Bible Study – The Covering

The Hebrew word for Atonement is kaphar. It means 'to covee', specifically with bitumen. The word for bitumen is kopher and kaphar comes from that. In a couple of weeks' time the Jews will celebrate the 'Day of Atonement' which in Hebrew is Yom Kippur. Yom means 'Day' and Kippur means 'Atonement', but it also comes from 'bitumen'. So it is like a 'Day of Bitumen'. What is it all about?

GENESIS 6:13-14. Noah built this huge boat out in the desert. As far as we know, he had never built a boat before. HEBREWS 11:7 says he had never seen a flood before and he lived in Mesopotamia where there was no sea, only rivers. Certainly no one had ever built a boat 450 feet long. So there it was, this monstrous thing sitting on the sand. It would have looked magnificent, awesome, and fantastic.

But if the flood had come then, it would have leaked like a sieve and sunk. There was no way all those wooden joints would hold out the water. Noah was an amateur boat builder, but even if he had been a craftsman, he could not have made it waterproof. So God said, "cover it with pitch, inside and outside."

This would have taken months, and every day Noah would have been covered in pitch from top to toe. Black filthy stuff.

Your Life

What does it all mean? From the time you are born, you start building a life. But you have never done it before. You are an amateur and you only get one chance at it. What you build will be full of holes. God is saying, "You need a covering, something to make you float. If you don't get in you will sink, or die without hope." We can have our dreams, and sense a destiny from God, and we can have lots of character. But we all fall short. Time and chance affect us all.

Your Family

The same with your family. You start having children, building up a little family, and do the best you can to raise them properly. You work at it, both in the home and at a workplace, buy houses, and so on, but so many times it falls apart. Nothing in this life will last the distance, or be as successful as it should, without God's Covering over it. It will sink.

The Church

Same thing with the church. I've never built a church before. Our church is full of "holes". It always will be. I apologised for everyone for all the ways in which we don't do things as well as we should. But God has given us the answer. We will never build a great church from our own resources of intelligence and experience. We haven't got enough of any of them. But God will cover us. That is the atonement. Obviously we do the very best we can for the Lord, but unless we also put huge trust in Him, and walk in His Ways, it will fail.

Noah and his Sons

(GENESIS 9:20-25) There is another form of atonement. We can cover each other. In the story, Noah's son Ham found him in a drunken sleep, and Noah was uncovered or part naked. It may be that the change of atmosphere after the flood had something to do with the potency of the wine. Anyway, Ham went and told his brothers, probably mocking the father. They reacted quite differently. They took a garment and walked backwards into the tent to cover him without looking at his nakedness.

I said to the folk that if you see me do something silly, or something you think is quite wrong, you can rush off and tell a friend, or your family, and leave me exposed and shamed. In doing so you will help hurt the church. Or you can give me and them a covering of grace, kindness and love. Will you cover them or expose them? Will we have the spirit of Ham or that of Shem and Japheth? The scriptural answer is always to go directly to the person and help them recover themselves. It may even be that what you see is in your own head, and not in the brother or sister at all.

Ruth and Boaz

Ruth said to Boaz, "spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman" (RUTH 3:9).

Ruth was a young foreign girl in a strange nation. She and Naomi were penniless and forced to live as the poorest people did, gleaning the fields.

She was vulnerable and exposed, or if you like, uncovered. Clearly when Boaz spoke to his young men (RUTH 2:9), he warned them not to touch or molest her, which was a strong possibility. In the passage quoted above, she specifically asked him to cover her, which was more than Naomi had suggested. As a result he became her kinsman-redeemer and also her covering or atonement. The effect of this atonement was to safeguard her and give her a mighty inheritance. From being a beggar in the fields she became the joint owner of them with her husband. In the same way the atonement or covering of Jesus in our lives provides us with protection and wealth, in every sense. It fills all the holes in our lives so that we survive and prosper.

Esther and the King

(ESTHER 5:1-2) This is another wonderful story of covering which I can only touch on. Read the whole book again. When Esther, after fasting for three days, walked into the throne room, she was totally exposed and vulnerable. She simply stood there, exquisitely beautiful, but entirely dependent on the king's grace. When the king held out his golden sceptre, the symbol of his authority, to Esther, she was offered all the protection and covering of his mighty kingdom which extended from India to Ethiopia (ESTHER 1:1). She was offered half the kingdom, and it is likely that in that moment, when the king saw her courage and called her Queen Esther, that she became the true and recognised queen of the realm and not just a beautiful consort for the king. As a result, her nation was covered. The Jews who would have been destroyed, were saved.

