For many, the only thing they know about the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament is the fantasized version of it from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. So what was it about? Why did God command it to be made? Exodus 37:1-5 describes the Ark:
Next Bezalel made the Ark of acacia wood—a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. He overlaid it inside and outside with pure gold, and he ran a molding of gold all around it. He cast four gold rings and attached them to its four feet, two rings on each side. Then he made poles from acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. He inserted the poles into the rings at the sides of the Ark to carry it. (NLT)
The Ark of the Covenant was extremely important because it contained the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. When God gave Moses these commandments, he also gave him very specific instructions on how they would be housed and protected.
The Ark became an important part of Israel’s history, often carried by the priests in advance of the people and their army. God used it to remind his people of his presence and his power. For example, when the priests carried it into the Jordan River, a dry pathway opened up for the army to pass through. It also was carried around Jericho when the walls fell, allowing Israel to occupy the promised land.
What happened to the Ark is unknown (it probably didn't end up in a warehouse, as portrayed in Raiders of the Lost Ark). There is no record of it after the Babylonian exile. But it was vital in Israel’s history since it established that God was with his people.
So how does this understanding of the Ark impact how I see God – the God who was with his people in the Old Testament and continues to be in the New Testament? It shows me that one of the most important things God wanted to communicate to his people is that he is with us. In fact Immanuel (the name given to Jesus) means just that: God with us.
Therefore, we no longer need a gold-covered box to represent God's presence. We have the real thing, which is much better!
To understand more about why the Ark of the Covenant was important, read Hebrews 9.