Our Lord gave us a very peculiar revelation in Psalm 25:
· Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. (Psalm 25:12-14; ESV)
Here is what I had been pondering: Hadn’t the Lord already revealed His covenant to Israel? Wasn’t it at the center of the Hebrew Scriptures? Certainly! To what then was our Lord referring? Evidently, to the New Covenant – a Covenant found in cryptic ways in the shadows of the Old!
This seems to suggest that God hides certain truths, and He clearly does (Proverbs 25:2; Deut. 29:29; Isaiah 49:2). It is not surprising that God’s greatest secret was hidden away in the most holy place of the Temple, where only the high priest could enter and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
The “atonement cover,” also translated as the “mercy seat” (KJV), covered the Ark of the Covenant, and was itself covered by the massive wings of two golden cherubim to prevent it from being seen. When the high priest entered this holiest place on that holiest day—Yom Kippur—he had to enter with great plumes of smoke generated by his incense censer, to prevent him from seeing the mercy seat and being struck dead (Lev. 16:2):
· Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony [the Ten Commandments which had been placed in the ark], so that he will not die (Lev. 16:11–13, NIV).
This provokes many questions. Why should the atonement cover, or mercy seat, be so carefully concealed, and why with an accompanying threat of death? Shouldn’t something called the “mercy seat” have been foremost among God’s self-disclosures? Why wouldn’t God want to display the fullness of His mercy?
Seeing God could also bring death (Exod. 33:20; Gen. 32:30; Judges 13:22). Was this threat related to the danger of seeing the mercy seat? Adding to this mystery, the mercy seat rested above the ark containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments. This seemed to suggest that this mysterious cover might even have had a greater stature than the Law.
Furthermore, God would meet with Israel above the mercy seat (Exod. 30:6), where He was mysteriously “enthroned between the covering cherubim” (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; Ps. 80:1; 99:1). This mercy seat therefore seemed to have been intimately related to God’s provision of mercy. (It’s where Israel came to receive His mercy.) Why then would God so strenuously hide it?
The mercy seat was associated with the other divine mysteries: God’s atonement, new covenant, and Messiah. Although He had ordained the Levites to make atonement for Israel’s sins, He cryptically revealed that He would provide the decisive atonement: “Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people” (Deut. 32:43; Ps. 65:3; 79:9). However, He conspicuously neglected to disclose the redemption or atonement price:
· “For this is what the LORD says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed’” (Isa. 52:3).
Redemption always costs. What then would the atonement for God’s people cost? This disclosure is curiously opaque. This takes us back to the question of the nature of the atonement cover resting on the ark and the Law it contained. Why this complex of mysteries—the atonement, its price, and its agent? Wasn’t the Law, with its sacrificial system, adequate? Evidently not! Seemingly, this sacrificial system would be superseded by a new but still hidden atonement or mercy, the Savior Jesus.
However, according to Psalm 25, this truth was hidden in plain sight from those who were not ready to see it and perhaps even despise what is closest to the heart of our Lord.
The Hebrew Scriptures are home to many mysteries, all pointing to the Savior and His Gospel. Jesus even affirmed that these Scriptures are about Him:
· “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)
This assertion gives us permission to search out Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures, the very thing that I now want to do in just one other way by focusing on one little phrase – “the arm of the Lord.” Let’s take one enticing example:
· “Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.” (Isaiah 59:15-16; Ezekiel 22:30)
The Lord was distressed by the lack of truth and justice, but there was no one to intercede on behalf of His people. Therefore, He would have to intercede with Himself to bring salvation, and His arm would be the Intercessor. However, it doesn’t make any sense for Him to intercede with Himself unless He is a plurality of Persons. Is this what our Lord intends to reveal to us?
In a very similar verse, He says:
· “For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me.” (Isaiah 63:4-5)
Is our Lord speaking of a distinct Person bringing salvation? We find a parallel scene in the Book of Revelation, which might shed some light on this question. In this vision, no one was found righteous to unlock God’s scroll, allowing God’s redemptive plan to go forward:
· Then I [John] saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1-5)
Only the Lamb of God was found worthy. It seems that it is He who is this same arm of God, the one who “brought…salvation” for God (Isaiah 63:5). A few verses later, we read about “the Angel of His Presence” who had brought salvation. Could this be the same Person?
· In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)
If He had redeemed them, He had to pay a redemption price for them, the very thing that the Son had done for us. Who is this “Angel of His Presence” who had saved them from Egypt? Is this another reference to the “arm of the Lord?”
· The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people…My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:1-314)
The Angel, also referred to as “My Presence,” is a distinct Person. He would lead Israel out of Egypt (Numbers 20:16), because God the Father could not remain in close proximity to Israel:
· “Behold, I send an angel [or “messenger” in the Hebrew] before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. (Exodus 23:20-21)
All of this sounds suspiciously like the second Person of the Trinity. For one thing, God’s name – His character and essence – is in this angel, signifying that He is God. As we continue to examine references to the “arm of the Lord,” I think that this will become more apparent. The arm also seems to be a Person:
· Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:10-11)
His Arm rules. He gathers, carries, and gently leads His flock. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10). Israel was even waiting for the Arm of the Lord, who brings salvation:
· “My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed… O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?” (Isaiah 51:5-6; 9)
His Arm is again associated with His salvation, something that the entire world awaits and will see. For whom do they wait? For a literal arm? No, for their Savior:
· The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)
Not only will the world see the Arm of the Lord, He will also die for the sins of the world:
· Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?... He was despised and rejected by men… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:1-5)
The Arm is the Son of God Himself, the Savior of the world. This should not surprise us. Jesus, Himself, said that the Hebrew Scriptures are about Him, and this is just what we are finding. But why are these Scriptures so cryptic? Why not more explicit?
For one thing, we can profitably handle only so much light. God discloses it to us in incremental digestible portions. Jesus declared that His disciples were not yet ready for full disclosure:
· “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (John 16:12)
For another thing, the world was not supposed to see what was intended for His Chosen. Jesus purposely taught in parables for this reason. He warned us to not through our pearls of wisdom before swine (Mathew 7:6). However, the Father had other reasons to hide Jesus and His New Covenant:
· But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8)
But why would God hide the revelation of His mercy? I think that as the natural must precede the spiritual, so too must the law precede mercy. Why? Mercy is shallow and meaningless unless we have a deep understanding of our need for mercy – that we are sinners who deserve only death and damnation (Romans 6:23). The gift of life is not a gift as long as we think that we deserve it as our entitlement. The law illuminates our sin, showing us that we are only entitled to death (Romans 3:19-20; Deut. 27:26).
Without this understanding, God’s mercy is foolishness (1 Corinthians 2:14). The way to God’s mercy must therefore be carefully elucidated. The lessons of the law must first humble us, as the sinner who had entered the Temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). Only then can it serve as a teacher to lead us to the hidden Messiah (Galatians 3:24).