The Ark, Mercy Seat, and Cherubims

 •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 8
A few general remarks may profitably take their place here. The Divine Architect of the Tabernacle did not follow the way of ordinary custom. If an architect were asked to prepare a royal palace for the reception of a royal throne, he would naturally begin with the foundation, proceed with the walls, and finally put on the roof. Then when the building was finished, the furniture would be installed, the noblest setting of which would be the royal throne.
It is all the other way in relation to the Tabernacle. The Ark with the Mercy Seat was God's throne, and this is the very first to be mentioned. The Ark and Mercy Seat set forth Christ in His Deity, Manhood, and atoning sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. Yet what can we say of our blessed Lord? He is at once the Foundation and the Topstone, and the Chief Corner Stone, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, the First and the Last. All truth circles round His Person and work, He is the great Mediator between God and men.
How truly John Newton, the erstwhile blasphemer, wrote:
" What think ye of Christ? is the test To try both your state and your scheme, You cannot, be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of Him."
In enumerating the articles in the Tabernacle we find the Ark, Mercy Seat and Cherubims in the Holiest of All are first mentioned, then comes the Shewbread Table, and Golden Candlestick in the Holy Place. Though the beautiful Golden Altar of Incense was also in the Holy Place, nothing is said about it till Exodus 30 is reached. Proceeding outside we find the Brazen Altar and the Court of the Tabernacle are mentioned, but nothing, till Exodus 30, is reached, is said of the Brazen Laver, though it stood in the Court. Why should the Golden Altar, and the Laver be thus omitted? We have heard of infidels pointing triumphantly at this apparent omission, and asking: How can you call the Bible inspired when there are such careless and obvious blunders?
On the contrary this order is just what stamps the Bible as inspired. To make our meaning plain we would draw attention to the Scripture, " Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus (Heb. 3. 1). Our Lord is both Apostle and High Priest. What is the difference between the offices of Apostle and High Priest?
The Apostle brings God To MAN for his eternal blessing.
The High Priest brings men To GOD for worship.
The Ark, Mercy Seat, Show-bread Table, Candlestick, and Brazen Altar all typify Christ as the Apostle, the sent One of the Father, the great Mediator between God and man, and most especially in His atoning death, the only means by which blessing can come to sinful man.
The Golden Altar and Brazen Laver on the other hand set forth Christ, as the High Priest of our profession, supporting His people in the presence of God. The Brazen Laver, filled with water, was where the priests going in to the service of the Sanctuary washed their feet and hands to ensure cleanliness as they went into God's presence. The Golden Altar set forth the happy service of the priest as a worshipper offering incense, symbolical of presenting Christ in all the sweet savor of His sacrifice to God.
Ex. 25, to the end of Chapter 27, gives us the instructions as to the articles in the Tabernacle that present symbolically Christ as the Apostle of our profession, God coming out to man in Christ, full of grace and mercy.
Ex. 28 tells us of the garments of glory and beauty of the High Priest, and of the garments of the priests.
Ex. 29 gives us the consecration of the High Priest and priests. Not till we have the High Priest and priests consecrated could there be the setting forth of Christ, as the High Priest of our profession. So Ex. 30 tells us of the Golden Altar of Incense, and the Brazen Laver, both speaking of man going in as a worshipper into God's holy presence.
So we see how inspired is the narration of Scripture. How foolish to impose the littleness of human thought of what should be, or should not be, instead of humbly seeking the thoughts of the Divine mind. " As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are... my thoughts than your thoughts " (Isa. 55:99For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)), God says.
Another instance of Divine order is seen in Ex. 26. Human architects would scoff at a builder, seeking to arrange the roof before the walls were erected. Yet this is the order followed out in this Chapter. The four curtains, or coverings, of the Tabernacle are detailed for us before the boards of the Tabernacle are spoken of. In the last great war the word cover " was much in vogue. To help the infantry and artillerymen to carry on their land operations, it was found necessary to afford air cover." Here the curtains formed the covering of the Tabernacle, typical of Christ in His various official glories, whilst the boards speak of believers being builded together to be a habitation of God by the Spirit. How right it is that Christ should be seen as the cover, before the walls, typical of believers, were erected, for it is in virtue of who He is, and what He has done, that believers get their place before Him.
The Ark
The Ark was made of Shittim wood, two-and-a-half cubits long, by a cubit-and-a-half wide, and a cubit-and-a-half high. It was covered with pure gold inside and out, and a crown, or ledge of gold, placed around it. Here we have typified very beautifully the Deity and Manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Shittim wood, the acacia wood of the desert, set forth the Humanity of our blessed Lord; the pure gold. His Deity. The crown, or ledge of gold round about, taught how God jealously guards these great truths of the Deity and Manhood of our Lord.
