A Covenant Not Lost

Title: A Covenant Not Lost

Bible Book: Jeremiah 3 : 14-18

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Ark of the Covenant; Covenant, God's



I like to build things. I have always like to build things. In fact, I love to watch others build things. That does not mean that I enjoy watching someone build something just to watch him work. I am talking about a real craftsman. When I was a young pastor, I enjoyed visiting church members who were building houses. I picked up a lot of pointers from them. Then, I bought a “Skill saw” (actually, it was a Craftsman, but everyone called it a Skill saw). I made a bench to try out my new saw. As a matter of fact, my brother James has that bench on his patio right now. It is functional, but it is not perfect. Every time I see it I recall how I first looked at it when I finished it. It was flawed. In time, I learned that I could have done a much better job with a table saw than a Skill saw.

I bought another Skill saw (that really wasn’t a Skill saw) and built book cases. I was never totally happy with my work. I bought a better table saw. My work still left something to be desires. Then a man who serviced my new table saw reminded me, “You know, this is not a commercial table saw.” I thought I had paid enough to have gotten a commercial saw!

I came up with an idea for a book rack and made a few, using a table model drill press to drill a line of parallel holes to receive dowels that held the book ends in place. I discovered that it is not easy to drill a lot of holes that are perfectly parallel. The book ends fit in most holes, but a little sanding on the dowels was required on most of them. Then I bought a big floor model drill press and discovered that it works much better. So it has been with saber saws, routers, sanders, and other tools.

I received pointers from Jim Hayes, a friend an contractor who builds houses. He excels in cabinet work, especially oak cabinets with raised-paneled oak doors. When I look at my entertainment center I see the kind of craftsmanship I have strived for all my life, but never been able to achieve.

Then I met Johnny Ray Smith. As we became friends and as I observed his work, my feeling of inadequacy was amplified. Johnny Ray worked for a company that bought a jet an hired a pilot to fly him all over the country to sites where he was building as many as four shopping malls at one time. He renovated our educational building for us and I had the privilege of watching a man who had operated on such a large scale do some hands-on work. I recommended him to Mike Arrington, LifeWay Vice-President over the Corporate Affairs Division, whose responsibilities include both Ridgecrest and Glorieta Conference centers, the two biggest Christian conference centers in the world. Each conference center depends upon a group of volunteers, mostly retired people who build things, fix things, and clean up things.

Mike had someone to contact Johnny Ray and invite him to spend the month of October, 2005, working as a volunteer at Ridgecrest, North Carolina. They loved his work, and Mike, who had flown out with people from his department, met Johnny Ray and contacted me to praise his work. Johnny Ray said, “It sure is good to do what you like to do, the way you want to do it, with Christian people.”

Now, since I have announced that the message today is about the Ark of the Covenant, I am sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with the Ark. And I thought you would never ask! I made a discovery while reading Francis Shaeffer years ago, and I might add that I had to read everything he wrote about four times before I begin to understand what must have seemed so simple to him. What Francis Shaeffer pointed out was that when the time came to build the Tabernacle and all the furnishings out there in the wilderness, the Lord had the best artisans in the world on hand to do the work As a matter of fact, their cruel taskmasters had forced them to train in the school of artisans down in the Valley of Kings before they were delivered from Egypt. Not only that - by the time God delivered them, the Egyptians were anxiously rushing out to give them the building materials they would need to build the Tabernacle and all the furnishings. The people who build the Ark of the Covenant were not back-yard, week-end, would-be carpenters with a handsaw and a pocket full of nails. They were artisans. I am sure their work looked like what I always wanted mine to look, but never did.


A. God Gave Them the Plans, Ex. 25:10-15.

1) “They are to make an ark of acacia wood, 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high” (v. 10). Acacia wood was similar to cypress, a good choice for such an ark. The measurements are specific. This is God’s design. My son Mark designs houses and contractor Jim Hayes has told me, “Mark can see things I can’t see. He doesn’t understand why I can’t see them, but when I begin to follow the plans, then I see what he has in mind. Do these measurements have any special significance? They obviously had significance to the Lord, but since He does not explain it to us, any conclusion we might draw would be conjecture. Speaking of which, if I were to hypothesize it has occurred to me that this furniture would compliment the Tabernacle, as would all the furnishings. Now, you may wonder to whom it would matter since only the high priest entered the Most Holy Place, and he only one time a year. Right? Wrong! The Lord God Almighty was in it continually. It would seem logical to me that if the smoke rising from sacrifices of sincere worshipers were a pleasant aroma to God, that He would draw pleasure from the Ark in the Holy of Holies.

