Exodus 33

The Mercy Seat

In the Holy of Holies there is only one piece of furniture, a wooden chest of acacia wood overlaid with gold with a solid gold cover with two angels on each end. This chest is commonly called the Ark of the Testimony. The word-‘testimony’ means witness. As we will see each part of it testifies of its Master Designer.   Why is the word ‘ark’ used to describe this chest?  The word ark is used in Scripture for the purpose of preservation. Noah’s Ark preserved Noah and his family and the animals through the flood. The basket Moses was placed in as a child and placed in the Nile River was described as an ‘ark.’(KJV)  The Ark of the Testimony was to preserve God’s witness.

And you will notice the careful instructions for handling the ark – for God intended for His people to move out and be His witnesses. For this reason, everything was made to be transported for God is always at work and on the move.

The cover of the Ark of the Testimony has previously been described as the Atonement Cover. It was a solid piece of gold with two cherubim at each end with wings spread upward facing each other looking down at the cover.  Atone by definition means to reconcile, to make at  one. It was here once per year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter with a sacrifice of blood to be sprinkled on the Atonement Cover, also known as the Mercy Seat.

This Mercy Seat would be the focal point of God’s manifested glory to His People.  All of this, we realize was a picture, a depiction of the One who would come and bring the blood offering for the sins of the world. Listen to Hebrews 4: 14-16 again:  “ Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who had gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet without sin. Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive MERCY and find GRACE to help us in our time of need.”

We find mercy at the Mercy Seat. This is where we find eternal redemption. Notice this is also where Grace is dispensed.

Now let’s add to that what the Word of God tells us in Hebrews 10:  “ Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But when this Priest (the Lord Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Now we see the repeated duties and sacrifices were a picture to each generation of the coming Great High Priest, the One sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Read on in Hebrews 10:  “ Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

Let us recall what God told Moses at the outset of the construction of the tabernacle. “ Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” ( Exodus 25: 9) The  pattern was of the Holy of Holies in heaven, the dwelling place of God. “ When Christ came as high priest of good things that are already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, that is not man- made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” ( Hebrews 9:11-12) I take this Scripture to mean, the Lord Jesus entered the Most Holy Place- the Throne Room of Heaven and presented His blood at the mercy seat of God. And this is the only way we can come into the throne room of heaven, by the Blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is why we sing:  ‘Down at the cross where my Savior died, Down where for cleansing from sin I cried, There to my heart was the blood applied; Glory to His Name. ‘ (Down at the Cross)

‘Years I spent in vanity and pride, Caring not my Lord was crucified, Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary. Mercy there was great and grace was free; Pardon there was multiplied to me; There my burdened soul found liberty, At Calvary.” (At Calvary)

I was not present there to cry Crucify Him…but my sins were there and they tore His flesh and dug into His brow as surely as the nails, the whip, the thorns and the spear. The physical pain would have been excruciating, but nothing compared to the Son of God who knew no sin, taking on my sins and your sins and the sins of the world, in all their filth and depravity.

And then the most cruel blow- the cruelest blow in all of history…Father God had to forsake His Son, and punish Him for my sins.

Can you even begin to imagine what is was like for God the Father to turn away from His Son. Can you imagine how it must have crushed the Lord Jesus- when He cried out:  My God, My God- why have You Forsaken Me?    Again you know the words to that Song:  “ I’m forgiven, Because You were forsaken; I’m accepted, You were condemned;  I’m alive and well, Your Spirit is within me, Because you died and rose again.  Amazing Love! How can it be ? That you, my King would die for me?!”

Doctrine is clear. The picture portrayed countless times throughout the history of the tabernacle and the temple of sacrifices, and offerings of lambs slain and blood sprinkled on the mercy seat- kept telling us clearly we have all sinned. And without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

It is here at the Mercy Seat- the one in a tabernacle not man-made- that the Lord Jesus performed the duty of the High Priest with a sacrifice once for all- eternal. Done. It Is Finished!

Listen how the Apostle Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit makes it clear:

“ But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. The righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.” ( Romans 3) Did you notice Paul said the Law and Prophets testified to this.  Remember in Luke 24, how the Resurrected Lord told the disciples on the road to Emmaus and the apostles how the law and prophets  testified about him?

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have  peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5)  Do you see the solid rock God placed us to stand on when He lifted us up out of the miry pit?  We stand in His Grace.  For by grace are you saved through faith.  We have been accepted in the Beloved. We have been justified through faith in His blood, the blood of the Passover Lamb of God who takes away our sin and God is satisfied and His judgment passes over us.

The Lord Jesus is not only the Lamb of God, whose precious sinless blood atoned for the sins of the world; He is also our Great High Priest who lives daily to intercede for us and even more- He is our Mercy Seat for He is our Atonement Cover, His our Ark who preserves us.

Mercy there was great and grace was free- pardon there was multiplied to me and you.  Do you now realize how much God desires to show us mercy?  Do you realize – ‘ in this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ ( I John 4)

This is that amazing love, that amazing love that produced this plan of salvation that while you and I were still sinners Christ died for us.

