The Ark of the Covenant was the gold-covered wooden box that held the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. Its lid, called the Mercy Seat, had two gold statues of cherubim kneeling in prayer. The Ark was carried by placing poles through the two rings on each side.
The Ark was a symbol of the covenant, or agreement, between God and the Hebrew people. God promised to protect them; they agreed to obey his commandments. According to the Bible, the Ark guided the Hebrews to Canaan*, the Promised Land. During their years of wandering, the Hebrews set up a Tabernacle, or house of worship, for the Ark at each stopping point. This was a tent with an inner room called the holy of holies for the Ark. It was believed that the spirit of God dwelled there and sat upon the Mercy Seat.
According to the first book of Samuel in the Bible, the Philistines captured the Ark at one point and carried it from town to town. Wherever the Ark went, however, the people were struck with plagues. On the advice of Philistine priests and soothsayers, the Ark was placed on a cart and sent back to Canaan.
cherubim winged lions; in later times, angels portrayed as winged human figures
King David of Israel had the Ark moved to Jerusalem. His son, King Solomon, ordered a great temple to be built and placed the Ark within the holy of holies. In the 500s B . C ., the Babylonians* conquered the Hebrews and took the treasures from the temple. The fate of the Ark is not explained in the Bible, but it was probably lost or destroyed.
See also Semitic Mythology .