What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
A well-known use of "mercy" is that God calls the lid of the Ark of the Covenant the "mercy seat." The Israelites transported the ark, a gilt chest containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, wherever they journeyed. Normally, it remained in the holy of holies, where God symbolically resided, first in the Tabernacle and later in Solomon's Temple.
The mercy seat symbolizes God's throne, where He judges men's conduct, and its name reflects the basic nature of His judgments, which always rest on mercy. This does not mean that God is soft-headed in judgment, carelessly overlooking men's sins. Even so, it is God's nature to be merciful rather than severe, acrimonious, implacable, and vengeful. Unlike men, God finds ways to change men so He can be merciful.
God's judgments always contain a perfect balance of justice and mercy. Though He mercifully forgives a repentant sinner, the sinner does not escape without some measure of painful judgment. In any given circumstance requiring a judgment between justice and mercy, men's judgment may be "all over the map," but God's judgment, tending toward mercy, will be perfect.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful
The “young bull as a sin offering” was in addition to the two goats used as a sin offering for the nation on Atonement. The law of sin offerings specifies that the offering of a young bull would cover the high priest's sin (Leviticus 4:3). Of the four sacrificial animals in Leviticus 16, three of them were used for sin offerings. The three animals did not represent three different personalities, but each pointed to the Messiah in a distinct aspect or role. We may consider one or more of these animals extraneous, but God had specific reasons for each part of this ceremony. Each animal had a common fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This sin offering for the high priest held a more meaningful purpose than the one outlined in Leviticus 4. In a typical sin offering for the priest, the blood was sprinkled “seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil of the sanctuary” (Leviticus 4:6). The priest also put blood on the horns of the incense altar and poured the rest at the base of the altar of burnt offering (verse 7). The blood thus provided a covering—an atonement—for those areas of the high priest's service that God considered defiled through his sin.
But on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place with a cloud of incense. He did not stop at the veil, but instead went farther and sprinkled blood on and in front of the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14).
The mercy seat—where God said He would meet and speak with the leader (Exodus 25:22; 30:6)—was the point of intersection between God and Israel, through her representative. On the day when atonement was made for the nation, the cleansing began with the sacred meeting place between God and man. The first account to be settled was between God and the high priest (including his house), setting the stage for the remaining atonements.
After cleansing the mercy seat (including the ground in front of it), the blood of the bull purified the incense altar (Leviticus 16:18-19). Incense is a symbol of prayer, yet even prayer can be an abomination to God because of sin (Proverbs 28:9). Thus, the priest's instruments used in the worship of the Holy God had to be cleansed because of the defilement of sin.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Five)
In saying that He desires mercy and not sacrifice, Jesus is teaching that He prefers it when people practice mercy and not blindly follow ritual. He is not condemning the laws of sacrifice that He set up for Israel to practice until He fulfilled them, but explaining that He is more pleased with acts of forgiveness and kindness than strict external compliance to the law.
He is telling the Pharisees that, though they were exacting in keeping the letter of the law, they had completely missed its intent. In Matthew 23:23, He reminds them of this very point: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."
It is good and right to tithe to God, even to be exacting in our accounting, but not at the expense of the far more important matters of justice, mercy, and faith! These weightier matters are a Christian's priorities, so if a question of "What do I do?" ever comes up between practicing them and keeping the strict letter of the law, our judgment should lean toward these Christian virtues. If we can do both, all the better!
Jesus Christ is the personification of mercy. Exodus 25:17-22 describes the Mercy Seat constructed in the wilderness. Essentially, it was the golden lid of the Ark of the Covenant, on which were figures of two cherubim facing each other with their wings stretched out, covering the Mercy Seat. God, the pre-incarnate Christ, says in verse 22, "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony." The Mercy Seat represented God in His dealings with sinful humanity, and the chief element He employs is mercy.
Now notice Romans 3:23-25:
. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed. . . .
This passage tells us that Jesus Christ is our Mercy Seat, but the translators have hidden it. "Propitiation" (Greek hilasterios) in verse 25 is literally "place of conciliation or expiation" or "Mercy Seat." The Septuagint used hilasterios to translate the Hebrew noun kapporeth ("Mercy Seat"). This Hebrew word's root is kapar meaning "to cover" or "to conceal." This illustrates that the nature of God is to be merciful.
