now, let’s turn are attention to Exodus 25, verse 1.
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
8 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
Let’s stop there. Moses, the one who was saved by the last ark, is now the leader to the whole of the Hebrew people. And he alone, is the direct communicator with God. This isn’t by God’s design, but rather by the people’s. God was too overwhelming for them, so they asked Moses to be the one to communicate with him directly.
So God speaks to Moses and tells him to have the people bring a offering of assorted goods. This offering is to be used to create a sanctuary, which will later be called both a tent, and a tabernacle.
Now, we get the reason for why this sanctuary is going to be built at the end of verse 8, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”
So the sanctuary is going to be a sort of house for God on earth. The word dwell is the Hebrew word shakan (shaw-kan'), which simply means to dwell, rest, or settle on something. It’s first used of God, in Exodus 24:16, where it says, “and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.” If you have ever heard the term shekinah glory, this is where we get it from. God’s shakan, his presence dwelling or resting on something.
This same word that described God settling on Mount Sinai, is now being used by God to convey that he wants a movable dwelling that goes with the people as they move forward to the land that he’s bringing them to. This dwelling is the sanctuary, the tent, or the tabernacle he is now calling them to build.
So what’s the first thing God tells Moses to build for this sanctuary? It’s an ark. But the Hebrew term used for this ark isn’t tebah, it’s aron (aw-rone). Now the definition is basically the same; aron means chest. What’s interesting about this word is unlike tebah, which is used only in two instances in the Old Testament, once to talk about Noah’s Ark and the other to talk about Moses’ ark, aron is used 202 times. But it is used in connection with three different ideas.
The first time aron is used, it’s to talk about a coffin in Genesis 50:26. Another time aron is used is in connection to same offering box that is mentioned in both 2 Kings 12:9-10 and 2 Chronicles 24:8-11. In total these two mentions correlate to the word being used six times. That means that the third use of the word is by far it’s most common form at 196 times. This use of the word is for the first thing that God tells Moses to build for the sanctuary. Let’s drop down to verse 10 of Exodus 25.
“Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.”
Finally an ark that fits the definition of a box or chest. This ark is about 3 1/2 feet long, by 2 1/2 feet wide and high. Which is a rectangular box.
It’s the first thing that is commissioned to be made, and as we find out later, it is to be placed in the most inner part of the sanctuary called the holy of holies.
Now, let’s fast forward to Exodus 40 verse 34, we’re skipping over all the other things that are commissioned and the building process so the we can get to the end product. After everything is done for the sanctuary, the people set it up, and place everything where it’s supposed to go. Then we get to verse 34 of chapter 40 in Exodus.
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.
God’s presence shakan, settled, dwelled in the sanctuary. And when it was time to go, God’s presence left the sanctuary and led the way. And when it was time to stop and stay a while, the cloud would stop, the tent was set up, and the presence of God would shakan on the sanctuary (Numbers 9:15-23).
Later, after Moses had died, a new leader took his place. His name was Joshua. God told Joshua to have the ark of the sanctuary lead the way into the land of Canaan, because the ark was the representation of God’s presence with the people. So much so, that centuries later David writes in Psalm 132:8, “‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.” Or as the Amplified version makes clear, “Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark [the symbol] of Your strength.”
In fact, it’s this deep connection between God’s manifested presence and strength in physical objet of the ark, that has led some scholars, with the NIV translators being some of those, to translate, Psalm 78 verse 61 as, “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy.” In the case of this Psalm, the people had been in rebellion, so God allowed their enemies to overtake them, and allowed the representation of his presence, the ark, with the Hebrew people to be lost to them. Scholars use the word ark in this passage, even though the word in Hebrew aron doesn't appear here, because the connection between God’s manifested presence and strength is so deeply connected to the ark as an object, they let us know, that it is the ark that is being given to the enemies. And therefore the a physical expression of God’s presence leaving the people because they have turned their backs on him.
All this to say, that the ark that is commissioned by God to be placed in the sanctuary, that would eventually be commonly referred to as the Ark of the Covenant, is what I like to call the Ark of the Presence. Because it was so closely connected by the Hebrew people to where this ark was seen as the presence of God on earth.
As I reflect on this, I am reminded, that it is so easy in our lives to think that God is far away. That when we’re going through hard times, and we cry out to God, he doesn’t seem to be around. And the feeling of not having him near when you’ve experienced him before, makes the absence seem so much deeper.
Too often I have had conversations with our youth after a camp. Where at the camp they’re on fire. They’re ready to take on the world, but a few weeks later, they don’t have that same feeling, that same emotional high. I have talked with youth that say they don’t feel God’s presence when they’re not on that mountain and so their desire for him burns out.
And it breaks my heart, because I know God’s desire is to be with his people, but too often we allow the world around us to push out the presence of God in our lives. Not that he is gone, but rather we miss the fact that he is there. That he is shakan, resting on all those who have accept Jesus as their Savior. If we are not experiencing the presence of God, it is not because God doesn’t want us to, but rather we have allowed something to shakan, rest on us, that isn’t him.
This week I want to challenge you to seek the presence of God in three ways. First through his word; I want to challenge you to read Exodus 40, verses 34-38 and reflect on it for the next week every single day. Asking God to reveal his presence in a deeper way.
Second, I want to challenge you to listen to the song, “What do I know of Holy”, by Addison Road. A beautiful song that challenges us to think deeply of who God is when we are in his presence.
Third, praise God for his desire to be with us. You and I are not worthy of God’s presence, yet he wants to be with us anyway. That’s praise worthy.
This week, let us as a community of believers, move deeper into the presence of God, so that in all things we may know him as he desires us to know him. And that we would be know as a people found in the presence of our God. Amen.