God is a God of mercy. When he appeared to Moses, he declared his name before himself in these words: “…The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth…. “ (Exo. 34:6 NKJV). We see that in mercy he led his people forth out of Egypt to their habitation (Ex. 15:13). Perhaps one of the most repeated themes of praise in the Bible are the words, “His mercy endures forever.” In Psalm 136 alone, this refrain is repeated 26 times.
It is God’s mercy to which we sinners primarily appeal. We see this demonstrated in the words of the penitent David in Psalm 51:1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” The Father assures us in Psalm 147:11 that he is pleased with such an approach, for the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his mercy.
Of course, the greatest act of mercy that God has ever demonstrated was to send his Son to die for our sins. In Titus 3:5 we read that “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy….” Mercy was such an important thing to the early Christians that they often included it in their greetings. We see this in 1 Timothy 1:2 and in a lot of other places: “To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
GOD EXPECTS HIS CHILDREN TO BE MERCIFUL
Because God is a merciful God, he expects his children to be merciful. Mercy is so important that God instructs us to bind it around our necks and write it upon the tablet of our hearts (Prov. 3:3). In Matthew 23:23, we learn that mercy is one of the weightier matters of the law, and that it takes precedence over many other things. The prophet Hosea informs us that God desires mercy, even more than he desires sacrifice (Hos. 6:6). In what seems to be a watershed statement in the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet says to us in Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
When Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, he summarized the biblical teaching in these simple words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7). In another place, the Lord gives us a simple command to be merciful: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Let us look at some aspects of mercy and try to bring this command down to where we live our daily lives.
SOME ASPECTS OF MERCY
God’s people of old were taught to show mercy in many everyday actions. In Exodus 22:26-27, we read that a garment, taken in pledge for a debt, had to be returned before the sun went down. This was an act of mercy in order that the neighbor may not have to shiver all night without a covering. The people of Israel were warned about oppressing the poor and were commanded instead to show mercy to them. There is a beautiful promise attached that we see in the Psalms: “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble“ (Psa. 41:1). This promise is also reflected in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as we saw above in Matthew 5:7. We learn that what we give in showing mercy, we also receive. There is a beautiful custom in Israel of considering the poor by placing unused bread near the walkways, so that hungry people may be able to eat. God will bless us for such small things.
Another example of mercy in the Hebrew scriptures is found in Deuteronomy 22:8: “When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.” Many apartment buildings in Israel are about four stories in height. It is customary in these tall buildings to have a wall or railing on top, probably in obedience to this very injunction. Although expensive, it is an act of mercy designed to prevent needless injury and death. A few summers ago the weather was extremely hot in the Middle East. At the time, numerous people in Greece fell to their deaths while sleeping on their roofs. Obviously they did not have the biblical command about parapets to protect them.
God’s people of old were kind to their animals, while even the tender mercies of the wicked were cruel (Prov. 12:10). This also applied to wild creatures. In Deuteronomy 22:6-7 we read that if a bird’s nest was found along the way, and the mother was found sitting with the young or on the eggs, the mother could not be taken with the young. This is a commandment of mercy and its fulfillment results in one’s receiving mercy, blessing and length of days. Probably, for the sake of mercy, it was also unlawful to boil a kid in its mother’s milk, although this was obviously the custom of many pagans (Exo. 23:19).
In 1 Kings 20:31, we have an interesting verse showing us how the nations regarded the people of Israel. When the Syrians were defeated in battle, they appealed to rulers of Israel for mercy, because they had heard that the kings of Israel were merciful kings. All this was in a day when it was common to impale enemies for public display, or hang their heads upon the city wall.
Today we have a great deal of Bible teaching and people, no doubt, feel they are sharing the very wisdom of God. But why is it that we have so little teaching about mercy? In James 3:17, the writer informs us, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” God’s wisdom is a wisdom that is full of mercy. We need to always remember this fact in our teaching and in our dealing with others. For those not interested in mercy, the same author informs us, “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful….” (Jas. 2:13).
GODS MERCY UPON ISRAEL
We know as believers that we are living examples of God’s mercy. It was strictly because of his mercy that he saved us. We Gentiles were not a people. We were beyond hope and strangers from his covenants. God alone decided to have mercy upon us and to save us (Tit. 3:5). We read in Isaiah 14:1, that God in mercy will not only settle Israel once more in their homeland, but that he will in mercy allow us strangers to be settled with them.
One of the primary words for mercy in the Hebrew scriptures is Chesed. It has the meaning of kindness, graciousness or mercy. All through the Hebrew scriptures this word is used to represent the steadfast, unfailing, covenant love of God toward Israel. The interesting thing about this covenant love is that it is not just something that God gave to Israel in the past, but something that he is giving in the present. It is a part of his eternal nature and even a part of his name. Because of this he cannot fail to show mercy.
In Zechariah 1:16, we have this beautiful promise to Israel: “Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem, ‘ declares the LORD Almighty.” Almost everywhere we look today in Israel, and especially in the city of Jerusalem, we see this promise fulfilled. It has gotten to the point where the building crane is almost the national bird of Israel.
In Psalm 102:13, there is another beautiful promise: “You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.” How do we know the set time has come for showing mercy to Israel? One reason is given in the next verse. It is because God’s servants take pleasure in her stones, and even favor their dust. For centuries, no one cared about the stones and dust of Israel, or the rich history and archaeological treasure buried beneath them. Now all that has changed. Every time we see an archaeologist gently dusting the stones of Israel with his small brush, we can know that this verse is fulfilled.
In verse 18 of this Psalm, we learn that these words are spoken for a coming generation. Perhaps this is the generation that God is speaking of. Are we the generation who will see him arise and show his mercy to Israel?
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is reprinted courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem. Original publication date, 1997.