" No man knoweth the Son but the Father" (Matt. 11:2727All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)) is a wonderful statement, settling once and forever the thus far-and-no-further of our knowledge in this direction. Nearly all the great heresies that have rent the Church of God from the time of Arius downward have originated in faulty and speculative theories as to the truth of Christ's Person. Our only sure course is to adhere to the very words of Scripture, and to refuse speculation into mysteries unrevealed. Only the Father knows the Son; therefore the manner in which Deity and Manhood are united in Him is beyond our scrutiny.
" Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God " (Matt. 16:1616And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)) was the confession of the Apostle Peter. Our Lord traced his knowledge to the fact that it had been revealed to him by the Father, and affirmed that upon the truth of Christ's Person the Church of God should be built, and the gates of Hades should not prevail against it. Although Peter knew the Lord, as all believers do, yet neither he nor they shall ever fathom the inscrutable depths of His Person.
The poet sang truly and wisely:
'Tis darkness to my intellect,
But sunshine to my heart."
How God, the Son, could become Man, and yet in becoming Man, never cease to be God, and yet be one undivided Person, is surely past the creature's comprehension, but it is the truth as presented in Scripture. We have the clear statements:-
It is amazing to contemplate that the One, who wearied with His journey, and who sat on Sychar's well; the One, whose feet were washed by the tears of a penitent woman; and above all the One, who died for us on the cross of Calvary, was none the less than " The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace " (Isa. 9:66For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)). " He was crucified through weakness " (2 Cor. 13:44For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. (2 Corinthians 13:4)), yet at that very moment was " upholding all things by the word of His power " (Heb. 1:33Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Hebrews 1:3)). We may not understand how this can be, but we can humbly adore Him, who is " Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is GOD with us " (Matt. 1:2323Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:23)).
Right through Scripture the Godhead of Jesus is maintained. He is the Eternal Son in the Unity of the Godhead-Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, blessed forever. He claimed equality with the Father. He received unquestioned the worship of His disciples. His omnipotence proclaimed His Godhead.
When the frightened disciples awoke their Master as He lay asleep in the hinder part of the ship as it tossed in the storm on the lake, and cried, " Master, Master, we perish," He arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the sea, and there was a great calm. Astounded beyond measure, the disciples exclaimed, " What manner of man is this! for He commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey Him " (Luke 8:2525And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him. (Luke 8:25)), as much as to say that this was power above that of man, and they were right.
His power, even to the raising of the dead, proclaimed His Godhead. But it may be said, Did not the Apostle Peter raise up Dorcas to life again? The answer is that the Lord's servants did not raise the dead by their own power but in the name of the Lord, whereas the Lord raised the dead by His OWN word of power. He invoked no name as His disciples did. He said to the young man of Nain, as he was being carried to his funeral, " Young man, I say unto thee, Arise " (Luke 7:1414And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. (Luke 7:14)). Our Lord was " God... manifest in the flesh " (1 Tim. 3:1616And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)). He became a true Man, blessed be His name, and atoned for sin at the cross of Calvary. God and Man-one Christ, one glorious Person-is presented to our faith and for our homage.
Rings and Staves
There were four rings of gold, one in each corner of the Ark. Through these, staves of Shittim wood covered with gold were placed, thus providing for the transport of the Ark from place to place. The staves were not to be withdrawn till the Ark found its final resting place in the Temple in the land. Thus God would teach us that we are still in the wilderness.
Only the priests were allowed to carry the Ark, thus showing that only true believers have right thoughts of Christ. Alas! man makes his new cart of human theology, and the Uzzahs of Higher Criticism seek to steady that which, apparently to them, but not in reality, threatens to fall, only to their own destruction.
When one of these modern Uzzahs of unitarian taint was presenting Christ as the great Model and Example for mankind, a woman's shrill voice was heard from the outskirts of the crowd, saying, " I say, Mister, your rope is not long enough to reach a sinner like me." How true is the remark, " When all the Higher Critics have had their say, and all the shouting has ceased, the sixty-six books of the Bible will rise up, and cry in unison, ' Sirs, do yourselves no harm, for we are all here '."
Right thoughts of Christ are vital to Christianity. Let us be crystal clear as to this. We cannot afford to make a mistake. " He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God " (John 3:1818He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)).
