Exodus 25:17
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.
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(17) A mercy seat.—Those critics to whom the idea of expiation is unsatisfactory, as Knobel and Gesenius, render kapporeth, the word here used, by lid” or “cover.” Kaphar, it may be Admitted, has the physical meaning of “to cover” (Genesis 6:14); but kipper, the Piel form of the same verb, has never any other meaning than that of “covering,” or “expiating sins.” And kapporeth is not formed from kaphar, but from kipper. Hence the ἱλαστήριον of the LXX., the propitiatorium of the Vulg., and the “mercy seat” of the Authorised Version are correct translations. (Comp. 1Chronicles 28:11, where the Holy of Holies is called beyth-hak-kapporeth, which is certainly not” the house of the cover,’ but “the house of expiation.”)

Of pure gold.—Not of shittim wood, overlaid with a plating of gold, but a solid mass of the pure metal. It has been calculated that the weight would be 750 lbs. Troy, and the value above £25,000 of our money. It was intended to show by this lavish outlay, that the “mercy seat” was that object in which the accessories of worship culminated, the crowning glory of the material tabernacle.

Exodus 25:17. The mercy-seat was the covering of the ark, made exactly to fit the dimensions of it. This propitiatory covering, as it might well be translated, was a type of Christ the great propitiation, whose satisfaction covers our transgressions, and comes between us and the curse we deserve.

25:10-22 The ark was a chest, overlaid with gold, in which the two tables of the law were to be kept. These tables are called the testimony; God in them testified his will. This law was a testimony to the Israelites, to direct them in their duty, and would be a testimony against them, if they transgressed. This ark was placed in the holy of holies; the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled, and the incense burned, before it, by the high priest; and above it appeared the visible glory, which was the symbol of the Divine presence. This was a type of Christ in his sinless nature, which saw no corruption, in personal union with his Divine nature, atoning for our sins against it, by his death. The cherubim of gold looked one towards another, and both looked downward toward the ark. It denotes the angels' attendance on the Redeemer, their readiness to do his will, their presence in the assemblies of saints, and their desire to look into the mysteries of the gospel. It was covered with a covering of gold, called the mercy-seat. God is said to dwell, or sit between the cherubim, on the mercy-seat. There he would give his law, and hear supplicants, as a prince on his throne.A mercy seat of pure gold - (Compare Exodus 37:6-9.) In external form, the mercy-seat was a plate of gold with the cherubim standing on it, the whole beaten out of one solid piece of metal Exodus 37:7; it was placed upon the ark and so took the place of a cover. "mercy" seat expresses well the distinct significance and recognized designation of the Hebrew name.17. thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold—to serve as a lid, covering it exactly. It was "the propitiatory cover," as the term may be rendered, denoting that Christ, our great propitiation [1Jo 2:2; 4:10], has fully answered all the demands of the law, covers our transgressions, and comes between us and the curse of a violated law. Mercy-seat, or, propitiatory; which seems from the sameness of dimensions to be nothing else but the covering of the ark, upon which God is said to sit, whence the ark is called God’s footstool. This covering is a manifest type of Christ, who is therefore called the propitiation, or propitiatory, Romans 3:25 1Jo 2:2 4:10, because he interposeth himself between God our Judge, and the law, by which we all stand condemned and accursed, Galatians 3:10,13; that God may not deal rigorously with us according to that law, but mercifully for his sake who hath fulfilled the law, and therefore boldly presents himself to his Father on our behalf.

