1 Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half was its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 2 And he overlaid it with pure gold inside and outside, and made a molding of gold around it. 3 And he cast for it four rings of gold for its four feet, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side. 4 And he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold 5 and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark. 6 And he made a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half was its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 7 And he made two cherubim of gold. He made them of hammered work on the two ends of the mercy seat, 8 one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim on its two ends. 9 The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim. – Exodus 37:1-9 ESV
In this chapter. Moses begins his description of Bezalel constructing the various pieces of furniture that God had designed for His house. With the Tabernacle itself well underway, Bezalel turned his attention to these sacred “household items” that would become an important part of the ceremonial role of this sacred structure.
He began with the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. These two items actually formed the single piece of furniture that was to occupy the Holy of Holies, the innermost and most sacred section of the Tabernacle. This rectangular wooden box was covered with gold filigree and topped off with a matching lid on which were placed two golden images of angelic creatures with their outstretched wings extended toward one another. This removable lid was actually called the Mercy Seat because it was there that God’s presence would dwell. Yahweh had designed the Tabernacle as His earthly dwelling place and had promised to live among His people with the divine manifestation of His presence resting over the Mercy Seat and the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.
“…let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:8-9 ESV
God had provided Moses with detailed instructions for making the Mercy Seat and Ark of the Covenant, and He had assured His servant that, upon their completion, He would fulfill His promise and take up residence in the Holy of Holies.
“…you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.” – Exodus 25:21-22 ESV
Now, Bezalel was putting the finishing touches on these two sacred objects. It seems that the crafting of these two vital pieces of furniture was his responsibility alone. God had specially equipped Bezalel with all the skills and abilities he would need to turn Moses’ instructions into actual objects that met God’s approval.
One fascinating aspect of the Tabernacle and all the pieces of furniture associated with it was their need for portability. This large and complex structure had to be constructed in such a way that allowed for easy disassembly, packing, and transportation. The Tabernacle was not meant to be a permanent structure that remained in one location. As the Israelites made their way from Sinai to the land of Canaan, they would need to be able to carry the Tabernacle with them and erect it at their next campsite. So, it had to be constructed in such a way that allowed for both stability and portability. That would have made Bezalel‘s task all the more difficult. The massive wooden framework had to be designed for easy disassembly and yet sturdy enough to support the Tabernacle’s large and weighty animal skin covering.
Even the Ark of the Covenant featured four gold rings through which two gold-covered poles were placed to facilitate its transport from one place to another. This sacred object was never to be touched by human hands so that its holy status might be preserved at all times. Centuries later, long after the Israelites had occupied the land of promise, King David ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be moved from Baale-judah to the city of Jerusalem. In their attempt to relocate the sacred object, they loaded it onto an ox cart, and somewhere along the way, one of the men in the procession reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. What happened next was devastating.
Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. – 2 Samuel 6:6-7 ESV
The Ark of the Covenant was meant to be carried by the Levitical priests. That was the whole purpose of the poles that Bezalel had crafted and placed on either side of the sacred object. God had warned Moses about the danger of treating the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat with disrespect or dishonor.
“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” – Leviticus 16:2 ESV
The Ark of the Covenant was to be a symbol of God’s glory, greatness, and goodness. God had instructed Moses to place certain objects inside it as reminders of His power and provision. One was a sample of the manna He had provided during their journey from Egypt to Sinai.
Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. – Exodus 16:32-34 ESV
Somehow, God would miraculously preserve this sample of manna, preventing it from evaporating like all the rest. It was to be a permanent reminder of His providential care.
The second item to be associated with the ark was Aaron’s staff. God had told Moses, “Place Aaron’s staff permanently before the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a warning to rebels” (Numbers 17:10 NLT). This was in response to a rebellion that had arisen among the people. A group of disgruntled Israelites, under the leadership of a man named Korah, had attempted to stage a coup and arrest leadership away from Moses. In response to this organized rebellion, God gave Moses the following instructions:
“Tell the people of Israel to bring you twelve wooden staffs, one from each leader of Israel’s ancestral tribes, and inscribe each leader’s name on his staff. Inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of the tribe of Levi, for there must be one staff for the leader of each ancestral tribe. Place these staffs in the Tabernacle in front of the Ark containing the tablets of the Covenant, where I meet with you. Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. Then I will finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you.” – Numbers 7:2-5 NLT
The next day, Moses entered the Tabernacle of the Covenant and “found that Aaron’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds” (Numbers 17:8 NLT). This miraculous sign confirmed the leadership of Moses and Aaron and put a stop to the insurrection of Korah and his companions. God then ordered Moses to “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die” (Numbers 17:10 ESV).
It seems that the staff of Aaron was placed before the Ark and not in it. But it served as another vivid reminder of God’s power and provision.
The next item to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant was the second set of the Decalogue. The Ten Commandments served as the official document that sealed the covenant agreement between the people of Israel and Yahweh. Placing the two tablets containing the “testimony” of God inside the ark and under the mercy seat served as a permanent reminder that God expected obedience from His people. As the manna illustrated, He would provide for all their needs. But the law was there to remind them that He expected obedience. And Aaron’s rod was there to remind them that rebellion was an unacceptable response to His divine will. His law was to be obeyed. His appointed leader was to be respected. His providential care was to be trusted at all times.
And on the top of the Mercy Seat, the presence of the two cherubim was to provide a constant reminder that this was a holy place. These two angelic creatures served as symbols of God’s heavenly throne room where He sits “enthroned upon the cherubim” (Psalm 80:1 ESV). Centuries later, the apostle John was given a vision of God’s throne room in heaven, where he saw four cherubim standing before God declaring His glory. and greatness
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV
Bezalel had been tasked with creating the earthly throne for God Almighty, and he took his work seriously, pouring every bit of his Spirit-endowed creative power into his efforts. The results would be “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV), but they would serve as constant reminders of God’s glory, holiness, mercy, and righteousness. He was a God to be revered, trusted, obeyed, and worshiped – at all times.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.