The Ark And Mercy-Seat

(Exodus 25:10-22).

We have now reached the last of the Holy Vessels. It was the first one of which God spoke, but it is the last we meet as we come in. We pointed out before the significance of this. We begin where God ends. He began with the Ark and its Mercy-Seat, which was His throne, and wrought out to the Altar in the Court, which speaks of His grace in coming down to the Cross, that He might meet us there.

The Ark was a box, two and a half cubits, or four feet four and a half inches long; one and a half cubits, or two feet seven and a half inches broad and high. It was made of acacia wood, overlaid within and without with gold. It had a lid, called “The Mercy-seat,” made of gold, and of the same piece of gold were fashioned two Cherubim, one on either end of the Mercy-seat. They stood stretching their wings over it, so as to form a canopy, and their faces were toward each other, looking at the Mercy-seat.

As a type of Christ, whether we look at it in the Tabernacle or in its wanderings, it is easily the most interesting of all the vessels.

Once again, we are led to consider our adorable Lord Jesus as He now is in the glory. Can we hear too much of what He is, or have Him brought before our hearts too often? Surely not! More especially is this true of the days we live in. When we feel the pressure of unbelief as it surges all around, as to the perfect Humanity and full Deity of Christ, we come to these holy places, as it were, and in the calm, quiet of the sanctuary of God, our souls find their rest. Here, all Satanic lies about the Person of the Son of God are powerless to harm. Here in type, we can say, “we see Jesus”—the Jesus of the Bible: not the Jesus preached from so many pulpits in Christendom, who is “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4).

As in the Altar and the Table, we here see the Mercy-seat with its crown of gold, bringing the words of our well-known hymn before us:—

The Head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A Royal Diadem adorns
The Mighty Victor’s brow.”

In verse 16 we read, “And thou shalt put into the Ark the testimony which I shall give thee.” Here in type, we see the place that Christ gave to His Father’s Word. In Psalm 40:8 we hear Him saying, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart” and in Isa. 42:21 it is recorded, “He will magnify the law and make it honourable.” As Man here on earth among men, the Word was ever the rule of His life. “Thus it is written” settled everything for Him. Whether it was men or Satan, from that Word He brought forth the very truth which met the case, and like the smooth stone that David used to overcome the giant of Gath, one word was sufficient, for it was the Divine Word, divinely chosen. And when at last He hung upon the Cross, He could not die until all that was written of Him was fulfilled.

Christ And The Word Of God.

The attitude of our Lord towards the Word of God sets our hearts at rest as to the Evolution theory, which is so generally held by preachers to-day. Indeed not to hold it, would be to lose standing as a man of education, and be regarded as ignorant. The late W. J. Bryan, who practically died opposing that God dishonouring theory, was so often referred to as uneducated, by little men, who had taken up the theory and were talking parrot-like about it, that on one occasion they drew the remark from him, that “They may yet compel me to put my degrees on my card.”

By one word our Lord disposes of the absurd theory that man and everything we see in the world around us, results from the fortuitous coming together of atoms, and through interminable aeons, by way of the tadpole and monkey stages, we have evolved into what we are now. Speaking to the Pharisees about divorce, our Lord says, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4). Thus He stamps as genuine, the grand, majestic account of creation which we have in Genesis. When we meet a man who can swallow the absurdities of Evolution, we feel like saying to him, “O man, great is thy faith.” But alas faith has nothing to do with it, for faith rests upon the Word of God, to which the Evolution theory is utterly opposed. And those who take it up are referred to in 2 Tim. 4:4.

Again, our Lord accepted the Old Testament as we know it. On the way to Emmaus after gently rebuking their unbelief he opened up to the two disciples the Word, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:26-27). Later on He stood in the midst of a company in the house, and to these He again linked up in one grand whole, the Old Testament. “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”—ver. 44.

