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When did the Ark of the Covenant disappear

QUESTION: When did the Ark of the Covenant disappear?


When did the Ark of the Covenant disappear? The last historical mention of the Ark in Scripture is in Second Chronicles chapter 35, where King Josiah (who reigned in Judah c. 640-609 BC) asked the Levites to return the Ark to the Temple where Solomon had originally housed it after completing and dedicating the Temple sometime in the 10th century BC (Second Chronicles, chapter 5). There is no mention as to why the Levites had removed the Ark in the first place, nor is there any indication as to whether or not the Levites acquiesced to King Josiah's request.

In the apocryphal book (that is, noncanonical book) of Second Maccabees, chapter 2 (verses 1-8), we read that the prophet Jeremiah "following a divine revelation, ordered that the tent [i.e. the tabernacle of meeting] and the ark [i.e. the ark of the covenant] should accompany him and how he went off to the mountain which Moses climbed to see God's inheritance [i.e. Mt. Nebo; see Deuteronomy 31:1-4]. When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he blocked up the entrance." (vv. 4-5) There is some debate as to whether or not this second-hand account (see v. 1) is trustworthy.

So when did the Ark of the Covenant disappear? It seems that it disappeared sometime immediately prior to the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century BC.

Oftentimes when we ask when did the Ark of the Covenant disappear, we also ask why? Why did God allow the Ark to be removed? We must keep in mind that not only did God allow the Ark to be removed from the Temple but that He also allowed the nation to be removed from the Promised Land and the Temple to be destroyed. This was in fulfillment of the consequences which He had outlined to Moses before the nation had even entered the land.

The nation was allowed to return and the Temple was rebuilt but the Ark was not permitted to return. In Jeremiah chapter 3 we read of a conversation which took place before the Babylonian captivity. God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah saying, "Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, 'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the LORD; 'I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,' declares the LORD; 'I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God and have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree [referring here to idol worship], and you have not obeyed My voice,' declares the LORD. 'Return, O faithless sons,' declares the LORD; 'For I am a master to you, and I will take you one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,' declares the LORD, 'they will no longer say, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD." And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again'" (Jeremiah 3:12-16).

Here God says that the Ark of the Covenant, which up to that time played a prominent role in orthodox Jewish worship, would no longer play that role, nor would it be missed by the faithful. The Lord made this declaration during the reign of Josiah's reign (v. 6). The only other mention of the Ark of Covenant in Scripture occurs almost 700 years later when it's mentioned briefly in the Book of Hebrews (9:4-5) and in the Book of Revelation (11:19). By this time the Ark had already disappeared (see Hebrews 9:5b).

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