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We know it to have been by Divine command that the Israelites, rescued from servitude, veiled the tabernacle with its rain of purple and scarlet, while the under sunshine flashed through the fall of the colour from its tenons of gold.
Ruskin, Stones of Venice, (vol. 11.).
References. XXV. 8. W. Allen Whitworth, The Sanctuary of God, p. 1. T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, p. 32. XXV. 9. T. M. Morris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 228. XXV. 10-22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2838. XXV. 15. S. Baring-Gould, Sermon Sketches, p. 19. XXV. 18. T. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 268.
It would be a great mistake to suppose that the mercy-seat was a mere lid, an ordinary portion of the ark itself. It was made of a different and more costly material, of pure gold, with which the ark was only overlaid. There is separate mention that Bezaleel 'made the ark,... and he made the mercy-seat,' and the special presence of God in the Most Holy Place is connected much more intimately with the mercy-seat than with the remainder of the structure. Thus He promises to 'appear in the cloud above the mercy-seat'. And when it is written that 'Moses heard the Voice speaking unto him from above the mercy-seat which is upon the ark of the testimony,' it would have been more natural to say directly 'from above the ark' unless some stress were to be laid upon the interposing slab of gold. In reality no distinction could be sharper than between the ark and its cover, from whence to hear the Voice of God. And so thoroughly did all the symbolism of the Most Holy Place gather around this supreme object, that in one place it is actually called 'the house of the mercy-seat'.
Let us, then, put ourselves into the place of an ancient worshipper. Excluded though he is from the Holy Place, and conscious that even the priests are shut out from the inner shrine, yet the high priest who enters is his brother; he goes on his behalf; the barrier is a curtain, not a wall.
But while the Israelite mused upon what was beyond, the ark, as we have seen, suggests the depth of his obligation; for there is the rod of his deliverance and the bread from heaven which fed him; and there also are the commandments which he ought to have kept. And his conscience tells him of ingratitude and a broken covenant; by the law is the knowledge of sin.
It is therefore a sinister and menacing thought that immediately above the ark of the violated covenant burns the visible manifestation of God, his injured Benefactor.
And hence arises the golden value of that which interposes, beneath which the accusing law is buried, by means of which God 'hides His face from our sins'.
The worshipper knows this cover to be provided by a separate ordinance of God, after the ark and its contents had been arranged for, and finds in it a vivid concrete representation of the idea 'Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back'. That this was its true intention becomes more evident when we ascertain exactly the meaning of the term which we have not too precisely rendered 'mercy-seat'.
The First Token of Divine Fellowship
I. Is it not rather a strange place for communion between God and man. Communion always implies some affinity of nature between two or more minds. One would think the mercy seat the last place for affinity of man with God. It is a meeting of extremes the Holy One and the conscious sinner, the Righteous Judge and the suppliant for pardon, the Sitter on the Great White Throne and the convicted miscreant at the bar of justice.
II. We could have understood communion with the Divine in other quarters. We could have felt it under the throbbing stars, where our hearts vibrate with the sense of the infinite. We could have realized it in the presence of genius where our spirit is made to forget its own limits. We could have learned it even from our moments of spiritual thirst, for the thirst for God implies a capacity for God. But that there should be communion in the moment of our moral conviction, that there should be Divine fellowship in the hour when we recognize that we are clothed in rags this is a startling thing! And yet it is true. For, what is it that convicts a man? What is it that makes a human soul a suppliant for mercy? It is holiness already begun. The white throne of God is only visible to the eye that is emerging from impure waters. I am never so near to God as when I cry, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!' Not even when vibrating 'neath the stars am I so near as then. The stars reveal something beyond me; the conviction of sin reveals something in me.
III. George Macdonald has somewhere said that there are colours which are only brought to light by a cloudy day. I think it is preeminently true in the sphere of the mercy seat. I never learn that I have a little good in me till I have realized my worthlessness. It is not increased poverty but increased means that makes me a suppliant. It is the light, not the darkness, that brings me to my knees. The shadow that I see is the shadow of my God. I mistake the shadow for nightfall; I sit down to weep. I imagine that I am sitting on the cold ground; and all the time I am on the doorstep of my Father's house, and the door is open, and my Father is coming out to take me in. It is the brightness of God's face that makes me cry for mercy.
G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 113.
References. XXV. 22. J. W. Atkinson, The Penny Pulpit, vol. xiv. No. 841, p. 405. XXV. 30. A Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, etc., p. 126. XXV. 31. Ibid. p. 134.
He is not altogether silent about religion. But he has the power of suspending absolutely his belief and the natural effect it would have on a thoughtful mind busy with man's nature and fortunes; he lodges it apart, and above him, in dignity and honour, but where it has no more influence on the temptation, the troubles, the issues of the real world than the gods of the epicurean heaven.... He looked on it as a sort of art or mystery, with rules and grounds independent of and unconnected with the ordinary works and thought of life.
R. W. Church on Montaigne, Miscellaneous Essays, pp. 80-81.
In different ages, a different pattern is shown to the prophets on the mount; always what is fairer and more august than can be seen in the restless plain of life below.... The Soul of Christ, the sinless, risen, and immortal, is the pattern shown to us; shown first upon the field of history, and on the paths of this living world, and then taken to the heavens, to look down thence on the uplifted eye of faith and love throughout successive generations.
Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.
References. XXVII. 3-8. Newton H. Marshall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 187 XXVIII. 12, 29. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, etc., p. 144.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Exodus 25". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany