The Journey of the Holy Ark

  • 1-2 40 minute sessions or 3-5 40 minute session
  • Grades: 5-6
  • Lesson Plan

by: Semadar Goldstein

In this multiple intelligences unit, students review Samuel I, 4-7:2 by building a three-dimensional display of the ancient Israel and the Ark. Students then read through the text and selected commentaries and ‘act out’ the storyline, using the display.


This unit is an MI (Multiple Intelligences) review of the travels of the Ark in Samuel I 4-7:2. The unit utilizes the following intelligences: Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, and Bodily-Kinesthetic. The author of this unit has written an essay on using MI in the Judaic Studies classroom. This essay is available here.

In this unit, the teacher/students will build an artistic representation of the text – i.e. a three-dimensional map of ancient Israel (the art board), an Ark, Biblical cities and symbolic flags. The ‘artwork’ in the unit can be completed by the teacher or by the students, depending on how much time you have, how creative you and your students are (hint: usually students are much more creative than we think), and how much you love to do artwork.

If you can tear yourself away from conventional teaching methods for, say, 3-5 days, I highly recommend allowing the students to ‘build’ the art board and other pieces for this lesson. If not, sit yourself down on a Sunday afternoon with a good friend and some art supplies, because this could take you a while. You could always tone down all the artwork necessary to use, and do a simpler job, but the students do appreciate more sophisticated work. Remember, you will be able to recycle many of these materials for other chapters.

Once the artwork is completed, the class will be called up to the map-board to read through chosen texts and ‘act out’ the results. If you have weak students, you may assign them just the artwork, or give a 3-4 person group a text and an art assignment.

Lesson objectives

The student will be able to describe main incidents in Samuel I, chapters 4-7 and discuss the travels of the Ark including:

1. The Ark is taken from Shiloh to help the Israelites wage war against the Philistines in Even Haezer.
2. The Philistines are victorious in battle, and capture the Ark as a war prize.
3. The Philistines proudly display the Ark next to their god, Dagon, in their temple in Ashdod.
4. Various calamities occur to Dagon, and the Philistines send the Ark southward to Gat.
5. The Philistines are stricken with a strange disease involving mice once the Ark is in their presence.
6. In their discomfort, the Philistines send the Ark back up north to Ekron, another Philistine city.
7. Ekronite Philistines are struck once again with a terrible disease.
8. The Philistine priests decide to return the Ark to the Israelites, realizing that they are not capable of maintaining the Ark and its holiness.
9. The Philistines prepare two young mother cows to pull the Ark back to the Israelites in Beit Shemesh. They decorate the Ark with golden mice, representing their disease.
10. The Israelites in Beit Shemesh are overjoyed to see the Ark returning to them.
11. In their excitement, they look inside the Ark, which is forbidden, and many people die.
12. The Israelites are afraid of the power of the Ark and bring it to rest in Kiryat Yearim, under the care of Elazar.


The student will be able to:

1. Read the Biblical text that has been studied with understanding.
2. Prepare a Biblical commentary independently.
3. List Philistines and Jewish cities to which the Ark traveled.
4. Identify (on a map) the Philistine and Jewish cities to which the Ark traveled.
5. Summarize an event/attitude using symbols.


The student will appreciate:

1. The Ark is a holy object.
2. The Ark must be treated with respect.

Resources & Equipment needed

What you will be making:

What you will need (feel free to improvise):

An ark

– construction paper, oaktag

– small cardboard box (a bit smaller than the size of an etrog box), or fashion your own

– yellow or gold paint

– paintbrushes

Ark accessories

– plastic toy cows

– plastic toy mice

– yellow paint

– yoke made from popsicle sticks

Map of ancient Israel

– a hard, portable surface of some sort (board)

– play-dough

– city flags: colored construction paper and toothpicks

Signs and symbols:

– Paper and markers/computer and printer

– toothpicks


1. Art tasks to be completed: – ‘Building’ the Ark – Designing the landscape of the map – Marking Biblical cities with colored flags – Attaching a yoke to cows, with golden mice on the Ark

2. Next, students are paired off. Each pair of students is told to choose one of the cities where the Ark has stayed. The pair is then assigned the text that mentions their city, and a commentary (see handout appendix). Please note that the students have studied the Biblical text, but the commentaries are new to them.

