Seeing Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant

Young people carry the Ark of the New Covenant in Gaspe, Quebec, in this June 2006 file photo. The ark is traveling through Canada as a means of promoting the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City June 15-22. (CNS photo/courtesy of International Eucharistic Congress) (May 8, 2008) See stories slugged EUCHARIST- May 7, 2008.

Young people carry the Ark of the New Covenant in Gaspe, Quebec, in this June 2006 file photo. The ark is traveling through Canada as a means of promoting the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City June 15-22. (CNS photo/courtesy of International Eucharistic Congress) (May 8, 2008) See stories slugged EUCHARIST- May 7, 2008.

Our approach to Scripture is very different than how the New Testament uses it. When we study Scripture, we usually start by picking a text and thinking about how it can be applied in our lives. When Christ came, however, the New Testament writers reversed the process. They experienced and observed Christ’s life and looked to Scripture to better understand its significance.

A good example of this deep, meaningful exposition of the advent of Christ can be found in how St. Luke describes Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth — in terms of the Ark of the Covenant returning to Jerusalem.

What is the Ark of the Covenant? Many confuse it with Noah’s ark; the Ark of the Covenant, however, was the most sacred object in all of Israel. A gold-covered wooden chest, it contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:16), a pot of manna from the Exodus (Ex 16:33), and Aaron’s rod that blossomed (Numbers 17:10; Heb 9:4). It also was the place where God’s presence once overshadowed (Numbers 7:89).

In the account of the visitation of Mary with Elizabeth, Luke’s account parallels the Old Testament story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

In the account of the visitation of Mary with Elizabeth, Luke’s account parallels the Old Testament story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

In 2 Samuel 6, Scripture records how King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. David and all the people arose and went to Baal-Judah with great celebration (2 Samuel 6:1-2). But there was a big problem: They didn’t carry the Ark as God had commanded. They brought it on a cart, when God said it should be carried using poles by the Levites to prevent anyone from touching this most sacred object (Ex 25:13-14; Deut. 31:9, Josh. 3:3). Along the way, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah, one of the attendants, placed his hand on the Ark to steady it and was immediately struck dead (2 Sam. 6:6-8).

Dave became afraid and exclaimed, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9) and they left the Ark at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months (2 Samuel 6:11). When David heard that God had blessed Obed-edom’s household, he decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem the right way and with even greater pomp, offering sacrifices every six steps. Moreover, David, dressed in a priestly garment, danced with abandon before the Ark (2 Samuel 6:14). The Ark was greeted with shouts of joy and trumpet blasts (2 Sam. 6:15), and David blessed the people (2 Sam. 6:19).

Gary Michuta

Gary Michuta

Why is all this important? St. Luke, learning about Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth, looks to 2 Samuel 6 to see its significance. Compare Luke 1:39-43, 56 with 2 Samuel 6, and you’ll see several very interesting parallels:

  • Both David and Mary “arose” and made the journey to Judah (2 Sam. 6:2, Luke 1:39)
  • Both David (dressed like a priest) and John the Baptist (the son of a priest) in Elizabeth’s womb “danced” or “leaped” (2 Sam. 6:14, Luke 1:43). The same Greek word is used in both texts.
  • David and the people shout for joy before the Ark just as Elizabeth shouts for joy before Mary (2 Sam. 6:15, Luke 1:42).
  • David asked, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9) while Elizabeth asks, “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1:43).
  • The Ark remained at Obed-edom’s house for three months (2 Samuel 6:11). Mary remained at Elizabeth’s house for three months (Luke 1:56).

These parallels are not by accident. St. Luke is taking a historical event and looking to Scripture (i.e., the Old Testament) to better understand its significance. By doing so, he sees Mary as the “ark” of the New Covenant. How so? Just as God’s presence once overshadowed the Ark, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary when she conceived Jesus (Luke 1:35).

The Ark also contained within it the Ten Commandments, the manna (bread from heaven), and Aaron’s rod. Mary’s womb contained Christ, the fulfillment of all three of these signs: the Word of God (the commandments), the true bread from heaven, and high priest (signified by Aaron’s rod). In a very real way, Mary becomes for the New Testament what the Ark of the Covenant was to the Old Testament: God’s chosen vessel.


Gary Michuta is an author, speaker and apologist and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.