Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn't mercy.
Mercy, compassion, forgiveness, justice--these words seem to work in unison with each other. I'm particularly picturing a courtroom. We often say that a judge was compassionate yet merciful in the sentencing of a person convicted of a crime. We might also say that justice was served in that punishment, or that the wronged party offered forgiveness in their compassion for another human being. It can be a very tense push & pull for all involved.
Merciful is one of the first words God uses to describe Himself to His people. We often think of mercy as a withholding of punishment, but we know that God's definition goes far beyond that. He doesn't withhold punishment out of disinterest or because He's just had enough. Instead, He is full of compassion for His erring children. He longs to bring us near. In the Old Testament, the very place where God's presence hovered in the Tabernacle & Temple was called the Mercy Seat! He is a God of Mercy!
(Back in 2021, I wrote this post about forgiveness in the Bible. It might be a helpful compliment to this one.)
Don't let anyone tell you that the Bible is just a list of rules. Instead, it is a beautiful story of the most merciful Being in all the universe & how He relates to this very UN-merciful human race. I mean, the words mercy & merciful occur in Scripture 185 times!!!!! We won't get to them all here, but we're going to try to get a complete picture of what God has to say about mercy.
Ready for this loooong but really insightful list?!
Genesis 19:16 - But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.
This first mention of mercy in the Bible comes in the story of Lot. Abraham's nephew had managed to rise to prominence in the most wicked city in the world at that time. It was so sinful that destruction was imminent. God sent His own angels to drag Lot & his family out of the city before it fell. We see here that Lot lingered--he didn't want to leave. Yet, God was merciful & the angels dragged them out! God was holding back His punishment until this "just man" (as he's called later in the Bible) was delivered.
Genesis 43:14 - May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.
Jacob is speaking here. He's in the midst of famine in his own land & having to send his sons back & forth to Egypt to buy food. And who should his sons meet there but the brother (Joseph) that they sold into slavery all those years before. (That's "the man" he's referring to.) This whole story is a story of mercy & forgiveness, so it's fitting that we're taking a look at it in this post. A lot of details that we're not going to get into here for the sake of time, but we can definitely see that Jacob is hoping his sons do not receive what they justly deserve.
Exodus 25:17–22 - "You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel."
God is giving the instructions for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant that will be topped with this golden mercy seat. Flanked by golden angels, the mercy seat would be the place where the very presence of I AM would hover to meet with His people. Incredible! As I said above, don't believe the lies that Satan wants to spread about our God. He is not a cosmic bully, crushing mankind under his thumb. Mercy is the very place He rests His presence when communicating with His erring children. Thank you, Father, for Your Mercy!
Exodus 26:34 - "You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place."
Here, Israel received further instructions as to where in the Tabernacle to place the mercy seat. The Most Holy Place. Even if you haven't had the chance to get super familiar with the structure of the Tabernacle, the name pretty much says it all. This Most Holy Place was behind a thick, beautifully woven veil. Only the High Priest could enter & only on the most holy day & only after a meticulous cleansing (spiritual & physical) process. This mercy seat sits in the most important place in the most important place in the Israelite camp. Mercy must be pretty important to God!
Exodus 33:19-20 - And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live."
This passage is God's reply to Moses' request to see His glory. This response is very matter-of-fact. God is gracious & merciful. Despite that, no human could ever bear the sight of the fullness of the glory of His presence.
Exodus 34:6-8 - The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation." And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.
Here's the follow-up to the previous passage. God hides Moses in a crevice between rocks & passes before him. As He passes, He tells Moses more about Himself. Did you see the first thing? MERCIFUL! Our wonderful, merciful, gracious God is so incredibly patient with us. His heart overflows with steadfast, covenant love for us. He keeps His promises & remembers His covenants. He forgives. He is also just & sin cannot be ignored. This is the God that we serve. This is the God who loves us! I'm right there with Moses because what else can you do with this than fall down & worship?
Leviticus 16:2–5, 11–17 - And the LORD said to Moses, "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
"Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
"Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel."
