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MERCY SEAT. Specifically this refers to the lid or gold plate measuring about 2 1/2 by 1 1/2 cubits covering the Ark of the covenant. Resting on top of this plate were two cherubim placed antithetically with outspread wings (
The Heb. name for this solid gold slab is kapporeth, which is best rendered in Eng. as “propitiatory.” The paraphrase “mercy seat” by Tyndale was adopted from Luther’s rendering “Gnadensthul.” Martin Noth suggests that Luther did this on the basis of the Gr. and Lat. trs. of the Heb. (cf. also
The mercy seat seems to be the nearest approximation of the presence of God among the Israelites. They were not permitted to make a material representation of God. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, which represented God’s presence among them, hovered over the mercy seat where the high priest sprinkled the blood for the congregation of Israel on the Day of Atonement. Apparently it was not the lid or the cherubim, but the space between the cherubim that represented God’s presence among them. This space could not be confined nor controlled by man. In this manner the mercy seat conveyed to the Israelites the idea that God was in their midst without a material representation.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The name for the lid or covering of the ark of the covenant (
W. Shaw Caldecott