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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(כִּפֹּרֶת, kappo'reth, a covering, i.e. lid of a vessel, spoken only of the top of the sacred ark; Sept. and, New Test. ἱλαστήριον, Vulg, propitiatorium), the cover of the box or ark containing the tables of the Sinaitic law, and overspread by the cherubim, between which appeared the shekinah, or visible radiant symbol of the divine presenite; it is properly represented as a plank of acacia overlaid with gold, for it was not probably a solid plate or sheet of the purest gold (Exodus 25:17 sq.; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 31:7, etc.). Hence the holy of holies is sometimes called the "house of the mercy- seat" (1 Chronicles 28:11, Heb.). Josephus simply calls it a lid (ἐπίθεμα, Ant. 3:6, 5); but the versions have all regarded the term as indicative of propitiation (as if from the Piel of כָּפִר, and the same view appears to be taken by the New-Testament writers, who compare it with the throne of grace in heaven, access to which has been opened by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:5; Romans 3:24). (See ARK). Comp. 1 Chronicles 28:11, where the holy of holies is called the הִכִּפֹּרֶת בֵּית, "house of the mercy-seat." "It was that whereon the blood of the yearly atonement was sprinkled by the high-priest; and in this relation it is doubtful whether the sense of the word in the Hebrews is based on the material fact of its covering' the ark, or from this notion of its reference to the covering' (i.e. atonement of sin. (See ATONEMENT). But in any case the notion of a seat,' as conveyed by the name in English, seems superfluous and likely to mislead. Jehovah is indeed spoken of as dwelling' and even as sitting' (Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1) between the cherubim, but undoubtedly his seat in this conception would not be on the same level as that on which they stood (Exodus 25:18), and an enthronement in the glory above it must be supposed. The idea with which it is connected is not merely that of mercy,' but of formal atonement made for the breach of the covenant (Leviticus 16:14), which the ark contained in its material vehicle-the two tables of stone. The communications made to Moses are represented as made from the mercy- seat that was upon the ark of the testimony' (Numbers 7:89; comp. Exodus 25:22; Exodus 30:6); a sublime illustration of the moral relation and responsibility into which the people were by covenant regarded as brought before God" (Smith). It is not without significance that the mercy-seat was above the ark and below the symbols of the divine presence and attributes, as if to foreshadow the supersedence of the law of ordinances contained in the ark by the free grace of the Gospel. See Pratenius, De Judcea arca (Upsal. -1727); Werner, De Propitiatoria (Giessen, 1695). (See SHEKINAH).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Mercy-Seat'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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