And thou shall make a mercy seat of pure gold,.... Or "covering" (n); so Jarchi and Aben Ezra; for so the word properly signifies; and what is meant was no more than a cover of the ark, which was open at the top, and this was the lid of it, and exactly answered to it, as appears by the dimensions afterwards given of it; and because the root of this word in one form signifies to propitiate or make atonement, some render it the "propitiatory" or "propitiation" (o); which is favoured by the apostle in Hebrews 9:5 and to which he seems to refer, Romans 3:25 and the rather since God is represented sitting on this, as showing himself propitious and well pleased with men, by his communing with them from hence; the Septuagint version takes in both senses, rendering it the "propitiatory covering" (p): this being called by what name it will, was typical of Christ; he is the seat of mercy, or, as it is in the New Testament expressed, the throne of grace; whereon, or in whom God shows himself to be gracious and merciful to the children of men; all the stores of mercy are in him, and all the vessels of mercy are put into his hands; the mercy of God is displayed in the mission of him as a Saviour, and is glorified by him in a way consistent with his justice and holiness; through him only special mercy is communicated to sinful men, to whom God is only merciful in Christ: and Christ himself is all mercy to his people; his ways of old were mercy and truth, and all his works, especially his great work of redemption, are done in mercy and pity to them; he shows himself to be merciful to them, by sympathizing with them, and supporting them under all their temptations and afflictions, in granting them all the necessary supplies of grace here, and by bestowing eternal life on them hereafter: he is their "covering", the covering of their persons by his righteousness, imputed to them, and of their sins, by his blood shed for them, and sprinkled on them, and of the law, by his satisfaction for the transgressions of it; whereby they are secured from the avenging justice of God, and wrath to come: and he is the "propitiation" or "propitiatory", who has made atonement and reconciliation for sin; and in and through whom God shows himself propitious to his people, he being pacified, his wrath appeased, and his justice satisfied by his obedience and sufferings: and this mercy seat, being of "pure gold", without any alloy or mixture in it, may denote the purity of Christ's obedience, righteousness, and sacrifice, in the completeness of salvation by him, without any works of righteousness of men; the worth and excellency of Christ, and of these blessings of his, and the preciousness of his blood, and the continued virtue and efficacy of it, and of his righteousness and sacrifice, by which the propitiation is made:

two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof: which are exactly the dimensions of the ark, to which this was a lid or cover, see Exodus 25:10 in the mystical sense it intimates, that Christ, in his nature, obedience, sufferings, and death, is the end of the law for righteousness, which is entirely commensurate, and answers to all its demands: his holy nature is answerable to the holiness and spirituality of the law; his righteousness to all that obedience it requires, and his sufferings and death to the penalty of it; so that, through Christ, we have a righteousness to justify us before God, as long and as broad as the law is, though the commandment is exceeding broad, Psalm 119:96. Aben Ezra observes, that there is no mention made of the thickness of the mercy seat; and the same Jarchi takes notice of, but adds, that, according to their Rabbins, it was an hand's breadth, and the Targum of Jonathan says,"and its thickness an hand's breadth.''

(n) "opertorium", Montanus; "tegmen sive operimentum", Vatablus; "operculum", Piscator. (o) "Propitiatorium", V. L. Pagninus, Munster, Tigurine version. (p) Sept. "operculum propitiatorium", Junius & Tremellius.

And thou shalt make a {g} mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.

(g) There God appeared mercifully to them: and this was a figure of Christ.

17. a mercy-seat] or, if the word could be revived, a propitiatory. This was a slab of gold, of the same length and breadth as the ark, and laid upon its top. The term mercy-seat was used first by Tindale (1530), being adopted by him from Luther’s Gnadenstuhl (1523). The Heb. is kappôreth, formed from kipper, to make propitiation (see on Exodus 30:10), and meaning properly a propitiating thing, or means of propitiation (LXX. mostly ἱλαστήριον [so in Philo, EB. iii. 3032, and Hebrews 9:5]; Vulg. propitiatorium, whence Wyclif’s rend. the ‘propitiatory’). It is true, the blood was the actual means of propitiation in the Lev. system (Leviticus 17:11); but the term may have been applied to the ‘mercy-seat’ on account of its being the means of bringing the blood as near as possible to Jehovah on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:14 f.). Covering (RVm.), or cover, though adopted by many modern scholars (cf. LXX. here [not elsewhere] ἱλαστήριον ἐπίθεμα, a ‘propitiatory cover or lid’), is a questionable rend.: for though kafara means to cover or conceal in Arabic, kâphar in Heb., if ‘cover’ is its primary meaning (which is very doubtful: see on Exodus 30:10), means to ‘cover’ not in a literal sense, but always in a metaph. sense (by a gift, offering, or rite). See further on the word (and also on its Greek rend. ἱλαστήριον, both in LXX. and in Romans 3:25) Deissmann’s full and interesting art. Mercy-seat in EB.

