The Ark and Its Contents: The Mercy Seat

Numbers 7:89  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 16
“The ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was a golden pot that had the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it cherubim of glory, overshadowing the mercy-seat” (Heb. 9:4, 54Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. (Hebrews 9:4‑5)). “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with him [God], then he heard the voice speaking unto him from above the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of the testimony” (Num. 7:8989And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him, then 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 cherubims: and he spake unto him. (Numbers 7:89)).
The first of these scriptures presents in a figurative way God dwelling in the midst of His redeemed people, at a time when they were pilgrims in the wilderness, on their way to the promised rest. The second points to the readiness with which He hastened to avail Himself—when all had been finished according to His own word—of the opportunity thus afforded of getting access to His people, and of communicating to them, in the manner here described, the intimations of His will for their comfort and blessing, as also for their light and guidance. The way into the holiest was not yet made manifest; so the people could not come near to Him, but He would draw nigh in grace to them and occupy Himself with all the details of the wilderness journey.
The many references to the sanctuary and worship of God in Israel, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, are all to the wilderness period, and not once to the more imposing ritual and choral service of Solomon's temple; so that the analogy between the Book of Numbers and this Epistle is very close, although with this great difference, that whereas, amongst Israel, Moses alone was privileged to speak with God face to face (Num. 12:88With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Numbers 12:8)), and. Aaron alone to represent the people officially (Lev. 16), the Epistle exhorts even the weakest believer to draw nigh both for worship and to obtain all that he stands in need of. There cannot be the smallest doubt that the ark in a very special way typifies Christ in all the rich resources of His grace: whether as the witness for God, represented by the tables of the covenant within, or as the One who was fully able to meet all the needs of the people, typified by the golden pot that had the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded. Again, the blood sprinkled mercy-seat pointed onward to His death, in virtue of which alone—righteousness being established before God in heaven—God Himself, now glorified by that death of which the blood was witness, could meet man, and have to do with him, without at all raising the question of sin, as this had been met and forever settled according to the character of the divine glory, at the brazen altar, by the sacrifice.
The mercy-seat then, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, is not there presented as the meeting place for God and the sinner, but as the meeting place for God and the saint, or the accepted worshipper. It is well to observe this, simple and obvious as it is, Those addressed in the Epistle were such as had received and bowed to the divine testimony as to forgiveness of sins and justification, because of God's having raised up from the place of death, and glorified at His right hand, the One who had undertaken and accomplished the work of atonement and redemption for God's glory and man's blessing. The starting point then, is Christ set down on High, Whose work of purification of sins has been accepted by God, and Whom the believing Hebrews are directed to consider as the Apostle and High Priest of their, and our, confession. Believers in Him (we as well as they) are holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, not seen as yet in heaven, but on their way thither. Meanwhile God was speaking to them by His Son, instructing them as to all these great and precious truths, and encouraging them to make full use of their privileges as purged and accepted worshippers. The doctrine of the new birth is not here developed (although we who know it may find it assumed or emprisoned in certain passages as chap. 2:10, 13:6, etc.), yet before their conversion to Christianity they had stood in a privileged place of nearness to God (different to other nations), but there is the setting aside of every other man that “this Man” may stand forth as the expression of all that is perfect and excellent, and perfectly suitable to represent us before God, while meeting us in all our weakness and need. His perfect work necessitates the passing away of all that is imperfect and faulty. There shall even be a “new covenant” yet to be established with an earthly people. Those who believe in Christ are sanctified by the blood of the new covenant are qualified to draw near to God in the holiest of all for worship, and to find grace, etc.
The privileges of such as are represented by the High Priest who has passed through the heavens, are of a more exalted character than will be the portion of God's ancient people. However blessed and glorious they may be in their own land in the millennial days, yet will it be a worldly, and not a heavenly, sanctuary. The throne of grace (Heb. 4:1616Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)) is now for a heavenly people who enjoy the favor and right of access to God within the vail, exactly that which it was intended the mercy-seat in Israel should have been for an earthly people to whom the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest. They were, indeed, represented by the high priest, but in consequence of the grave failure of the two sons of Aaron, this was limited to the tenth day of the seventh month.
To be continued.