November 1st, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
Hebrews 9; Exodus 25:10
THE MERCY SEAT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 9; Exodus 25:10
11-1-59 10:50 a.m.
You who listen on the radio are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author follows all of the pieces of furniture and the curtained areas of the tabernacle. And he uses the tabernacle as the language, the nomenclature, for the great spiritual truths that he preaches in Christ Jesus. So we have taken those articles of furniture and those sacred enclosures that the author has named, and we have followed them, as the Lord revealed them in their pattern on the mount, and as they were cast in substantive form by the hand of Moses. And we have found in them the thing that God intended that they be; that is, that we might learn spiritual things through the use of earthly, mundane objects.
For God to communicate great spiritual truths to a people who could not even understand the language of those truths, God had to form a vehicle through which He could make known to His people those heavenly revelations. And the number one vehicle, medium, for the expression of the spiritual, heavenly, divine truths was found in the pattern God gave to Moses on the mount [Hebrews 8:5; Exodus 25:1-40]. It was as though He placed in the hands of Moses an alphabet, a picture alphabet, with which He used the language, the words, the syllables, to make known to His people these great, heavenly revelations.
Now this morning we are speaking of The Mercy Seat. It had been my hope to place in this one sermon a message on the cherubim and the mercy seat. They were both the same: beaten out of solid gold. But I do not have time to compress it in this brief thirty minutes. So this morning the message is on the mercy seat, and tonight it is on the cherubim.
Now, the tabernacle was a series of curtains [Exodus 26:1], and the purpose of the curtains was in forming an enclosure to house the furniture. The tabernacle had a meaning, but the greater, profounder meaning is found in the furniture. There were seven pieces of furniture, two in the outer court: the brazen altar of burnt sacrifice and the brazen laver [Exodus 40:6-7]. Then the curtained enclosure itself divided in two. The first was the Holy Place, wherein was the seven-branched lampstand, the table of showbread, and before the veil, the golden altar of incense [Exodus 25:23-40], 30:1-10]. Then beyond the veil was the Holy of Holies, and it had what appeared to be one article of furniture. But in the Bible it is always presented as two different pieces: the ark and the covering above the ark—the ark, with the tables of stone, the Ten Commandments; and the covering, which is called the mercy seat, beaten out of pure, solid gold and extended on each side with the cherubim, whose wings overarched it and whose eyes looked down full upon the covering [Exodus 25:17-22].
Now this is the pattern that God gave to Moses in the mount—Exodus 25:17:
And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.
And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on the two ends thereof.
And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.
And thou shall put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the Testimony, the tables of stone, that I shall give thee.
And there I will meet with thee, there I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel— there will I commune with thee.
Beyond the veil is the very throne, the very presence of God [Numbers 7:89]. And in the Holy of Holies beyond the veil is the shekinah glory of the divine, heavenly presence [Psalm 80:1]. Between the cherubim, above the mercy seat, the throne of the government of God, the holiest place in this earth, and there above the mercy seat, between the cherubim, did God speak to Israel [Exodus 25:17-22], and direct His people for over five hundred years, from the days of Moses to the days of David and beyond, the four or five hundred years beyond the days of David through all the story of the temple, until the ark was taken away from an unbelieving and disobedient people. And it is now in heaven—the seer of Patmos saw it in the temple of God in glory [Revelation 11:19], when on the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], there was revealed to him the world and the city that is to come [Revelation 21:1-2].
When we speak of the mercy seat, therefore, we speak of God Himself. For there He is, speaking to us, directing us, from the mercy seat [Exodus 25:22]. We shall first speak of its purpose, its name. Then we shall speak of its position, its place. “Thou shalt make a kapharet. Thou shalt make a kapharet of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof—thou shalt make a kapharet” [Exodus 25:17]. Kapharet is just a simple Hebrew word for “covering,” but God is teaching His people the language of heaven, that we might understand the spiritual realities hidden in the heart of God. So, He takes a little simple word—“Thou shalt make a kapharet,” a covering of pure gold [Exodus 25:17]. The ark, in Exodus 25:10: “Thou shalt make an ark: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.” In verse 17: “Thou shalt make a kapharet, a covering: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof” [Exodus 25:17]. That is, the covering for the ark was exactly the dimensions of the ark itself: no bigger, no smaller, no wider, no narrower. It covered the ark exactly, and the name for it was kapharet, translated here “mercy seat.” The meaning of the word is “covering.”
