1 Kings 8:9 (NIV) There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.

Hebrews 9:3-4 (NIV) Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

1 Kings 8:9 says that inside the Ark of the Covenant there was only the two stone tablets of Moses. But Hebrews 9:3-4 mentions three things, the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

Keeping in mind that the Ark of the Covenant was no more during the time of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews simply recalled from the Torah or from tradition about the contents of the Ark. In fact, even the writer never saw the Ark with his own eyes, let alone what was inside.

Regarding the pot of manna,

Exodus 16:33-34 (KJV) And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations. As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.

This verse only says "before the Lord/Testimony" and not inside the Ark.

Regarding the staff of Aaron,

Numbers 17:10 (NIV) The Lord said to Moses, “Put back Aaron’s staff in front of the ark of the covenant law, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die.”

This verse also says that the staff of Aaron was placed in front of the Ark.


  1. Do these verses from the Old Testament contradict the Epistle to the Hebrews?
  2. What exactly was kept inside the Ark of the Covenant?
  • 5
    Given that there were several hundred years between the two statements, they could both have been accurate at the time they were written. Jun 10, 2013 at 7:43
  • @AndrewLeach I edited to make it more clear.
    – Mawia
    Jun 10, 2013 at 7:56
  • 3
    Doesn't alter the fact that the writer of Hebrews could have been referring to a time after that described in 1 Kings. (Other items were placed in the Ark for safekeeping with the stone tablets which were its original contents) Jun 10, 2013 at 8:01

4 Answers 4


In his commentary on Hebrews 9:4, John Gill notes,

but how this pot, as well as Aaron's rod, can be said to be in the ark, when it is asserted, at the bringing of the ark into the temple, at the dedication of it by Solomon, that there was nothing in it but two tables of stone, (1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chr. 5:10) and both the pot of "manna," and Aaron's rod, are said to be before the testimony, (Exo. 16:34; Num. 17:10) and not in it, is a difficulty.

John Gill supposes that

the preposition ἐν sometimes signifies "at," or "with," as in (Col. 3:1; John 1:28; Eph. 6:2) and so the sense is, that these were near unto it in the most holy place, and might be in the sides of it, though not within it; for there were places in the sides of the ark to put things into (Deut. 31:26; 1 Sam. 6:8) .

In 1 Sam. 6:8, the author writes that "vessels of gold" (כְּלֵי הַזָּהָב) were placed beside it (the Ark) (מִצִּדּוֹ). These vessels of God were "five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice" (cp. 1 Sam. 6:4). We know without a doubt that the scriptures never mention any of these being present in the Ark itself. So, we may assume that there was some sort of storage space beside the Ark, yet the exact nature of this storage is unknown. Another possibility is that makeshift platforms were placed beside the Ark at various times to hold such things. Again, scripture is not clear.

Yet, one thing seems to be clear, and that is that there was nothing in the Ark except the two tables upon which were written the Ten Commandments (cp. 1 Kings 8:9). I would tend to agree with Gill's assertion that the Greek preposition ἐν can mean "with" (it is so translated in the A.V. 140 times). There are many examples of ἐν followed by a relative pronoun being translated as "with" (e.g., Matt. 7:2; Rev. 19:20).

Even if the pot of manna and Aharon's bud were located by the side of the Ark, they would still be considered "in the presence of YHVH" (לִפְנֵי יְהוָה; cp. Exo. 16:33) because YHVH dwelt between the kruvim (cp. 1 Sam. 4:4).

One more point to note. In Num. 17:7, it is written that Aharon's rod was to be brought "before the testimony" or "in the presence of the testimony" (לִפְנֵי הָעֵדוּת). Some might assume that the "testimony" (or "witness) referred to here is the two tablets of the Ten Commandments (cp. Exo. 25:16). Thus, they may conclude that the rod and the pot of manna had to be in the immediate presence of the tablets contained inside the Ark itself. However, in his commentary on Exo. 16:34, Avraham ibn Ezra writes,

לפני העדות שהוא הארון. ונקרא ארון העדות בעבור לוחות הברית שהיו שם

which is translated as,

"Before the testimony," which is the Ark. And it was called "the Ark of the testimony" (cp. Exo. 25:22) on account of the tablets of the covenant that were there."

In summary, it's possible that there is no contradiction and that instead of being "in the Ark," the pot of manna and Aharon's rod were "with the Ark" inside the Temple and/ or Tabernacle.

  • Or, possibly, the things mentioned in Hebrews were originally in the Ark, but were subsequently stolen, and by the time of the 1 Kings account the only things remaining were the stone tablets.
    – user32
    Jan 30, 2014 at 19:35

In the context of Hebrews, the writer made references to the Tabernacle only, not the Temple. In the wilderness wanderings, at the time of the Tabernacle, the contents in the Ark of the Covenant were the stone tablets, the pot of manna, and Aaron's rod. If the manna and the rod were not transported in the Ark, scripture would have specified how they were to be handled. It is possible that the Philistines removed the manna and the rod while it was in their possession and when it was returned it only contained the stone tablets. That being a possibility, when the Ark was placed in the Temple (1 Kings 8:9) the Ark only contained the stone tablets.