The Testimony
The Testimony, that is the two Tables of Stone on which the ten commandments were written by the finger of God, was placed in the Ark, which Moses was commanded to make. This symbolized how perfectly our Lord would keep the law. " Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God " (Heb. 10:77Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:7)).
Some hold the erroneous idea that Christ's perfect keeping of the law atoned for their lack of doing so. They hold that credit is thereby put to their account, and thus they are accounted righteous. It is, indeed, true, that if our Lord had not kept the law perfectly, He could not have been our Savior, but it needed a sinless Sacrifice upon whom death had no claim to take the sinner's place and room. That this is necessary, that it is our Lord's atoning death, and not His spotless life that is sufficient, is shown by the words, " Without shedding of blood is no remission " (Heb. 9:2222And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. (Hebrews 9:22)). " As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so MUST the Son of Man be lifted up " (John 3:1414And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: (John 3:14)).
The expression, " The Ark of the Testimony," has been sadly perverted by some to mean exclusively the testimony of a body of believers, who profess to be faithful to the truth amid general unfaithfulness. Such will use the ignorant and arrogant expression, " The Ark of the Testimony is with Us." The Ark of the Testimony typifies Christ, and no body of believers can appropriate Him as their exclusive possession, any more than any country can claim the sun as their exclusive possession, as it marches across the sky. The worst form of heresy in the early Church was seen in some saying, " I [am] of Christ " (1 Cor. 1:1212Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:12)), claiming Christ for a party, and His name and presence in their midst as a distinguishing feature in contradistinction to other Christians.
The Mercy Seat
The Mercy Seat consisted of a slab of pure gold, stained with the blood of the Sin Offering on the Great Day of Atonement, which rested above upon the Ark. Only on that day, and by the High Priest alone, could entrance be made into the Holiest of All in order to sprinkle the blood once upon the Mercy Seat eastward, and seven times before it. The gold typified Divine righteousness. Without Divine righteousness being satisfied there could not be any flowing out of God's grace to guilty man. The blood of the Sin Offering typified the precious blood of Christ. As it were, the gold demanded righteous satisfaction, the blood met that demand, and so it became a Mercy Seat.
Have we the thought of the Mercy Seat in the New Testament? Yes, for we read, " And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the Mercy Seat " [Greek hilasterion] (Heb. 9:55And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. (Hebrews 9:5)). " Whom [Christ] God hath set forth to be a propitiation [Greek hilasterion] through faith in His blood " (Rom. 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25)). " He is the propitiation [Greek hilasmos] for our sins " (1 John 2:22And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)). " God... sent His Son to be the propitiation [Greek hilasmos] for our sins " (1 John 4:1010Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)). Thus the New Testament shows clearly that Mercy Seat and propitiation is one and the same word. Thus. the Old and New Testament clasp hands.
The Cherubims
Cherubims, angelic creatures, were God's messengers of judgment. Cherubims and a flaming sword barred our fallen and sinful first parents' access to the Tree of Life, lest they should eat of it, and live forever. They stood as representative of God's righteous judgment: " Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne " (Psa. 89:1414Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face. (Psalm 89:14)).
Two cherubims of gold, beaten of one piece (see Ex. 37:77And he made two cherubims of gold, beaten out of one piece made he them, on the two ends of the mercy seat; (Exodus 37:7)) with outstretched wings covering the Mercy Seat, their faces looking towards each other, and downward towards the Mercy Seat, were placed on the top of the Mercy Seat, as it rested on the Ark.
Their outstretched wings symbolized the instant readiness to execute judgment, nay, the absolute necessity for God's righteousness to be upheld when His laws are violated. The camp of Israel contained sinners enough to call forth the full activity, which they symbolized. Yet there they stood, gazing on the golden blood-stained Mercy Seat, surely indicating that God's claims had been fully met, and that justice was satisfied.
Of course we must remember that the types in themselves never met God's claims, but what they typified did. We must look past the types to the great Antitype, and there see in Christ and His atoning work the answer, and only answer, to it all. How it sets forth the meaning of " Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other " (Psa. 85:1010Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85:10)).
Three Things in the Ark
The Golden Pot that had Manna
The golden pot that had manna was a memorial of God's sustainment of His people in the wilderness. For forty years this great people were supported in a place where earthly sustenance was absent. God was enough. Morning by morning the manna fell. " Angels' food " it was called. In appearance it was small and round, like hoar frost upon the ground. In color it was white and it tasted like honey.
Manna is a pure Hebrew word, meaning, What is it? The children of Israel could not give it a name. It fell miraculously from heaven, and was outside the range of human experience as to its origin.