To Him Genesis and the Old Testament was not allegory, but history. Noah and the Flood. Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses and the burning bush. Jonah and the fish, etc., were all real. And He knew. The unbelief that speaks of the Bible as containing the Word of God, just means that what man cannot understand, what requires faith, man need not believe. His word is, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). Yea He confounded the Sadducees, the materialists of that day, who denied that the spirit existed apart from the body, by a tense of grammar. God said to Moses at the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham” (Matt, 22:32). Not “I was the God of Abraham.” His rebuke to those Sadducees suits well the Modernists of to-day. “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God” (ver. 29).

Just imagine our Lord meeting Satan with, “It is written,” and quoting from a compilation of bits and scraps of Jewish folklore. No, no, when He met him it was with the very words of God, and Satan could not withstand them. Deuteronomy was part of the God-breathed Scriptures.

But, say these modern men, Jesus knew no better, but we have now sources of information that He had not. He was a man of limited intelligence. Of course their own theories must be held and they can only be held by degrading the Son of God. “Limited intelligence.” Blasphemy. How thankful we are for such a word as Col. 2:2-3, “To the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Oh say these men that is true of Him now. Yes, and it was true of Him when He was down here among men. He trod the path of subjection to the Father, and the words of Psa 131:1, were his words as the “meek and lowly” One, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” With what infinite joy the Father must have beheld His walk in a scene where the fatal poison injected into our race in Eden, “Ye shall be as gods,” was bearing such bitter fruit. Intoxicated with a little knowledge, man was too proud to submit himself to God or His Word. And that spirit of self exaltation, which would dethrone God, will go on till at last one of the race, will come, of whom it is written, “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4).

Then and not till then shall the poison have done its full work. But as we see it working in the setting aside of the Word of God now, exalting their own theories, all the fruit of pride and independence of God, we admire the wondrous grace of Him, “In whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” treading His lowly path. As the subject One all is left in the Father’s hands, as we see from Mark 13:32. Acts 1:7, etc. But it is like Satan to say, that because He trod this path of lowly subjection to the Father, He was limited in intelligence and only knew what He did from the same sources of information that other men had.

We turn with loathing from this teaching, which is satanic. Those to whom the Father had revealed Him could say, to Him when the religious leaders of that day denied His Deity, “Now we are sure that Thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask Thee; by this we believe that Thou earnest forth from God” (John 16:30, see chaps, 2:24-25; 21:17). All who are truly born of God will be able to say from their hearts, as well as those disciples, “Thou knowest all things.”

The Mercy Seat.

In Rom. 3:24-25 we read, “Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a Propitiation.” The word rendered “Propitiation,” in the Septuagint (the Greek Version of the Old Testament, made by seventy translators, at Alexandria, about 300 years before Christ, and often quoted by Him), is “Mercy-seat.” It would therefore read, “Whom God hath set forth to be a Mercy-seat.” We might ask ourselves, “How could the throne of a holy, sin-hating God be a Mercy-seat, and not a throne of judgment?” In Lev. 16 we get the account of the “day of atonement.” On that day there were two goats brought before the Lord. Lots were then cast upon them. One of these goats was a “scapegoat,” and having had the sins of the congregation confessed over it by Aaron, was sent away into the wilderness to some uninhabited place, and was let go, never to return. Now, in that goat we get a very precious type of Christ as the Substitute of His people. That this goat represented Satan—as we have heard some teach—only shows their ignorance of the teaching of the passage, and is too foolish to take notice of. But it is with the other goat we have specially to do now. It was spoken of as “for the Lord.” While the scapegoat spoke of Substitution, this goat spoke of Propitiation. And the difference between these two words may be put thus: Propitiation is Godward, and has to do especially with glorifying God in respect to sin. Christ on the Cross of Calvary did a work, on the ground of which God can deal with a guilty race in mercy. Christ was set forth to be a “Mercy-seat,” where God and the sinner can meet. Substitution shows us Christ standing in our room and stead, suffering for us. So the child of God can sing:—

Payment God will not twice demand:
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.

