Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The fertility of the earth symbolizes the quality of life of those who inhabit it. The garden paradise of Adam and Eve represents the ideal abundant existence for humanity. When God pronounces his curse to Adam, he curses the ground, vowing that humans will have to toil to produce food from the earth. God similarly destroys the ground when he sends the great flood. After Noah and his family emerge from the ark, however, the moist and fertile earth symbolizes the renewal of human life. When Joshua investigates the promised land in Numbers, he praises the region as a fruitful land that “flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). Biblical poetry frequently uses the image of fertile ground as a metaphor for human flourishing. In the Song of Solomon, a verdant, overgrown garden symbolizes the sexual maturity of a young woman. In Psalm 23, the psalmist emphasizes the herding culture of the ancient Hebrew people, characterizing God’s peace as a shepherd who guides a sheep to green pastures.
The Ark of the Covenant is Israel’s chief symbol of God. The Israelites fashion the golden vessel at Mount Sinai according to God’s instructions. The Ark contains a copy of the religious laws as well as a container of the heavenly food, manna. God’s spirit or presence is said to reside between the two angels on the lid of the Ark in a space called “the mercy seat.” The Ark’s power is immense. When the Israelites carry it into the battle at Jericho, it ensures victory. When it is mistreated, or dropped, or when it falls into the wrong hands, the Ark proves fatal to its handlers.
The Ark symbolizes the totality of all the symbols of God’s covenant with the Israelites—it even represents God himself. As such, the Ark’s location at each moment indicates Israel’s commitment to the covenant. When the Ark does not have a permanent home or resting place, Israel’s religious life remains disorganized. In the Book of Samuel, the Ark is actually stolen by the Philistines, representing a spiritual low-point for Israel. Israel’s treatment of the Ark is thus emblematic of their reverence for God.