Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover (Mercy Seat). Hebrews 9:3-5 (NIV)
In the heart of the Israelite’s Tent of Meeting, behind a veil in the room called the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, was a box covered with sheets of beaten gold which was called the Ark of the Covenant. Its lid, the Mercy Seat, was solid gold and depicted two angels in an attitude of worship. Inside the ark were three things:
1) a jar of manna, the “bread of heaven” or bread of angels which was given to the Israelites to eat in the desert
2) a dead wooden staff made from a branch of an almond tree which had come alive and produced flowers and almonds
3) the ten commandments written on stone tablets
I recently realized that all those things in the Ark were put there in a direct response to rebellion. The manna was given to the Israelites in response to their grumbling about having nothing to eat (Exodus 16: 3-4). God commanded Moses to put some in the ark as a reminder of His provision (Exodus 16:32).
Korah and company rebelled against Moses and Aaron as God’s chosen authority – “What right do you have to act as though you are greater than anyone else among all these people of the LORD?” they asked. Kind of like, “who made you the boss of me?” (Numbers 16:3). Aaron’s rod budded and produced fruit in direct response to the rebellion to confirm God’s choice, and God commanded Moses to include it in the ark as a sign (Numbers 17:1-10).
The stone tablets containing the ten commandments were the most important response, a life-preserver thrown out to all of us people flailing about trying to be our own god. His word is an anchor dropped into the world’s chaotic sea of sin and rebellion – an anchor that holds within the veil (Hebrews 6:19-20).
The ark was full of responses to doubt and fear and rebellion, but God covered it all over with His mercy and told Moses He would meet with him there.
“You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. Exodus 25:21-22 (NASB)
The Mercy Seat is where the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled as an atonement for sin of the people by the High Priest once a year. This foreshadowed the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the final sacrifice for the sin of the world. It also foreshadowed Jesus as High Priest offering his own blood one final time in the heavenly Temple (Hebrews 9:11-28).
I also have been realizing that all those things in the ark represented Jesus, the Savior who was to come. He is the manna, the Bread of Life (John 6:48-51). He is the chosen High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), the Branch (Isaiah 11:1) that was dead and came back to fruitful life. He is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14). God knew from the beginning how things would go and had a plan for our redemption. God’s response to the sin and rebellion of the world was Mercy. His response was Jesus.
… and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:24-26 (NIV)
The word translated “sacrifice of atonement” in the above verse means, in the Greek, both the atoning victim and the Mercy Seat itself. Jesus is our Mercy Seat. But, Jesus isn’t storing up all our sins – or even the reminders of our sin – in a box and covering them over with his blood. At the cross Jesus vanquished sin, he destroyed it, he wiped it out forever – we can be made just as if we had never done anything wrong. Yet we are still crabbing about what we want but don’t have to satisfy our cravings, arguing about who is the boss, who gets to make the rules. We have been doubters, grumblers, rebels from the beginning, but God is still waiting to meet us there, at the Mercy Seat. Come and meet him there.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)
If you would like, you can learn more about the Mercy Seat here https://www.bible-history.com/tabernacle/TAB4The_Mercy_Seat.htm
Photo replica of the Ark of the Covenant in the Royal Arch Room of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Photo by Ben Schumin on December 27, 2006