The Ark of the Covenant (Hebrew: אָרוֹן הַבְּרִית, Modern Arōn Ha'brēt, Tiberian ʾĀrôn Habbərîṯ), also known as the Ark of the Testimony, is a gold-covered wooden chest with lid cover described in the Book of Exodus as containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. According to various texts within the Hebrew Bible, it also contained Aaron's rod and a pot of manna. Hebrews 9:4 describes: "The ark of the covenant [was] covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant."
The biblical account relates that, approximately one year after the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, the Ark was created according to the pattern given to Moses by God when the Israelites were encamped at the foot of biblical Mount Sinai. Thereafter, the gold-plated acaciachest was carried by its staves while en route by the Levites approximately 2,000 cubits (approximately 800 meters or 2,600 feet) in advance of the people when on the march or before the Israelite army, the host of fighting men. When carried, the Ark was always hidden under a large veil made of skins and blue cloth, always carefully concealed, even from the eyes of the priests and the Levites who carried it. God was said to have spoken with Moses "from between the two cherubim" on the Ark's cover. When at rest the tabernacle was set up and the holy Ark was placed under the veil of the covering, the staves of it crossing the middle side bars to hold it up off the ground.
According to the Book of Exodus, God instructed Moses on Mount Sinai during his 40-day stay upon the mountain within the thick cloud and darkness where God was and he was shown the pattern for the tabernacle and furnishings of the Ark to be made of shittim wood to house the Tablets of Stone. Moses instructed Bezalel and Oholiab to construct the Ark. In Deuteronomy, however, the Ark is said to have been built specifically by Moses himself without reference of Bezalel or Oholiab.
The Book of Exodus gives detailed instructions on how the Ark is to be constructed. It is to be 2½ cubits in length, 1½ in breadth, and 1½ in height (approximately 131×79×79 cm or 52×31×31 in). Then it is to be gilded entirely with gold, and a crown or molding of gold is to be put around it. Four rings of gold are to be attached to its four corners, two on each side—and through these rings staves of shittim-wood overlaid with gold for carrying the Ark are to be inserted; and these are not to be removed. A golden lid, the kapporet (traditionally "mercy seat" in Christian translations) which is covered with 2 golden cherubim, is to be placed above the Ark. Missing from the account are instructions concerning the thickness of the mercy seat and details about the cherubim other than that the cover be beaten out the ends of the Ark and that they form the space where God will appear. The Ark is finally to be placed under the veil of the covering.
The biblical account continues that, after its creation by Moses, the Ark was carried by the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. Whenever the Israelites camped, the Ark was placed in a separate room in a sacred tent, called the Tabernacle.
When the Israelites, led by Joshua toward the Promised Land, arrived at the banks of the Jordan river, the Ark was carried in the lead preceding the people and was the signal for their advance. During the crossing, the river grew dry as soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touched its waters, and remained so until the priests—with the Ark—left the river after the people had passed over. As memorials, twelve stones were taken from the Jordan at the place where the priests had stood.
In the Battle of Jericho, the Ark was carried round the city once a day for seven days, preceded by the armed men and seven priests sounding seven trumpets of rams' horns. On the seventh day, the seven priests sounding the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark compassed the city seven times and, with a great shout, Jericho's wall fell down flat and the people took the city. After the defeat at Ai, Joshua lamented before the Ark. When Joshua read the Law to the people between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, they stood on each side of the Ark. We next hear of the Ark in Bethel where it was being cared for by the priest Phineas the grandson of Aaron (where 'Bethel' is translated 'the House of God' in the King James Version). According to this verse it was consulted by the people of Israel when they were planning to attack the Benjaminites at the battle of Gibeah. Later, however, the Ark was kept at Shiloh, another religious centre some 16 km north of Bethel, at the time of the prophet Samuel's apprenticeship, where it was cared for by Hophni and Phinehas, two sons of Eli.
At the beginning of his reign over the United Monarchy, King David removed the Ark from Kirjath-jearim amid great rejoicing. On the way to Zion, Uzzah, one of the drivers of the cart that carried the Ark, put out his hand to steady the Ark, and was struck dead by God for touching it. The place was subsequently named "Perez-Uzzah", literally "Outburst Against Uzzah", as a result. David, in fear, carried the Ark aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, instead of carrying it on to Zion, and there it stayed three months.
On hearing that God had blessed Obed-edom because of the presence of the Ark in his house, David had the Ark brought to Zion by the Levites, while he himself, "girded with a linen ephod ... danced before the Lord with all his might" and in the sight of all the public gathered in Jerusalem - a performance that caused him to be scornfully rebuked by his first wife, Saul's daughter Michal. In Zion, David put the Ark in the tabernacle he had prepared for it, offered sacrifices, distributed food, and blessed the people and his own household.
The Levites were appointed to minister before the Ark. David's plan of building a temple for the Ark was stopped at the advice of God.The Ark was with the army during the siege of Rabbah; and when David fled from Jerusalem at the time of Absalom's conspiracy, the Ark was carried along with him until he ordered Zadok the priest to return it to Jerusalem.
The Ark carried into the Temple from the early 15th century Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
When Abiathar was dismissed from the priesthood by King Solomon for having taken part in Adonijah's conspiracyagainst David, his life was spared because he had formerly borne the Ark. Solomon worshipped before the Ark after his dream in which God promised him wisdom.
During the construction of Solomon's Temple, a special inner room, named Kodesh Hakodashim (Eng. Holy of Holies), was prepared to receive and house the Ark; and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark—containing the original tablets of the Ten Commandments—was placed therein. When the priests emerged from the holy place after placing the Ark there, the Temple was filled with a cloud, "for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord".
When Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, he caused her to dwell in a house outside Zion, as Zion was consecrated because of its containing the Ark. King Josiah also had the Ark returned to the Temple, from which it appears to have been removed by one of his predecessors (cf. 2 Chron. 33-34 and 2 Kings 21-23).
Yom HaAliyah (Aliyah Day) (Hebrew: יום העלייה) is an Israeli national holiday celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan to commemorate the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Land of Israel while carrying the Ark of the Covenant.