3. Independent study – Students review the text and study the commentary. Next, the pair must either design a symbol to represent how the Ark was treated in their city, or use the ones that you prepared in advance (see below for explanation). Student design recommended.

4. Students will write their verse and commentary on a small index card.

5. Read through the text out loud, or through selected verses where the cities are mentioned. The selected pair which studied the mentioned city will go to the flagged city on map-board, explain their verses, commentary and symbol to the class, and stick their symbol next to the flagged city. In addition, the pair of students will move the Ark to their city.

6. When all students have finished presenting, the board will be covered with little flags and symbols, tracking the travels of the Ark and symbolizing how the Ark affected each city. When the Ark arrives in Beit Shemesh, the pair acting out Beit Shemesh can look inside the Ark and collapse with ‘death,’ depicting what happened to the Beit Shemeshites.

Explanation of the board map and sample city symbols: This three-dimensional base is a map of Israel, with each city marked by different colored flags. The flags are propped up using play dough. Students design symbols for each city. The symbols should represent how the Ark was treated or what happened to the people there. A small model of the Ark lies on the map, ready to travel. When Samuel I begins, the Ark is in Shiloh. During Samuel’s tenure as prophet, the Ark is treated with appropriate respect. Therefore, I chose a sun to indicate that “all is well” for the symbol of Shiloh. Soon after, relations with the Philistines heat up and a battle ensues. The verses relate that the Ark was viewed as a symbol of strength and power, thus, a man flexing his muscles is chosen as a symbol of Even Haezer. After the Ark’s capture in Chapter 5, the Ark is taken to Ashdod and placed next to the Philistine god, Dagon, as a symbol of victory. A victory ribbon represents the attitude that the Philistines viewed the Ark as a war prize. It is therefore placed on the map next to a clay model of Dagon (half man, half beast, according to the Metzudat David). Because of the ensuing ‘bad luck’ the Ark brings to the Philistines and their god, the Ark is sent to Gat. There, the Philistines are stricken with an unusual disease involving mice. Both Gat and Ekron are represented by mice and a red cross symbol, where God strikes the Philistines with this plague to punish them for capturing the Ark and assuming the punishment came from the Ark itself. The Red Cross symbolizes the dire straits of the Philistines. The Philistines finally agree to return the Ark to the Jews, eager to rid themselves of their disease. The commentaries tell us that the Israelites were so eager to welcome back the Ark that they transgressed by looking at the tablets inside. This event at Beit Shemesh is represented by tablets with an “x” through it. Finally, the Ark finds a happy home in Kiryat Yearim, where Elazar cares for it, treating it with proper respect. The sun symbol returns to show that all is well with the Ark again.

Conclusion: After all students have presented their verses, and the Ark returned to its final destination, you can play games with the symbols students have designed to see what was understood during class. Hold up a city symbol and ask ‘to which city does this symbol apply and why?’ A quick 5 minute review will tell you if the children a) understood the point of the lesson b) enjoyed themselves while preparing the lesson c) understood the importance of the holiness of the Ark and how to treat it. As a homework follow up, or if there is leftover class time, have each student, individually, create a symbol for how to treat the Ark. Make a contest out of it and hang the best on the door, wall, etc. Make sure that from looking at the symbol, one can understand that the Israelites must treat the Ark with the utmost RESPECT. I highly recommend lessons such as these to perk up class participation, enhance visual stimulation and increase meaning of what can easily be seen as archaic Prophetic text. The class, and you, will enjoy the preparation, process and end result. Students will enjoy coming to class and looking forward to projects like these throughout the year will keep them motivated during less exciting lessons