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The Ark and its Titles (1)

T Ratcliffe, Wimborne

We have at least six distinct titles in the Old Testament for the Ark of the Tabernacle and the Temple upon which the glory of God rested. However, before considering the titles it would be helpful to look first at the Ark itself.

The Ark (Ex 25.10-22)

The Ark was made of shittim wood from the acacia seyal tree, which produces the hardest and whitest of all woods found growing in the Sinai Peninsula; a wood that no disease or pest can infect or destroy. The quality of such wood spoke of the pure, incorruptible, and indestructible person of the Lord Jesus Christ when He came into manhood at the behest of His Father. The Ark was overlaid and lined with pure gold, speaking of the glory of God that enveloped and wholly occupied that blessed Man both inwardly and outwardly. The Ark with the Mercy Seat was the actual seat of Jehovah’s presence amongst His people. Jehovah said to Moses, "And there will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony" (Ex 25.22).

The Ark had upon it (around the top) a border of gold designed to retain the Mercy Seat when it was put above upon the Ark. The border was fashioned to ensure that when the Ark was being carried on the shoulders of the Levites or priests (Deut 31.9), the Mercy Seat could not slide off. While the Ark was a symbol of the Lord Jesus, the Testimony within the Ark (the two tablets of stone on which the law was written) represented the perfect expression of the mind and will of God beautifully manifested in the life of the Lord Jesus. The Mercy Seat and Cherubim spoke of the Lord’s attributes of mercy and judgment which could in no way be separated from His testimony as Man. The Psalmist wrote prophetically of the breathings of the Lord Jesus: "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" (Ps 40.8).

Four rings of gold were cast and attached to the sides of the Ark, two on each side. Two staves of shittim wood overlaid with gold were placed in the rings, indicating that God intended the Ark to be carried on the shoulders of the priests whenever the people moved on their journey to the Promised Land. The staves being left in the sides of the Ark also spoke of the Lord Jesus who, in holy submission to God’s will in every dependent step of His earthly pathway, was carried by divine power. Thus, just as the Ark of Testimony was borne by the priests, so today the witness of the love of God through Jesus Christ should be conveyed in testimony by the saints of God who are "priests unto God" (Rev 1.6). It is a responsibility we should delight in and faithfully bear for the glory of God.

The Ark would not have been complete without the Mercy Seat, for it was from that blood-sprinkled seat that God spoke to Moses, Aaron, and the people. On the great Day of Atonement (Lev 16), when the blood of the bullock (to atone for the sins of the house of Levi) and the blood of the goat (to atone for the sins of the people) was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat, God in sovereign mercy vouchsafed to continue to be with His people. When Aaron carried the blood into the Most Holy Place, he had also the censer of smoking incense so that a sweet cloud would cover both the blood-sprinkled Mercy Seat and Aaron himself, for Aaron could not possibly be prominent in the Most Holy Place - he had to be concealed. God’s eye would then rest complacent upon the sprinkled blood alone, a vindication of His righteousness against sin. All this was of course a figure of the unique death of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the eternal efficacy of His precious blood which He shed on Calvary’s cross. God’s eye now looks upon the blood of His beloved Son that is sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat in heaven and is satisfied that all His just claims against sin have been fully, righteously, and eternally met.

When Christian believers come together for worship and the remembrance of the Lord Jesus in the Breaking of Bread, we appear, in spirit, with unshod feet and lose sight of self altogether. We acknowledge that nothing to do with our pilgrimage or personal attributes have place on such occasions; so that, just as Aaron was concealed, the natural man is veiled while the spiritual man moves in the spirit of worship, praise, and thanksgiving with dignity and reverence within the Holiest. The recognition of our own nothingness disposes us to be caught up in the glorious worth of our blessed Saviour and occupied with God’s estimate of His beloved Son. How privileged then to be able to sing on such occasions,

Father how precious unto Thee is Thy beloved Son,
In whom Thou dost perfection see, Thy holy, blessèd One.
He, preciousness itself to Thee, to us is precious too;
We every beauty in Him see, and Thine own glory view.

Overshadowing the Mercy Seat were two Cherubim which spoke of God’s executive judgment. They faced each other with their eyes looking downward upon the Mercy Seat. The Cherubim and Mercy Seat were fashioned from the one piece of pure gold, so that when Aaron sprinkled the blood upon the Mercy Seat it spoke poignantly of our Lord on the cross during the three hours of darkness when He was made sin and God’s judgment fell upon Him. It was then that a holy and indissoluble fusion of divine attributes occurred: God’s vengeance and compassion joined in their divinest form, judgment and goodness combined in faithfulness, while His justice and grace shone forth in brightest majesty. It was then that His "mercy and truth…met together; righteousness and peace…kissed each other" (Ps 85.10).

So the three elements of the Ark together were a precious and unique type of the Lord Jesus, the Ark itself being the Lord Jesus in testimony of the will and love of God. The Mercy Seat spoke of the Lord Jesus as the dispenser of mercy and grace, while the Cherubim were figures of executive government and justice. However, it is important to note that the Mercy Seat was of no avail to the children of Israel until the blood of the bullock and that of the goat had been sprinkled both before it and upon it (Lev 16.13-15). C H Macintosh wrote, "God’s mercy could only repose on a pedestal of perfect righteousness… The only proper meeting place between God and man is the point where grace and righteousness meet and perfectly harmonise. Nothing but perfect righteousness could suit God, and nothing but perfect grace could suit the sinner". These divine attributes came together in the Cross of Christ. Oh, what more can we say! Surely the half has not been told. Should we not be lost in wonder, love, and praise? To be continued.


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