The Mercy Seat
"And he made a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide." And he made two cherubim of gold; he made them hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat; one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end; he made the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at the two ends. And the cherubim had their wings spread, covering the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces toward each other; the faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat."
The Mercy Seat formed the cover or lid of the ark of the covenant. It was made of one piece of pure gold, being approximately 3 feet 9 inches long by 2 feet 3 inches wide. On top of the ark at each end, were tow cherubim of gold facing each other but looking down toward the mercy seat with their wings touching each other as they stretched out over its top (Ex 25:10-20). We are not told in great detail exactly what the ark of the covenant looked like. Some models show the cherubim kneeling, while others show the cherubim standing. What we do know is that the wings of the cherubim were stretched out, to cover the mercy seat; the wings of the two cherubim possibly touched one another to form a complete covering.
It was Yahweh's meeting place with His people through Moses, His representative. It was here that Moses went to receive Yahweh's commands and instructions for His people; and there Aaron went on the Day of Atonement as their mediator and representative. Thus both Yahweh and the children of Israel were identified with the Mercy Seat. It was Yahweh's throne and footstool in Israel; there He ruled Israel; there He met them as His covenant people upon the basis of shed blood. It was there that He manifested Himself to Israel. He was in their midst, at the very heart of the nation.
There was prescribed steps as the high priest came before the Lord to atone for sins of the nation. On the Day of Atonement the high priest offered a bullock as a sin offering (Lev 16:6,11) for himself and his house before he made an offering for the nation of Israel. Next, he took a censor full of burning coals from the brazen altar, put two handfuls of sweet incense into a golden bowl, and entered the holy of holies. He poured the incense on the coals, which emitted a thick, cloudy smoke that filled the chamber. The cloud of smoke twisting upward represented the prayers of God's people, offered as protection, on his holiest of all days.
The high priest returned to the brazen altar, took a basin full of the bullock's blood, and again entered the holy of holies to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. Dipping his finger into the basin of blood, he sprinkled the mercy seat seven times (Lev 16:14). The blood made it possible for God to show mercy to the nation of Israel. Sprinkling the blood seven times spoke of the completed atonement.
The high priest chose two goats of equal color, size, and value from the congregation of Israel (Lev 16:5). Lots were cast by the high priest to determine which of the two goats were to be slain. The scapegoat was turned facing the people until the high priest, at the proper time, transferred the people's sin to it and led it off into the wilderness. The high priest then offered the first goat as a sin offering. Its blood was sprinkled several times in the Tabernacle. First, it was sprinkled before the Mercy Seat in the holy of holies in the same manner as the blood of the bullock (Lev 16:15). Second, he sprinkled the horns of the altar in incense seven times to cleanse it from the contamination of Israel (Ex 30:10). Third, he, went to the brazen altar and mixed the blood of the bullock and the blood of the goat into one basin. Dipping his finger into the basin of blood, he sprinkled the horns of the brazen altar seven times, cleansing it from the uncleanness of Israel. (Lev 16:19)
The congregation of Israel patiently and prayerfully waited outside of the Tabernacle for the high priest to appear before them. They rejoiced and were relieved when the high priest parted the gate of the Tabernacle court with his hands raised toward the people, symbolizing that God had accepted the sacrifice. Joyous praise echoed throughout the congregation-it was like life from the dead! The atonement had been accepted!
Moving quickly, the high priest placed the blood-soaked hands on the head of the scapegoat, transferring the sins of Israel to the goat as he confessed every possible transgression that had been committed in the past year. The scapegoat was then led away into the wilderness, signifying that the sins of Israel, which God had forgiven, were carried away (Lev 16:20-22). The word "scapegoat" (Lev 16:8,10,26) translated is azazel in Hebrew and denotes the idea of an entire removal; thus the scapegoat completely removed the sins of Israel. Although the sins of the people were removed, they were not taken away and destroyed until Christ came. The writer in Hebrew stated, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb 10:4). Christ fulfilled the requirements of the sin offering by taking the sins of the world on Himself: "For he hath made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor 5:21. 1 Pet 2:24). Jesus was our scapegoat. It was only through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus that our sins were completely blotted out.
Then the high priest went into the holy place, put off his linen garments, washed his body, put on his priestly garments, and then before the brazen altar to offer a burnt offering for himself and the people. At the same time he burned the fat of the bullock and goat from the sin offering on the brazen altar. The skin, flesh and dung of the sin offering (bullock and goat) were burned outside the camp (Lev 16:23-27). The only duty left for the high priest was to offer the prescribed evening sacrifices (Num 29:7,11) before his ministry was concluded on this special day.
In the time of the Tabernacle, the Mercy Seat was made a place of propitiation when the sacrificial blood was sprinkled on it once a year. The Mercy Seat, typifying the divine throne of God, was transformed from a throne of judgement to a throne of grace when it was sprinkled with the atoning blood. Today, sinners have a mercy seat in the blood-sprinkled body of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross as an atonement to expiate sin.
Christ is the antitypical Mercy Seat of Propitiation (Rom 3:24,25). In Christ, Yahweh is revealed, and through Christ, believers can be reconciled with Him whose mercy and loving-kindness is always available for forgiveness after repentance. As the Mercy Seat was a covering for the Ark, so the Lord is our covering (Rom 4:7). Our sins have been atoned for by the sprinkled blood of the covenant sacrifice; and those so forgiven are described as being "in Him" (Gal 3:26). The character of the Lord was perfected by trial and thus shone forth as gold (1 Pet 1:7). In measure, we are called to develop and reflect that glory now by Christ dwelling in our hearts. (Eph 3:17)
All we have to do to be reconciled to God is receive the finished work of the Lord Jesus on our behalf. If you have not been reconciled to God, why tarry? Right now, recognize your sinful condition; by faith, come to the Mercy Seat through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and be declared righteous through His grace. Christian friends, no longer is the Mercy Seat open only once a year. No longer do we need an earthly high priest to intercede on our behalf. No longer must sacrifice be slain for us. The veil has been torn away. God bids us come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace in our time of need. Accept the invitation. Rejoice in the privilege. Come, bask in the glorious presence of the Lord, which is eternally offered and open to you!