Questions From Readers
How were the poles for carrying the ark of the covenant positioned, since 1 Kings 8:8 indicates that they were visible from the Holy?
When Jehovah gave Moses the design for the tabernacle in the wilderness, a key feature was the ark of the covenant. This rectangular, gold-covered chest held the tablets of the Law and other items. It was kept in the innermost compartment, the Most Holy. On the cover of the Ark were two gold figures of cherubs with outstretched wings. On each side of the Ark, there were rings so that it could be carried with two poles, made of acacia wood covered with gold. Logically, the poles ran through the rings and along the length of the Ark. Thus, with the Ark in its place in the Most Holy of the tabernacle, which faced east, the poles were oriented north-south. The same was true later when the Ark was in the temple that Solomon built.—Exodus 25:10-22; 37:4-9; 40:17-21.*
A curtain separated the Most Holy from the Holy (the outer room). Priests in the Holy could not look into the Most Holy and view the Ark, over which God presented himself. (Hebrews 9:1-7) Thus, 1 Kings 8:8 might seem puzzling: “The poles proved to be long, so that the tips of the poles were visible from the Holy in front of the innermost room, but they were not visible outside.” The same point is made at 2 Chronicles 5:9. How were the poles visible to anyone in the Holy of the temple?
Some have imagined that the poles touched the curtain, producing visible bumps. But that would not be so if the poles were in a north-south orientation, with the curtain parallel to the poles. (Numbers 3:38) There is a more reasonable explanation. The poles might have been visible if there was a slight gap between the curtain and the wall of the temple or when the high priest had to enter the Most Holy. The curtain obstructed any view of the Ark itself, but the poles extending to each side might have shown through the gap. While this explanation is plausible, we cannot be dogmatic about it.
Clearly, there are many details that we may yet learn. The apostle Paul mentioned a few aspects in his letter to the Hebrews. Then he commented: “Now is not the time to speak in detail concerning these things.” (Hebrews 9:5) The coming resurrection of faithful ones should open up stimulating opportunities to learn from such men as Moses, Aaron, Bezalel, and others who were personally acquainted with the design and function of the tabernacle.—Exodus 36:1.
The poles were not to be removed from the rings even when the Ark was in place in the tabernacle. Consequently, the poles could not be used for any other purpose. Also, the Ark would not have to be touched; had the poles been taken out of the rings, each portage would require handling the sacred Ark to reinsert the poles in the rings. The comment at Numbers 4:6 about ‘putting in the poles’ may refer to arranging or adjusting the poles in preparation for carrying the heavy chest to a new encampment.