1 Kings 8:9 (ESV)

9 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.

This verse contains a matter of great significance, the description of the contents of the ark of the covenant. The verse states that the only thing that it contained was the two tablets of stone that Moses placed in it at Horeb (or Mount Sinai). Upon the tablets we know from the book of Exodus were the Ten Commandments written by Yahweh himself.

This means that in the temple was the symbolism that God is enthroned upon his Law. When the high priest came with the blood of the atoning sacrifice upon the Day of Atonement, it was an acknowledgement that the high priest and the people had broken God’s holy law and offended the One who reigned over them. The blood of the sacrifice must stand as a propitiation between them and God.

This symbolism tells us that, though there were rituals in temple worship, the rituals were not structured to be meaningless forms. They acknowledged that God is the enthroned King and that he ruled according to his moral law that called for love to God and love to one’s neighbour as the supreme duty of Israel.

The formal ritual without the presence of God was empty and vain. This is a truth that God reinforces time and time again in the Old Testament and also the New. The Lord in Isaiah declares this, When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly (Isaiah 1:12–13). Jesus said in John 4:23–24, But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.