These verses in Leviticus give us the explanation of the function of the Mercy Seat. We see the very awesome task given to the High Priest. God warned multiple times about the possibility of Aaron's death if he doesn't enter His presence properly. Aaron get instructions, including that he must first make a sacrifice to atone for his own sins. (It's very interesting that Aaron's sin offering had to be a bull & the offering for the people-the whole nation of Israel-was a goat. A bit humbling to know that the offering for your own sin is much bigger than the one for everyone else.) Now, the Mercy Seat that has been so lovingly carved of the most precious material is sprinkled with blood. This was the Day of Atonement. It had to happen every year because the blood of bulls & goats could only temporarily clean the sin from the people. The blood sprinkled on the Mercy seat points us to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus's blood. His death tore the veil in 2 (literally & figuratively) & now we can enter God's presence without an extravagant ritual, without a priest or saint to pray for us. We can approach boldly because of Jesus Christ!
Deuteronomy 4:30-31 - When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.
In the verses leading up to these, Moses gives the people warnings against idolatry. He cautions them that when they take possession of the land, they will be tempted to participate in idol worship. Moses also reminds them of the covenant they have made with God. That they would serve Him alone. But Israel will be unfaithful to the covenant. They will turn away from serving the only true God. And when that happens, judgement will come. They will be scattered among the nations. BUT our merciful God will bring them back to Himself. They will return & obey. He remains faithful even when His people do not
Deuteronomy 7:2 - And when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
I honestly almost skipped over this one. The instructions God gives for the conquering of the promised land are hard to understand, especially when we're looking at it with our 21st-century eyes. If we consider this verse in its context, it starts to gain more clarity. Look at the previous passages to see the special covenant relationship God made with this people. The next verses show that this "no mercy" strategy was intended as a safeguard for that relationship. We do have the benefit of seeing Israel's history through the rest of the OT & know that they didn't follow God's instructions. And what happened? Idolatry. Just like Moses warned. Still a hard passage, but context helps.
Deuteronomy 13:17-18 - None of the devoted things shall stick to your hand, that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger and show you mercy and have compassion on you and multiply you, as he swore to your fathers, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God.
This comes at the end of a warning against idolatry. The land the Israelites were about to enter was full of idol worship. God gave them specific instructions about what to do with the idols & the items associated with idol worship. They were to heap them up & burn them. God is serious about being the one & only God that we serve & devote our lives to. From Israel conquering the Promised Land to the 21st century Christian who lets everything & everyone have priority over their walk with God. We all are commanded to worship Him alone.
Deuteronomy 28:49-50- The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.
The context of these verses are from a set of warnings against disobedience. As we read the Old Testament, we'll see that these very warnings are fulfilled due to Israel's sin. It's important to see the contrast this nation showing no mercy to the endless mercifulness of God.
Deuteronomy 30:1-3 - And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.
God's merciful restoration of His people when they return to Him. Thank God for His mercy!
Joshua 11:20 - For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
Here, we see the Canaanites engaging in conflict with Israel as they enter the Promised Land. We also see the opposite of mercy being showed to them because of this decision. Israel becomes God's means of showing "no mercy" because of their hard hearts that were bent on destroying God's people.
2 Samuel 22:26 (also Psalm 18:25) - With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
David is celebrating! God has just given him victory over his enemies & he sings this song of praise to God. David echoes the very promises that God gave to Moses & the people in the wilderness.
2 Samuel 24:14 - Then David said to Gad, "I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man."
But now David is not celebrating. He has sinfully carried out a census of the people & God has judged his sin. Why was it sinful for David to have an accurate count of the citizens of his kingdom? David's heart motivation wasn't that of a wise steward of God's people. He was showing that he was depending on the strength of having more men than his enemies instead of remembering that God is the One who gives the victory. As David recognizes his sin, he is given 3 options for God's judgment. He chooses the one that puts him at the hands of God's mercy because he knows how great that is.
1 Kings 20:31 - And his servants said to him, "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life."
In this passage, we find Israel's enemy Ben-hadad & his servants discussing a plan to fool King Ahab. (We are in the time of the divided kingdom--just to give you some more context.) While Ahab was likely the worst of all of Israel's kings, it's interesting that the nation & its kings have this reputation of being merciful. Perhaps because they have a merciful God?
2 Chronicles 30:9 - For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.
The good king of Judah, Hezekiah, has restored the Temple & is reinstituting Passover. Some of the people had been taken captive before this, & now they have hope that as they return to the Lord, they will receive His mercy.
Nehemiah 1:11 - "O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man." Now I was cupbearer to the king.