The apostle Peter writes in I Peter 2:21 that we are to follow in Christ's steps, thus as Jesus Christ is merciful, we also are to show mercy in our judgments.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Mercy: The Better Option
Consider the general layout of the Tabernacle in the wilderness as well as the Temple in Jerusalem. Both basically were the same. As one approached its front, the first object encountered would be the altar of sacrifice, the brazen alter by which atonement was made. The Hebrew word translated as atonement means "by which we draw near." In other words, by sacrifice, represented by the brazen altar, we draw near to God, seeking Him.
After the brazen altar comes the laver. It could be described as being like a big bathtub. Here a person was to wash himself before proceeding any farther.
Once inside the sanctuary, light came from the candelabra, representing Christ as the Light of the World, as well as the light of God's truth spread from activity of the seven churches.
On the table was the shewbread, representing Christ as the Bread of Life. Directly in front of one who entered the Holy Place, past the table of shewbread, stood the altar of incense, representing the prayers of the saints. Barring one's way into the Holy of Holies, into the very presence of God, was the veil. Once behind it, a person would be before the Mercy Seat, in the very presence of God.
The veil being torn apart at Christ's death symbolizes that a personal relationship with God can be established. The way had been opened by the sacrificial death of our Savior. This intimate relationship with God is the key to our being transformed from glory to glory (II Corinthians 3:18).
If we cannot enter God's presence, if we are far away, there is not much hope of transformation. This is why the Bible so frequently urges us to seek God. Seeking God is part of "dressing and keeping" the relationship, helping it to grow. This close relationship is vital to increasing the Holy Spirit in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Seven)
Jesus says several times, "I lay down My life for the sheep," or "I lay it down." It is significant that of His own will, He gave Himself up to die. The Romans did not take it from Him—He gave it voluntarily for His sheep (verse 11). He made it clear that Pilate was not condemning Him, but that He was accepting death (John 19:10-11). Jesus lived His life as an act of obedience to God, His Father. Moreover, when He died He became the propitiation (expiatory or atoning sacrifice) for the whole world, not just for our sins (I John 2:2). God's graciousness is justified by the sacrifice of the Shepherd.
In the Old Testament, the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies was symbolic of God's throne, where He sat in judgment (Hebrews 9:5). When the Good Shepherd gave His life in bloody sacrifice for sinners once for all (verses 12, 24-28), the Mercy Seat became a "throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). It was God's will that Jesus' sacrifice apply to all sinners for all time, but Jesus' phrase "My sheep" in this parable refers only to His followers—the saints, the members of His flock—highlighting His special, intimate relationship with them.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Good Shepherd (Part Two)
1 Peter 2:4-5
Solomon's Temple was only a type of the true House of God, the real Temple, the church of God (I Corinthians 3:17; II Corinthians 6:16). Solomon's building was the "Temple of God" because of God's presence, and so it is today. God now lives in us by His Holy Spirit, just as His shekinah glory hovered above the golden Mercy Seat covering the Ark in the Holy of Holies. If God is active and present in us, we are living stones and part of His spiritual Temple.
Just as the Temple had many types of stones, rocks. and boulders making up the foundation, flooring, walls, roof, and pillars, so will God's spiritual Temple. The spiritual Temple of God is a work in progress. Undoubtedly, God is excited to see its different elements taking shape. He is building us, as living stones in a living Temple, "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).
Jesus Himself says that a well-constructed house is built on the rock (Matthew 7:24-25). The foundation of the spiritual Temple has been laid and cannot be changed (I Corinthians 3:11); Jesus Christ is the Rock upon which He builds His church (Matthew 16:18). The eminent Jewish historian Josephus says about the foundation of Solomon's Temple: "Now, therefore, the king laid the foundations of the temple very deep in the ground, and the materials were strong stones, and such as would resist the force of time" (Antiquities of the Jews, 8.3.2). Impressive, certainly, but the spiritual Temple's foundations are even deeper!
Living Stones in God's House
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