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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Mercy Seat

The original Hebrew word translated as Mercy Seat is (pronounced) kap-po-reth, and means to cover, in two ways; as a noun, meaning a lid, or a top, but also, based on the Hebrew root from which it was derived, as a verb meaning to pardon, or to atone for, as in to cover a debt. The Hebrew word kap-po-reth is used exclusively in the Scriptures for The Mercy Seat, and for nothing else. The seat, as part of the Ark of the Covenant, is believed to be an earthly symbol of God's throne in Heaven. The Mercy Seat was the top section, or lid, of The Ark of the Covenant which contained The Ten Commandments. Like the rest of the Ark, the seat was made of acacia wood. The Mercy Seat is the place from which Yahweh spoke to his people in the Old Testament. Here is a description of the seat taken from Exodus 25, Verses 17-22. "And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat... And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give to thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the cherubims which are upon the ark on the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel." A cherub is likely a celestial winged being with human, animal, or birdlike characteristics. They are included among the angels, and in the Hebrew scriptures they are described as the throne bearers of God. They serve as the celestial attendants of God and praise him continually. It is thought that God stationed cherubim east of the Garden of Eden "to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen. 3:24). According to the Biblical directions, the Holy of Holies could only be entered at Yom Kippur and only be entered by the Jewish High Priest, who was covenanted to do so in order to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial bull onto the seat as an atonement for himself and his family, the other priests, the tabernacle, and the people of Israel. In 587 BC, the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. At that point, the Ark disappears from history. The role of the Mercy Seat during Yom Kippur was to serve as a prefiguration of the Passion of Christ,which the Pauline Epistles argue was a greater atonement, and formed a New Covenant. According to unknown sources, some people believe that after the Ark was lost, it came to be buried exactly underneath the location at which Jesus was later crucified. Thus, some of Jesus' blood trickled into a crack in the ground and fell on the Ark's actual Mercy Seat. Most Christian theologians though argue there is no need for Jesus' blood to have fallen on the seat since the Epistle to the Hebrews states that Jesus entered heaven with His blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption and fully satisfying God. A song written by Nick Cave (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Tender Prey, 1988) entitled "The Mercy Seat" tells the story of a man about to be executed in the electric chair. Of course the seat refers to the throne of God and to the electric chair itself. The song is full of allusions to Christianity. The sentenced man claims that he is innocent, that he told the truth, and that he is not afraid to die.

"And in a way I'm yearning / To be done with all this measuring of truth. / An eye for an eye / And a tooth for a tooth / And anyway I told the truth / And I'm not afraid to die."

But, over the course of the song the register is repeated and gradually altered from a defiant statement of innocence to admitting guilt and that he is deserving of death.

Johnny Cash covered the song on his 2000 album American III: Solitary Man. Today, the location of the Ark of the Covenant is unknown. Reports range from the interesting to the absurd. Many theories abound. Here are just a few of the reports. Some believe the Ark has been-- 1. Stored away in a government warehouse in Washington, D.C. 2. Hidden in the Vatican, 3. Taken to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar and later destroyed, 4. Taken by God to the Heavenly Temple, probably before the Babylonian captivity, 5. Taken by Jeremiah to Ireland, 6. Swallowed by the earth.
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