The Ark of the Covenant wasn’t always in the hands of the Israelites. It was taken from them by the Philistines for a period of time until it was returned. This event is listed on the Bible Timeline Poster around 1180 BC.
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The Ark of the Covenant is a wooden chest with a pure gold covering that contains the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. It was created at Sinai using the pattern given by God to Moses (Ex. 25:10-22; 37:1-9). The Ark served as Israel’s guide in the journey through the wilderness (Num. 10:33-36). It also served as a symbol of God’s presence (I Sam 4:4).
The Ark was brought by the Israelites throughout their travel in the desert and during wars. When they set to conquer Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, they carried the Ark with them, and the Jordan River split allowing them to pass into the land of Canaan (Josh. 3). In the Battle of Jericho, their first battle in the conquest of Canaan, they carried the Ark and marched around the city for days with armed men and the seven priests sounding the seven trumpets. On the seventh day, the wall of Jericho fell and the Israelites took over the city (Josh. 6). After the conquest, Joshua set up the Ark, together with the tabernacle, in Shiloh (Josh. 18). The Ark remained in Shiloh until the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines during the time of Eli.
When the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines, they took the Ark to Eben-ezer hoping to win the next battle. However they were defeated again, and the Ark was taken by the Philistines (I Sam. 4:3-5, 10, 11). In Shiloh, the High Priest Eli fell dead upon hearing the news of the Ark’s capture (I Sam. 4:12-18).
The Philistines brought the Ark with them to their capital city, Ashdod and put it in the temple of their idol god Dagon. However, on the next day, the statue of Dagon had fallen to the ground. The same thing happened again the following day. Soon after, the city of Ashdod suffered misfortune as plague after plague struck the city. The Ark was moved to the city of Gath and then Ekron, but the plague continued (I Sam. 5:1-12).
After keeping the Ark for seven months, the Philistines decided to return it to the Israelites together with offerings of expensive gifts upon the advice of their diviners and priests. The Ark was brought back to Beit Shemesh and then transported to Kiryat Yearim, where it stayed for twenty years (I Sam. 6:1-18, 21; 7:1-2).
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