Why the Ark of the Covenant Will Never Be Found

ark of the covenant

I can still recall the thrill of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater. A senior in high school, I had already been infected with the archaeology bug. This movie boosted my interest to a whole new level. As Providence would have it, I followed the path of Indiana Jones—at least academically. I’m still fascinated by the ark, but I no longer believe it is lost and awaiting discovery. I have Jeremiah to blame for that.

The idea that the ark of the covenant survived Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah is based on the absence of any explicit reference to the ark being among the vessels of gold carried to Babylon (2 Chr 36:5–8). Likewise, the list of items brought back to Judah after the end of the exile makes no mention of the ark (Ezra 1:5–11). The simplest explanation is that the ark was among the “vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord” that Nebuchadnezzar cut to pieces (2 Kgs 24:13). No one would pay to see that movie.

From ancient times until the present day, people have resisted the idea that God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Israel’s holiest object. Testifying to the power of this resistance, there are nearly a dozen theories as to how the ark survived.

Some of these theories are drawn from biblical events. Perhaps Hezekiah gave the ark to Sennacherib as part of his tribute payment (2 Kgs 18). Might it have been removed by faithful priests when Manasseh put an idol in the temple (2 Kgs 21:1–9)? Indiana Jones told millions that Pharaoh Shishak took the ark to the city of Tanis in Egypt when he invaded Jerusalem (1 Kgs 14:25–28). Perhaps the most intricate theory involves Menelik I, the alleged son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, taking the ark to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian royal chronicle, the Kebra Nagast, presents this idea so seriously that rulers of Ethiopia well into the 20th century had to prove their descent from Menelik I.

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Other theories grew out of specific passages in ancient texts. Second Maccabees 2:5 records Jeremiah hiding the ark in a cave before Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion. Second Baruch 6:1–9 describes the ark being supernaturally swallowed up by the earth before the invasion, tucked away until the time of Israel’s restoration.

Jeremiah 3:16–17 makes all these hypotheses difficult to believe:

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem . . .

The passage plainly shows that the ark would be absent because of the exile. Jeremiah 3:16 also insists that “it shall not be made again”—wording that strongly suggests the ark would be destroyed in the impending disaster; if the ark weren’t destined for destruction, talk of rebuilding it would make no sense at all. Jeremiah 3:17 reinforces this point—the ark was God’s throne. He sat “between the cherubim” of the lid known as the “mercy seat” (Exod 25:18–22; Num 7:89). But the passage speaks of a day when Jerusalem itself will be called God’s throne. We read about this in Revelation 21:2–3: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ ” A recovered ark of the covenant doesn’t fit this picture—it would be a disappointment.

why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

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Written by
Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). He has a dozen years of classroom teaching experience on the college level and another ten in distance education. He is a former scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

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  • Greetings,
    Well, I can say that one of my favorite authors has the same thoughts that I have entertained for a while. That the Ark of the Covenant will never be found. I’ve always found it somewhat difficult to believe when I hear people begin to proclaim that the Ark has been found. If indeed “an ark” is found, I would think it was made later by some builder who intends to do something else, most likely to deceive. . . !!
    Mr. Jones, please go home. . . , there is no ark to discover.
    I agree with Dr. Heiser’s point of view about the ark. Good reading.
    Oh yes, I do have the book Dr. Heiser wrote and other articles from his pen.
    Thank you.
    Al Sosa

  • Very good article. I’m presently going through the 30 day study on Jonah. I feel it’s more of a study on Logos, and how to use the program as designed, but a good study no less. Thanks for the words, Dr. Heiser.


    • Hi, Daniel,
      I’m on the Logos Pro team that produced the Jonah course. Yes, it gives you practical training on Logos tools, but the intention is also to provide a Bible study novice with practical steps on what to look for. What would you liked to have seen more of in the course?

  • Good argument for why the Ark will never be “found” on earth.

    However, don’t forget Revelation 11:19, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.”

    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Print.

    • Heb 8:5 would seem to address the ark in Heaven … what Israel had were copies of Heavenly things

      • Would this mean that Israel herself is a copy of the more real things??
        If Israel is a copy or type, what then would be the anti-type of Israel?
        Just asking. . .

        The Scriptures says that the OT is a copy of better things. So, why not Israel? Christ is the Substance, so are we the anti-type of Israel, if Christ is the Substance (body)?
        Just asking. . . not being dogmatic. . .

        • Interesting question. If that is true of Israel, would the anti-type be that trying to destroy Israel?

          • Oh no. . .absolutely not. I still think the Lord has a plan for Israel. I’m only thinking this because many people put Israel above the church (body of Christ). I find this to be inconsistent with the way Paul described both entities.
            But no, destroying Israel is not the way I put it forth.
            I do believe that the church is the reality of Israel, not the replacement! Israel was never called the “Body of Christ”.
            This language alone implies a serious position for the believer. Jesus is never called the King of the church. Only the King of Israel! And the believer will rule with Christ, His Body.