The manna was small, typical of Christ, whose earthly circumstances were humble and lowly. He came not with pomp of monarch, nor with triumph of conqueror, but in lowly guise. He was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger. It could be said of Him, " The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head " (Matt. 8:2020And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20)). His deathbed was a cross of shame. He lay in a borrowed grave. Was there ever such an appeal as this?
The manna was round, typical of the accessibility of Christ. A round thing-unlike a square, or an oblong, or oval-is equally near the center wherever you may touch the circumference. Round would set forth how accessible our Lord was to young and old, rich and poor, religious and irreligious. The woman that was a sinner; Mary Magdalene, out of whom was cast seven devils; the dying thief; the children whom the disciples would have driven away-all alike could reach Him and be blessed.
Manna was like coriander seed and white in color, typical of the pure and lovely life of our Lord. Its taste was like wafer made with honey, typical of the sweetness found in Him. " I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste " (Song of Sol. 2:33As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. (Song of Solomon 2:3)).
It had to be gathered in the morning, illustrating that there must needs be Divine energy for the appropriation of Christ. Further, what was gathered had to be eaten the day it was gathered. Kept over till the morning, it would breed worms and stink, thus teaching a salutary lesson that there must be present communion.
There was, however, a provision made, that on the sixth day of the week, they should gather a double portion, so as to provide for the needs of the Sabbath when they were not allowed to work.
Those, who attempt to " traffic in unfelt truth," relying on mere memory and knowledge, treating Divine things in a merely intellectual way, will find it only leads to corruption.
God would ever maintain the Golden Pot that had manna as the memorial of how He met the needs of His people in the wilderness. God would never have us forget His grace and provision in the wilderness, not even in the glory.
Aaron's Rod that Budded
Aaron's rod that budded had a truly remarkable significance. Korah, a Levite, Dathan and Abiram, Reubenites, rebelled against Moses, in reality against God. They accused Moses and Aaron of taking too much upon themselves in appropriating religious service to the priesthood alone. They contended that all alike were competent to take part in this. It was an attack of religious democracy, and betokened no sense of the holiness of God's house, or of God's right to order things therein. The competence of man in the things of God was their claim, and their blasphemy.
If the reader will peruse Num. 16 and 17, he will get the interesting and instructive details of this incident. Suffice it to say for our present purpose that when the test was made, and God had brought dire judgment on the rebels, He ordained a further test to show what His mind was as to the priesthood. Twelve rods were to be chosen, and each marked with the name of a tribe, Aaron's name to be written on the rod of Levi.
These rods were simply dry sticks. Put a live slip into
the earth, and the ground will nurture the life in the slip, and it will take root, grow and bear fruit. Put a dry stick in the earth, and the ground can only rot the stick. The live slip will be " life unto life "; the dead stick " death unto death."
These dead rods were to be laid up before the Lord in the Tabernacle of Witness, and lo! in the morning a miracle had happened. Eleven sticks were dry sticks still, but Aaron's stick, dry like the others, had overnight burst into buds, bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.
The miracle was amazing. What did it signify? It was clearly LIFE out of DEATH. In this way God indicated that the priesthood should belong exclusively to Aaron and his sons. In this we learn a wonderful and fundamental lesson, that
Christianity is Founded on Resurrection
Christ's resurrection is the witness of the triumph of His death, of God's full acceptance of the finished atoning work wrought out on Cavalry's cross.
There is a wonderful painting entitled, Mors janua vitae, death THE GATE of life; and this is just what Christianity is. But it is Christ's death, His triumphant death, which meeting all the claims of God's throne, has opened a new world, that resurrection scene of life and joy and worship, to the believer.
The priesthood of Christ is founded on His death and resurrection. His priesthood sustains His wilderness people till the heavenly Canaan is reached in association with Christ, the High Priest of our profession. But remember all believers in Christianity are priests. Wonderful privilege, but how little taken up!
The Tables of the Covenant
When the Ark was put into its place in Solomon's Temple, we read, " There was nothing in the Ark save the two Tables which Moses put therein at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of Egypt " (2 Chron. 5. 10). The writer of the Hebrews enumerates three things, the golden pot of manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the Tables of the Covenant, evidently referring to a different time.
The Tables of the Covenant placed in the Ark typified our Lord keeping the law in thought, word and deed. He "did no sin " (1 Peter 2:2222Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: (1 Peter 2:22)); " In Him is no sin " (1 John 3:55And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. (1 John 3:5)); He " knew no sin " (2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)), is the threefold testimony of the Apostles Peter, John and Paul.