The Ark of the Covenant as a Throne-Chair

By Tony Badillo

Thanks to Hollywood, no other piece of Temple furniture is as famous as
the Ark of the Covenant, the gold box where the Ten Commandments
were deposited. Yet it has never yielded its secrets until now.

Much has been written about the Ark of the Covenant but many questions remain unanswered. In part because it is not understood that it, like all other the temple furniture, is multi-symbolic, depicting more than one thing simultaneously within Mosaic and Solomonic periods.

Scholars believe the Ark depicts at least three things: a golden chest, a throne-chair, and a footstool (Ref. Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel by Prof. Menahem Haran of Hebrew University, Israel, pp. 246, 253, 254). On this website you will find a fourth, the nose and nostrils of Temple Man, More Secrets of the Holy Ark. But in this section we are interested only in first three.

The Ark as a Chest

The Ark is identified in a variety of ways: Ark of God, Ark of the Lord, Ark of the Covenant, Ark of the Testimony, etc.. All these refer to the same item, the Ark. Its dimensions and description are given in Exodus 25:10-22; 37:5-10, wherein it is simply called an "ark" or "ark of acacia wood." In both places the dimensions are given as 2.5 cubits in length and 1.5 cubits in width and height (1.1 x 0.7 meters, or 3.75 x 2.25 feet), forming a rectangular box or chest made of gold-plated wood .

The main purpose of the chest is indicated two times by God himself in 25:16, 21: "You shall put into the ark the
covenant (pact or testimony) what I shall give you" (cf. also Exodus 40:20; Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Hence, it mostly served as a receptacle for the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, i.e., the Decalogue (the Covenant). Later, other things may have been placed in it, but its main purpose was to serve as a container for the Decalogue.

Its wooden poles were overlaid with gold and
   are mentioned in Exodus 25:13-15 and 37:4, yet their length is never given.

Finally, the Ark had a cover or lid (kapporet, rendered as "mercy seat" in the AV), whose description and that of its small twin cherubim is given in Exodus 25:17-21 along with its dimensions. The kapporet, though, was made of a single piece of solid gold, no wood at all, a noteworthy distinction.

The Ark as a Throne-Chair

It's well known that the Ark served as a chest or receptacle for the tablets of the Ten Commandments. But it also portrayed the Lord's heavenly throne-chair,  as indicated by what is said about its cherubim:

Exodus 25:22: the Lord says he will speak to Moses from between the cherubim, but "above" the kapporet.
Leviticus 16:2: the Lord says he will appear in a cloud above (or upon or over) the kapporet.
I Samuel 4:4: the Lord is enthroned "above" or "upon" the cherubim.
II Samuel 6:2: the same or nearly the same expression is used.
II Kings 19:15: Hezekiah prays to the God of Israel "enthroned above the cherubim."
Psalms 99:1: the Lord "sits enthroned upon the cherubim."
See also Isaiah 37:16.

These are some of the verses that refer to the small cherubim of the Ark and/or the heavenly cherubim, either of which is a reference to God's throne. The AV's translation of the Samuel verses errs by saying only that the Lord sits "between" the cherubim, not above or upon them (check other translations). Rather, he is positioned between  but "above" them, indicating that the Ark symbolized the Lord's throne-chair.

According to Professor Menahem Haran of the Hebrew University in Israel, the two major scholarly views are that the Ark was a chest for the Decalogue, but also a depiction of the divine throne (Temple and Temple Service in Ancient Israel, p. 246), and this is partially supported by other works such as The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 389 which assures us that "cherubim thrones" were well known in ancient Syria-Palestine (see also The JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus by Nahum M. Sarna, 1991 edition by The Jewish Publication Society).

Finally, compare Jeremiah 3:16 which refers to a future time when the Ark shall not be remembered or mentioned but, instead, "Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord," v. 17. This clearly shows the Ark was his throne in the past (in Moses' days), but in the future his throne will be the city of Jerusalem.  

The Ark as a Footstool

There are no verses that say indisputably that the Ark is a footstool, but there are some which imply it "" a view that naturally arises if the the Ark depicts a throne. And as Professor Menahem Haran notes in his book (p. 254), if the kapporet and cherubim are the throne of God, then the Ark "" meaning the chest "" must be the the footstool, what else? He further argues (p. 255) that it is not logical to conceive of any throne without a footstool.

Here are some verses seeming to say or imply that the Lord's throne has a footstool.

I Chronicles 28:2: Possibly the Ark is God's footstool.
Psalms 99:5: People shall bow before God's footstool.
Psalms 132:7; 8: Same as above, and moreover this psalm deals with the procession of the Ark.

saiah 66:1: The Lord says, "heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool."

If the heavenly throne has a footstool (the earth), the Ark -throne must have one also. But how or where?