In Kings and Numbers, the pot of manna and Aaron's rod are never stated to be in the ark. The pot - tsintseneth - is mentioned once as 'before' the testimony, as is the rod - matteh. Moses later took the rod to strike the rock, after which there is no more mention of it. The ark itself is never seen again after Jeremiah's single mention. This is designed to prevent any kind of superstitious attachment to the artefacts. This enables faith to grasp the spiritualities of that which is signified. And when the statements in Hebrews are seen as having a spiritual meaning regarding God's tabernacling - how 'He dwells between the cherubim' - then we see the writer's emphasis is on God's dwelling, not the fabric of the tent. That being so, then the items mentioned previously are not in the ark - not in the 'it' which is finally mentioned.

Here is an explanation of this, beginning with comment on Hebrews 5:12. The readers:

"...needed to be taught again the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God. If they needed to be taught again, then this was not mere legal instruction for that they had received from their infancy...

I believe it is clear from the scriptures I have mentioned that, in the Oracle, was the ark but without a mention of the kapporeth or the kerubim which were part of that kapporeth. Instead we have the kothereth and we have the constructed kerubim which are not made of pure gold - as were the original kerubim of the kapporeth - but were olive wood overlaid with gold.

But the writer of Kings specifically mentions the fact that within the ark were the stone tablets. The entire Oracle, and its surrounding building, is to be seen, I believe, as a concept which encapsulates all that the ark of the testimony conveyed, but the Oracle also conveys more. There are palm trees on the walls - the kaph of God. His handprints are everywhere. There are kerubim also. Everywhere is fruitfulness, and flowering. It is a place of life and spiritual activity. It is a place of Divine purpose.

In this Oracle, it is - almost - as if the ark is open. As though that which it, figuratively, contained - is risen. He is not here. But there are kerubim. And they are olive wood. 'I am like a green olive tree in the house of God,' saith David, Psalm 52:8. And here, the Lord speaks to David. Thus David does not descend to the pit.

Here, it [is] as though the tables of stone are in plain sight, but there is no plague... they are contained. There is kaphar. And because there is kaphar, there is helios, composure. And because there is contained composure, there is steadfast strength.

This is the reason that the writer to the Hebrews almost states - but not quite - that three items were in the ark. But if one looks further one sees that his view is more spiritual than the mere artefacts that were constructed. He sees tables, rod, and pot under one overshadowing, is my perception. He sees the place where God dwells; he is not looking at the fabric of the tent or the wooden box. And such is his perception that his words almost - but not quite - imply material facts that could not, at the time, be so stated in material demonstration. Then, he deliberately says no more. It is John the Apostle who shall be more particular, later. About four decades later, to be precise.

Here, hilasterion, will God meet with men. Here in the place of containment and resolution. Here where, justly, there is uplifting and unburdening. Here, above the kapporeth - and the kothereth. Here, between the kerubim. For here is God composed. Here - and here only - does he see that which is a contradiction but, seeing it, he passes by, for it has been - absolutely - contained." The Cherubim of Glory, pp85-87 & 182, Nigel Johnstone, 2015 (Bold mine)

Why is there such attention paid to literal objects in questions about the Ark when the objects are but signs signifying spiritual realities, which it is vital that people of faith grasp? I do wonder. As the writer above concudes:

"For the cherubim in the Oracle are not solid gold as were they carried in testimony through the wilderness. The carried testimony is one thing; that which grows in the house of God is another. And there is the olive tree, as it were, inside the cherubim, for they are olive wood overlaid with gold. It is as though the olive tree grows up inside the cherubim. That which grows up from the earth, as a tree, grows into the cherubim. Growing in the house of God, in the anointing of the oil, shall one grow to realise and fulfil, in Christ, what cherubim represent." (Ibid. p131)


Remember, the Philistines had stolen the Ark of the Covenant and had it in their possession for a time, before returning the holy and precious Ark back into the hands of King David/King Solomon (out of complete fear for their lives). When it was returned, the only things inside were the 2 stone tablets. Perhaps, and this is just speculation, the Lord was asking them to replace the lost items and place them back with or into the Ark, before it was placed in King Solomon's Temple, in the Holy of Holies.

  • 2
    But wouldn't opening up the ark have melted off their faces? :) Jan 30, 2014 at 20:39
  • 1
    In all seriousness, while this is a very reasonable answer to the question, I am not aware of it being a commonly sourced answer. When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. This is a good answer, but some sourcing really would make it better. (See 'What makes a good supported answer' in particular. Jan 30, 2014 at 20:40

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