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THE CHERUBIM AND THE MERCY SEAT

Mr. Beebe: Please give your views of the Cherubim and the Mercy Seat, as set forth in Exodus 25. What do they represent or teach? Your compliance with this request will oblige.

Hannah Miller.
Penn Yan, N.Y.
December 28, 1865.

Reply: That the tabernacle, the ark, and all thereunto pertaining were designed to typify the spiritual things of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, as they are more clearly elucidated in the gospel of the Son of God, we presume will not be controverted or doubted by those who know and love the truth. But it is not always our privilege to comprehend their exact signification and application to the things which they are designed to represent. The Cherubim, and the Mercy Seat were very essential parts of, or accompaniments to, the Ark of the Testimony which is described in this chapter, and the ark would be incomplete without them. There is a divine beauty in the subject far beyond what we can express. The inspired apostle speaks of the figures of the old dispensation as patterns of the things in heaven. That is, as patterns of the things which are found in the spiritual Jerusalem, the gospel church. Some thing must therefore be found in the gospel church answering to the figurative import of every Old Testament figure.

The tabernacle, which God commanded Moses to make, was a portable building, or tent, designed to contain the ark, and the holy or consecrated furniture which he commanded to be placed within its curtains. A more solemn charge was given to Moses, to “Look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount (Exodus 25:40).” It was designed for a sanctuary in which God would commune with Israel through their high priest. We will not now stop to comment upon the tabernacle; but devote this article more particularly to the inquiries made concerning the Cherubim and the Mercy Seat. The subject of inquiry is thus stated in the chapter referred to. “And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof. And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 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. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel (Exodus 25:17-22).”

In following the order of our subject, the mercy seat should first be considered and then the cherubim which surmount the mercy seat.

First, The Mercy Seat. How significant and imposing the name! There were no provisions of mercy found in the law of commandments. Justice with an even hand brandished a flaming sword, and “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy.” But in the new Covenant mercy has prepared her seat. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more (Hebrews 8:12).” “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Psalm 85:10).” This seat and center of the mercy of God is the only place where Righteousness and Peace can embrace each other and establish everlasting peace in righteousness or without infringing the stern demands of divine Justice. It could not be done on any other seat or basis than that of the atonement made for the transgressions of the people of God by our Lord Jesus Christ. For him, and all his members, in view of his perfect work, God has said, “Mercy shall be built up forever.” “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven (Psalm 89:1,28,29).” That the mercy seat in our text is designed to represent the atonement seems clear to us from the following considerations, viz.:

1. The ark of the testimony which it was to cover (and in which the testimony was held) with the rod of the priesthood, the golden pot of manna, etc., is evidently applied to the gospel church (Hebrews 9). This ark though made of wood, which was chosen and ordained of God for the purpose, was overlaid within and without with pure gold, and thereby rendered imperishable, and beautiful. And in no other place is the testimony of God’s truth preserved inviolate. No where else can the delicious gospel manna on which God’s spiritual Israel are fed be found, but in the gospel church, and it is only there the fruitful rod of the priesthood is kept. The ark was definite in its exact measurement; two cubits and a half long, and one cubit and a half broad. The mercy seat in measurement exactly corresponding shows the atonement for the church, ample, but without superfluence. The mercy seat as exactly covered the ark as does the atonement of Christ cover the church.

2. The mercy seat was required to be made of pure gold. Gold is emblematic of righteousness, and the atonement to answer the design contemplated required to be immaculately pure, and in all respects perfect. The atonements under the ceremonial law, by the blood of bulls, goats, and other victims, could make nothing perfect. The church is “redeemed, not with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Could the divine law have found the smallest particle of alloy, dross or defection in Christ or in his propitiatory work, then would his work have failed to secure the salvation of his people. But as the pure gold will pass the fiery ordeal of the crucible, without loss, so the glorious High Priest of our profession was able to endure the scrutiny of the omniscient eye, was justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory.

3. The atonement answers to the figurative import of the mercy seat, as showing the “new and living way” of our access unto God, which is consecrated for us through the veil, which is his flesh. Christ took on him the seed of Abraham, and the God of glory “laid on him the iniquities of us all,” of all the seed of Abraham, for, “if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” Here upon the basis of his perfect atonement the seat of reconciliation, acceptance, and communion is established through our High Priest. “And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark.” The atonement of Christ cannot fail of being applied to the church of Christ. It is the covering for the church, when God communes with her through her most holy Mediator, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. It is above the church, and what they never could have attained in any other way, but it is a perfect covering, and a safe protection. “And there will I meet with thee, and commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.” It is by the atonement that the saints are dead unto the old Sinai Covenant, and married to him that is risen from the dead. Hence through, or by virtue of, the atonement they are brought under law to Christ, instead of Moses, and on this mercy seat communion with God is secured through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by his Spirit his law is written in our hearts, and recorded in our mind.

4. It is the pure gold of the atonement that overlays the ark, or church, within and without. Her internal joy, peace, love, fellowship, devotion, and worship is by an application of Christ and his atonement to his church and people. On no other basis could we approach unto God. His terror would make us afraid, and his frowning justice would stop our mouths, but for the atonement which completely shields and covers us; but in this atonement we come boldly to the throne to ask for mercy and find grace to help us in every time of need. But our limits admonish us that we must pass to the other general division of our subject.