On the inside of that ark were the two tables of stone [Deuteronomy 10:2], the moral government of God. The throne of God, the government of God, is founded upon the character of God. And the character of God is spiritual and moral. In the heart of the covenant of the ark, which is a summation of all the meaning of the tabernacle—in the heart of the ark was the covenant of God, the tables of stone, the Testimony of the Lord [Exodus 25:21]. And those tables of stone witness against the children of old man Adam, for the children of Adam have violated God’s moral law: “There is none righteous, no, not one: but all have sinned, and come short” [Romans 3:10, 23] of this testimony, this expectation, this moral code and government of God. Therefore the ark of the covenant, with its tables of stone, the Ten moral Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], are witnesses against us. They condemn us. The man that breaks this law shall die, says the government of God. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. “ The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4]. This government of God is perfect withal, and the man that breaks it shall die.
It’s called a covenant because: “Keep this law, and thou shalt live” [Deuteronomy 4:1]. That’s the covenant of the government of God: be perfect and inherit eternal life. But sin, break the law, and thou shalt surely die [Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10]; so, all of us, in the presence of God, before the ark of God—all of us are a lost, damned, doomed, dying, condemned humanity—all of us, all of us [Romans 3:10, 23].
Now, the tabernacle was to teach us the grace and forgiveness and mercy of God. The tabernacle was the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus before He came [Hebrews 8:4-6]. The tabernacle was to teach us the language of God so that when Jesus finally appeared there would be a people prepared who could understand the spiritual revelations from heaven in Christ Jesus [Hebrews 9:23-24]. And the mercy seat—that’s what you’ve got it translated here—the “covering” [Exodus 25:17], was to show us how the righteousness of God, the government of God, and the judgment of God upon our lost humanity, how it could be covered over and how the man could appear before God and still yet live. So, over the ark, over the Ten Commandments, over the moral judgment of God upon our sins, there was placed a kapharet, a covering [Exodus 25:17]. And, between the cherubim on that covering, the blood of the Day of Atonement was spilled [Leviticus 16:15-16].
And when God looked upon the violated law of His government that meant death for us, He looked upon the blood of the kapharet, the covering. And kapharet came to mean “covering of sin,” propitiation of sin, atonement for sin [Leviticus 23:27]. But the picture language God used was “covering” [Exodus 25:17]. An atonement means “covering.” Mercy seat means a “covering.” God has covered our sins, and He doesn’t look upon our sins, but He looks upon the kapharet, the covering [Psalm 32:1]. And it came to be called the mercy of God. This is the mercy place of God. You could say this is the forgiveness place of God. Or, this is the atonement place of God. Or, this is the propitiatory of God. This is where God is reconciled, where blood is spilled out, where a life is forfeited to cover the sins of those who have violated the government of God [Leviticus 16:11-16].
Now, if we had hours, we would take this word kapharet and follow it through the Scriptures and all of the theological language of all time. The Greek Septuagint translated the word kapharet “hilasterion,” and the Latin Vulgate translated hilasterion “propitiatorium.” The Latin word for favorable is “propitious,” the verbal form “propitiary,” to render favorable. So a propitious occasion, a propitious sign would be a favorable omen, a favorable sign, a favorable occasion. And when God is propitiated, He is rendered favorable; that is, He is reconciled. All of that comes from this word kapharet and the attempt of theologians to take that word “covering” and put it in Greek and put it in Latin and put it in English, that we might understand how a sinful man could approach a holy and righteous God and not die, but still live. And we come to God through the blood of the kapharet, the hilasterion, the propitiatorium, the mercy seat [Exodus 25:17], the blood poured out on the ark of the covenant in the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16:15-16].
Now, for just a moment, I want to us look at that word. I said the Greek translation of kapharet, mercy seat, is hilasterion [Exodus 25:17]. Just for a moment, I want you to see how that word is used in the New Testament: “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, hilaskomai”’—that’s the verbal form of it—“Lord, be mercy-seated toward me a sinner” [Luke 18:13]. That is, “Lord, cover over my sins in looking upon me. Lord, be forgiveness-minded in looking upon me. Lord, be merciful unto me. I have sinned. I am not worthy even to lift up my face to heaven”—not even to come into the sanctuary of the Lord, but standing afar off, beating upon his breast, not even so much as deigning to look into heaven with his eyes, but cries: “Lord, be hilasterion, be kapharet. Lord, be merciful—be mercy-seated toward me” [Luke 18:13].
