The ark of the covenant was the most sacred object in the sanctuary. It was a wooden box overlain with gold, with a solid gold cover called the mercy seat, onto which were affixed two sculptures of cherubim with their wings overshadowing the ark (Ex. 25:10-22; 37:1-9). The visible manifestation of God's presence, the Shekinah Glory hovered just above the Ark, between the cherubim. The ark was placed inside the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies, a square room on the west end of the sanctuary that was entered only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest came in to sprinkle the blood of the Lord's goat onto the mercy seat, to make atonement for the people and to cleanse the sanctuary (Lev. 16; Heb. 9:6-7).
The extreme sacredness of the ark is illustrated by the story of Uzzah, who though forbidden by God, was struck dead for touching the ark, (Deut. 10:8; Num. 4:15; 2 Sam. 6:6-7). In another instance, seventy men of Beth-Shemesh were slain for looking inside the ark (1 Sam. 6:19).
Among the contents of the ark, Seventh-day Adventists emphasize the stone tablets upon which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments. Adventists emphasize this because in the middle of the Ten Commandments is the Fourth Commandment.
OTHER CONTENTS IN THE ARK
However, the stone tablets of the law were not the only contents of the ark. There was also Aaron's rod that budded and a golden jar containing manna (Heb. 9:4; Num. 17:10; Ex. 16:32-34). Scripture teaches that the earthly sanctuary and temple were types and shadows of a heavenly original (Heb. 8:5; 9:11; Ex. 26:30; Acts 7:44; Rev. 4:5; 8:3; 11:19). In vision, Ellen White clearly saw the heavenly temple as well as the contents of the ark itself.
In the ark was the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of stone which folded together like a book. Jesus opened them, and I saw the Ten Commandments written on them with the finger of God. (White, Early Writings, p. 32)
Though many amazing and memorable things happened during Israel's founding, none were given the astonishing prominence of the Ten Commandments, Aaron's rod and the jar of manna that were placed in the ark of the covenant. Therefore, we ought to carefully study the principles these items represent.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we know that the law of God carries a continuing obligation for the Christian church. In fact, that was the main lesson of Ellen White's vision of the Ten Commandments in the ark. We understand our continuing obligation when we read Ellen White “saw that the Sabbath commandment was not nailed to the cross. If it was, the other nine commandments were; and we are at liberty to break them all, as well as to break the fourth. I saw that God had not changed the Sabbath, for He never changes. But the pope had changed it from the seventh to the first day of the week; for he was to change times and laws [Dan. 7:25]” (Early Writings 32).
Do Aaron's rod that budded and the golden jar of manna also symbolize the Christian church’s continuing obligation to the principles taught through these symbols? I think they do.
Aaron’s rod that budded
The story of Aaron's rod budding is told in Numbers 17, but we learn the background in the previous chapter, where we read of the rebellion of Korah (a Levite), and Dathan and Abiram (Reubenites). These men, along with 250 leaders in Israel, challenged Moses and Aaron's leadership: “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Num. 16:1-3). Although Korah was a Levite and a Kohathite, he was not content with the Levites' role in administering the sanctuary but wanted to be a priest (Num. 16:8-11). Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, but they refused to come (Num. 16:12-15). However, when Moses commanded Korah and the 250 leaders to appear with censors filled with coal and incense at the entrance to the sanctuary court yard, they came. God sent fire from heaven to burn them up, while the ground opened to swallow Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their families, tents, and property (Num. 16:16-35). The 250 bronze censors were then collected and made into a covering for the altar, as a memorial warning against disobeying God's sovereign choice for the priesthood (Num. 16:36-40).
IN SPITE OF GOD’S JUDGEMENTS, THE PEOPLE REMONSTRATED MOSES
Unfortunately, God's astonishing supernatural intervention had not ended the rebellion. Despite the clearly supernatural nature of the deaths of the rebels, the next day the people blamed Moses, saying, “you have killed the Lord's people.” God then sent a plague on the people, killing 14,700. God allowed Moses to stop the plague, by carrying a censor with incense through the throng (Num. 16:41-50).
God then told Moses to get twelve staffs, one from each tribe, with the leader of each tribe to write his name on his staff. The staff of Levi was to be inscribed with Aaron's name. The twelve staffs were to be placed in front of the ark of the covenant.
“The staff belonging to the man I choose, God said, I will sprout.” So Moses carried out these instructions. The next day Moses saw that Aaron’s staff had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds. God then commanded that Aaron's rod be kept with the ark of the covenant as a perpetual reminder against rebellion (Num. 17:1-11).
