In Exodus 25:10-22, God orders something marvelous: an expensive large wood & gold box is to be built, with fantastic statuettes on top, from which He would meet with and speak with the High Priest of the Israelites. Far beyond the altars of the patriarchs, the Ark actually carried with it the promise of God’s interactive presence. It was from here that rose the column of smoke by day and column of fire by night, leading the Israelites through the Sinai desert.
Of course, the presence of God came with a heavy price. Only the High Priest was allowed to approach the Ark, and he could never even open it anymore. The Ark was also veiled from other priests’ sight most of the time, and also when it was to be transported so no normal folk would ever see it either. Even properly set up, approaching the Ark incorrectly would spell death for whoever tried. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn’t all that inaccurate on that third point.
The Ark was built just after 1440 BC, and may have been lost along with the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BC. The deuterocanonical book II Maccabees reports that the prophet Jeremiah had hidden the Ark before the Babylonians ransacked and destroyed the Temple. Many legends exist suggesting where it was taken later, ranging from Britain to Southern Africa and everywhere in between. The Ark’s appearance in heaven, in John’s vision in Revelation 11:19, suggests that the purpose of the earthly Ark is finished, and the nexus between heaven and earth is now much more intimate than a single inanimate object, beautiful though it was.
Outer layer: the box’s goatskin & cloth wrapping
Middle layer: the outside of the box & the cloud
Inner layer: inside the box