We've jumped forward in Israel's history to the time of exile. Nehemiah is in an extremely important position--placing his own life at risk for King Artaxerxes. He's just heard from someone who has visited the homeland of Israel & found the great city of Jerusalem in shambles. This breaks Nehemiah's heart, so he calls out to God. He's asking that this human king will show mercy in allowing Nehemiah a chance to cause the city to be restored. How incredible is it that this Jewish man was in such a position in this Gentile court?! Only God could cause that to happen.
Nehemiah 9:17 - They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
This is a very, very, very long corporate confession of sin. (I say long, but that's just by today's standards because when have you heard a corporate confession of sin that was longer than a few sentences?) They basically go back over their history & confess how their ancestors fell short & where they personally have also sinned against God. How awful to have to look back at all the ways you have missed the mark, chosen your own way, & put something over God! And yet that second sentence! That's why we can do this! Confession leads to forgiveness. God is ready!
Psalm 23:6 - Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
One of the most repeated psalms, we see God as our Good Shepherd. This ending verse is such a good reminder to meditate on. The psalmist is confident that God's goodness & mercy will be there every single day. Wow! That just calms my soul. No matter the upheaval around the world. No matter who wins the next election. No matter if my loved ones get sick. No matter if life gets hard. I can know for sure that I can depend on God.
Psalm 25:6 (similar calls for mercy in Psalms 28, 30, 55, 57) - Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
An often repeated call is for God to remember His mercy or hear a cry for mercy. Do you think that David or the other psalmists actually think God forgot? Obviously not, but that doesn't mean that you might feel that way in the moment of great stress & heartache. I'm currently reading a book about the feelings expressed throughout the Psalms & I'll have to link it here when I get through it. These Psalms really are helpful in showing us that others have struggled before us. And yet their cries to God (with all of those raw emotions) are included in the cannon of Scripture. God didn't dismiss them. He inspired those very words they wrote.
Psalm 40:11 - As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!
This one is very similar to the confident tone of Psalm 23:6.
Psalm 51:1 - Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
A different call for mercy. This one isn't just deliverance from an enemy. This one is a plea for mercy on sin. David's sin ended up not just affecting his relationship with God. At the very least, it also affected a woman, her husband, & an innocent baby. David's cry for mercy is out of repentance. He sees the ugliness of his sin & desperately calls for God to be merciful in his judgment. Our sins likely aren't on the scale of rape & murder, but they are ugly nonetheless. We, too, should be lamenting & repenting & confessing & crying out for mercy.
Psalm 103:8 (similar praises given in Psalm 145) - The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
This psalm is a call to praise the Lord for Who He is & all the wonderful things He has done. The preceding verse to this one is recalling the time of Moses, & this verse reminds us of the description God gave in Exodus 34.
Proverbs 12:10 - Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
Here is Proverbs, we get a contrasting description of the righteous & the wicked. The righteous person is a good steward & cares about even the animals entrusted to him. On the other hand, we see the wicked person who isn't even capable of mercy. What he calls mercy is actually cruelty. Proverbs has so many of these pictures comparing those who follow God & those who don't.
Proverbs 21:10 - The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
Once again, we see the wicked person having no mercy. It makes sense that one who has rejected God would be the opposite of Him.
Proverbs 28:13 - Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
This reminds me of Psalm 51.
Isaiah 30:18 - Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
The people are rebelling, yet God calls for them to return to Him. He promises mercy to these sinful people & He promises the same to us today.
Isaiah 60:10 - Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
This chapter is looking ahead at the Israel that will be ruled by King Jesus when He returns. God's favor rests on His people & His mercy is lavished on them.
Jeremiah 3:12 - Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever.
Israel is once again seen here in her rebellion. She has been faithless, but Jeremiah receives this call for them to repent & return to God. Once again, this personal description of God is that He is merciful. Definitely not the OT God that I always assumed from the various Sunday school stories I was told as a kid!
Jeremiah 31:20 - Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD.
Yet another call to His people to return to Him. Yet another promise of mercy. What a God we serve!
Jeremiah 33:25-26 - Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.
God promises peace & mercy & restoration to Israel when they repent of their sin & worship Him alone.
Jeremiah 36:7 - "It may be that their plea for mercy will come before the LORD, and that every one will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and wrath that the LORD has pronounced against this people.”
