Raiders of the Lost Ark did not launch the film career of Harrison Ford, but it did bring him his first top billing as an actor. His role as Indiana Jones, the eccentric archaeologist with a nose for adventure, built on his previous starring role in the Star Wars film series in which he played the swashbuckling interstellar smuggler Han Solo. A major difference between the two roles, however, is that Solo’s universe existed entirely in the mind of the Star Wars creator George Lucas, while the adventures of Indiana Jones had some basis in historical fact. Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example, followed Jones in his quest to find the Ark of the Covenant, the physical symbol of the Presence of the Lord God among the people of Israel. No doubt the Jewish heritage of director Steven Spielberg, writer Lawrence Kasdan, and Harrison Ford himself influenced the story line. They would have grown up learning about the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, the construction of the Ark and the Tabernacle at Mount Sinai, and the loss of the Ark at some point in Israel’s ancient history. They would also have been keenly aware of the heinous crimes against the Jewish people committed by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, and of Hitler’s alleged fascination with the occult and mystical knowledge. Those elements factored into the story of the Nazi attempt to recover the Ark from its long-hidden resting place in Egypt and use it as a supernatural enhancement of Hitler’s war machine.
As the movie unfolds, the audience sees Indiana Jones race from one adventure to another in his attempt to thwart the Nazi agents and their accomplice, the French archaeologist René Belloq (played by Paul Freeman). In the end, though, it is not Jones, but God Himself Who brings an end to this unholy use of His holy things. In the climactic scene, Belloq dons the clothing of Israel’s High Priest to preside over a ceremony of consecration for the Ark. As the ceremony proceeds, the Lord strikes down Belloq and the assembled Nazi soldiers in a graphic depiction of the judgment prophesied by Zechariah:
Now this will be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth. (Zechariah 14:12 NASB)
Raiders of the Lost Ark is an exciting story, although with an anticlimactic end as the lost Ark ends up locked away among thousands of crated artifacts in a United States Government warehouse. Yet even with the anticlimax, something very Jewish comes through in the larger message of the film: the sense of the holiness of Almighty God.
This sense of holiness may not come through in a casual reading of God’s instructions on how to build the Tabernacle. That is the subject Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), the Torah portion in which God first directs Moses to collect an offering from the people of Israel for the Tabernacle, and then instructs him how to build it. Consider, though, the purpose of this structure. It is the place where God will meet with the people – where the Divine and the human interact. Thus the first item of business is to build the place for God’s Throne, and then build the structure in which His throne will rest. It cannot be out in the open where anyone can approach, for the corruption of sinful man cannot survive in the Presence of sinless God.
Yet we learn from the Tabernacle that God does manifest Himself before humans. The furnishings of the Tabernacle help us understand that. The Ark itself contains the Testimony, the Covenant of Ten Words (commandments) God spoke to our ancestors at Mount Sinai. Above the Ark is the Mercy Seat guarded by two mighty angels known as cherubim (the Hebrew plural form of cherub). Together these items form the Throne of God Himself. It is so holy that it has to be set apart from the rest of the Tabernacle by a veil of blue and purple wool and of fine linen, woven throughout with designs of cherubim. We learn also that cherubim are woven into the ten curtains that form the covering of the Tabernacle.
It seems that all these cherubim have something to do with guarding access to the Presence of God, starting with the tent itself, then with the veil that separates the main part of the sanctuary from the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant rests, and then on the Mercy Seat over the Ark. Indeed that is their purpose. We first learn of cherubim in the Garden of Eden: they are the great angels YHVH places east of the Garden to guard the entrance after He exiles our father Adam and mother Eve because of their rebellion (Genesis 3:22-24). Later we learn that YHVH is enthroned above the cherubim, and from Ezekiel we find out that He rides on them. More specifically, Ezekiel sees the Glory of the Lord move on the cherubim in his vision by the Chebar River, and then as the Glory withdraws in stages from the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the Temple, then to the East Gate, and finally to the Mount of Olives. Later still we learn that Messiah Yeshua departed this earth from that very spot, and that He will return in the same way to the same place. That fits with Ezekiel’s testimony that the Glory of the Lord will return from the east in the same way He left. It is instructive to review what Ezekiel says about this:
Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing toward the east; and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. And it was like the appearance of the vision which I saw, like the vision which I saw when He came to destroy the city. And the visions were like the vision which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate facing toward the east. And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house. Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me. He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their harlotry and by the corpses of their kings when they die, by setting their threshold by My threshold and their door post beside My door post, with only the wall between Me and them. And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger. Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever. (Ezekiel 43:1-9 NASB, emphasis added)
It would seem from this that the Lord’s return to His people, and His return of His people to their land, involves a great amount of humility and transformation on our part. The record of Scripture explains how our ancestors, both of Judah and of Ephraim, disregarded the holiness of God and went about doing things according to whatever seemed right in their own eyes. That is the problem of sin which has continued to manifest itself ever since our first ancestors Adam and Eve decided that they would establish their own standards of determining good and evil. YHVH was then, and remains today, a consuming fire. While it is quite true that the Veil before His inner sanctuary was split down the middle upon the death of Messiah (Matthew 27:45-54, Mark 15:33-39; Luke 23:44-49), the full understanding of that event has eluded us. The consistent Christian teaching, based on the testimony of Scripture, is that Messiah’s death opened the way for us to have access to the Father. Such, for example, is the instruction of the Apostle Paul:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11 NASB)
All of Christendom rejoices in this fact that Messiah’s redemptive work opens the way for us to enter the Presence of the Lord. What we seem to have missed, however, is that His Presence is still a Holy Presence. He did not save us just so we could walk in by whatever way and at whatever time we please. His protocols remain in effect, which is why Ezekiel and others explain that the Temple and the priestly service will be in operation when Messiah reigns from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40:1-46:24). Moreover, we tend to forget the inestimable cost of the very act of salvation. It cost our Living God His very own Son. Thus when we consider the rending of the Veil in the Temple, perhaps it is not just a sign that God has opened the way for those who approach Him through Messiah. Perhaps it is also that God tore His clothes to communicate His supreme grief and anger at our treatment of His Messiah. By thus rending the covering garment that hid His Presence from our eyes, the sovereign King of the universe puts us on notice that our rebellion has touched His very heart, and that He will not take lightly any further insolence now that He Himself has opened the way of reconciliation.
These are things that Moses and the people of his day most likely could not have understood, and yet they built the Tabernacle anyway because God had told them to do so according to a specific pattern. Four hundred and eighty years later, King Solomon built the First Temple according to that same pattern and with the same exhortation from the Lord:
Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon saying, “Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes and execute My ordinances and keep all My commandments by walking in them, then I will carry out My word with you which I spoke to David your father. I will dwell among the sons of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.” (I Kings 6:11-13 NASB)
The statutes, ordinances, and commandments of the Lord are the protocols by which we draw near to Him. By these protocols we demonstrate the changes He makes in us after we accept by faith His work of grace to draw us near by the blood of Messiah Yeshua. It is a privileged position, and one we should walk out both joyfully and reverently. And that, too, is a lesson of the cherubim. One among them forgot his place, and as a result lost both his place and his name:
“You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.” (Ezekiel 28:14-16 NASB)
Once he was known as Lucifer, but now he is known as Satan. It is wise to remember the great heights from which he fell because he believed his ways were better than YHVH’s. So also is it wise to remember the great depths from which YHVH has lifted us up so that we may walk in the ways He has required and desired of us from before the beginning of time.