What is the Mercy Seat?

Mercy Seat

The Mercy Seat was the golden lid placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:34), and behind the veil (Exodus 30:6), where the presence of the Lord was manifested (Lev. 16:2). It was into the Holy of Holies that the High Priest would once a year enter and sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat (Leviticus 16:14-15), thereby appeasing the wrath of God for that year.

"The mercy seat represented the throne of God’s judgment. The Lord “executed justice” as He sat “enthroned upon the cherubim” of the mercy seat (Psa 99:1–5). With this recognition of God’s justice came the hope for God’s grace. The mercy seat is figured prominently in the Day of Atonement ceremony as the destination of both the incense and the blood of the offerings (Lev 16:13–15). Leviticus 16:2 specifies that it is the mercy seat that represents the lethal presence of God—a presence of justice and holiness."1

The Mercy Seat had two cherubim designed into it (Exodus 25:17-22). Because the Lord's presence was in the space above the Ark (Lev. 16:2; Psalm 80:1), and Moses spoke to God there (Number 7:89), it was sometimes said that God was enthroned between the cherubim (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2). Its dimensions were 2.5 cubits by 1.5 cubits2 or about 45" x 27", or 114 cm x 69 cm. 

"The Hebrew word for which 'mercy seat' is the translation is technically best rendered as 'propitiatory,' a term denoting the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift."3 Therefore, the mercy seat pointed ahead to Jesus who is the true propitiatory sacrifice. Rom. 3:25, "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed." The Greek word for "propitiation" ἱλασμός (hilasmos) which is found in Romans 3:25 and also in Hebrews 9:5 is the same Greek word used in the Septuagint to translate the word for "Mercy Seat." Hebrews 9:5, "and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail."

Exodus 25:17-21 “And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 “And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 “And make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 “And the cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 “And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you."

  • 1. Barry, John D., and Lazarus Wentz, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.
  • 2. A cubit was about 18 inches, or 46 centimeters
  • 3. Elwell, Walter A., and Philip Wesley Comfort. Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale Reference Library. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.