February 7: “What’s So Incredible About the Mercy Seat?”

Today’s Bible Reading:

Exodus 26:1–27:21
Matthew 25:1-30
Psalm 31:1-8
Proverbs 8:1-11

Today’s Bible Verse(s):

Exodus 26:34 (NLT): “Then put the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—on top of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Most Holy Place.”

Reflections on Today’s Bible Verse(s):

(Warning: Lengthy article – but I think you may enjoy it.)

In any Read-Through-The-Bible plan, you will inevitably come to Exodus with all of its meticulous laws, details regarding the Tabernacle, and many other items. If we aren’t careful, we might be tempted to think that it is not relevant or interesting.

Yet, God’s Word (every word in Scripture) is inspired and profitable for us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we have the right study tools and are willing to prayerfully dig deep into the text, we will see some wonderful truths in what may seem the least likely of places.

In today’s text, I came across one verse that is incredibly rich in its implications. I want to share a little bit of its wonder with you.

In Exodus 26, God instructed Moses regarding the Tabernacle, specifically the Ark of the Covenant.

“Then put the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—on top of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Most Holy Place.” (Exodus 26:34)

On its face, this may not seem significant until we consider a few more details. Let me present them in the form of questions.

What was in the Ark?

“In that room were a gold incense altar and a wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides. Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant.” (Hebrews 9:4)

Look at the last items mentioned – “the stone tablets of the covenant.” Do you know what they were? The 10 Commandments! It’s what Moses held in his hands as he came down from Mt. Sinai. He dashed the first set against the rocks in his anger (see Exodus 32:19).

Friends, while God’s Law is good because it calls for nothing short of holiness and perfection, it also shows every one of us how utterly sinful we are. So, while it is good, it is intended to make us feel bad, to realize our guilt before a holy Judge.

Have you ever lied? Then, you’ve broken the 9th Commandment. You, friend, are a lawbreaker.

Have you ever dishonored your parents in any way? Then, you’ve broken the 5th Commandment. You are a lawbreaker.

Have you ever been angry at someone? Then you’ve broken the 6th Commandment (see Matthew 5:21-22).

Have you ever looked at someone while entertaining lustful thoughts? Then you’ve broken the 7th Commandment (see Matthew 5:27-28).

We see that while the Law is good, is condemns each and every one of us. Why? Because we have all broken most (if not all) of the laws many, many times. So, in God’s eyes, not one single person is considered righteous (see Romans 3:10).

The problem is compounded when we realize that a holy God cannot be indifferent to lawbreakers. A good judge cannot let guilty criminals go free. He must demand that the one who does the crime does the time (see Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Nahum 1:3; etc.).

So, condemned by the Law as a lawbreaker, we stand before God, our Judge, awaiting our punishment. 

What resided above the Ark?

“I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel.” (Exodus 25:22)

God’s visible presence appeared above the Ark of the Covenant. The Law was inside the Ark as God’s presence hovered above it.

This presents a powerful picture! God hovered over the Law that stood against us. As He looked into the Ark, it testified loud and clear that we were lawbreakers deserving of whatever punishment He deemed fitting.

Let’s not forget that God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin and must punish sinners anywhere He sees them.

What separated God from the Law in the Ark?

This question is answered in the verse given above. Exodus 25:22 tells us that God’s presence was above the Atonement Cover. This Cover is what rested on top of the Ark.

“Then put the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—on top of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Most Holy Place.” (Exodus 26:34)

So, the Law that condemned everyone was inside the Ark. God’s presence hovered above the Ark. These two were separated by the lid on top of the Ark, “the place of atonement.” (It’s also called the Mercy Seat.)

The definition of “atonement” can be easily determined by simply dividing the word by its syllables – “at-one-ment”. Atonement was the way in which God could be made “at one” with us in spite of our unquestioned guilt.

How did the Place of Atonement (Mercy Seat) spare us from an angry, just God?

Leviticus 16 is a chapter that is dedicated solely to the Day of Atonement. It describes in detail what happened on that special day on the Jewish calendar.

The greatest act that occurred on that day was when the High Priest took innocent animals, killed them, and entered the Holy of Holies with their blood. Leviticus 16:14-16 tells us that he sprinkled their blood around and on the Mercy Seat.

Yes, this was gory! This was vile. It was messy. A bloody sacrifice was never meant to be a thing that warmed the heart. 

It was intended to show how offensive our sin was to a holy God. It was intended to show us that something must die in order for our sin to be forgiven. To be acquitted, capital punishment must be administered. But, the animal in the Old Testament could serve as a substitute for the lawbreaking worshiper.

So, (get this!), when God (who was hovering over the Mercy Seat) looked into the Ark of the Covenant and saw the law that convicted us, He had to look through the Mercy Seat and the blood to see it. The blood changed the way He saw the Law. Instead of the Law condemning us, the blood showed that the demands of the Law were met, something died for the sin, and God’s justice was satisfied.

As if that isn’t enough, it gets better! The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the One Who Ultimately and Finally Remedied Our Sin Problem.

In Hebrews 9, it tells us that the Old Testament sacrifices could not permanently remedy the worshipers’ legal guilt. It only pushed their sins forward. It was like a snowball that is rolled on the ground. It gets pushed forward, but that only causes it to get bigger and bigger. 

The Old Testament sacrifices only temporarily remedied the sin problem but pushing it forward. But in reality, the worshiper’s sin debt only got bigger and bigger. It was an inferior, temporary fix.

In Hebrews 9, we realize that those massive “snowballs” of sin were rolled to the cross. At that place, they were once and forever dealt with!

When Jesus died on the cross, we are told that he took his blood into the heavenly Holy of Holies and offered His own blood on the Mercy Seat.

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” (Hebrews 9:11-12)

Did you get that? Jesus offered His own blood on our behalf. He sprinkled His own blood on the heavenly Mercy Seat. So, when God looks into the Ark and sees the Law that condemns us, He has to look through Jesus’ blood before He sees the Law. 

If you have reached a point in your life when you have turned from your sin and trusted wholly in Jesus and His work on the cross on your behalf, then He has forgiven you and saved you. His death on the cross became the payment for your sin. His death is the capital punishment that you deserved. And when God looks at the Law that once condemned you, it is Jesus’ blood that makes it clear that we have been permanently cleaned and cleared of all guilt. 

Our fine was paid on the cross. The Law no longer hangs over our heads. Jesus paid it all!

“Then put the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—on top of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Most Holy Place.” (Exodus 26:34)

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I have an incredible wife that God gave to me on May 10, 1997. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with three wonderful boys. I am also the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Polk City, Florida.

2 thoughts on “February 7: “What’s So Incredible About the Mercy Seat?”

  1. Was the Law really “…intended to make us feel bad, to realize our guilt before a holy Judge”? I realize that is the prevailing theology of Christianity, but is it Scriptural?:

    “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the provisions and the statutes and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Moreover, the Lord provided great and terrible signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household; He brought us out of there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ So the Lord commanded us to follow all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our own good always and for our survival, as it is today. And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to follow all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.
    Deuteronomy 6:20‭-‬25 NASB2020

    I will delight in Your commandments, Which I love. And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Your statutes.
    Psalms 119:47‭-‬48 NASB2020

    But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive study is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when everything has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
    Ecclesiastes 12:12‭-‬14 NASB2020

    “Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished! Therefore, whoever nullifies one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
    Matthew 5:17‭-‬19 NASB2020

    Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who remains in Him sins continually; no one who sins continually has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;
    1 John 3:4‭-‬7 NASB2020

    Liked by 1 person

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