I have quoted several verses from hymns that deal with this amazing love that produces this mercy.  There is only one conclusion we can come to and the Bible tells us:  God delights in mercy and His mercy extends to all who fear Him. He is rich in mercy and He saved us because of His mercy. His Love found a way to extend mercy and still maintain His Holiness and His Justice – Jesus was the Way. The only way by which we can come the Father.

So when we sing of His Mercy, we are only doing what the Psalmist did when in Psalm 89:1 he wrote:  “ I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever!”

Next we will look at the contents of this precious chest- the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded and the stone tablets of the law. For surely this is a picture book that testifies to God’s glory.

What were the purposes of the manna besides providing food and sustenance for the people in the wilderness?  The purpose of the manna was twofold. First, it provided nourishment. But also Moses told the people in Exodus 16: “ In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the GLORY OF THE LORD. “ What did they see in the evening and the morning?  ‘At twilight you will eat meat (quail), and in the morning you will eat bread.(manna) Besides nourishment, God was allowing the nation of Israel to see His Glory. Later, Moses would tell the people:  “ Man does not live by bread alone but by every word the comes from the mouth of God.” ( Deut. 8:3)  And who was the Word, who was the Bread come down from Heaven?  The Lord Jesus said:  “ I am the living Bread that comes down from heaven.: ( John 6) Earlier in John 5, Jesus said ‘ if you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.’

Jesus was and is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. And just as this bread in the wilderness gave glory to God, the bread that came down from heaven was the perfect revelation of God’s Glory.

What is the significance of Aaron’s rod that budded?  Numbers 17 gives us the background for this unusual occurrence that God used for selecting the High Priest. Previous to this event, Moses and Aaron had dealt with a rebellion by Korah, a descendant of Levi, who challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership.  The rebellion met a fiery end. Then the Lord told Moses to have the leaders of each of the 12 tribes to put their name on his staff and put the staffs in the Tent of Meeting. In the morning, Aaron’s staff had not only sprouted but had budded , blossomed and produced almonds.  This test left no doubt as to whom God had selected. The Lord told Moses to put Aaron’s rod with the stone tablets in front of the Ark of Testimony.

What is the significance and in what way does this provide a testimony or witness?  Remember a tree is known by its fruit. The rod that budded, blossomed and produced fruit was a witness to the High Priest of God’s choosing.  We know the Lord Jesus is our Great High Priest- what fruit did He produce?  In John 15, the Lord Jesus on the way to the Garden where He will be arrested, gave us a picture of fruit production.

Here in this remarkable passage, the Lord Jesus gives us another picture of our relationship with Him.  The Lord Jesus tells us- He is the true Vine and His Father is the Gardener and we are the branches. Our Heavenly Father is a constant gardener, always with one goal to produce more fruit. Why more fruit?  Jesus answers our question:  ‘ Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.” Jesus is the True Vine, we are the branches attached to Him drawing our very life from Him, as the branch does from the vine. I would say the Holy Spirit is the life giving sap that enters the branch and produces the fruit.

The Father is in charge of pruning. He prunes dead works- services done with selfish  or impure motives not for the glory of God. In addition those dead shoots sap growth from  the rest of the branch. Pruning is a way of shaping and cleaning the plant in order for it to produce more fruit. How does the cleaning take place?  “You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you.” ( John 15:3)

God’s Word, we are told, is alive and powerful and sharper than a two edged sword.( Hebrews 4)  God uses the Word of God like pruning shears. He can  prune us with this sharp two-edged gardening tool in His Vineyard to make us more fruitful. I like that the Word is so sharp, the sharper the blade, the quicker and easier the cut. Less pain.

But if this does not do the job, God will use circumstances and trials to finish the job. For He will complete that which He has begun. ( Phil. 1: 6)  That is why James rejoiced in trials and tribulations for he knew growth would be the end result. Perhaps that is why James also said to be a doer and not just a hearer of the Word – for God will resort to trying circumstances to complete the pruning when we do not obey His Word.

I might add, the Father, Our Constant Gardener, chose the place where He would plant us.

So let me close by asking you these pesky questions again?

What are you seeking?  Is it to glorify God, then by being fruitful we glorify Him.

Where are you looking? For in the Word of God we find the direction we are seeking.

What have you found so far?  Is His Word a light upon your path and a lamp unto your feet?

How is what you have found affecting you?   Especially in your walk with the Lord.

What is holding you back?  Are you willing to go with the Lord all the way- or are you trapped on ‘ someday island’?  Someday I am going to finally ______________. You fill in the blank. Many of us live on this island or its twin island- the ‘ if only island.’ One island looks to a fictional future of our daydreams, the other looks back to an island of missed opportunities and mistakes. There is only one island where we should live- ‘this day island’ the island of present reality that greets each day with ‘ this is the day, the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it; also ‘ choose you this day whom you will serve.’ Because I can tell you someday- will be your last day and someday you will stand either before the bema to have your works tested for rewards or stand before the Great White Throne for judgment of your sins.

If you find yourself before the Great White Throne – you will want more than anything –MERCY.

But it will be too late, the time of coming to the throne room to obtain mercy has passed- the door has been shut and no man can open it.

Mercy there was great and grace was free- pardon there was multiplied to me!

Come to the Mercy Seat Now!!


Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14