Now, another instance of the use of the word; this is one of the great passages of the Bible, in Romans 3: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a kapharet, to be a hilasterion, to be a propitiatorium, to be a mercy seat” [Romans 3:23-25]. Whatever language it is, it is the same word—“Whom God hath set forth to be a”—now, they follow the Latin translation here—“to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins, through the forbearance of God” [Romans 3:25]. Jesus is our hilasterion, translated here our “mercy seat,” our propitiatory, the blood of the covering of our sins. God set Him forth to cover over the sins of all humanity, that through redemption in His blood, we might have access to a pure and holy and righteous God [Romans 3:25].
Now, here’s another instance of it: in Hebrews, the second chapter, verse 17: “Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make”—and there’s that word again—“to make reconciliation,” it is translated here; hilaskomai, to make a mercy seat, to make a hilasterion, to make a propitiatorium, to make a kapharet for the sins of the people [Hebrews 2:17]. It behooved God to make Him in the form of our humanity, that in His death, He might be a covering, in His blood and the forfeiting of His life, for the sins of the people [Hebrews 2:17].
Oh, we could continue on, I just read these! In 1 John 2:2: “And He is the propitiation”—there it is again—He is the mercy seat. He is the hilasterion. “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” He says it again in the fourth chapter, the tenth verse: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent His Son to be”—and there it is—“the kapharet, the hilasterion, the propitiatorium, the mercy seat for our sins” [1 John 4:10].
The great idea, the heavenly revelation, that God is teaching us is this: that no man can come to God until first satisfaction has been made for the sins of his life—no man! Any man out there that thinks, “Someday, I shall walk into the presence of God, I shall stand up and look Him straight in the face, and I shall say, ‘God, look at me. I’m here, ready for entrance into heaven; because I’ve been a good man, and I will stand on my own merits’”—any moral man that thinks that in the Day of Judgment will find himself withered to a cinder by the judgment fire of a wrathful God! No man can stand in His presence—like it says in the Revelation, “For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” [Revelation 6:17], “for the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And God made that link. And no man can break it. “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4]. When the man comes into the presence of God, he must come with his sins covered. He must come with his sins forgiven. He must come with his sins atoned for. And, it takes life, it takes blood to atone for sins [Leviticus 17:11, Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22].
Now that brings me—and I have just a moment left—that brings me to the position, the place of the mercy seat. It was above the ark, above the tables of stone [Exodus 25:21], and the blood of atonement covered, the blood of covering covered the violated law of God. First in the order of God’s government is this: God is determined, God hath set Himself to uphold His law and to honor His government. That’s the first, first, first character in God. May I illustrate that two ways? One, when Moses came down from the mount and looked upon the people in idolatry, dancing around the golden calf, Moses took the two tables of the stone that he held in his hand, given him by the Lord [Exodus 31:18], and, in anger and in disappointment, he cast them to the ground, and brake them! [Exodus 32:19]. Well, I guess that ends the matter. No. God called to Moses and said: “Moses, you took My two tables of stone, My commandments, and you break them! Come back, Moses. You come back. Stand right there, Moses, while I write for you with Mine own finger those same commandments which you brake on the rock.” And God’s own finger rewrote those Ten Commandments and placed them in the hands of Moses, and God said to Moses, “Moses, this time you put them in the ark” [Deuteronomy 10:1-5], not so much for safekeeping, but that Moses might know and humanity might learn that the moral government of God is at the very basis and throne of God Himself! They abide forever! [Matthew 5:18].
May I give one other instance of that? In the First Book of the Kings, in the eighth chapter, it is very carefully described how they brought in the ark into the temple of Solomon, and, for the first time, withdrew the staves [1 Kings 8:8]; that is, it had come to its final rest. The pilgrimage was over. And then the Scriptures are careful to say: “There was nothing in the ark but the tables of stone [1 Kings 8:9], the moral government of God.” Gone was the pot of manna, the golden bowl with the manna, gone was Aaron’s rod that budded [Hebrews 9:4]. But the law remained! [1 Kings 8:9]. And law shall always remain! Even the infidel has to build upon it.
