"Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail."
In Hebrews 9 the author briefly mentions the "earthly place of holiness." These Jewish readers had a depth of knowledge about the Tabernacle, and it's accessories and purpose we New Testament readers typically do not have. So, I would like to speak a little more in detail about the Tabernacle, primarily the mercy seat.
Before giving the Israelites instruction on a dwelling place for Himself, God delivered them from Egypt, provided the pillar of cloud and fire, opened the Red Sea, fed them manna, supplied water from the Rock, met with them at Mount Sinai, gave the Ten Commandments and additional instruction of how they were to live as His people. He had proven Himself worthy of their devotion and gratitude. As a further benefit, He instructed them to build for Him a place where He could dwell among them, and He provided all of the necessary gold and materials needed.
In Exodus 25, the LORD begins the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle. For the next five chapters of Exodus, God gives very detailed directions on building the tabernacle, what instruments of worship are to be constructed, who He has skilled for this purpose, and the design of the garments His priests should wear and much more. However, before any of these other items, His first detailed instruction given in Exodus 25:10-22 is for the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat.
Exodus 25:17-22, describes the mercy seat made of pure gold with two cherubim, one on each end facing each other looking down at the mercy seat. Their wings are spread to overshadow and protect it. Inside the ark, Moses is to place the Law which God gives to Israel through Moses and the angels, with the mercy seat placed on top of the ark. In verse 22 the LORD says, "There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel." Several verses like Psalm 80:1 describes this as the throne of God, "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth." In 1 Chronicles 28:2, David refers to the ark of the covenant, situated beneath the cherubim and the mercy seat as "the footstool of our God."
The word the writer of Hebrews uses for "mercy seat" in verse five, is used only one other place in the New Testament. In Romans 3:25 Paul describes Jesus, using the same Greek word for mercy seat, as the propitiation God provided. In Hebrews 1:1-2, we are told God spoke to us by his Son. The same God who spoke to Moses enthroned between the cherubim on top of the mercy seat now speaks to us through His Son, our propitiation.
Understanding propitiation will help clarify the significance of how God speaks to mankind. The Bible plainly states the Lord has every right to be angry at His creation. All mankind justly deserves His wrath. In Romans 3, where Jesus is described as the propitiation, Paul says, "There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In Exodus 32, after God's instruction for building the tabernacle, Aaron made the golden calf. In verse 10, the LORD told Moses, "Let me alone that my wrath may burn against them and I may consume them." What would appease/propitiate the just wrath of a Holy God? Our study of Hebrews to this point has made it clear the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were a shadow of the perfect sacrifice which was to come, Jesus. More perfect than the blood of the sacrifice sprinkled on the mercy seat once a year on the Day of Atonement, was the blood of Jesus publicly displayed on the cross. He is our Lord, Savior, Shepherd, and Propitiation.
In John 20:11-12 "Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet." Just as the cherubim overshadowed and protected the mercy seat, so too they overshadowed and watched over Jesus the true and better mercy seat.
Thank You, Lord God All Mighty, You alone are both the just and the justifier. Who but You could ever devise such a plan to redeem Your people from our deserved death and destruction. But the cost! We are unworthy of the price of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, thank You. Who but You could ever be the propitiation for our God. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.