It might be fun to do a post about the ark, perhaps a FAQ-like series of questions and answers about what we know biblically and historically. At this moment, though, I am not prepared to do so. I don't want to stray too far from this book of Exodus which we are considering, so for now I think I will stick to examining the passage at hand so that we can see what the Bible says about the ark and its construction. Although this is a slower-paced endeavor, in the end you will hopefully have a much fuller understanding of the ark and its purpose. In the current passage, we will see something about God's instructions for the physical construction of the ark. In other passages, we will see the history of the ark in the lives of the people of Israel. I think that once we do that, then we will be better prepared to deal with other [legitimate, not sensational] sources which concern the ark.
[However, now I find myself wanting to re-watch that Indiana Jones movie: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark -- where the bad guys are searching for the ark for their own evil purposes and Indiana Jones and his crew are also searching for it. [SPOILER ALERT: In other words, if you haven't seen that movie yet and plan on doing so, don't read the rest of this paragraph because I will be revealing the movie's ending.] I love how in that movie, at the end, the ark is whirled up to heaven in a giant whirlwind and nobody on earth is able to lay claim to it. I love that because to me it summarizes the situation perfectly: The ark is the symbol of God's presence with the Israelites, and not an object for mere human purposes.
But I digress... :) Also, the Bible never says that anything like that happened in real life. [But it was still a cool image.] OK, back to the text:
v.10 The word which is usually translated 'ark' when it occurs in other places in the Bible is sometimes translated 'chest' in this passage. Apparently this was a decision made so that we would get the idea that the ark was a chest-like object. Chest or ark are both acceptable translations, but we would have gotten the idea that the ark was a chest-like object anyway from the measurements which are given in this same verse -- two and one half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. [The NIV Study Bible's text note informs us that's 3 and 3/4 feet long and 2 and 1/4 feet wide and high. If you prefer the metric system, it's about 1.1 meters long and 0.7 meter wide and high.]
v.11 The ark was to be made of acacia wood covered with pure gold. Pure gold was not contaminated by any impurities. The symbolism is obvious: purity, integrity, sinlessness. Not to mention that because it symbolizes the throne of the LORD, you would want to use the very best of materials.
v. 12-15 These verses indicate that gold rings were to be fastened to the four feet of the ark. Poles of gold-covered acacia wood were inserted into these rings in order to carry the ark. These poles were not to be removed from the rings. Perhaps this was to guard against the poles ever carelessly being used for other more common purposes.
v.16 The Israelites were to put the Testimony [the two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, which God would give them], into the ark. The NIV Study Bible note on this verse says that the Hebrew word for 'Testimony' is related to a Babylonian word for 'covenant stipulations'; the Ten Commandments were the summary of the stipulations of the covenant made at Mount Sinai.
v.17-21 There is quite a bit of detail given about the atonement cover. It was made of pure gold, and measured two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Two cherubim were at the ends of the cover -- one at each end. These were made of hammered gold and were "of one piece" with the cover. Their wings were to be "spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them." The cherubim faced each other, with their gaze looking toward the cover. The cover was placed upon the ark, and within rested the Testimony.
v.22 This verse explains why such care was given to the details of the atonement cover: There, above the cover, between the two cherubim, God would meet with Moses and give him all His commands for the Israelites.