"...these maintain the service only of a model or reflection of the heavenly realities; just as Moses, when he had the Tent to build, was warned by God who said: 'See that you work to the design that was shown you on the mountain.'" Hebrews 8:5

  1. The Ark of the Covenant: an acacia wood box approximately 3 and 1/2 feet by 2 and 1/2 feet.  It must be covered inside and outside with pure gold and it will house the tablets of the Law. 
  2. The Mercy Seat: Moses is instructed to place the Kapporeth, on top of the Ark of the Covenant. This lid is known as the "mercy seat" or "seat of atonement".  It is from the Mercy Seat that God will meet His people. The 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, for nothing else. The figures of two golden cherubim are to be mounted on the top of the lid of the mercy seat. Exodus 25:10-22; 26:34; Leviticus 16:12-15.
  3. The Golden Table of the Bread of the Presence: an acacia wood table approximately 2 feet long by 1 and 1/2 feet wide by 1 and 1/2 feet high.  It must be covered with pure gold and will hold 12 loaves of unleavened bread, one loaf for each tribe of Israel.  Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16; Lev. 24:5-9.
  4. The Golden Menorah lamp stand: Made of pure gold with its cups for the holy oil shaped in the form of calyxes and petals.  It must have one central trunk with six branches from each side of the main branch, three branches on a side.  It is a visual representation of the burning bush of Exodus chapter 3. Exodus 25:31-40; 37:17-24; Leviticus 24:2-4.
  5. The Bronze Altar of burnt offerings: Made of acacia wood and covered with bronze this altar measured circa 7 and 1/2 feet wide, by 7 and 1/2 feet deep, by 4 and 1/2 feet high. Exodus 27:1-8; 38:1-7
  6. The Golden Altar of Incense: Made of acacia wood covered with pure gold it measured approximately 2 feet by 2 feet square and 3 feet high.  Exodus 30:1-10/ 37:25-28.
  7. The Bronze Basin: Made entirely of bronze from the mirrors of the women.  It would hold the holy water for ritual purification before entering the Holy Place of Yahweh's dwelling.  Exodus 30:17-21; 38:8.


"You must make me an ark of acacia wood, [...].  There I shall come to meet you; from above the mercy-seat, from between the two winged creatures which are on the ark of the Testimony, I shall give you all my orders for the Israelites." Exodus 25:10, 22

The Ark of the Covenant served 3 purposes:

  1. It was a receptacle to hold the 10 Commandments
  2. It was a support for the "Seat of Atonement" as the earthly throne of Yahweh
  3. It was the most holy altar of Yahweh.

As the visual reminder of the presence of God with His chosen people, the Ark of the Covenant was a receptacle which held and preserved the two tablets of the Ten Commandments [Exodus 25:16].  This purpose gave the Ark its other name, the "Ark of Testimony" or the "Ark of the Covenant", recalling the Covenant which Yahweh formed with Israel at Mount Sinai [Exodus 19-31].  The tablets are called "the tablets of the Covenant" in Deuteronomy 9:9, 11, 15; and the words engraved on them are called "the words of the Covenant" [Exodus 39:28].  The Ark would also come to hold a pot of the manna with which Yahweh had physically sustained Israel in her desert journey and the branch of the High Priest Aaron which had miraculously come to life and blossomed [see Hebrews 9:4].

