Did Jeremiah Really Say Ark Has No Future
When it comes to proving the Ark’s existence, it can be extended not only to its previous status, but also its present condition. Countless debates have endured over many centuries based on prophetic teachings, which have seemingly been rarely fully understood.
There is a well-known verse in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah that is often used by contemporary scholars as proof that the Ark would be of no consequence in the future; almost in a state of non-existence. But how reliable have interpretations of this segment been made? It is first imperative to realize that prophets lived in their own time period, and any words preached to their surrounding countrymen usually included content meant for their own understanding of current or unfolding events. We present an excerpt from a well-researched paper, which touches upon this topic. It comes from a paper entitled ‘Where is the Ark of the Covenant today?’
By Prof. Yoel Elitzur
My father, z”l, lectured on this topic at the 12th World Congress of Jewish Studies in 1997 (a few months before he passed away), and the lecture was later published in the Congress’s proceedings and in a collection of his articles. He focused on a prophecy that appears toward the beginning of the book of Jeremiah that is difficult to understand:
And when you increase and are fertile in the land, in those days – declares the Lord – men shall no longer speak of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, nor shall it come to mind. They shall not mention it, or miss it, or make another. (Jeremiah 3:16)
This is a prophecy of consolation, describing the ideal state of things that will be in the future. But why should the people forget the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord? Why does Jeremiah stress this so emphatically – “Men shall no longer speak… nor shall it come to mind. They shall not mention it, or miss it, or make another”?
Some commentators focused on the connection between this prophecy and Jeremiah’s rebuke in chapter 7:
Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, “The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are these [buildings]”… therefore I will do to the House which bears My name… just what I did to Shiloh. (7:4, 14)
In other words, Jeremiah is denouncing the approach that held that the Temple was indestructible due to its holiness – that God would not allow it to be destroyed.
According to my father, z”l, Jeremiah’s prophecy in chapter 3 contains much more than this. If we read between the lines of the prophecy, we can discern the deep, real-life conflict that existed in the nation at the time regarding the Ark. Some believed that the Temple was no longer a secure place. Since the Temple would likely fall into enemy hands, as they claimed, the prudent course of action would be to preemptively conceal the nation’s prized possession – the Ark of the Covenant – in a secret and secure location. In contrast, others believed that the Temple, and in particular the Ark, were so supremely holy that they could never be harmed. Jeremiah stresses that the Sanctuary itself is not protected simply because God’s name is invoked in connection with it. Rather, its continued existence within the nation depends on the actions of the people, and considering the actions of the people at the time, this did not bode well for the Temple.
Josephus records a surprising tradition: When Hasmonean leader John Hyrcanus found himself in financial distress, he took out three thousand silver talents from the treasures of King David’s sepulcher (Antiquities 13:249). It is clear that the treasures preserved in King David’s sepulcher would not have survived Nebuzaradan’s plundering at the time of the Temple’s destruction had they not been concealed in a hiding place whose location was known to only a select few. My father points out that King Manasseh of Judah changed the official burial site of the royal house, and as a result, he, his son and apparently his grandson Josiah as well were all buried in this new site: the garden of Uzza. Paradoxically, and in contrast to other kings who were more righteous than he was, Manasseh was the only king who followed the diplomatic policies advocated by the prophets.
The prophets consistently preached fealty to the dominant superpower, encouraging kings to avoid misguided pacts and adventurous foreign policy. By following the advice of the prophets in this regard, Manasseh merited fifty-five years of continuous reign. My father estimates that Manasseh began a systematic operation to hide the royal treasures, among them the Ark. These actions, my father claims, garnered blessing from Jeremiah, and Josiah continued in his grandfather’s path in this regard as well. My father cites two important archaeological findings that, according to his interpretation, reflect a policy of hiding holy sites and artifacts during the time of Josiah: the tumuli west of Jerusalem and the Israelite temple and altars in Arad. According to this approach, the verse in Chronicles refers to a temporary removal of the Ark from its hiding place by the faithful priests and Levites who were charged with preserving the secret location of the royal treasures, and its placement in the Holy of Holies for the great Passover observance in Jerusalem. All the while, however, the intent was to return the Ark to its hiding place at the conclusion of the festival.
In reading the above paper, it becomes apparent that real-life events were surrounding both Jeremiah and his people, which the prophet was duty bound to comment on. Bear in mind that he had a known record for not only admonishing rulers of the day, but also serving to give them warnings to avoid dire straits. That alone adds strength to the argument that his words about the Ark’s relevance together with the Temple of Solomon to provide protection to the besieged nation were misplaced. Jeremiah was pointing out that there was only one way of seeking divine protection, and that was directly from the source of creation. If so, it gives a timely reminder that in contemporary times mankind needs to also look beyond creations such as the Ark, no matter how divine its origins, and first look to a higher source for deliverance from its predicament. Conversely, it does not rule out the role of a future Ark or Third Temple from which to serve the Lord of Israel.