Jehoiakim is King of Judah. Jeremiah is banned from God's house. He writes down a message from God for the people about crying for mercy to God & sends it with a messenger to read it before the people. Then, the message is so important that they send it all the way to the King. The King doesn't act as the others thought he would. He seizes the scroll & burns it. The people could have had God's mercy but because of their wicked king & their own lack of true heart change, they received His judgment.
Lamentations 2:2 - The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.
Jeremiah was told at the beginning of the book of Jeremiah that God would judge His people for their sin. And now, Jeremiah is lamenting the utter destruction of Israel. If we look back to those original covenants between God & Israel, we see that this is exactly what the people knew would happen as a result of their rebellion. And yet, God includes these cries of grief in the Bible. Maybe one reason is to remind us that lamenting is OK. Even if it was an inevitable consequence of our actions, it is OK to cry out to God. It's also a reminder of God's justice. He is merciful & righteous. He cannot just be one of those things. He is perfectly both.
Lamentations 3:22-23 - The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Yet, even in that heartbreak, Jeremiah recognizes God's faithfulness & endless mercy.
Ezekiel 39:25 - “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name.
The section prior to this verse is God pronouncing His ultimate judgement on the enemy of the people. He then promises restoration & mercy t o His people. This repetition of the same idea must mean it's important!
Daniel 2:18 - and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
King Nebuchadnezzar wants to know the meaning of his dream, but when his wise men can't help, he condemns them all to death. Before the King kills all the wise men (including Daniel & his 3 friends), Daniel goes to his 3 friends to ask them to pray along with him for God's mercy in showing him the interpretation. God answers their calls with a vision for Daniel. Sometimes, calls for God's mercy are answered swiftly like that!
Daniel 4:27 - Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
Another dream, another interpretation. In this one, Daniel tries to encourage the King to repent of his sinfulness & to turn towards showing mercy to the people.
Daniel 9:3, 9, 17-18 - Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. . . .To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him. . . . Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.
Daniel's life was extraordinary. He was taken captive as a young man & rose to prominence in the courts of Babylon. Then, he sees that empire fall & another rise. Here, we see his prayer for his people--God's people. He is earnestly praying & fasting on their behalf. The second half of the book of Daniel get really deep really fast. But after a few chapters of those visions, we have a godly man kneeling to pray an intercessory prayer for Israel.
Daniel 9:23 - At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
This is actually Gabriel talking to Daniel. How incredible that Daniel's plea for mercy was answered in such a way!
Hosea 1:6-8 - She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen." When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son.
We've talked about Hosea before, right? Hosea was given a heartbreaking task: marry a prostitute, have children with her, remain faithful to her no matter how many times she is unfaithful to you. Their first child was a son who was named "Jezreel" meaning "God will scatter." This little baby's name doesn't need a study Bible to help us understand. "No Mercy." Pretty self-explanatory. However, if you do peek at a study Bible, it might tell you that the Hebrew word here actually more closely translates "not pitied." Israel will be scattered & they will no longer feel the favor of God on their nation. Oh, and the baby they had after "No Mercy" was named "Not My People." It was a very vivid picture of the broken covenant between God & Israel.
Hosea 2:23 - "and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
This second chapter of Hosea addresses Israel's punishment for her sin. But it also shows her return to the Lord. And her restoration as his people once again. Makes me think of that song my kids love to sing--"Our sins they are many. His mercy is more."
Hosea 14:3 - "Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”
Hosea ends with this plea for the people to return to the Lord. These are the words God wants to hear from His Israel. And not just as empty words but as evidence of a true heart transformation.
Joel 2:13 - "...and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Joel is another prophet that pleads with God's people to return to Him. He echoes those words that God used to describe Himself back in Exodus.
Jonah 4:2 - And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster..."
Here's that refrain again--"gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love." Except Jonah is using it as if it were a negative. As kids, we hear that Jonah rebelled against God's instructions, spent 3 days in the belly of a large sea creature, & finally does what God asked him to do. He preaches to the wicked, Gentile city of Nineveh & they repent! Praise God! But that's not Jonah's reaction. He tells God that the reason he didn't want to follow God's command to preach to Nineveh was because he knew these things about God. He knew that God's mercy would reach even these evil people & he wanted to see them destroyed not saved. Aren't we exactly the same? We love that God has been merciful to us, but when we see His mercy at work for someone else, we struggle to rejoice with them. Let's remember Jonah & strive to delight in God's mercy at every turn.