The Ark served as a support for the "Seat of Atonement" or "Mercy Seat", in Hebrew the Kapporeth [Exodus 37:1-9].  The Kapporeth was placed on the top of the Ark, enclosing the tablets of the Ten Commandments within the chest of the Ark, making the tablets a treasure entrusted to Israel.  The divine testimony of God hidden in the Ark became the guarantee of the fulfillment of the promises of the Covenant made at Sinai.  But the Kapporeth was more than a lid to cover the 10 Commandments. This is evident from its name which means in Hebrew not simply "covering" but instead "seat" of atonement, which some scholars translate as "Mercy Seat". This title denotes not a physical or material covering but a spiritual covering of something.  But what is "covered" can not be the tablets of the Law.   After all it is not the Law that must be covered, the whole purpose of the Law was that it was to be revealed continuously as the voice and will of Yahweh, but the question of sin was a serious issue.  The Kapporeth instead was meant to provide a covering for the sins of Israel, the Covenant people.  Israel must come to Yahweh as the sinless Bride and therefore united with Yahweh in the covenantal union she must have recourse to atonement for sins, as Yahweh sat enthroned upon the "Seat of Atonement", the highest means of atonement in the Old Covenant.  And yet that atonement could only be offered for unintentional sin-the blood of an animal was not perfect enough to offer expiation for mortal or deadly sins [Numbers 15:22-31].  It was in that function of the atonement for sins that the Kapporeth was a foreshadow of the true act of expiation which would be offered in the fullness of time by Christ Jesus, the Bridegroom of His New Covenant Bride, the Universal Church, upon the "mercy seat" of the Cross when His pure and holy sacrifice would cleanse the sins of all mankind for all time in all the ages of man.

In Exodus 40:34-35 the glory of Yahweh came down and overshadowed the Kapporeth in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle as Yahweh took His place upon His earthly throne [also see Exodus 25:22 and Numbers 7:89].  Like the angelic cherubim who surround the throne of Yahweh in the heavenly Tabernacle [Revelation 4-5], of which the earthly Tabernacle is only a copy [Exodus 25:8-9; 27:8; Numbers 8:4; Hebrews 9:23], two cherubim were placed by Yahweh's command on top of the Kapporeth and images of cherubim were also woven into the inner curtain that hung in front of the entrance to the Holy of Holies in which the Ark rested.  In the Tabernacle Yahweh was enthroned between the cherubim, ready to offer mercy and forgiveness to His covenant Bride Israel.

The third purpose of the Ark of the Covenant was its use as Yahweh's holiest Altar of sacrifice.  The other two altars were the bronze Altar of Burnt Offerings in the courtyard [Exodus 27:1-8; 29:36-37], and the golden Altar of Incense [see Exodus 30:1-10; Leviticus 4:7].  But what was the means of atonement carried out upon this earthly throne of mercy known as the "Seat of Atonement" to bind Israel the Bride to Yahweh the Bridegroom?  Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement" [Leviticus chapter 16] the "mercy seat" served as the 3rd holy Altar of Yahweh when the holiest of sin-offerings was sprinkled on the Kapporeth. In the ordinary sacrifices on ordinary days and during the days of the 7 Sacred Feasts of Yahweh, the blood of the sacrificed victims was sprinkled and then poured out at the corners of the great bronze Altar of Burnt Offerings in the courtyard of the Temple or sprinkled upon the horns of the golden Altar of Incense that stood in the Holy Place in front of the curtain woven with cherubim that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in which the Ark of the Covenant rested.

The Ark of the Covenant was the highest or most holy of the altars of Yahweh for 3 reasons:

  1. It covered the testimony of God contained in the two tablets of the 10 Commandments.
  2. The glory of Yahweh rested upon it between the wings of the golden cherubim that overshadowed the Ark making it the earthly throne of God.
  3. As the site of the atonement of Israel on the Feast of Atonement it became Yahweh's earthly "throne of grace", establishing the institution of atonement [given in Leviticus 17:11] and serving as the foreshadow of Christ's act of atonement when He served as both the sinless victim as well as the enthroned King on the earthly Altar and "Mercy seat" of the Cross.
  4. Yahweh had promised in Exodus 20:24 that He would come down to Israel at the moment of sacrifice at the bronze Altar of Burnt Offerings in the courtyard of the Tabernacle/Temple and would, in the cloud of smoke that rose from the burning sacrificial victim, receive the offerings of the Covenant people both individually and collectively and recompense them by His blessings.  But on the Altar of the "Seat of Atonement/ Mercy Seat" He did not come in the form of the visible rising cloud. Instead He came invisibly in a manner that could not be seen in the natural world but in a manner that required the obedient faith of the Covenant believers.  This is the same way He comes to us today in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.  He comes invisible to transform what we have offered Him into a visible reality through the miracle of transubstantiation.  What was bread and wine become the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  Belief in the miracle of His coming still requires the obedient faith of the Covenant believers just as it did for the first generation of believers.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2002 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.