God spoke to Moses of His holiness, about boundaries, about life and death. God made it clear that he was interested in the politics and economics of His nation as well as the warp and weave of the clothes they wore. Everything in their lives, even what was on or off the menu, was to speak the truth - they were His people, He was their God.
He was not some pagan idol, fashioned by the human hand after the desires of the human heart. The One True God spoke to Moses of how his people were to approach Him. It was not through indolent religious urges. The people of God's promise were to come to Him according to His command, His calendar and His call.
The detail is immense: read Exodus chapters 25 - 31. Everything is laid out. The ark (carrying box) of the covenant would serve as a focus: a visible sign of that which could not be seen. The Holy God was their God and they were His people. This box would be the focal point of the sacrificial system He sets out. Without it there is no way to approach Him in a way that pleases Him. The ark of the covenant would go before them as they moved and be at their centre as they camped.
The absolute decree of the Holy One was barely spoken and the people who lived by His Promise were fashioning an idol for themselves and proclaiming IT as the God who had saved them. It would be ironic if it were not so offensively repulsive.
That carrying box, the visual reminder, where God would make his presence clear and real moved through the desert and on into the desperate chaos of the time of judges, kings and prophets. God used the ark to make His presence felt, to make it real, to a forgetful and willful people. When His People had so abandoned the God of The Promise that God sent them away from the Land of the Promise, removing their outward markers of their identity as His People and making them a pariah among the nations the ark of the covenant falls out of history.
Temples would be built and rebuilt in Jerusalem but the ark of the covenant would not sanctify the holiest of places on the Temple mount. Rituals and rites would be performed but the place of meeting with God was no longer available. There is a tragic gap, a hole, in the fabric of knowing and approaching the only God.
Without the mercy seat (the top of the box) sacrifice is meaningless, priesthood is high drama and devotion is well meant but little mended. The years pass and little changes.
Finally the hole is mended but not by a new box at the centre of the Temple. A new mercy seat is born, God's presence delivered and God's Word incarnated in a child. He would be the One who would LIVE, without blemish, every command and call God spoke to Moses many generations before. He would be the One who would fulfill the Law, become the mercy seat, the sacrifice of atonement.
The ark of the covenant was there ONLY to teach Moses and the generations after him (and us through His word in our hands) about the child who would be born in Bethlehem.
When this wee boy learned to walk on toddlers legs, The Covenant maker is the Covenant carrier and keeper: the ark of the New Covenant, the New Temple, walking and talking and growing up to be a man who would walk and talk and heal and teach and die and rise to life and offer light and eternal life to all who will come to Him by faith.