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Parashat Terumah - The Mercy Seat
Law of Love

The "Mercy Seat"

Further thoughts on Parashat Terumah

by John J. Parsons

The Torah portion for this week is called Terumah (תְּרוּמָה), a word that means "contribution," "gift," or "freewill offering."  It begins with the LORD asking for gifts "from every man whose heart moves him" to provide materials for the Mishkan Kodesh (Holy Tabernacle), a tent-like structure that would symbolize His Presence among the Israelites during their sojourn to the land of Canaan.  Gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc., all were needed. No gift was considered too small, and whoever felt prompted by the LORD to give did so freely, without compulsion. God's house is always built by love freely given....

The word mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) comes from a root (שָׁכַן) meaning "to dwell." This holy tent/compound was intended to provide a place of sacrifice and fellowship with the LORD God of Israel. Since the Mishkan represented God's dwelling place, it became associated with the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה), or manifest Presence of God Himself.  This is particularly the case regarding the famous Ark of the Covenant (i.e., aron ha-brit, אָרוֹן הָבְרִית) and its sacred cover called the Kapporet (כַּפּרֶת) located within the inner sanctum of the Mishkan called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). (Note that the term "Mercy Seat" comes from Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German, where he added to the meaning of kapporet by translating it as a location or "seat" of mercy.)  Upon the Kapporet were set two cherubim (כְּרֻבִים) -- angel-like figures with open wings and "baby faces."  It was from between these faces that the LORD later directly spoke to Moses, it was here that sprinkled sacrificial blood would appeal to God's forgiveness during the appointed time of Yom Kippur.


Since "the soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:4) and "the life is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11), a sacrificial animal's blood sprinkled upon the Kapporet symbolically represented the life of the people who were condemned to die, and this provided a means by which God could extend His forgiveness while remaining entirely holy and just. The substitutionary shedding of blood, the "life-for-life" principle, is essential to the true "at-one-ment" with the LORD God, and the blood rituals all prefigure the greater atoning sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross at Moriah. The passion of Yeshua, in other words, is the ultimate High Priestly work of presenting blood upon the Heavenly Kapporet of God.

It is interesting to note that the word used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word kapporet ("cover") is hilasterios (ἱλαστριος). The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood."  In other words, the sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself. Yeshua here functions as the great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek) who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world!  Baruch haShem!

It's vital to recall that the detailed instructions for constructing the Mishkan were "according to the pattern (תַּבְנִית) given" to Moses at Sinai (Exod. 25:9, Heb. 8:5). In other words, the outer court (חָצֵר), the Bronze Altar for sacrifices (מִזְבֵּחַ הַנְחשֶׁת), the vessels, the inner tent with its furnishings such as the Table of the Bread of Presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), the golden Menorah (מְנוֹרָה), the altar of incense (מִזְבַּח הַקְּטרֶת), and the innermost Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים) with the Ark of the Covenant were first shown to Moses before they were created. They were copies or "shadows" that were intended to prefigure the eternal reality of the Heavenly Tabernacle itself (Heb. 8:5, 10:1).


Among other things this lends credence to the idea of "Oral Torah," that is, that Moses was given additional revelation at Sinai that was not included in the written Torah, and this also explains how Moses foreknew that the Messiah would die for the sins of Israel (see John 5:46). After all, the God who spoke to Moses out of the Burning Bush, "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" (Deut. 5:26), and the Word spoken from between the faces of the cherubim, was none other than YHVH (יהוה) come in the flesh.
 יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."

Marc Chagall - White Crucifixion

According to Midrash, the purpose of the Kapporet was to protect man from the judgment of God as represented by the judging angels, the cherubim. These angels are God's own messengers who must report the truth and cannot deviate from that truth.  However, there is a deeper truth than the "mechanical" reporting of facts (i.e., reports about our sins and guilt), and that truth centers on sacrificial love and mercy.  The sacrificial blood sprinkled on the Kapporet - representing the innocent taking the place of the guilty - "sidesteps" the issue by removing the curse of the Law from the guilty (cp. Gal. 3:13). This is the "deeper magic" of the sacrifice upon the Stone Table, as C.S. Lewis portrays it in the Chronicles of Narnia. The Kapporet therefore foreshadows the cross of Yeshua, and His shed blood is the means whereby a holy God can righteously forgive our sin.  Just as the sins of the nation were atoned for by the sprinkling of the blood on the Kapporet, so the shedding of Yeshua's blood atones for the sins of the entire world.

Praise God for His amazing grace, chaverim!

    עָזְרֵנוּ אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעֵנוּ עַל־דְּבַר כְּבוֹד־שְׁמֶךָ
    וְהַצִּילֵנוּ וְכַפֵּר עַל־חַטּאתֵינוּ לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ

    oz·rei·nu · E·lo·hei · yish·ei·nu · al-de·var · ke·vod-she·me·kha,
    ve·ha·tzi·lei·nu · ve·kha·peir · al-chat·to·tei·nu, · le·ma·an · she·me·kha

βοήθησον ἡμῖν ὁ θεὸς ὁ σωτὴρ ἡμῶν ἕνεκα τῆς δόξης τοῦ ὀνόματός σου
κύριε ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς καὶ ἱλάσθητι ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἡμῶν
ἕνεκα τοῦ ὀνόματός σου

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your Name;
Deliver us and atone for our sins, for your Name's sake (Psalm 79:9)


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