  • Good point. . . also in reading Hebrews 9:11, it says that “…the greater more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation). . . ” Could this be the one that John saw in his revelation? I think so.
    So it is a tent not made with hands. Further reading it says that the tabernacle is a type of a time structure of prophetic events.
    Hebrew 9 is a very prophetic chapter of the symbolism of the tabernacle.
    I believe the tabernacle is used in the NT as a prophetic symbol of the Parousia of Christ Jesus. Hebrews 9 and Revelation imples this. Just my thoughts.

  • Good article. You can visit the only known spot of the Ark of the covenant in Axum Ethiopia at St. Mary of Zion church. I will say that God did make another Ark of the covenant in the NT. She is called the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Mother of our Lord. She carried in her womb the Word of God, the High Priest who gives life, and the Bread of Life that has come down from Heaven to feed us. The same items in the OT Ark. John the Baptist danced with joy in front of the new Ark much like David did when he recovered the OT Ark. God is great!

  • First of all, the Ark of the Covenant was never in Ethiopia. Before Nebuchadnezzar’s arrival, archangels Michael and Gabriel transported the Ark from the Holy of Holies to the palace of God the Father and His beloved wife, the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ true parents. Mary was only His surrogate mother. Jesus never refered to Mary as “mother” out of reverence for His real Mother and He never asked John to watch over her. Her son James and other children with Joseph were already responsible for her since Jesus had not lived in her house for many years. Plus, no one was allowed to be at the foot of the cross during His Crucifixion. See the garden tomb site.
    “Shekinah” in Hebrew means divine presence or the God that dwells within and is a feminine gender noun. Shekinah was used to describe God’s presence above the Ark, in the cloud and pillar of fire that led the Israelites, the cloud that filled the Temple and that surrounded Jesus at His Tranfiguration and Ascension. She is also referred to as Chokmah(Wisdom in Hebrew) and Ruach (Spirit, breath). Both are feminine nouns. The early church fathers’ misogyny resulted in both female leadership and the femininity of Holy Spirit being suppressed and an attempt to destroy all supporting evidence to preserve male dominance and power. The Catholic Church has deified Mary as a substitute for the true Queen of Heaven, which the Father sees as Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Prayers should only be directed to the Trinity since only God can hear them. The Greeks refered to Mary as the “Theotokos” which means God bearer NOT Mother of God. She herself is appalled at the misdirected worship and whole Mariology cult.

    • Interesting comment. In Spanish, there is a noun that is both feminine and masculine. It may depend on the context. However, the word does not itself has a gender on its own. The word is “radio”. We can say “La radio”(fem.) or “El radio” (masc.). Both are used the same and usually it is understood by the people reading, at least in Spanish. The words, “La” defines the word as fem. The word “El” defines it to be masc.
      I have heard and read of the word ‘spirit’ being both feminine and masculine. As I read in John 16:8, it says, “. . . he will convict. . . ” The Greek word used for ‘he’ is “ekeinos”, which happens to be masculine. Likewise, in verse 14, “He will. . . ” Again, ‘ekeinos’. So I find that this word ‘ekeinos’, defines the context in which ‘spirit’ is understood. I also understand that the word ‘spirit’, “pneuma” is in the neuter gender. Thereby leaving the context to give it, its gender, just like radio.
      It could be that the word ‘spirit’ is in the same vicinity of understanding as ‘radio’.

      Please note; just wanted to share this, I am not going to continue in this topic because it might not bring us into any conclusion. We will all believe what we will believe. . . Just a thought. . . !
      Oh yes, I’m no Greek scholar, just an observant student!! ;-)
      Blessings. . .

    • At the risk of running further afield from the original post, but in response to “God the Father and His beloved wife, the Holy Spirit,” and “Shekinah” in Hebrew means divine presence or the God that dwells within and is a feminine gender noun.”

      In addition to the verses provided previously by Mr. Sosa, there is also John 14:26; 15:26 &1Tim 3:6 that do the same. Might I humbly suggest that this is possibly a misunderstanding of the function of gender in language? The gender of a noun morphologically does not necessarily express the gender semantically of the object for which that noun functions as a linguistic reference. Robertson gives a helpful explanation regarding this (p.246, 252 Grammar of the NT in Light of Historical Research) as does Nunn (p.15 Elements of NT Greek). Gesenius Hebrew Grammar explains the same for Hebrew (Para. 122) as does Van der Merwe (para. 24.2). Hopefully these might help shed a bit of light regarding the use of both Hebrew & Greek gender in scripture.

      Also, I find myself wary of the phrase “queen of heaven” in light of Jer 7:18; 44:17-19, 25 in which the people’s sacrifices to the queen of heaven are given as cause for God’s punishment upon Judah.

      Furthermore the idea of the Holy Spirit as the mother of Jesus is found in the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews and from the Elkesaites who heretically reduced the Holy Spirit to a female angel (Young GTJ 9:1 Spring 1988).

      The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the oldest and most fundamental parts of Christian theology. It is hard won through centuries of thought, prayer and sadly to our shame, strife and bloodshed. While some of the Church fathers may not have shared our modern, enlightened views of gender equality, to paint them all as misogynist is perhaps using too broad of a brush. To dismiss our understanding of who God is, an understanding that has been agreed upon and affirmed by nearly 2 millennia of believers is to run the risk of flirting with the very things the early church most firmly and rightly rejected as being dangerously untrue.

Written by Michael S. Heiser