Harmonizing the Chest, Throne, and Footstool Ideas

The question, therefore, is how "" in a clear and visible way "" does the Ark depict a chest, throne and footstool? As I have shown graphically, the kapporet is a separate piece from the chest (its dimensions are given separately in Exodus 25:17 "" a significant fact) and is made of solid gold. It is this particular piece which is the throne seat. The reason we cannot visualize it very well is because the backrest and armrests are missing. But installed in their place the Ark becomes a throne-chair, and the chest  below a footstool.

But we may ask, "If this is so, what happens to the cherubim?" 

The answer is found in how monarchs of the ANE (Ancient Near East) designed their thrones "" cherubim were portrayed on the armrests, or sometimes shown supporting the throne. But in the biblical Ark, the backrest and armrests were omitted, leaving the cherubim standing alone atop the kapporet. The footstool was then moved under the kapporet (seat) and became the "chest" underneath (see the slightly-rearranged Ark at right).

Possibly the throne design was concealed to discourage ancient and spiritually-immature Israel from imagining the Lord as a human monarch or demigod sitting on his throne, encouraging idol worship. It is easy to demonstrate that the bible conceals information for certain purposes. See for example Daniel 12:8, 9 where the prophet is not allowed to understand the book he himself wrote.

Throne-Chairs in the Ancient Near East

Below is my drawing of a throne chair found in Meggido, an ancient city in northern Israel from which the name "Armageddon" is derived (the original drawing has a lion with a human head). You may find it on the Internet or see the New Bible Dictionary, p. 1190, Inter-Varsity Press.

The evolution of the throne and footstool into an ark mounted with cherubim, though, was not a Jewish idea necessarily, but a development of the Ancient Near East (ANE).

At left is an Egyptian throne chair styled after King Tutankhamen's, 1350 BC. His, though, appears to have had falcons, where I have female cherubim.You may find photos of the actual chair on the Internet and in various books; it is on display at the Cairo Museum, Egypt.

The chair usually appears alone but its footstool was recovered, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia (Exodus volume, p.161, 1991 edition), which also tells us it was "richly decorated."

Figures of lions often decorated these these thrones and, in fact, I Kings 10:19 says that King Solomon's own throne had armrests with figures of lions.

On the lower left, the footstool has been placed underneath the throne-chair, signaling the beginning of its gradual development into an ark-chest. Also the reader should not fail to notice the small red arrow at the extreme left pointing to the "seat" of the throne-chair; it corresponds to the "kapporet" of the biblical Ark.

According the p. 108 of  The JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus    (mentioned earlier), ANE nations traditionally recorded on tablets the treaties (covenants) they made with each other, then they deposited these in the temple by the feet of each of their gods. Other sources besides the JPS Torah Commentary make similar assertions. In this case, the JPS specifically refers to a treaty between some King Shuppilulimas of the Hittite empire and King Mattiwaza of Mittani, 14th century, BC.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary provides similar information and adds that the throne footstools of  ANE kings were often "boxlike," including King Tutanhamen's of Egypt (Vol. 1, p. 389).

According to the Anchor article, though, it appears that scholars earlier in this century were not certain the biblical Ark depicted a throne. For if so, how? Unable to answer satisfactorily their own question, they concluded that it must be a footstool only. However, other scholars insisted that the Ark must represent a throne too, somehow. Unfortunately, such persons never bothered illustrating how the original transformation "" from throne-chair and footstool to Ark "" might have taken place; this is why I decided to create the drawings shown here.


Scholars are word-oriented, but most any graphically- minded person can see how a throne and footstool could have easily evolved into an Ark-like object. After all, Israel was under the dominion of Egypt for centuries; they must have learned something from the Egyptian culture during this long period.

In the illustration at left I have removed the backrest and armrests, making the female cherubim and the sun more

In the lower illustration the transformation is complete and an Egyptian ark emerges. All it needs is carrying poles. The sun is gone, the footstool now occupies most of the space below the throne-chair and the seat suddenly becomes a "kapporet," an ark-cover. Also in the process, the cherubim are redrawn and repositioned.


While the biblical Ark does, indeed, depict a throne and footstool, as various scholars now claim, one should not imagine the Lord sitting between the Ark's small cherubs; the Torah does not encourage this view. Instead, we are told in Numbers 7:89 that when Moses went into the Mishkan (tabernacle) God spoke to him from above the Ark's cover but his voice (the kol) sounded from between the cherubim. Thus his voice stood for his person.  

A comparison between Exodus 24:16 and 25:22 implies his presence was above the cherubim, in the midst of the cloud, as at Mount Sinai (24:16), and continued being so  when the cloud hovered over the Tabernacle. If so, then, he spoke from above the whole Ark (cp.  Exodus 34:5, 40:34, 38; I Kings 8:10 and Leviticus 16:2), but his voice was heard from the small area between the cherubim (see at left), while he was shrouded in the mist and glory of the cloud.(the Shekinah).


Copyright © 2008 by Tony Badillo
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