In preaching the Gospel to the unsaved, it is the Propitiation aspect which should get the prominence. To tell an unawakened sinner that Christ was his or her Substitute, might easily give them the opportunity to say, “If that is so, I am all right, and need not trouble any more.”

We shall look at what was done with the goat which was for the Lord, or the one which spoke of propitiation. It was killed. Then some of its blood was carried into the Holiest, right inside the Veil, and sprinkled by the priest on and before the Mercy-seat, seven times. “On,” as meeting the claims of God; “Before” as meeting my need, giving me a righteous standing in the presence of infinite holiness. “Seven times” is the perfect number.

The body of the goat was carried outside the camp and burned. The word “burn,” when applied to the burning of the animal outside the camp, is different from the one used for the offering on the Brazen Altar. It means to “consume,” while in connection with the Altar it is to “ascend as incense.” As we see that burning outside the camp, we see in type the Lord Jesus dying under the judgment of God on our behalf. The terrible distance and darkness He felt when He cried, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Why art Thou so far from helping me?” was mine. But as we see Him rise from the dead, and pass into the heavens, “by” (not with) His own blood, we have what answers to the type of the priest going into the Holiest with the blood of the goat.

The Cherubim On The Mercy Seat.

There is something very suggestive in the attitude of the Cherubim upon the Mercy-seat. The first time we find the Cherubim mentioned in the Word of God is in connection with the driving out of the Garden of our first parents. There, the Cherubim is seen connected with the flaming sword. But here, there is no sword in the scene; nothing that would say, “Keep away!”

Then see how their gaze is toward the Mercy-Seat, as if they desired to read the meaning of the bloodstains which year by year were put there by the high priest. Those blood-marks tell us how God’s throne in Israel became a Mercy-seat, and not a throne of judgment. He who sat upon that throne saw in that blood, the type of the blood of Him who “deemed not His equality with God a thing to be grasped at” (Phil. 2:6): One whose worth was infinite, and whose death would satisfy all the demands of that throne. And because of that blood, He could meet Israel in the Person of their High Priest, and extend mercy to them, while they deserved judgment.

The Law Under The Mercy Seat.

Most instructive is it to notice where the law was put —“And thou shalt put the Mercy-seat above upon the Ark, and in the Ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.” Over that law which man never kept, and which could only condemn, there was that which ever reminded God of the righteous work of His Son. The incident of 1 Sam. 6, where the “men of Beth-shemesh” looked into the Ark, is full of teaching. In order to look in, they must have removed the Mercy-seat, and exposed the law. It was a solemn moment. There was nothing then between the eye of a holy God, and His law which had been broken. We can remember when it was the law that was preached all the time in certain places. And often have we prayed, “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this Thy law.” We were repeating the mistake of the men of Beth-shemesh. And it is quite common to meet believers who are still in bondage as to the law. Even after they had to abandon all hope of salvation by it, they still speak of it as “a rule of life.”

Nothing can be more calculated to impart to the child of God a sense of settled peace and joy, than seeing that on the Cross, in His Divine Substitute, He died to the law. Its sentence was carried out in the fullest way on Christ, and now it is Christ upon whom the eye of God rests, and not upon the law. Knowing, this will never lead to carelessness of walk or life, or to treating sin with indifference. Such does not agree with the place into which He professes to have been brought, as one with Christ.

The Contents Of The Ark; Or A Seeming Contradiction.

There is something very striking and instructive in the difference between what we read in 1 Kings 8:9, and Heb. 9:4. In Kings we are told that there was “nothing in the Ark save the two tables of stone;” while in Hebrews we read, “Wherein was the Golden Pot that had manna, and Aaron’s Rod that budded, and the Tables of the Covenant.” It is just the same thought we already have had. Hebrews views the Ark as in the Tabernacle, speaking of the wilderness. In it, there was the memorial of God’s provision to meet the needs of a people in the wilderness. Kings gives us the Ark in the temple, a picture of the coming glory. So what was just for the wilderness is not there seen. Doubtless, the manna and the rod were removed by God’s command. But the law which spoke of God’s unchangeable claim, and that which is to be the basis of the administration of the Millennial kingdom is there, and fitly so.

