Ex. 25:22 “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”
God occupies the entire universe, beyond space and apart from time. He is infinite in size, therefore omnipresent. We cannot conceive of the limits of his existence because there are none. Yet, because we are so terribly finite, so very limited, he stoops down in love to speak to us in ways that we can appreciate and hear.
He manifested his infinite presence in a place—the Tabernacle. And within the Tabernacle his presence was particularly in the Holy of Holies. And within the Holy of Holies his presence was particularly at the Ark of the Testimony. And at the Ark of the Testimony, his presence was ultimately found above the mercy seat, or seat of atonement.
It is seemingly an absurd thing that an infinite being would reveal his person, confining it to an area of about eight square feet. Really, when we consider that his presence was between the outstretched wings of the cherubim on the mercy seat, there were maybe three- or four-square feet that the infinite God of the universe used to reveal himself in ways that we can understand.
What is the significance of this?
First, God wanted us to know how to hear from him, to communicate with him, so he gave us a very precise location. It is as if he said: “Here, within these four-square feet, I will speak to you.”
Second, God indicated what he would speak to us about: his commandments, his will for our lives made known to us. He desired that we may know his will and his ways that we may follow him as his people.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, was the place from which God spoke to his people—from the mercy seat, from the place of atonement. This is the place where once each year, on the day of atonement, Yom Kippur, the high priest poured the blood of the covenant seven times on the altar for all the sins of God’s people. There, symbolically, God atoned for the sins of his people that they might walk in communion with him.
God spoke to us from the mercy seat! He did not speak from the seat of judgment, or the seat of wrath, or the seat of glory, or even the seat of his infinite power. Rather, our God chose to speak to us from a seat of mercy.
Why? Because we are vessels of mercy, Rom. 9: 23. We are his children by his mercy and his grace. We are forgiven, loved, redeemed, and called into his presence, by his mercy. His word over us is first and last mercy. Surely, he gives his commandments to us from the mercy seat, but we are before that seat hearing his voice by his mercy. Moreover, his commandments to us are mercy, for they are life and peace. “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you” (Prov. 3:1-2).
It is of the utmost significance that God demarcated the place of his presence, the place where he revealed himself to us, as the place of mercy, for this defined our entire relationship with him and points forward to his perfect revelation of himself to us in Christ.
What do we find in Christ? God’s presence fully and perfectly revealed.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Heb 3:3
With this new location of God’s presence in Christ we also hear God’s voice clearly. Whereas God spoke to us in many different ways, including hearing his commands from the mercy seat, in the former days, now his word to us, his revelation to us, is complete in Christ, who is his final and best word to us.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Heb 3:1-2
And what precisely did Christ do for us to bring us to the mercy seat? What the priest had done symbolically for those many centuries: Christ made perfect atonement by the shedding of his blood for us.
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Heb. 10:14
God’s presence, formerly revealed at the mercy seat, is now shown to us in Christ.
God’s mercy, formerly manifest at the mercy seat, is now perfectly manifest in Christ.
God’s voice, formerly heard at the mercy seat, is now heard in Christ.
And where is this presence today? Christ sits on the throne of mercy, a throne of grace, still.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb. 4:6
Here is our hope and our confidence—God’s face is seen in the mercy of Christ; God’s command is heard from the mouth of Christ. His throne, where we go to find him and hear his voice, is still one of mercy.
His relationship to us has never been about our goodness—although he makes us good. Our relationship with him has never been about our usefulness—although he does make us useful. The governing principle of our relationship with God has always been and will always be this: his mercy. This is his permanent posture toward us in Christ. This is his affection for us as his chosen children. This is his word of blessing over us and his final word to us: “I will have mercy upon whom I have mercy” (Rom.9:15).
Let us rest confidently before the mercy seat, confident at the feet of Christ, confident at the throne of grace. His word to us is mercy!