Yom Kippur and the Ark of the Covenant

(Leviticus 16:14) And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
(Leviticus 16:15) Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:
(Leviticus 16:16) And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

The foregoing verses are from Leviticus 16 where explicit instruction was given to Israel for the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) ceremony in which the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle of the congregation were inseparably involved. The word ark means “...a chest, box, coffer....the wooden coffer containing the tables of the law...” and a tabernacle is “a temporary dwelling; generally movable...a hut, tent, booth.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

Anyone who has paid attention to Scripture should know that the ark of the covenant was an extremely important element of the Jewish religion under Moses' testament. A major Hollywood movie has even been made about it. What the movie does not show, though, is that the ark of the covenant was a type or shadow of the Lord Jesus Christ, as was the tabernacle itself and its service (as Paul sets forth in the Book of Hebrews). In the ark were hid the tables of God's law covenant (1KI 8:9; 2CH 5:10; HEB 9:4) which was Israel's wisdom and understanding (DEU 4:6). In Christ “...are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (COL 2:3) and He is the very embodiment of that Law which He perfectly fulfilled (MAT 5:17; ROM 10:4). The ark had a mercyseat for a cover; this was between God Who dwelt over the ark between two cherubims/angel images (EXO 37:7-9; HEB 9:5; NUM 7:89; 1SAM 4:4) and that Law which was inside the ark. So Christ is the mercyseat / propitiation for His elect (the same Greek word is translated “mercyseat” in HEB 9:5 and “propitiation” in ROM 3:25), mercifully between God and His law which condemns us all. As the mercyseat of the ark was under the cherubims, so Christ was “...made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death...” (HEB 2:9), “...that by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (HEB 9:15).

That ark of the covenant was very central to Israel's worship and was the token of God's presence Who dwelt there (EXO 25:21-22; 1SAM 4:4). It was kept under cover from the eyes of men behind a veil in the “most holy place” (EXO 26:33-34) in the tabernacle of the congregation which God told Moses to build according to the pattern of heavenly things God had shown him (EXO 25:8-9; ACT 7:44; HEB 8:5; HEB 9:19-23). And it was at this tabernacle of the congregation that Israel was straitly told they must only make their sacrifices (LEV 17:1-9). On only one day each year, only one man, Israel's high priest, was to have access to the ark to sprinkle blood upon its mercyseat to atone for his sins and for Israel's sins. This was the Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement that was ordered in part in EXO 30:10, detailed in LEV 16:1-34 and summarized by the apostle Paul in HEB 9:1-8. That crucial annual service required the ark of covenant to be behind the veil in the tabernacle of the congregation with its specific layout and furniture according to the detailed directions of LEV 16. However, there was an extended period when the ark of the covenant was separated from the tabernacle of the congregation. A rough estimate gleaned from the historical books of 1Samuel to 2Chronicles indicates a separation period of over eighty years (from the ark's seizure by the Philistines before Saul became king until the time that Solomon installed it behind another veil in the holiest place in the temple he built for the LORD). During this time, Yom Kippur could not have been kept in obedience to LEV 16.

Recall that the ark of the covenant was carried off by the Philistines when, for Israel's sin, God forsook His tabernacle and delivered His strength and glory into the enemy's hand (PSA 78:60-61; 1SAM 4:10-22). Upon returning from the Philistines (after its short, sorry sojourn at Bethshemesh), it abode in Kirjathjearim for some twenty years (1SAM 6:19-21;1SAM 7:1-2), “...and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.” It seems to have been out of the hands of the men of Kirjathjearim for a short time during Saul's reign (1SAM 14:18) but evidently returned there since David later brought it up from Kirjathjearim (1CH 13:5-6) to the tabernacle he made for it at Jerusalem (2SAM 6:17; 2CH 1:4). Kirjathjearim was historically a city of the Gibeonites, those wily Gentiles who gained a place in Israel by deception (JOS 9:1-27). Some take the kingdom by force (MAT 11:12) others by farce. Later, Scripture shows that the tabernacle of the congregation was set up in the city of Gibeon itself but without the ark.

By the time of Solomon, we see in 2CH 1:3-4 that the tabernacle of the congregation and the high place of sacrifice was definitely at Gibeon (see also 1CH 21:29; 1CH 16:39-40; 1KI 3:4, etc.) but obviously without the ark, which David had years earlier moved to Jerusalem. When David moved the ark, God was displeased, not with the fact but with the manner of his moving it (2SAM 6:1-11; 1CH 13:1-14; 1CH 15:1-15). Once the manner was corrected, “...God helped the Levites that bare the ark...” (1CH 15:26). The point is that God showed Himself supportive of David's removal of the ark, not to, but further from the tabernacle of the congregation at Gibeon, thus still rendering the Yom Kippur service unobservable according to the Law. When David by the Levites correctly moved the ark, “...he sacrificed oxen and fatlings” (2SAM 6:13) or at least it was attributed to him, since the parallel account in 1CH 15:26 shows that it was the Levites that made the offering. David did, however, wear a linen ephod (2SAM 6:14; 1CH 15:27), a garment associated with the priesthood (EXO 28:4; 1SAM 22:18), and thus was nigh unto the unique Messianic triumvirate of prophet, priest and king at this time. When David installed the ark in his tabernacle, “...he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD” (2SAM 6:17-18; 1CH 16:1-2). Whether he did it himself or it was simply attributed to him (and the latter seems more likely, in view of the censures of King Saul and King Uzziah, both of whom tried to perform priestly offices which did not pertain unto them, 1SAM 13:8-14; 2CH 16:16-21), it was definitely NOT done at Gibeon at the tabernacle of the congregation in obedience to the strict requirement of LEV 17:1-9.

