There were a number of pieces of important furniture in the two rooms in the tabernacle which the priestly tribe of Levi used in their daily intercessions for the people.
But the most important article in the entire tabernacle was located in the inner room called the Most Holy Place or (Holy of Holies).
It was called the Ark of the Covenant and was the only piece of furniture inside the Most Holy Place.
And was the first piece of furniture commanded by God to be made.
The Ark represented the power and authority of God in the camp of Israel, and this is why it is named first.
The whole sanctuary was built for no other end, but to be as it were a house, a habitation for the Ark.This was the room where God’s presence dwelt on the earth, and it was the place of “mercy” on God’s part. The ark was the symbol of God’s relationship with His people, a relationship that was based on a promise, or contract, hence, we get the word “covenant.” An ark is designed to preserve intact whatever is put therein. It preserved Noah and his family from the flood. It saved baby Moses from the wrath of the Pharaoh. The Ark of the Covenant was designed of God to preserve His unbroken covenant in the midst of an erring people.
The Ark was a hollow acacia wood box made from the acacia tree that thrived in the Sinai desert. This wood has a very hard, close-grained texture and very resistant to insects. The Ark was roughly four feet long, and two and a quarter feet high and wide. It was covered within and from without gold so you never saw any of the wood. Two poles were inserted into rings on the side of the Ark so that it could be carried by four men without any of them touching it. A lid known as the Mercy-Seat was placed on top of the Ark. A gold rim, known in scripture as the “crown of gold” prevented the lid, or cover, from shifting. The Mercy-Seat was a solid sheet or slab of pure gold. The Mercy-Seat differed from the Ark in that no wood entered into its composition. There was only one other piece of furniture in the tabernacle made solely of gold, namely the lampstand, which was smaller in weight and size; therefore the Mercy-Seat was the most valuable of all the holy vessels. The dimensions of the Mercy-seat were the same as the Ark, regarding length and width. It is believed to have been about an inch thick or possibly more. Gold is very heavy, and it is believed that such a slab would be about 750 pounds or nine million dollars. An extraordinary thing about this Mercy-Seat was its name, because it was not a seat but a lid. The absence of a seat among the tabernacle furniture is an obvious thing, the reason for this being that there was no need for one. The priestly work was never done. The priest went on ministering until he was relieved by another, and so the work continued. Above the Mercy-Seat and of the same piece of gold as the Mercy-Seat were the two cherubim angels. They faced one another with outstretched wings, looking down on the Mercy-Seat. Cherubims are symbols of guardianship, as at the Garden of Eden. Underneath this Mercy-Seat, where God instructed the face of the angels to be looking, were three peculiar items ( Hebrews 9:1-6).
First, God told Moses to place inside the Ark a pot of manna. You’ll remember the manna was food God provided for the Israelites during there forty year tour of the Sinai wilderness. At first the people had welcomed this miraculous provision, but soon they began griping about it and ask for more variety in their diet. “We wish we had some of those delicious foods-the leeks, the garlics-we had back in Egypt,” they murmured. Their attitude really grieved God. After all, no one had gotten sick in those forty years, so manna must have been a perfect food.
So God said, “Put the manna in the pot and put it in the Ark.”
This became a symbol of man’s rejection of God’s material provisions. The second item in the Ark originated from within the camp of Israel against Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership (Numbers 16,17). After God had dwelt with the rebel instigators, He called the tribal leaders to come before Moses. The symbol of leadership was a rod, or wooden staff. Moses took a rod from each one of the rebel leaders and deposited all twelve in the tabernacle overnight. The man whose rod sprouted leaves was the one God wanted as the leader.
When the rods were taken from the tabernacle the next day, Aaron’s had sprouted leaves. But the Israelites disobeyed Aaron and Moses’ leadership anyway. His rod was placed inside the Ark as a reminder of man’s rejection of God’s leadership.
The third item in the Ark was the stones upon which the ten commandments were inscribed. The Israelites broke these laws time after time. So God had these three tablets placed in the Ark as a witness that man broke His law.
The Ark, therefore, contained the physical representations of man’s total sinfulness—
- Manna: man’s rejection of God’s provision
- Aaron’s rod: Man’s rejection of God’s leadership
- Tablets of the law: man’s rejection of God’s holiness
Once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippor) the high priest would take the blood of an animal sacrifice and sprinkle it over the top of the Mercy-Seat. As mentioned earlier, the cherubim in the Bible are associated as His guardians and servants in His presence (Ezekiel 1, Genesis 3:24). Here they are guarding the blood that was sprinkled on the Mercy-Seat on that Day of Atonement. Man is never called upon to guard the blood; he is ever in need of the blood to guard and protect him.
Though these cherubim faced each other, they are not looking at one another—that is, they are not occupied with each other. The golden cherubim, are represented as gazing with the most intense and delighted interest on the blood sprinkled Mercy-Seat. This is the very attitude of the angels with request to what the blood signified. With faces eagerly and lovingly bending down on our world, they are ever reading with absorbing and joyful interest the story of salvation as it unfolds to the believer.
“With things the angels desire to look into,” (1Pet.1:12 lit., “to bend looking”).
But on the Day of Atonement, what did the angels see? The symbols of sin? No. They saw the blood of a Divinely ordained innocent sacrifice covering the symbols of sin. God could now say, “I’m satisfied, because the death penalty has been paid.” God was no longer offended because the evidence of man’s sin has been covered and I see only the blood of an innocent substitute who paid the required death penalty. The golden lid, or Mercy-Seat, was symbolically God’s throne on earth, because He dwelt between the cherubim (Exodus 25:22)
Until the blood of the animal was sprinkled on the Mercy-seat, this throne of God depicted a place of judgment. But, covered by the blood once a year, it became a throne of mercy. Here was the place where sinful man could now meet God through the mediation of the sacrifice.
The fulfillment of this type was when Jesus Christ died once and for all for the sins of the world. Did you know that the O.T. word for “mercy-seat” can also be translated “propitiation,” or satisfaction. It is the same as the Greek word used in Romans 3:25.
The Mercy-Seat pictured Christ who:
“is the propitiation (mercy-seat) for our sins” (1Jn.2:2).
Now we can stand with the publican who prayed in the temple:
“God be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk.18:9-14), or as the literal suggests, “God be ‘mercy-seated’ to me a sinner.”
As God saw the blood on the Mercy-Seat, He was satisfied; for this sprinkling prefigured Christ.
Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says of Jesus:
“But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb.9:11,12).
Jesus, as our High Priest, actually entered the Holy of Holies in heaven with the blood of a perfect sacrifice—His own blood. There He sprinkled it on the Mercy-Seat of the heavenly tabernacle and obtained, not just a temporary, year long forgiveness for men, but an eternal redemption ( Hebrews 10).The suggestion implied by the seat is, therefore, that of a finished work.
Christ alone could say “It is finished.”