The Mercy Seat

“Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width.  You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat.  Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends.  The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat.  You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you.  There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:17-22 NRS).

(Image courtesy of

That is an artistic rendering of what the ark of the covenant might have looked like.  The top piece, above the carrying poles, is the mercy seat described in the Book of Exodus.  Hovering above the mercy seat would be the presence of God, housed in the Tabernacle or Temple structure.  There God reigns and delivers his commandments for his people.  The very name for this seat reveals the nature of God: God is merciful.  In fact, eleven times does scripture proclaim that God is gracious and merciful.  God is full of grace and mercy, which God dispenses liberally from his seat.  God’s perfect nature is to bring grace and mercy to the world and to each of us.  As comforting and lovely a thought as that is, I then hear the words of the prophet Micah:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NRS).

Often “kindness” is translated as “mercy.”  We must “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”  There’s always something else, always something we are supposed to do, always something that will require effort on my part.  It usually will come with some personal cost, some willingness to make myself vulnerable, requiring me to put forth extra effort.  Because God is gracious and merciful, I must be too?  Yes!  Genesis tells us that human beings were created in God’s image (1:26-27).  If our God is gracious and merciful, then we should reflect that in ourselves.  We too must be gracious and merciful.

Now we exist in a world where there is no Tabernacle.  The Temple has been destroyed with no way to rebuild right now.  The ark of the covenant has been lost to us.  So how does God continue to occupy the mercy seat and reveal to the world that God is gracious and merciful?  In us.  God continues to be revealed, be present, be active in this world in us.  Why do you think the Holy Spirit chooses to reside in us?  Each and every one of us is the new mercy seat.  Don’t you remember the words of Jesus Christ?  He boldly, prophetically proclaimed: “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 NRS).  That’s you!  You are the place where God will meet others (Exodus 25:22)!  You are the conduit through which God is continuing to speak to this world, giving commandments (Exodus 25:22)!  You are the means by which the world discovers that God is gracious and merciful because you must be gracious and merciful!

The next time we want to lose our temper, deny someone enough grace to get by.  The next time we want to punitively hurt someone.  Let us consider this call to be gracious and merciful.  It’s not just our individual reputations at stake, it’s God’s.  It will not be easy.  We will mess up, forget, be overrun by our impatience, our anger, our emotional response, but we must try.  Perhaps that is all part of Micah’s command that we “walk humbly.”

Gracious and Merciful God,
You placed yourself in our midst that we might be ever reminded,
Of your presence,
Your Grace,
And your mercy.
But you remain with us still;
In the presence of the Holy Spirit we remember.
You call us to be your hands, your feet, your voice, even your presence,
In this hurt, broken, and needy world.
Help us to live up to our original image from creation.
Let us be a tangible reminder to all the world,
That you remain a gracious and merciful God.
Now and forever.

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