The special sanctity of the kappôreth was due naturally to the fact that Jehovah was regarded as speaking, or appearing, immediately above it (v. 22, Leviticus 16:2, Numbers 7:89); and so it is spoken of poetically as His footstool (Psalm 99:5; Psalm 132:7, 1 Chronicles 28:2). Outside P it is mentioned by name only in 1 Chronicles 28:11.

17–22. The mercy-seat and the two cherubim upon it.

Verse 17. - Thou shalt make a mercy seat. Modern exegesis has endeavoured to empty the word kapporeth of its true meaning, witnessed to by the Septuagint, as well as by the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 9:5). It tells us that a kapporeth is simply a cover, "being derived from kaphar, to cover," - used in Genesis 5:14, with respect to covering the ark with pitch. But the truth is that kapporeth is not derived from kaphar, but from kipper, the Piel form of the same verb, which has never any other sense than that of covering, or forgiving sins. In this sense it is used in the Old Testament some seventy times. Whether the mercy seat was the real cover of the ark of the covenant, or whether that had its own lid of acacia wood, as Kalisch supposes, is uncertain. At any rate, it was not called kipporeth because it was a cover, but because it was a seat of propitiation. On the importance of the mercy seat, as in some sort transcending the ark itself, see Leviticus 16:2, and 1 Chronicles 28:11. Atonement was made by sprinkling the blood of expiation upon it (Leviticus 16:14, 15). Of pure gold, Not of wood, plated with metal, or richly gilt, but of solid gold - an oblong slab, three feet nine inches long, two feet three inches wide, and probably not less than an inch thick. The weight of such a slab would be above 750 lbs. troy, and its value above 25,000l. of our money. The length and breadth were exactly those of the ark itself, which the mercy seat thus exactly covered (ver. 10). Exodus 25:17In addition to this, Moses was to make a capporeth (ἱλαστήριον ἐπίθεμα, lxx; propitiatorium, Vulg.), an atoning covering. The meaning operculum, lid (Ges.), cannot be sustained, notwithstanding the fact that the capporeth was placed upon the ark (Exodus 25:21) and covered the tables laid within it; for the verb כפר has not the literal signification of covering or covering up either in Kal or Piel. In Kal it only occurs in Genesis 6:14, where it means to pitch or tar; in Piel it is only used in the figurative sense of covering up sin or guilt, i.e., of making atonement. 1 Chronicles 28:11 is decisive on this point, where the holy of holies, in which the capporeth was, is called הכּפּרת בּית, which cannot possibly mean the covering-house, but must signify the house of atonement. The force of this passage is not weakened by the remark made by Delitzsch and others, to the effect that it was only in the later usage of the language that the idea of covering gave place to that of the covering up or expiation of sin; for neither in the earlier nor earliest usage of the language can the supposed primary meaning of the word be anywhere discovered. Knobel's remark has still less force, viz., that the ark must have had a lid, and it must have been called a lid. For if from the very commencement this lid had a more important purpose than that of a simple covering, it might also have received its name from this special purpose, even though this was not fully explained to the Israelites till a later period in the giving of the law (Leviticus 16:15-16). It must, however, have been obvious to every one, that it was to be something more than the mere lid of the ark, from the simple fact that it was not to be made, like the ark, of wood plated with gold, but to be made of pure gold, and to have two golden cherubs upon the top. The cherubim were to be made of gold מקשׁה (from קשׁה to turn), i.e., literally, turned work (cf. Isaiah 3:24), here, according to Onkelos, נגיד opus ductile, work beaten with the hammer and rounded, so that the figures were not solid but hollow (see Bhr, i. p. 380).
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