I was really intrigued while I was reading about all the furnishings etc. that went into the ark (the Levites must have been power lifters just to carry it). The part that intrigued me the most was the mercy seat and the cherubs. What would your explanation be of it’s symbolism?
1. The ark represents the throne of God. God is said to rule from between the cherubim [1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Kings 19:15, Psalm 80:1]. He also mounts the wings of the cherubim [Psalm 18:10]. Ezekiel’s vision shows God flying through the air on a chariot-throne, carried on the wings of the cherubim [Ezekiel 1:4-14]. The throne is described as a throne of sapphire [Ezekiel 10:1].
2. The cherubim appear in Ezekiel’s vision as 4 living creatures with faces like a man, a lion, an ox, an eagle [Ezekiel 1:4-14]. John sees these same creatures as before the throne of God [Revelation 4:6-8].
3. In John’s vision, they sing before God ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty [Revelation 4:8]. This leads me to think that the “burning ones” (Heb. seraphim) that appear before God’s throne in Isaiah 6:2-4 are also the cherubim, though others have described them as a different order of angels. Compare Ezekiel 1:13 and the burning ones (lit. seraphim) of Isaiah 6:4. Notice that Isaiah is shown mercy, his sin is atoned for, at the throne [Isaiah 6:5-7].
4. The cover was called the ‘atonement’ place (or mercy seat). Once a year the priest was to enter the most holy place and appear before the throne of God with burning coals, incense and the blood of a bull. The smoke would conceal the atonement cover so that the priest would not die. He would sprinkle the bull’s blood on the atonement cover to atone for his own sin before God, and then the blood of the goat for the sins of the people [Leviticus 16:11-17].
5. In summary, the ark represents God’s throne on earth. The angels are God’s bodyguards (guardian cherubs), the secret service that accompany Him wherever and whenever He appears. They see everything [Ezekiel 10:11-12], yet they cover their eyes before God [Isaiah 6:2]. They worship God and keep sinners from getting too close.
6. Both the cherubim on the ark, and the cherubim in Isaiah’s, Ezekiel’s and John’s visions show that God’s throne room is awesome, powerful, perfect. And it is here that we may boldly come, with Jesus, and be welcomed with mercy and love (not just once a year, but always!). Jesus has approached the throne of God in heaven (symbolized by the priest coming before the ark once a year) and made once-for-all atonement [Hebrews 10:11-14]. Our sins are forgiven, we may boldly come before God and worship Him [Hebrews 10:19-22].
7. There are other cherubim. A flaming bodyguard stands between sinful humanity and the tree of life [Genesis 3:24]. And interestingly, in Ezekiel 28, we learn that at one time Satan was one of the bodyguards (guardian cherub, Ezekiel 28:14,16; although Satan is not mentioned, this passage describes the wicked King of Tyre in language that compares him to Satan).