Second. The two cherubim. The name Cherubim is the plural of Cherub. When but one, it is called cherub, and if two or more they are called cherubim, which signifies an angel, or angels, but all angels are not designated cherub or cherubim. The word angel has a variety of applications in the scriptures. Sometimes it is applied to God’s messengers who are sent to preach his gospel. Sometimes it applies to the spirit of a man, and sometimes to the spiritual life of Christians which always behold the face of God; sometimes it is used to signify those heavenly intelligences in glory, such as bore the message of the incarnation to the shepherds in Jewry. There are also several other applications found in the scriptures. But Cherubim and Seraphim express to us those mediums through which the presence of God, in some of his perfections, is set forth; as the angel of his presence which saved his people in all their afflictions.

The two cherubim which stand upon the mercy seat, we have thought were intended to represent to us the two testaments.

I. Their position: the Old and New Testaments, or covenants, and all revelation of God to men are based upon the great purpose of salvation by grace which centers in the atonement, as the cherubim of our text are in the mercy seat. So stand the two testaments. The first testament takes its position as early as the application of the atoning blood and justifying righteousness was made effectual in the salvation of Abel and Enoch. Its wings are extended forward signifying in all the prophets and typifying in all the ritual of the law the coming of the Messiah, his sufferings and the glory that should follow. As early as the time when man was driven out of paradise, the cherubim, and the flaming sword were placed to keep the way of the tree of life, and prevent Arminians from helping themselves to the fruits of that tree. The word of God communicated through the law, like a flaming sword, turned every way, intercepting all human agencies in their futile efforts to procure life and immortality independent of that atonement or mercy seat which their wings covered. There they are still found meeting the workmongrel tribes of the earth at every point, with the declaration. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins, no mercy seat, no atonement, no salvation in any other name or way.

II. The angel of the divine presence was in his holy law, but so far as his church was concerned, it stood as a cherub on the end of the mercy seat, testifying of Christ, and by all its types, shadows and predictions testifying that he should come as it was written of him in the volume of the book, to do the will of God.

III. The wings of this cherub were lifted over the mercy seat, or atonement, and from the one end of the mercy seat extending to its center, even as the law and the prophets were until John; but they could extend no farther, for here at the center were they to meet the wings of the other cherub.

IV. Their faces were made to look one to another. The law demanding, the gospel canceling all its demands. The one predicting, the other responding, so they faced each other, and saw eye to eye in the day of atonement, when God brought again Zion. The law and the gospel face each other and meet harmoniously in the priesthood which intervenes.

V. Their faces, while they were looking to each other, were at the same time both looking to the redemption which is by the atonement. All that the law demanded concerning the church, it looked to Christ, in the gospel, to perform. While the Gospel cherub from the other extremity of the church, or mercy seat, looked into the face of the Old Testament for the pattern of the things in heaven, so that all that was written in the law and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning Christ should be fulfilled. All the jots and tittles of the one were promptly met and paid by the other.

VI. The New Testament with wings uplifted from the center of the mercy seat to its termination in the full complete and everlasting salvation of the church of God, meets the wings of the other cherub at the center of the mercy seat. The law and the prophets were until John; since that period the gospel is preached. Thus both cherubim met and centered in Christ our High Priest, whose advent was between them, yet covered by their wings.

VII. Between these two cherubim the God of glory sent his Son into the world. The Word was made flesh, and came, as in the volume of the book it was written of him, to occupy this gracious mercy seat. After the order of Melchisedec, as Priest unto the Most High God, the King of Righteousness, he put his priestly garments on. Between the two dispensations his priestly offering was made, when he offered himself without spot unto God. True to his word, the Eternal Godhead bowed his heavens and came down, and at the center of the mercy seat met the Great High Priest of his spiritual Israel between the cherubim and was manifest in the flesh. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,” Christ was in the Father, and the Father was in Christ. Heaven and earth were brought together. Justice from the utmost throne of heaven was there, and smiling mercy was prepared to greet, embrace and kiss that Justice whose stern demands were inexorable; but at the mercy seat completely liquidated. And at the mercy seat Justice as fully demands the salvation of all for whom this mercy seat is a covering, as it demands the execution of the sentence of the law on all whose sins are not covered, and whose transgressions are not removed. Here at the mercy seat, where righteousness and peace have kissed each other, God has established his dwelling, and the inspired psalmist prays in the spirit, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us. Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved (Psalm 80:1-3).”

Again the holy psalmist testifieth of the power and majesty of God, and of his infinite condescension. “He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies (Psalm 18:9-11).” Observe his wonderful advent to our world. Upon the Old Testament cherub was he borne; his descent from heaven was predicted by all the prophets, and witnessed by the law. On the wings of the wind (an emblem of his Spirit which was in his word) he did fly. “Who rideth upon the heavens in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky (Deuteronomy 33:26).” Yet in the darkness of the legal dispensation, he fixed his secret place, and around about him and his pavilion were dark waters and thick darkness. But at the brightness that was before him, beaming with inexpressible radiance in the face of Jesus Christ, the dark, dreary, portending darkness of Sinai passed, amidst the tempest of hail stones and coals of fire which spent their utmost fury upon his dear Son. Then were the channels of waters seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered; at the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils, “He sent from above and took me, he drew me out of many waters (Psalm 18:16).”

In conclusion, for we must close this article, if we are right in regard to the figurative import of the ark, the mercy seat, and the cherubim; may the sound of their wings be heard by all the people of God, as in Ezekiel’s vision, “And the sound of the cherubims’ wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh (Ezekiel 10:5).” If we are right in our application of the cherubim’s wings, they mean the testimony of the scriptures, in which the voice of the Almighty God is uttered. May it be ours to hearken to the things which are spoken in the scriptures, and sheltered under these wings of the cherubim, having a “Thus saith the Lord” for our protection, we may sit securely and hurl defiance to all the enemies of God and truth.

Middletown, N.Y.
May 15, 1866.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 328 – 335