The reference to the Ark in Tabernacle days, in Rev. 2:17, is most appropriate to the state of those addressed. The Church at Pergamos pictures that period in the Church’s history when the path of the pilgrim was given up, and God’s people had begun to look upon the world as a place in which to dwell and reign, instead of regarding it as a wilderness, and themselves as strangers passing on to their heavenly inheritance. Some there were who knew that the world was still unchanged, that their Lord and Master was still rejected in it, and they overcame the tendency to settle down, to which so many had succumbed. For them the world was still the wilderness with its needs and trials. The Lord does not forget such faithful ones. So He tells them He “will give to eat of the hidden manna,” the food suited to wilderness needs, but which those who are no longer in spirit pilgrims in the world do not enjoy. The “hidden manna” speaks of Himself as the One who was rejected down here, but who is now in the Father’s presence glorified. Like the lowly manna in the Golden Pot, and that Pot in the Ark, so the glorified Man is in the highest heaven, on the throne of God. No child of God who is seeking to escape the reproach connected with companionship with a rejected Lord, can delight in that sort of food.

The Staves Of The Ark.

We have seen that difference in the contents of the Ark in the Temple as compared with the Tabernacle was full of teaching of a very precious character. The Tabernacle speaking wilderness and the Temple of the coming glory. So in the Ark in the Tabernacle, is brought before us the fulness of Christ to meet the wilderness needs of the Church.

The Staves of the Ark represent Christ as the High Priest and Advocate of His people. The staves, like the Ark itself, were acacia wood covered with gold, and so must teach the same truths as we have had elsewhere—Christ as real Man and very God. The use of the staves was to carry the Ark from place to place in its wanderings. We might ask, “What teaching is there in this?” In the Ark and Cherubim of glory overshadowing the Mercy-seat, we have that which would suggest the Church of God. God displayed His glory in connection with the Ark. He dwelt between the Cherubim. In Ephesians, we learn that the Church is God’s habitation in which, and through which, in a coming day He will display His glory. And in that surpassing picture of glory in Rev. 21, we have held up to our gaze by means of all that is grand and costly in nature, what the redeemed are yet to be, and how the glory of God will flood the Church and radiate from it. As we think of the present ministry of Christ toward His people, we ask, “What ministry do we now have, without which we could not go on, which we will not need in heaven?” There are two ministries of His which we shall not then need. First.—His Priesthood, as we have it set forth in Hebrews. There it is seen for a people who are in circumstances of trial, full of weakness, and looked at as in the wilderness, while their priest represents them, and ministers mercy and grace to them in their time of need. This we shall not need in heaven. Secondly.—When in 1 John 2:1 we are told “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” Here is another ministry of His we shall not need, for we will not then sin. But how would we do now without the Priest with God, and the Advocate with the Father? In Exodus, chapter 25:15, it was forbidden to take the staves out of the Ark. In 1 Kings 8:8, “they drew out the staves.” While the Ark was connected with the Tabernacle, it was a wanderer, and the staves were to remain in it. But the time came when the bare sand gave place to the golden floor of the temple, and its wanderings were at an end. So the staves were no longer needed, it was at rest, “and they drew out the staves.” We do not read that they broke them up. Thanks be to God, very soon the golden streets of the Heavenly City will take the place of the defiled scene where now we walk. And while we shall not need the priesthood and advocacy of our blessed Lord there as we do now, it will be our joy and delight to think of how well His love provided for us all through the wilderness and carried us all the way, as the Ark was borne by the staves. And so we sing:

My Saviour I have nought to plead,
On earth beneath or heaven above,
But just my own exceeding need,
And Thy exceeding love.

The need will soon be past and gone,
Exceeding great, ‘tis quickly o’er;
Thy love unbought is all Thine own,
And lasts for evermore.