The first thing which is here ordered to be made is the ark with its appurtenances, the furniture of the most holy place, and the special token of God’s presence, for which the tabernacle was erected to be the receptacle.
I. The ark itself was a chest, or coffer, in which the two tables of the law, written with the finger of God, were to be honourably deposited, and carefully kept. The dimensions of it are exactly ordered; if the Jewish cubit was, as some learned men compute, three inches longer than our half-yard (twenty-one inches in all), this chest or cabinet was about fifty-two inches long, thirty-one broad, and thirty-one deep. It was overlaid within and without with thin plates of gold. It had a crown, or cornice, of gold, round it, with rings and staves to carry it with; and in it he must put the testimony, Exod. 25:10-16. The tables of the law are called the testimony because God did in them testify his will: his giving them that law was in token of his favour to them; and their acceptance of it was in token of their subjection and obedience to him. This law was a testimony to them, to direct them in their duty, and would be a testimony against them if they transgressed. The ark is called the ark of the testimony (Exod. 30:6), and the tabernacle the tabernacle of the testimony (Num. 10:11) or witness, Acts 7:44. The gospel of Christ is also called a testimony or witness, Matt. 24:14. It is observable, 1. That the tables of the law were carefully preserved in the ark for the purpose, to teach us to make much of the word of God, and to hide it in our hearts, in our innermost thoughts, as the ark was placed in the holy of holies. It intimates likewise the care which divine Providence ever did, and ever will, take to preserve the records of divine revelation in the church, so that even in the latter days there shall be seen in his temple the ark of his testament. See Rev. 11:19. 2. That this ark was the chief token of God’s presence, which teaches us that the first and great evidence and assurance of God’s favour is the putting of his law in the heart. God dwells where that rules, Heb. 8:10. 3. That provision was made for the carrying of this ark about with them in all their removals, which intimates to us that, wherever we go, we should take our religion along with us, always bearing about with us the love of the Lord Jesus, and his law.
II. The mercy-seat was the covering of the ark or chest, made of solid gold, exactly to fit the dimensions of the ark, Exod. 25:17, 21. This propitiatory covering, as it might well be translated, was a type of Christ, the great propitiation, whose satisfaction fully answers the demands of the law, covers our transgressions, and comes between us and the curse we deserve. Thus he is the end of the law for righteousness.
III. The cherubim of gold were fixed to the mercy-seat, and of a piece with it, and spread their wings over it, Exod. 25:18. It is supposed that these cherubim were designed to represent the holy angels, who always attended the shechinah, or divine Majesty, particularly at the giving of the law; not by any effigies of an angel, but some emblem of the angelical nature, probably some one of those four faces spoken of, Ezek. 1:10. Whatever the faces were, they looked one towards another, and both downward towards the ark, while their wings were stretched out so as to touch one another. The apostle calls them cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat, Heb. 9:5. It denotes their attendance upon the Redeemer, to whom they were ministering spirits, their readiness to do his will, their special presence in the assemblies of saints (Ps. 68:17; 1 Cor. 11:10), and their desire to look into the mysteries of the gospel which they diligently contemplate, 1 Pet. 1:12. God is said to dwell, or sit, between the cherubim, on the mercy-seat (Ps. 80:1), and thence he here promises, for the future, to meet with Moses, and to commune with him, Exod. 25:22. There he would give law, and there he would give audience, as a prince on his throne; and thus he manifests himself willing to be reconciled to us, and keep up communion with us, in and by the mediation of Christ. In allusion to this mercy-seat, we are said to come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16); for we are not under the law, which is covered, but under grace, which is displayed; its wings are stretched out, and we are invited to come under the shadow of them, Ruth 2:12.