Last week we looked at the ark of the covenant and this week we will look at what was effectively its lid, which was called ‘The mercy seat’. This mercy seat has huge significance because it was the place where God’s anger for sin was satisfied and where mercy and justice meet.
At the time of the tabernacle, the blood which was sprinkled over the mercy seat would only satisfy God’s wrath for one calendar year and then the process had to be repeated. This of course is a shadow which points towards the sacrifice that Jesus made to satisfy God’s wrath for all time.
The word for this situation in the bible is called ‘Propitiation’ which is not a word we use in everyday conversation today. It is a word rich in meaning in the bible, but can be a little bit complicated, so I will try and simplify it.
In ancient times, especially the Ancient Greek culture, they believed in numerous gods who would quite often get angry if the people were disobedient. If for instance, there had been a bad crop one year, the people would assume they had angered the gods and would offer various sacrifices to appease or propitiate the Gods. Propitiation was therefore the attempt to avert or satisfy the anger of the gods.
Take this concept to the bible. God has revealed that His just and righteous anger is directed at mankind’s sin. The bible is quite clear that we are unable, in our own strength, to satisfy this anger. The bible reveals that Jesus was the one who would take our place, stand in front of us if you like, and divert God’s anger onto himself. This is where the mercy part of propitiation comes in. Jesus did it even when we didn’t deserve it.
Hopefully now the following verses make a bit more sense
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)
Just to finish on another interesting observation. The word for ‘ark’ in the Hebrew language was ‘arown, which was another word for coffin. Here is a verse with an example;
So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:26)
In the ark, as we saw last week, was placed symbols of man’s rebellion or inability to reach God; the tablets of stone, the manna and Aaron’s rod. These items were buried in the coffin and then covered by the mercy seat. Another fantastic picture of what Jesus achieved for us.
The example of the mercy seat is shown in various places in the bible. Let me finish with one example.
The original mercy seat had two cherubim (angels) on either end of the mercy seat. Now notice the significance of what Mary saw at the tomb of Jesus;
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. (John 20:11-12)
This is a wonderful picture of the mercy seat with the two angels sitting at either end. But only the grave clothes were there! Jesus’ missing body was key. It meant he had risen, confirming that God’s anger had been fully satisfied.