When I read, as you did a few days ago—where Khrushchev goes over to Beijing to visit Mao Tse-tung, and those two infidels get together, and they say, “We don’t believe in God, we’re communists. We don’t believe in the Bible, we’re communists. We don’t believe in the moral government of God, we’re communists.” But the only basis upon which even those two infidels could form any kind of a compact lies in the moral code that lives in the heart of God. If Mao Tse-tung can’t trust Khrushchev—and he can’t—and if Khrushchev can’t trust Mao Tse-tung—and he can’t—they live in a world of suspicion! Everybody has to be under surveillance because no communist will trust any other communist. Why? Because he has denied the government upon which God has built this universe. Law abides forever, and the whole government of God is the government that controls this universe and us and all of God’s creatures in it.
The ark contained the tables of stone [Exodus 25:21; 1 Kings 8:9]. At the heart of the throne of the Almighty is the moral government of God. But how can a lost man approach the holy and righteous God? That was the mercy seat [Exodus 25:17, 21]. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest confessed over the head of the victim the sins of himself, of his family, and of the nation—all of us [Leviticus 16:1-17]. And after he had confessed his own sins and the sins of his family and the sins of the nation, the victim was slain. And the blood was caught in a basin, for the one time only in the year brought beyond the veil, sprinkled on the ark, and seven times on the ground before it, for the earth upon which it stood, and for the sinful man who lives and dwells in the earth [Leviticus 16:18-19]. That is, O God, a life has been forfeit. Blood has been spilled out. A life has come unto death. Thy law has been honored. Blood has been poured out, and in the love and mercy of God, we bow and pray for the forgiveness of our sins [Leviticus 16:1-19].
Or, may I say it? In the Christian revelation today, “O God, O God, here I stand, a lost man, a dying man, a sinful man. I have broken Thy commandments, O God. But, Lord, I plead the love, and the tears, and the sobs, and the wounds, and the blood, and the sacrifice, and the cross of the Son of God [Matthew 27:32-50]. And may the life forfeit, may the blood spilled out, may the tears that fell from His cheeks, may the wounds in His hands, His feet, and His side [John 19:30-34], “be for sin a double cure; save from wrath and make me pure” [“Rock of Ages,” Augustus Toplady, 1783]. O God, for Jesus’ sake, remember me.”
That is the gospel. That is the mercy seat. That is the Day of Atonement. And that is the gospel of the good news: O dying man, O perishing humanity, the sacrifice has been made. The life has been forfeit. The blood has been spilled out. In Jesus, the way has been made open for a man to come into the presence of God and live [Hebrews 10:20]. O turn ye; O come ye; that is the good news of the Son of God.
While we sing our invitation hymn, somebody you, this morning to give his heart in faith to Jesus, would you come? A family you, to put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, would you come? As the Spirit of Jesus shall whisper the word and lead the way, would you come? In that farthest topmost balcony, anywhere, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, and here I come, giving my heart in faith to Jesus.” Or coming into the fellowship of the church, as the Spirit of God shall lead the way, will you make it now, while we stand, and while we sing?
a series of curtains, forming an enclosure to house the furniture
Two articles in the Holy of Holies – appeared as one, but always presented as
The covering above the ark – the mercy seat
gave Moses the pattern for the mercy seat(Exodus
very throne, dwelling place of God
special purpose all its own (Exodus 25:22,
Leviticus 16:2, 1 Chronicles 28:11)
Most important feature of the Holy of Holies
The only meeting place between God and man
– “covering” was exact dimensions of the ark
the ark were the two tables of stone – the moral government of God
witness against man(Romans 3:10, 23, 6:23,
placed over the moral judgment of God upon our sin
hilasterion, propitiatorium(Luke 18:13, Romans
3:23-25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10)
No man can come to God until first satisfaction has been made for the sins of
his life(Revelation 6:17, Leviticus 17:11)
III. Position – placed above the ark, above
the tables of stone
A. God maintains the
breaking the tables of stone not the end – God’s own finger re-wrote the
commandments(Exodus 32:19, 34:1, Deuteronomy
the ark placed in temple of Solomon, only thing in the ark was the tables of
stone – the law remained(1 Kings 8:9)
covers our sins
mercy seat the only way a lost man can approach the holy God