2) “Overlay it with pure gold; overlay it both inside and out. Also make a gold molding all around it” (25:11) Where did then find the gold? How did they refine it in the wilderness? Following the ten plagues, each of which exposed the folly of the false gods of Egypt, the Egyptians not only urged the Israelites to leave, they gave them gold, silver, and precious jewels to speed them on their way. The cruel taskmasters had not only trained many of the workers in the school of the artisans down in the Valley of Kings, they supplied them with the gold they would need to cover the Ark.

3) “Cast four gold rings for it and place [them] on its four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other side. Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark in order to carry the ark with them. The poles are to remain in the rings of the ark; they must not be removed from it” (25:12-15). The Ark of the Covenant was designed to be moved as the Children of Israel moved through the wilderness, across the Jordan, into the land, and during the Conquest of Canaan.

4) “Put the [tablets of the] testimony that I will give you into the ark” (25:16). This is the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of the Covenant. Then Tablets recorded the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Covenant.

5) “Make a mercy seat of pure gold, 45 inches long and 27 inches wide. 18 Make two cherubim of gold; make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end. Make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have wings spread out above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and are to face one another. The faces of the cherubim should be toward the mercy seat” (25:17-20).
God, the Master Designer, provides the plans for the covering, or “the mercy seat” which would be placed on the Ark. This was not a hinged lid, but a covering, possibly a testimony to the fact that the only way one’s sins could be forgiven was for them to be covered by the atoning blood of sacrifice. If you are saved today it is become you have come under the saving blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, Who poured out His life’s blood for you on the cross. The high priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement to make atonement for Israel and for himself. Jesus, our supreme High Priest, offered a once-for-all sacrifice for all who believe in Him. He did not need to make an atonement for Himself, and He does not need to repeat that sacrifice ever again.

6) “Set the mercy seat on top of the ark and put the testimony that I will give you into the ark. I will meet with you there above the mercy seat, between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony; I will speak with you from there about all that I command you regarding the Israelites” (Ex 25:21-22). The Tabernacle represented the presence of God with His Chosen People in the wilderness. Two million people pitched their tents in the wilderness and God told Moses to pitch His tent in the midst of His people. It reminded them that He was with them. The spot on the mercy seat between the two cherubim symbolized the concentrated presence of Almighty God. The Tent of Meeting, set up outside the camp, was the place from which God would speak to Moses regarding the Israelites.

B. The Ark Was a Symbol of the Covenant Between God and His Chosen People.

The Ark contained the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Covenant, and the foundation for God’s law for all people. The people who heard Jeremiah’s message knew this. Their ancestors knew it. Yet, they had chosen to rebel against Him. Jeremiah announced: “ “The Lord announced to me, “Unfaithful Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah” (Jer. 3:11). If God called Israel “unfaithful,” and Judah “treacherous,” where does that leave America? John Gibson highlighted the war against Christ in his book, THE WAR AGAINST CHRISTMAS, released before Christmas, 2005. He stated that the war is really against Christians. He noted that something like 85% of Americans consider themselves to be Christians. In reality, I wonder if many more that 15% of Americans have ever been born again by the grace of God.

Before you protest that Israel was the Covenant people, not America, let me assure you that I am well aware of the difference. At the same time, each and every genuine Christian is a child of the New Covenant. Can you imagine people with a covenant relationship with God who advocate same-sex marriage, homosexuality in general, abortion, euthanasia, ordination of homosexual priests, and all the time denying the God as Creator, the virgin birth, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

C. The Ark Was a Symbol of God’s Presence with His People.

The Holman Bible Dictionary observes that:

“A very ancient poem, the “Song of the Ark” in Numbers 10:35-36, sheds some light on the function of the ark in the wanderings in the wilderness. The ark was the symbol of God’s presence to guide the pilgrims and lead them in battle (Num. 10:33,35-36). If they acted in faithlessness, failing to follow this guidance, the consequences could be drastic (Num. 14:39-45). Some passages suggest the ark was also regarded as the throne of the invisible deity, or his footstool (Jer. 3:16-17; Ps. 132:7-8). These various meanings of the ark should be interpreted as complementary rather than contradictory.

“The ark played a prominent role in the “holy war” narratives of the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest, of Jericho (Josh. 3–6). After the conquest, it was variously located at Gilgal, Shechem (Josh. 8:30-35; see Deut. 11:26-32; 27:1-26) or Bethel (Judg. 20:26), wherever the tribal confederacy was gathered for worship. Finally, it was permanently located at Shiloh, where a temple was built to house it (1 Sam. 1:9; 3:3) [Holman Bible Dictionary].