The parallels are obvious. We who have nothing are washed in the Blood of Jesus purified, and become part of His Bride. We were vulnerable, but are now protected with all of God's great promises and armour. He sees us as absolutely beautiful, without spot or blemish. We are covered by the Lord Jesus and become joint heirs of the Kingdom of God with Him. And much more.

The Three Arks

There are three arks in the Bible: Noah's Ark; Moses Ark, built by Jochebed, his mother; and the Ark of the Covenant. Each carried a cargo of infinite value. In one was the seed for a new world, in another the deliverer of Israel, and in the third the Testimony and glory of the nation. Each had a covering. The first two were covered with bitumen or kopher, as we have seen. From this word came the verb kapher which means 'to cover'.

EXODUS 25:10,17. The Ark of the Covenant was covered with the golden mercy seat called a kapporeth or simply a lid. Again this word derives from bitumen. The idea of mercy, or even a seat, is just not there in the original. The mercy seat was the bitumen or covering for the ark and everything in it. It was the golden plate with the cherubim at each end. God spoke to the nation from between the cherubim. In other words, God dwelt in the covering. This is significant if we go back to the other arks. God was "in" the bitumen.

The Covering

Ultimately God Himself is the covering, or atonement, and for us, Jesus is our atonement. Another interesting point is that when the Ark travelled it was to be given a double covering. The veil from the temple was to be wrapped around it, and skins put over the top (NUMBERS 4:5). We know the veil symbolises the Body of Christ, which again shows that He is the covering. He is like the foul black bitumen, an offence to men (GALATIANS 5:11). Yet, without Him, we all sink. He alone gives you the power to float off into Eternal Life.

COLOSSIANS 1:19-22: We are "holy, and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight", if we are under the Covering. See also EPHESIANS 1:4 and 5:27 which say we are "holy and without blemish". His Blood is our covering.

His Body, His love, His mercy, His grace. Everything about Him covers us, and we need to put ourselves thoroughly under Him.

Losing The Covering

Yom Kippur, or the 'Day of Atonement', was a day to put the covering back over the tabernacle and everything in it. Again, I won't go into detail, but it was a day to restore the purity of the tabernacle, which "remained among them in the midst of their uncleanness", God said (LEVITICUS 16:16). In the same way, unless we positively maintain our covering we lost it. You need to constantly rejoice in and admire your covering from God. You need to believe in it. Believe that because you are covered, you are holy and without blemish.

There was a time when the Ark of the Covenant lost its covering. The Israelites took it into battle. They did not take the mercy seat with it, nor did they take the veil. They left it completely exposed and it was captured by the Philistines (1 SAMUEL 4). Perhaps this was the greatest wickedness of the two corrupt sons of the high priest, Eli (1 SAMUEL 2:12-17, 22-25). Both they and their father should have died before they let the people separate the ark from its covering of the mercy seat and veil.

The ark was seven months with the Philistines (1 SAMUEL 6:1), then 20 years in a city of Israel called Kirjath Jearim, (1 SAMUEL 7:2). When David was crowned king he went and brought it back to Jerusalem (1 CHRONICLES 16:1). Why he did this is a mystery, because the tabernacle was in Gibeon, so the ark was still not covered. He should have brought the two together, either in Gibeon or Jerusalem. It was in the tent he made for it for the 30 years of his reign (2 CHRONICLES 1:3-4). Then Solomon built his temple, which was finished in his 11th year, and brought all the pieces of the tabernacle back together. He made two huge cherubim for the ark inside the Holy place. Each was 10 cubits or about 15 feet high and 10 cubits wide across its wings. The wingtips touched in the middle and touched the walls on each side (1 KINGS). When they put the ark back in under the cherubim we are told the glory of the Lord filled the temple and the priests could not stand to minister (1 KINGS 8:6-10).

However, a great tragedy had occurred. The ark had been without its covering for more than 60 years and when they checked it we read: "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb" (1 KINGS 8:9).

They lost their testimony of new life as revealed in Aaron's rod that budded, and the manna from Heaven, a symbol of Jesus. All they had were the tablets of stone, or the letter of the Law. From that time they seem to have degenerated into the legalistic community Jesus found when He came. Let's make sure we keep Jesus as our covering, and hold on to all the beautiful things we find in Him. 

By Pastor Fred Needham (New Zealand)

Taken from HQL-9642, p. 20-23