Theme: God’s Justice and Mercy
This week’s lessons teach us about the character of God, as seen in the ark of the covenant which went before the Israelites through the Jordan.
Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
The third thing that was kept before the eyes of the people was His justice. This God was a God of judgment. You see, the picture of that ark with God symbolically dwelling between the wings of the cherubim over the ark, which contained the law of God, is a picture of judgment because here is portrayed as the holy God and righteous God, staring down upon the law, the expression of His moral character which every single human being has violated. That picture is a picture of judgment. It’s meant to strike terror into the hearts of sinful men and women. God’s standard of justice does not change; and God judges, and will judge all things in the end. The Judge of all the universe must do right. And that means that the God of all the universe cannot overlook sin. We see plenty of violations of His holy law now, and there is a sense in which there is retribution in life. Certain sins produce certain consequences. But it doesn’t exhaust the justice of God. And the day is coming when men and women will stand before Him as we know in our hearts we one day will. And that God will pronounce judgment.
Finally, the ark of the covenant also symbolized the mercy of God and that action which flows from the merciful heart of God by which men and women just like us who have violated the law of God can, nevertheless, be saved and can enter into the presence of the One who is utterly holy. And that is because that covering or lid on the ark was called the mercy seat. And the reason the lid was called the mercy seat is because it was meant to symbolize the way in which God shows mercy to sinful men and women.
In the Law of Moses, God had indicated what was to happen on the Day of Atonement in Israel. The priest, after first of all making a sacrifice for himself, was to make another sacrifice for the people, confessing the sins of the people over the animal. And the animal then was sacrificed in place of the people who deserved death. After this the priest took the blood of this animal, the blood being a symbol of its life poured out. And taking this blood, he went forward into the tabernacle and stood before the ark of the covenant, symbolizing the presence of God hovering over the law of God as a picture of judgment. Then, obedience to the commands of God given in the law, sprinkled the blood of the animal upon the mercy seat. You see what it symbolized. Here is the holy God within the wings of the cherubim staring down at His holy law which we have broken. And in between stands the mercy seat; and upon the mercy seat is sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice who has died.
This points to Calvary, as Jesus Christ died on the cross and shed His blood. He was the perfect sacrifice for which all the other sacrifices were just a symbol. When that happened, God Almighty tore the veil of the temple in two from top to bottom and, in that symbolic way, indicated that because of the death of Christ the perfect atonement was now made. The way was opened into Gods presence. All who would come in that way—not in their own self-righteousness, but trusting Christ and what He has done—would find God merciful as He had always been.
How is the justice of God symbolized by the ark of the covenant?
How does the ark of the covenant symbolize God’s mercy?
How does the death of Christ fulfill some of the themes from the tabernacle and the ark?