D. The Ark Was not a Religious Good Luck Charm.

The Ark of the Covenant was holy, but it was not a religious talisman like those to which pagans subscribe and worship. We are not taking about some religious relic here! Even though the Ark was not magic, it was holy. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phenihas (1 Sam. 4) took the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines to force God’s hand to defend Israel. God permitted Israel to be defeated and the Ark to be captured. The Philistines, no doubt, thought of it as a bad luck piece after their pagan deity, Dagon, fell before the Ark of the Covenant (1 Sam. 5-6).

There is no mistaking the holiness of the Ark later when David sought to move the Ark to Jerusalem without consulting the Law to see how God would have it moved:

“David again assembled all the choice men in Israel, 30,000. (2) He and all his troops set out to bring the ark of God from Baale-judah. The ark is called by the Name, the name of the Lord of Hosts who dwells [between] the cherubim. (3) They set the ark of God on a new cart and transported it from Abinadab’s house, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the cart... (6) When they came to Nacon’s threshing floor, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and took hold of it, because the oxen had stumbled. (7) Then the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and God struck him dead on the spot for his irreverence.... ( 9) David feared the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” (10) So he was not willing to move the ark of the Lord to the city of David; instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite” (2 Sam 6:1-10).

After three months, David was permitted to take the Ark to Jerusalem, accompanied by sacrifices, trumpets, and celebration as David danced in the streets of Jerusalem.


A. The Temple Was Destroyed in 586 B.C.

Let me stress that the Bible does not state specifically that the Ark of the Covenant was destroyed when the Babylonian troops broke through the walls of Jerusalem, pillaged the city and destroyed the most glorious temple the world had ever seen. We do know from Daniel’s account that the sacred vessels from the House of God in Jerusalem were taken back to Babylon, for Belshazzar had them brought so he could celebrate the victory of the gods of Babylon over the God of the Jews by toasting his gods, using these sacred vessels. That is when he saw the literal (now proverbial) handwriting on the wall. No mention is made of the Ark.

B. Traditions About the Ark Still Abound.

Many believe the Ark was secreted away by priests before Babylon broke through the walls. Some say it was hidden beneath the city, in Solomon’s mines, or in catacombs beneath the city to protect it from the foreign armies. This may be expecting a lot of people whose attitude toward God is called “treacherous”, not by Jeremiah but by God Himself. It is not possible that their attitude was, what good is the Ark if the Temple is destroyed?

I read a lengthy article, possibly in a magazine published by a Messianic Jewish group that claimed that the Ark was slipped out of Jerusalem and that it eventually was taken to some little tiny island somewhere in Ethiopia where it has been guarded by African Jews ever since. There may be many other theories which were revived when the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, staring Harrison Ford, was released back in the mid-eighties. Dr. David Skinner, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Mid-America Seminary, was preaching in revival services for us and he and I drove to Delhi, LA. to visit with one of our deacons, Tom Sharplin, and to see his manufacturing plant where he was manufacturing presses for cotton gins which he had invented himself. Tom asked us about the “lost Ark”, and I shared Scripture from Jeremiah with him. As we drove home, David said, “You are right about the Ark.” Let me share with you now what I told Tom that day. More to the point,

C. Let Me Read What God Says About the Ark, Jer. 3:14-18.

“Return, you faithless children”— this is the Lord’s declaration—“for I am your master, and I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you (from Babylon after the Captivity) to Zion. (15) I will give you shepherds who are loyal to Me, and they will shepherd you with knowledge and skill. (16) When you multiply and increase in the land, in those days”—the Lord’s declaration—“no one will say any longer: The ark of the Lord’s covenant. It will never come to mind, and no one will remember or miss it. It will never again be made. (17) At that time Jerusalem will be called, The Lord’s Throne, and all the nations will be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord in Jerusalem. They will cease to follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. (18) In those days the house of Judah will join with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north (Babylon) to the land I have given your ancestors to inherit” (Israel) (Jer 3:14-18).

Considering the fact that God told Jeremiah to tell the people that when they returned from Babylon they should not build another ark, I believe we are safe in assuming that the Ark of the Covenant was destroyed for the gold. One can imagine how excited the Babylonian soldiers and officers were when they saw the Ark, covered with fine gold.

The Ark had been a symbol of God’s presence with His people for centuries, but from the time they returned from Babylon until the coming of the Messiah, Jerusalem would be the symbol of His presence with His people.


