The ark of the covenant had a golden lid called the mercy seat or covering. The mercy seat is the symbol of the divine presence of God. God said to Moses,
“There I will meet thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two Cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony.” Ex. 25:22
Moses had fulfilled the divine plan as instructed by God Himself. Later, in Num. 7:89, we see that,
“He heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony from between the two Cherubim.”
The two Cherubim represent the judgment of God. The Cherubim are revealed by Ezekiel in chapter 1:5-10. They reveal four kinds of living creatures, each having four different faces. They are-the face of a man, lion, ox and eagle.
Man- the face of a man speaks of mind, reason, affections and all the characters that encompass a human being.
Lion-The Lion symbolizes strength, fierce and majesty, the royalist of animals. Prov 30:30; 20:2
Ox- The Ox is an animal who patiently labors for his owner. He is strong, able to bear a burden who knows its owner. Prov 14:4; Ps 144:14; Is 1:13
Eagle- the Eagle is recognized as a divine bird that fly above the storms, a strong, swift and powerful bird, never becoming weary. Prov 30:18:19; Is 40:31; Ex 19:4; Ez 17:3
According to the writings of the ancient sages, the hand of man represents the hand of God which is extended beneath the wings of the Cherubim and shows how God is willing to bid the people that He may bring them near beneath His wings and receive penitents from the power of judgment. This also shows how the Holy One, looks down all the people of the world, hoping that they will repent and He is willing to bring them near beneath His wings. Thus, the Cherubim represent the mercy of God and shows that our God is a benevolent God who forgives our sins.
It was between these Cherubim that the “shekinah Glory” of God rested (Ex 25:22). It is the living blood that carries all the burdens and sins of the sinner to the mercy seat. This shows the attitude of God toward a sinner. The High Priest brought two goats inside the tabernacle. One of the goats was known as the goat for Azazel and the other as the Lord’s goat. Both goats were called an atonement. Now the High Priest did two things—
(1) The High Priest laid his hands upon the goat for Azazel and confessed over it all the sins of the people after which it was sent into the uninhabited wilderness bearing the iniquity of the nation of Israel. The idea is that sins have been removed altogether from the presence of Israel.
(2) The Lord’s goat was slain and the blood of the lamb sprinkled sevenfold upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. The blood was also placed or applied on the horns of the altar of sacrifice.
The Hebrew word for ‘mercy seat’ is ‘kapporeth’. “Kaphor” means to cover and in the Old Testament, it is atonement. So the mercy seat is the place of atonement (Heb 9:5). The word “Kaphor” also means to appease, forgive, purge etc. The Hebrew word for “atonement” is “kawfar” , means to cover, conceal. The Greek word “Katalagay” means exchange, reconciliation. As applied to sin the sense is covered, saved from punishment, ransomed, propitiation made for sin. The word “Propitiation” is a New Testament word that reaches back to the Old Testament for its fullest meaning. “Hilasterion” used in LXX and in Heb. 9:5 is translated as “Mercy seat”. In Lk.18:13, merciful is “Hilaskomai” meaning- God be propitiation to me. Now we come to understand why the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the slain lamb upon the mercy seat, before the veil and applied the blood upon the horns of the altar. When he sprinkled the blood upon the mercy seat and applied it upon the horns of the altar it evidently meant that God had covered the sins of the people of Israel. When the High Priest sent the goat for Azazel to the wilderness uninhabited, it means that the sins of Israel are completely removed from the land of Israel. This shows that God is exceedingly gracious and merciful. The Psalmist says,
“He hath not dealth with us after our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so hath he removed our transgressions from us”. Ps. 103:10-12
When God forgives our sins, He covers, propitiates and also removes our sins.
Isaiah says in 1:18,
“Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
“I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
And this is forgiveness. When God forgives our sins, He also forgets our sins.
There is an interesting passage in the Old Testament which describes God’s dealings with Israel. Balaam, the young prophet was asked by Balak , the king of Moab, to curse the children of Israel. But Balaam met the Lord. And the Lord put words in his mouth. The thing God told Balaam to say was this, “He hath not behold iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” Num. 23:21. How wonderful! How often the children of Israel had sinned against God in the wilderness! How often they grieved the Lord by breaking His commandments! But God says, “No iniquity”. How can it be possible on God’s part? Yes, it is possible because, our God is a God “full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and plenteous in mercy and truth.” Ps. 86:15
The symbolical representation of the mercy seat:
The doctrine of forgiveness anticipated on the mercy seat in the Old Testament Sanctuary finds its fullest revelation on the cross of Calvary in the New Testament. When Christ died on the cross, it means that the guilt of a person has been transferred to Christ and the blood of Christ shields the sinner from receiving the full measure of his guilt. So the final atonement of sin is made possible only through the blood of Christ which is only expiatory and satisfactory to God.
Thus the cross becomes the mercy seat in the New Testament.
“In the OT the place where the holy God met sinful man was at the mercy seat where the blood was sprinkled. In the NT the cross becomes the place where God would meet man through the blood of Christ. Thus John could say that Christ is propitiation, the satisfaction, for the sins of believers and also for the sins of unbelievers.” (IJohn 2:2) Says Lightner. #
‘Mercy seat’ is a symbol of God’s divine forgiveness, His divine mercy and His divine justice. The cross, as the mercy seat in the New Testament manifests the true meaning of forgiveness. There are three words in regards to forgiveness in original Greeks. They are—
(1) aphiem and aphesis, the meaning of which is “to send away” and “remission”. The idea is found in Mt 6:12, 14-15; 9:2,5-6
(2) Charizomai—meaning “to be gracious” LK 7:43, Eph 4:32; Col 2:13; 3:13
(3) Apoluo—meaning “to loose away” LK 6:37
Forgiveness as revealed in the New Testament covers the whole program of God for the fallen man. It is the program of salvation manifested in the real history in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven”, He meant that
(1) All our sins or guilt of sin , past, present and future are forgiven. Sins covered and removed altogether.
(2) We are saved from the penalty of sin, the eternal death i.e., the eternal separation from God
(3) We are sanctified, made holy.
(4) We are made righteous.
(5) We have excess toward God, the Heavenly Father.
(6) We have become the children of God.
(7) Our fellowship with God has been restored. We are reconciled to God.
And it is through the blood of Jesus Christ that made this all possible. It is interesting to observe the mode of forgiveness in the Old Testament Sanctuary. The High Priest laid his hands upon the goat for Azazel and confessed over it all the sins of the people after which it was sent into the uninhabited wilderness bearing the iniquity of the nation of Israel. Confession involves repentance. Confession and repentance were the preliminary requisite or the basic foundation to merit God’s forgiveness for the Israelite. The High Priest represented the nation Israel. When he sinned, whole Israel sinned, when he confessed, he confessed on behalf of the whole Israel. The covering of mercy seat with the blood of the Lamb meant that the sins of the Israelite were covered with the blood. It means that God takes the punishment for sin upon Himself. It means that the guilt of sin has been transferred to God Himself and they need not bear the punishment by themselves. It means that their sins are forgiven. This is what exactly Jesus Christ did on the cross of Calvary sacrificing Himself for us. This is what exactly happens when a sinner believes in the blood of Jesus confessing his sins. Like an Israelite, forgiveness demands confession of sins and repentance as a prerequisite to merit the favor. Do you believe Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior for forgiveness of your sin and become a child of God?
#Robert P Lightner
In Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, P 1416
Moody Press, Chicago.