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Bible Q

What happened to the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the artifacts of the holy place and the holy of holies?

The tabernacle was constructed in about 1444BC, while the people of Israel were in the wilderness after escaping from Egypt. When they entered the promised land under Joshua, the tabernacle was located at Gilgal (Joshua 4:19). Later it was moved to Shiloh (Joshua 18:1-10). By about 1000BC it had moved to Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39). After that, we hear nothing more about it. No doubt, its ropes, wooden bars, and leather materials had simply worn out after such a long period of use.

Most of the original articles in the tabernacle — the table of showbread, the bronze altar, the altar of incense, the lampstand, etc. — seemed to have fallen into disuse with the tabernacle itself. Solomon made new items for the new temple (1 Kings 7:48-50). However, the ark of the covenant continued to be used, although it was sometimes separated from the tabernacle or temple. Josiah ordered it to be returned to the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 35:1-6) where it stayed until the time of the Babylonian captivity.

The ark disappeared at the time of the captivity and no-one knows what happened to it after that. There is a lot of speculation, but nothing has been substantiated. In 2 Maccabees 2:4-8, we read

It was also in the same document that the prophet [Jeremiah], having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. 5 Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense; then he sealed up the entrance. 6 Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the way, but could not find it. 7 When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: “The place shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. 8 Then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated.”

However, we don’t know how reliable this record is. Jeremiah himself wrote

And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. (Jer 3:16)

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