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The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant is the holy chest, made in the Wilderness, that the ancient Hebrews took with them on their journey into Canaan. According to the Book of Exodus, God instructed Moses to make the Ark as a container for the two stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments, the covenant between Him and His people. The Ark was an oblong chest made of acacia wood and covered with gold inside and out. The lid was a gold slab, called the mercy seat, at whose ends were two golden cherubs with outspread wings. Since God declared journeys the Hebrews kept the Ark in a private section, later known as the Holy of Holies, in a specially built tabernacle, or movable holy tent. The Ark was considered so sacred that anyone other than a priest who touched it, even accidentally, might incur death (II Samuel 6:6).
As the Israelites moved into Canaan, they often carried the Ark of the Covenant into battle with pagan tribes in the belief that victory would be impossible without it. In Canaan the Ark was kept in a sanctuary at Shiloh until it was taken to the new capital city of Jerusalem by King David. It was later placed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple built by David's son Solomon.
Although many stories about the Ark appear in the Old Testament, nothing is said of its eventual fate. It presumably disappeared when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 587 or 586 B.C. According to one tradition, however, the Ark of the Covenant was hidden by King Josiah of Judah in the 7th century B.C.
In Jewish synagogues the scrolls of the Torah, or the Law, are kept in a chest or cupboard, called the ark. Usually richly decorated, it is placed on the east wall in the direction of Jerusalem, serving as a focus for prayer.