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The mercy seat is the name given to the lid of the Ark of the Covenant that was in the Jewish sanctuary in the desert and later in the temple in Jerusalem. The lid was made from a solid piece of gold.
A figure of an angel, called a cherub, was placed at each end of the cover. The space between the angels was called the mercy seat because it had a special religious meaning.
The mercy seat was special because it was the place God’s glory appeared when He wanted to communicate with Israel (Exodus 25:22). The symbol of the divine presence appeared over the mercy seat like a glowing light called the “Shekinah”.
The Hebrew word translated mercy seat in English, is kapporeth, a word that refers to a sacrifice that reconciles and leads to peacemaking. Once a year, the High Priest conducted a special ceremony of forgiveness and dedication at the mercy seat.
Even today that annual event of special mercy seat services, called “Yom Kippur” (Day of Atonement), is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Its central themes are atonement (making things right) and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a day-long fast and intensive prayer.
That solid gold mercy seat tells us that God is valued above all else, and He passes that “pure gold” value on to us if we want it.
Psalms 85:10-11, explains the concept of mercy and justice well: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”
The Ark of the Covenant contained several items placed below the mercy seat lid that had special religious significance to Israel. They have the same significance for us:
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul, used the same mercy seat as an illustration to explain how the divine mercy/justice paradigm works.
In Romans 3:24-26, Paul uses the Greek word (hilastérion) for the same mercy seat, and shows how the symbolism of the Old Testament was literally fulfilled in the person of Jesus: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [mercy seat] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
In Acts 16:25-29, the apostle Paul was imprisoned unjustly. An earthquake shook the prison gates open (God did that! — that’s justice!). The prison warden decided to kill himself because he thought all the prisoners had escaped. Paul told him no one had escaped – that’s mercy!
Those who choose to follow the Lord receive both justice and mercy. God, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, takes care of the mercy part. Without that divine mercy we could never escape the cage the Devil has us imprisoned in. That sacrifice also made everything right for us (justice). All we have to do is walk out of the cage when God opens the door.