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WHAT WAS THE
PURPOSE OF THE ARK OF THE COVENANT?

by R.T



The Ark of the Covenant was made of two separate pieces – the Ark of the Testimony and the Mercy Seat.

The Ark of the Testimony
The first piece acquired its name in the following manner, “And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee” (Exodus 35:16). What is the Testimony? The Ten Commandments are called “the testimony” (Exodus 32:15), “the tables of stone”, “the tables of the testimony” (Exodus 31:18), and the “words of the covenant” (Exodus 34:28). Only when the Ten Commandments, or the Testimony, were placed in the Ark, was the Ark called the Ark of the Testimony. This is the purpose of the Ark; to be the residing place of the Ten Commandments. The Ark in itself is not holy, but the Law is holy, and only when the law was placed in the Ark, did the Ark become a holy object. So this was the first part.


The Mercy Seat
The second part was to be made separate from the Ark. The Mercy Seat was the lid which had one cherubim on each end. It was all made in one single piece.

These two different parts symbolized their different character and purpose. The Ark was made to house and represent the law, but the Mercy Seat had a different, yet very significant job.

Let us start by looking at the Hebrew word that the English Bible Translations have aptly called “the Mercy Seat”. The Hebrew word that refers solely to the Mercy Seat is “Kappôreth” which comes from the word “kâpar”. “Kâpar” means, “to make atonement” or, “a place for atonement”. In the earthly sanctuary, the Mercy Seat was the place where atonement was made for the people and for the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus Chapter 16). When we understand that the Mercy Seat is by definition a place for atonement, the next step is to understand what atonement is. “To atone” is to pay the penalty, or to settle the account. Since sin is the crime, then atonement must be made for sin.

Within the first part of the Ark of the Covenant, the Ark of the Testimony, is the law, which is the plaintiff. We remember that John writes that “sin is transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The law is not only the plaintiff, but also the “witness” against the defendant. Paul said “I had not known sin, but by the law” (Romans 7:7). It is the law that reveals the offence, and therefore it is the law that is the witness against us.

As already mentioned, the law already existed before Adam and Eve sinned. The law that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, was the “example and shadow” (Hebrews 8:5) of what was already in heaven. When man broke the law by being disobedient against God, it became necessary to add a new part to the Covenant to save man; the offer of a Substitute’s blood. Since it is the law that demands the offender’s death, it is also the law that must be satisfied. The law must witness that atonement is made, and that the offender is punished.

Now, the only way to “settle the account” or “to atone for sin” is for “the sinner to die” (Romans 6:23). Forgiveness cannot be granted without the account being settled. Paul states in Hebrews 9:22 that, “without shedding of blood is no remission.” This tells us that the shedding of blood is the only way to settle the account, or to atone for sin. When we understand that the word “kappôreth”, of “kâpar”, means “to atone”, and that the only valid atonement is blood, we understand that the Mercy Seat was made to receive blood.

Whenever a blood sacrifice was offered to God in the Old Testament, it was poured on or beside an altar which was designed to receive the blood of the sacrifice. The Mercy Seat is therefore by definition an altar, as it was made to receive blood.

If the Scriptures state that, “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), then only the blood of Jesus Christ can be offered to atone for sinful beings.

Let us sum up the purpose of the two parts to the Ark of the Covenant:
First part: The Ark of the Testimony containing the words of the covenant (this covenant has been broken): God’s testimony, and also the witness and the plaintiff.
Second part: The Mercy Seat: the place for the atonement, the altar, where the plaintiff will receive justice, the blood.

We have the words of the covenant (the law which was broken), and we have the additional part which God added to the covenant after sin (the promise of blood from a Substitute - the Messiah). When we join these two together, we have the New Covenant, and when we put the Ark of the Testimony (the law) and the Mercy Seat (the blood of atonement) together we have the Ark of the Covenant. The blood of animals was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, but “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore, the blood of animals which was sprinkled on the Ark, was not valid for atonement. The law demanded our own blood or Jesus’ blood. The Ark of the Testimony therefore never received the blood it required, before Christ’s substituting blood reached the Mercy Seat. We can therefore conclude that the Mercy Seat was designed to receive the only valid atonement, Christ’s blood. All the ceremonies which involved sprinkling animal blood, were just to remind the people of the true Sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ.

If the Mercy Seat is “a place for atonement” and the only approved atonement is the blood of Jesus, then we can rightly call the Mercy Seat, “a place for the blood of Jesus.”

“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:10-11).