A. God Continued His Covenant.

From the time of the return, led by Zerubbabel, and the dedication of the second temple around 516 B. C., God maintained His covenant with His Chosen People. This was the continuation of the covenant of Genesis 3:15. I attended an associational evangelism conference, looking forward to the preaching, but especially to the Bible study which would be led by a former Old Testament professor of mine. I was really surprised when my old professor made the statement about Genesis 3:15, “You preachers tell your people that is a Messianic prophecy, and YOU DON’T KNOW THAT!” I suppose I should have been more surprised when so many of the pastors present shouted, “Amen!” Of course, the professor went on to explain that we only know that it is Messianic because of the other Messianic prophecies which are revealed later. I do not remember a time when I did not know that Genesis 3:15 was Messianic! What Old Testament student is there who cannot follow the Messianic Covenant from Genesis through the entire Old Testament?

B. The Covenant Was Continued, But Only By the Grace of God.

The Abrahamic Covenant was a continuation of the Messianic Covenant. The Davidic Covenant of 2 Samuel 7 is a continuation of the Messianic Covenant. If there is one thing the Scripture reveals it is that Israel never maintained the Covenant. They never deserved God’s grace that kept them in a covenant relationship with Him. The Covenant was maintained by the grace of God, even though the people had rebelled against Him and the Ark had been destroyed.

America is not Israel, but Americans who profess faith in Jesus Christ enter into a covenant relationship with Him by grace, through faith. We cannot earn a relationship with God and we cannot maintain a relationship with Him through our own merit. We do not deserve His salvation. Eternal life is ours through the unmerited grace of God.


A. The Old Covenant Was Fulfilled in Jesus.

1. Jesus is more than a symbol.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem, fulfilling significant Old Testament prophecies. Jesus is the Seed of the woman who crushed the head of the serpent, Satan (Gen. 3:15). Jesus is the Seed promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the sacrificial system, the salvation promised in the Day of the Atonement; the hope of Passover, the Prophet God promised Moses. He is both Bethlehem’s Babe, and our Passover. Jesus is the Son of Abraham according to the Covenant and the Son of David according to the royal line.

2. Jesus wrote the new covenant with His blood.

Why blood? Why could God not have chosen a better way, a more pleasant way? Why could He not have saved us through baptism or the elements of the Lord’s Supper? Of what do those ordinances testify? Right! The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a shame that so many people are offended by the blood. Some churches don’t want to hear about the blood or anything else they consider gory. Life is in the blood and when Jesus poured out His life’s blood He gave His all for us. If you are offended by the blood, you are offended by His sacrifice for you. Jesus, “In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant [established by] My blood; it is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). The Scripture says, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

3. Paul understood the significance of the New Covenant.

If you will turn to 2 Corinthians 3, beginning in verse 6, we read what Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write. In fact, he contrasts the New Covenant with the Old Covenant:

“He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.

“Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face—a fading [glory] — how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious in this case because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious (3:7-11).

“Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness— not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were closed. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside [only] in Christ. However, to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:12-18).

4. This is amplified in Hebrews.

In Hebrews, the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is explained in greater detail:

“Now the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the holy of holies once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God? Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions [committed] under the first covenant” (Heb. 9:11-15).


The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s presence with His people, and His covenant with them. Jesus was more than a symbol when He came to earth to shed His blood for you and me. He was Immanuel, God with us! Before He died on the cross He promised that He would not leave us comfortless, but He would send the Comforter to convict the lost of sin and convince them of righteousness available in and through Jesus Christ. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon those believers in the upper room. Today, He indwells all believers. We do not have to look to physical reminders of the New Covenant because the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity indwells us to remind us of the Word of God (every word of which He inspired), to empower us, to encourage us, to comfort us, and to convict us when we break the New Covenant. He is the One who convicts and persuades us to repent and return to the covenant - to return to a life of obedience to Christ. Those ancient Israelites refused to return to the God of the Old Covenant and they were called “unfaithful” and “treacherous.” Today, if you are not faithful to the New Covenant you are sinning against a greater light. Perhaps, you are being convicted right now. You must repent and return to a life of obedience to Jesus Christ.

The Ark of the Covenant was destroyed. They were told not to rebuild it, but to let Jerusalem be the symbol of the Covenant relationship between them and God. The Ark was destroyed, but not the Covenant! Jesus, the Author of the New Covenant, died a horrible death for you and me, but He arose. “ He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! How do I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”

I thank God that because of what Jesus did on the cross, and because of what He is doing today, we do not look to a symbol of God’s presence (or a covenant relationship with Him), but we can go directly to God through the Mediator of the New Covenant. If you are lost, look to Jesus and live. If you have been born again by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, look to Him and really live!

“I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living, what ever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.

“Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, Life up your voice and sing
Eternal Hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!
The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find,
None other is so loving, so good and kind.

“He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.”

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