In Genesis 6:14

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

The term used for "an ark" is tebah. This term is also used in Exodus 2:3

And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.

We're seeing the same term representing the

  • vessel which Noah built

  • basket vessel in which Moses was placed

Is there more to it than meets the eye by having this term used only in two particular cases (which are linked with deliverance and two relevant persons)?

1 Answer 1


The Hebrew word תֵּבָה (tebah) occurs 28 times in the OT and simply means (literally), chest, box, coffin, etc. That is, a box-like container used to house and protect some contents that are (by definition) precious. See BDB meaning in appendix below.

Interestingly, the noun is only ever used to describe just two objects:

  • Noah's ark - the great ship, 26 places in Gen 6-9
  • Moses' ark of reeds line with pitch in Ex 2:3, 5

Given the basic meaning, it is not surprising that that such a word is used for these objects. What is surprising is that the word used for "ark of the covenant". In the latter case, the word is אָרוֹן (aron) which means "sarcophagus" and is only used to describe a box containing inanimate things such as:

  • 2 Kings 10:10 - chest for money
  • Gen 50:26 - Joseph's sarcophagus
  • Judges 20:27, the tables of stone with the 10 commandments, etc

Thus, I suppose it is appropriate that תֵּבָה (tebah) describes a box containing people, animals and Moses; while אָרוֹן (aron) describes a box containing dead things like money a dead bodies and the law.


BDB meaning for תֵּבָה (tebah)

תֵּבָה noun feminine ark (properly chest, box (compare Late Hebrew תֵּבָה); probably Egyptian loan-word from T-b-t, chest, coffin (Brugsch, ErmanZMG xlvi (1892), 123); > Babylonian word JenZA iv (1889), 272 f. HalJAssyr., 1888 {Nov.-Dec.}, 517); — absolute ׳ת Genesis 7:1 +; construct תֵּבַת Genesis 6:14; Exodus 2:3; — vessel in which infant Moses was laid among reeds Exodus 2:3 (made of papyrus, גֹּמֶא), Exodus 2:5 (both E; ᵐ5 θῖβις, θήβη, compare LewyFremdw. 100); vessel which saved Noah and his family, with animals, during flood (ᵐ5 κιβωτός): Genesis 7:1,7,9,17,23; Genesis 8:6,9 (twice in verse); Genesis 8:10,13; Genesis 9:18 (all J), Genesis 6:14 (made of עֲצֵי נֹפֶר), Genesis 6:14; Genesis 6:15; Genesis 6:16; Genesis 6:16; Genesis 6:18; Genesis 6:19; Genesis 7:13,15,18; Genesis 8:1,4,16,19; Genesis 9:10 (all P).

  • 6
    Up-voted +1 for the valuable piece of information that the first mention of aron in scripture is a reference to Joseph's coffin, proving that the ark of the covenant represents a coffer, and thus the law is hid from sight in death. I would up-vote this piece of information many times, if I could.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 4:14
  • Nice answer. A small addition. I listened to a talk by theologian Dr Tim Mackey who did extensive study on this word. I don't have his sources but he stated Tevah\Tebah is an egyptian loan word that could most accurately be translated as: Shrine. It was used in Egyptian temples to "Hold an image of the deity" worshipped in that temple. It would sit at the preeminant place of worship with the idol / image of the deity inside and they would often take it with them to parade around the city or when they went into battle etc. similar to what Israel ends up doing with the ark of the covenant.
    – Marshall
    Commented Jun 20 at 9:51
  • Moses used this word to basically invert/rebuke the egyptian practice. Replacing the false idol inside the chest/shrine with a person or people made in the image and likeness of YHWH. So the comment about it containing living things is very apt based on his interpretation.
    – Marshall
    Commented Jun 20 at 9:52

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