We know that the stories in the Old Testament were preserved for our admonition, “upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:10-11; Rom. 15:4). Korah's rebellion was against God's choice on ordination. Korah claimed that “the whole people are holy,” and eligible for sacred office. The contemporary application is obvious: In the Adventist Church today, many are pushing female ordination even though the ordained office of elder/gospel minister is clearly restricted to men (1 Tim. 2:11-3:7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Cor. 11:3; 14:34). I am not the first to draw a parallel between the rebellion of Korah and the movement to ordain women; three years ago Stephen Bohr issued a booklet, “Reflections on Women's Ordination,” which made the same comparison. But the shoe fits.
A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS, YET NOT ALL CALLED TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Note that the Korahites' claim that “the whole community is holy, every one of them” was not wrong. Israel was indeed to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). And today's proponents of female ordination are not wrong when they discuss the priesthood of the Christian believer (1 Peter 2:9). But just as God had ordained the descendants of Aaron for the priesthood in Israel's “kingdom of priests,” so He has ordained male leadership in the Christian church, notwithstanding the priesthood of all believers. Male elders are to lead the church at all levels. They should be chosen according to the Biblical standard. Elders should spend time listening to all members, especially the women. They may delegate any task to women, including pastoring (shepherding) churches under the authority of male ministers.
The golden jar of manna
The jar of manna was placed in the ark for several reasons, including the reminder to Israel that God had miraculously provided for them during the forty years in the desert. “Let an omer of [manna] be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 16:32).
But the wider context of Exodus 16 makes clear that the manna is also symbolic of God trying to move Israel toward a more healthful lifestyle. The manna was given to Israel after they had been grumbling and hankering after the “fleshpots of Egypt” (Ex. 16:1-3).
VICTORY OVER APPETITE STILL NEEDED TODAY
The lesson of victory over appetite was a difficult one for Israel. In Numbers 11, we again find Israel grumbling against the manna and once again longing for the fleshpots of Egypt, for meat to eat (Num. 11:4-6, 13). God acceded to Israel's wailing for meat and caused a wind to blow quail from the coast, landing in the Israelite camp to a depth of three feet. Sadly, everyone gorged on meat, and their indulgence of appetite led to a plague that took the lives of many (Num. 11:18-34).
Despite our obligation to make continual progress in overcoming appetite, the Adventist Church is not progressing. While should now be moving from a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet to a vegan diet, we are actually going the other way. I was troubled to see one of the flagship Southern California churches begin to serve meat to the young adults at Friday Night pre-vespers meals. (When the youth pastor who began this policy moved to another church, this practice ceased.)
Even vegetarian potlucks, a bedrock Adventist sub-cultural expectation, cannot always be counted on. In the June, 2015, Adventist World, there is an article entitled “Potlucks, Fun or Fury?” by Landless & Handysides in which one of their readers asked:
I travel quite a lot, and it's a pleasure to visit SDA churches in different places. I'm disturbed, however, that potluck lunches vary so widely-not so much culturally, but with vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods. Does the church have guidelines on this?
NEED FOR CHANGE
The authors note that although in 2007 the church adopted a working policy that advocates vegetarianism, there is no voted policy regarding potluck meals.
We need to vote such a policy, and make sure that churches have the resources and education to present appetizing vegetarian potlucks. “Planning Fellowship Meals” by the General Conference Nutrition Council is one helpful resource.
Moreover, the fundamental belief on lifestyle issues, number 22, needs to be changed from “ . . . we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures” to “ . . . we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible, abstaining from flesh foods in areas where adequate plant-based protein is readily available.” In the commentary section, it must be made clear that church-sponsored meals and fellowship dinners are to be free of flesh foods.
In a previous article, I pointed out that the science of meat eating is conclusive, however, meat eating is not just a health issue. In 9 Testimonies, page 156, Ellen White warns that those who will not heed the inspired counsel on vegetarianism will grow careless on other issues, and ultimately lose the ability to perceive present truth:
If we could be benefited by indulging the desire for flesh foods, I would not make this appeal to you; but I know we cannot. Flesh foods are injurious to the physical well-being, and we should learn to do without them. Those who are in a position where it is possible to secure a vegetarian diet, but who choose to follow their own preferences in this matter, eating and drinking as they please, will gradually grow careless of the instruction the Lord has given regarding other phases of the present truth and will lose their perception of what is truth; they will surely reap as they have sown. 9T 156.3
When will God's remnant recognize the significance of the fact that, even today in the heavenly sanctuary, Aaron's rod and the golden pot of manna are still in the ark? When will they understand that these items stand as eternal reminders that God's choice of spiritual leadership must be respected, and that appetite must be overcome? Like the Ten Commandments, Aaron's rod and the manna will be relevant until the end of time.