By Stuart Powell
The temple Solomon built in Jerusalem was a magnificent structure modeled after the tent Moses and Israel first set up at Mount Sinai. The temple had a courtyard where the altar for sacrifices and wash basin were located. The temple’s largest room was the Holy Place, where the table for shewbread, incense altar, and lampstand stood watch outside of the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place (or Holy of Holies). The sacred ark of the covenant and its mercy seat were located behind the curtain. The priests carried the ark to its place behind the veil. Scripture described the inner room of the temple after the ark was set in its place:
These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today (1 Kings 8:8).
The narrative draws an interesting picture. The curtain hid the mercy seat and ark, leaving visible only the ends of the poles by which the ark was carried. The high priest stood in front of the mercy seat once a year. Different priests would enter the Holy Place of the temple each day. Every one of them would catch a glimpse of the poles as they performed their duties. The ark’s poles surely stirred the imaginations of generations of priests. The handles probably reminded them of the mountain where the covenant was confirmed. Those handles provided a tangible reminder of what was behind the veil.
Christians have a similar sign of the Christian covenant in the bread and cup. These emblems remind us of the more perfect mercy seat where our eternal atonement was secured. The bread and cup are visible reminders that Jesus, our high priest, went behind the heavenly veil to offer his sacrificed body and blood. Every time we eat and drink, we go back to Calvary’s cross, where our covenant was confirmed and our eternal freedom was secured.
Stuart Powell lives outside of Terre Haute, Indiana, where he serves with the North Side Christian Church.