David also appointed some Levites to minister before the ark with praise and thanks (1CH 16:4), sacrifices that “...please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs” (PSA 69:30-31), a foreshadow of N.T. spiritual worship/sacrifices under Messiah's priestly government, per HEB 13:15-16; 1PE 2:5. David even appointed Asaph and his brethren to minister before the ark at his tabernacle in Jerusalem while the priests continued to conduct services at Gibeon (1CH 16:37-40). And God seems to have approved of all this. A message seems evident here: the presence of God (the ark being the token thereof) and worship of Him was not indissolubly tied to the Levitical model. This agrees with an overall fact: as the program of God developed in the O.T., it was transitioning from a Levitical to a Messianic one, David and His royal line becoming very prominent. It seems that this unusual period in which the ark of God's presence was with David more than with Levi was indicative of the Messiah to come (Who, like David, would spring from Judah, not Levi), thus intimating a coming change of the priesthood and law (HEB 7:11-14). It should be here noted: BOTH of these tabernacles would “fall,” being displaced by Solomon's temple, but only the tabernacle of David was prophesied to be rebuilt, and that during a time when God would “...sift the house of Israel among all nations...” (AMO 9:8-12), which was their condition at Christ's first coming.

Since the animal sacrifices of the Law were then still required, the tabernacle of the congregation at Gibeon served a valuable purpose. However, contemporaneously God suffered David to have an alternate tabernacle and more spiritual form of worship. Among the distinctions between these two tabernacles is the observation that, unlike the tabernacle of the congregation (LEV 16:2; HEB 9:1-5), the tabernacle of David seems to have had no veil separating the worshipper from the ark. Mind that the way into the holiest of all in heaven (HEB 9:8) was not yet actually opened for the worshipper to directly approach God; that was reserved unto Christ's crucifixion and resurrection (HEB 6:19-20; HEB 10:19-20). However, the idea that the worshipper could directly interface with God as a spiritual priest with spiritual sacrifices was thereby established with the tabernacle of David.

Also, the installing of the ark in David's tabernacle was not of the cloudy, forbidding nature of the original installing of the ark in the tabernacle of the congregation when not even Moses could enter the tent (EXO 40:20-35). It was rather a time of open rejoicing and royal distribution of bread, flesh and wine “...to every one of Israel, both man and woman...” (1CH 16:3), elements that remind the believer of Christ. It is “...of his fulness have all we received...” (JOH 1:16) whether man or woman (GAL 3:28) and “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (EPH 3:12) “...unto the Father” (EPH 2:18), and through Whom we joy in God, having received the atonement (ROM 5:11). Further, the tabernacle of David was at Zion/Jerusalem (2SAM 6:12 c/w 2SAM 5:7; 2SAM 6:17 c/w 1CH 15:1; 1CH 16:1; 2CH 1:3-4), that place which is typical of the spiritual city of God where N.T. worship is offered in contrast to the O.T. worship under Moses (HEB 12:18-24). We come not unto heavenly Gibeon but unto heavenly Jerusalem in our worship. N.T. worship of the Son of David was anticipated in a house that David built, not a house that Moses built.

Another striking thing about all of this is that when Solomon later reunited the ark with the tabernacle of the congregation at the temple he had just completed, it was noted, “And they brought the ark, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and all the holy vessels that were in the tabernacle, these did the priests and the Levites bring up” (2CH 5:5). The holy vessels evidently pertained to the tabernacle of the congregation at Gibeon where they would have been needed for the appointed services, not the tabernacle of David at Jerusalem where the ark was housed. David's tabernacle seems to have been devoid of Levitical paraphernalia, having only the ark, the token of God's presence. It is thus fitting that the gospel church under a New Testament consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles should not be the rebuilt tabernacle of the congregation but the rebuilt tabernacle of David (ACT 15:13-17 c/w AMO 9:8-12) the dwelling place of God through the Spirit (EPH 2:22), devoid of Levitical paraphernalia. And we may take note that as there could be no annual Yom Kippur service observed as long as the ark of the covenant was at the tabernacle of David (for the letter of the law of LEV 16 would have forbidden it), so there is no such service under the N.T. where the Davidic throne in mercy is established by Christ “...and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David...” (ISA 16:5), reigning and governing “...in the midst of the seven candlesticks...” (REV 1:13), the gospel church, the rebuilt tabernacle of David (ACT 15:13-17) of which it is said, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (EPH 3:21). Christ's sacrifice and entrance into the heavenly place has forever rendered the church valid and the O.T. economy with its Levitical Yom Kippur a dispelled shadow. God had said that His BRANCH (Messiah) would take away iniquity “...in one day” (ZEC 3:8-9). The last Yom Kippur, as it were, was a single Day of Atonement at Calvary when the carnal veil of an abrogated earthly holy place was torn from top to bottom (MAT 27:50-51) and a new, living way into the heavenly holy place opened up (HEB 10:19-20). N.T. believers may “...draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (HEB 10:22). The only veil that gets in the way now is one upon an unbeliever's heart (2CO 3:14-15), “Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away” (2CO 3:16).