This week we hit Jeremiah 3:16- and get another very straightforward verse.
Jer 3:16 And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD." It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.
This was the prophet telling the people of a day in the far future- "In THOSE days..." It was a far cry from the days they were having, or about to have, then. Jeremiah prophesied in the later end of Josiah's reign, and thus got to witness- and suffer through- the last evil kings of Judah that followed: Jehoahaz (3 months, dethroned and exiled by the Pharaoh of Egypt), Jehoiakim (11 years, captured and taken in chains to Babylon), Jeconiah (3 1/2 months, also taken to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar's advisors warned him that the son of the former king would likely be rebellious), and Zedekiah (11 years before he did the rebelling, and Nebuchadnezzar had him watch his sons being executed before blinding him). While we don't know exactly when this particular prophecy came about, we can guess from just prior verses that one of these four losers were in charge by then, since Josiah's revival had clearly ended:
Jer 3:10 Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD."
Jer 3:11 And the LORD said to me, "Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah..."
So this message, after giving warning to Judah of her fate to come, was a message of hope for the future. This future is post-apocalypse; The People of God now live in the Promised Land, and have the peace to grow and multiply at last. Moreover, there is no need for their most precious treasure, the Ark of the Covenant. Why? Several reasons.
The Ark itself was where the holiest of priests would go to converse with God in His Shekinah Glory. It was His judgment seat as ruler over Israel. But a lot of water had went under the bridge since then. Remember, the Ark had been lost to the Philistines, and with her dying breath Eli's daughter-in-law prophesied that the Glory of God had left Israel. But they regained it, and that God still had his hand on it was shown both in the curses that came upon the Philistines, and the deaths caused later by its improper handling. It had been in and out of both the Tabernacle and Solomon's Temple, most recently brought back by Josiah; one assumes it was returning after being hid by the priests during the bloody and evil reigns of Manasseh and Ammon. So the question is: as its apparent importance drops in the Biblical texts, was it even considered sacred anymore by then?
Second, Jesus had come, thus replacing the old Covenant with the New inaugurated in His blood. He was now the connection to God, made by everyone without Tabernacle, without Curtain, without High Priest. In the far future day Jeremiah foresaw, it was obsolete.
Third, and because of the above, it could only be a temptation to idolatry, just as Moses' Bronze Serpent (also a symbol of the Christ) had become. Thus the injunction against remembering, missing, or rebuilding.
But, you know me- I had to see what the Jews had to say about its final fate. And I found two stories.
The first was that Josiah hid it in mind of the prophecy to Hezekiah of Babylon taking the Temple's treasures. This makes no sense for two reasons: one, he had JUST brought the darn thing BACK to the Temple; why would he have done that IF he was afraid of the prophecy? Second, he was more concerned at the time with Egypt, before whose armies he would die DESPITE Pharaoh Necho prophesying that God didn't want Josiah to fight the battle.
The second, which made a bit more sense, actually comes to us from a Book that the Catholic Church still recognizes- 2 Maccabees. In that book, the story is told that Jeremiah himself took it to Mt Sinai and hid it. Followers sought out the mouth of the cave he hid it in and couldn't find it; he told them that it would not be found again until after the children of Israel had been gathered in their homeland one final time.
Do I buy that? I'm skeptical, and here are some reasons why again. First off, the story says that he not only hid the Ark, but the Tabernacle itself and the altar of incense. That is a LOT of luggage for one guy to lug way into the desert. (And how do I know that he did it alone? Because afterwards, NO ONE could find it.) Second, the Tabernacle had not been mentioned one time in the four hundred years since Solomon replaced it with the Temple; while it is possible that 400-year-old fabric that had to be hid from evil kings every 20 years or so COULD survive through divine intervention, 3:16 pretty much shows us that God WOULD NOT do such a thing.
Finally, because wherever you have folklore, you have people and items that are supposed to come back in the last days, and stuff that is miraculously found intact just because it was attached to something significant in Church history. The Ark et al joins such luminaries and items as the last Emperor of Byzantium and/or the last Patriarch thereof; various kings of Europe and others such as, as I recall, Nicholas II of Russia and Martin Luther; a crowd of Biblical characters that, believe it or not, include not only the aforementioned Zedekiah, but King Saul as well; the Holy Grail, the True Cross, the Spear of Destiny (which pierced Christ's side), and Noah's Ark, soon to celebrate its some-odd thousand year anniversary.
In my opinion, Jeremiah 3:16 puts paid to all that. God is not some Cosmic collector of Memorabilia. He gave people symbols to point to what was coming; when Jesus came, all those things were fulfilled. And excepting Moses and Elijah, I see nothing that contends that anyone in particular will be brought back in the end days, at least until Christ returns with the Army of Heaven.