Habakkuk 3:2 - O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.
Habakkuk is a short book. The first 2 chapters are his complaints to the Lord & God's answer to him. Here, Habakkuk changes to a song. The circumstances are still heartbreaking, but now he's come to a place of pleading for mercy.
Zechariah 7:9 - “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another,
Exiles have returned from Babylon to resettle Jerusalem & some of the surrounding villages. However, they know that the Lord's favor isn't on them & they ask Zechariah to tell them why. Here we have God's message to these men. The crux of the matter is that they have been practicing all the religious rites (fasting, praying, etc.), but their hearts are not fully following after God. God calls on them to worship fully with their whole hearts. This verse in particular is listing some of the fruits of genuine faith in Him, mercy being one of those evidences.
Zechariah 12:10 - “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
I almost cut this one, but I can't! It's a reference to Jesus! This prophecy is looking far ahead to Jesus's second coming when Israel's eyes will finally be opened to the Messiah that they rejected & pierced. A wave of repentance will roll over them as they recognize His redeeming work on their behalf.
Matthew 5:7 - Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Moving into the New Testament, this one is from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which He describes what His kingdom looks like.
Matthew 9:13 (also 12:7)- Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus is speaking in rebuke to the religious leaders after they criticize His choices of companions, even calling a tax collector to join His inner circle of disciples. (He's referencing a verse I didn't list here, but it's in Hosea.) This isn't the only time that Jesus will point out the Pharisees & their lack of mercy. If you want to see more, you can look at Matthew 18:33 & 23:23. The contrast between the mercy of God & the lack of the Pharisees is clearly called out.
Matthew 15:22 - And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
A woman desperately pleads with Jesus to heal her child. She isn't Jewish, yet she calls Him by a Messianic title & asks for His mercy. Jesus doesn't immediately answer her. In that mercy, He draws her out a little further. As she more fully expresses her faith, Jesus praises her for the bold declaration of her faith! (We see this plea for mercy & healing in a couple events throughout the Gospels.)
Mark 5:19 - And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Jesus says these words to the man whom He healed of demonic possession. The man is so grateful that He just wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus commissions the man to go & tell. He also identifies Himself as "the Lord." And highlights the mercy shown.
Luke 1:50, 54- And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. . . . He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.
Mary's Magnificat - her song of praise to God after sharing the news of the coming Messiah (through her womb) with her cousin.
Luke 1:72, 78 - to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, . . .because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
John the Baptist has just been born & his father Zechariah's speech has been restored. His first words are of worship to the God who has been merciful to Israel & remained faithful to His promise to Abraham.
Luke 6:36 - Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
God is merciful & those who are called HIs children should reflect their Father. (This verse is part of what is sometimes referred to as Jesus' "Sermon on the Plain." I recently read a book by Alistair Begg about this very sermon & reviewed it in this post.)
Luke 10:37 - He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
This is the ending to the parable of the Good Samaritan. And Jesus told that story to answer the question, "Who is my neighbor?" (A scribe was doing his very best impression of a question-asking child in an attempt to trick or stump Jesus.) So, Jesus tells this story about a man who gets robbed & beat & left for dead. A priest & a Levite (Jewish religious leaders) walk past & do nothing to help the injured man. But a Samaritan (hated by the Jews) stops to help. He not only takes the man to where he can get help, he also pays for it all. He shows kindness & compassion to a man who would never do the same for him. Jesus ends the story with His own question for the scribe. "Which of these three, do you think, proved himself to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves?" This verse contains the scribe's (probably resentful) answer & Jesus' instruction.
Luke 18:13 - But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
This contrasting account of prayers offered at the Temple--one from a proud Pharisee & the other from a humble tax collector-- has been such a powerful reminder to many of the harm that our religiosity can do. We, like the Pharisee, feel really good about ourselves for being a member of a church, sitting in that pew every (other-ish) Sunday, singing the hymns, reading the "verse of the day" on some app, blah, blah, blah. Yet, we don't realize that we are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (Rev. 3:17) "All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." (Isaiah 64:6) The tax collector saw his (& our) true condition--a sinner in desperate need of God's saving mercy!
Luke 18:38-39 (also recorded in Matthew 20: 30-31 & Mark 10:47-48; another similar encounter with 2 blind men can be seen in Matthew 9:27) - And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Here's that plea for merciful healing that we saw before. I think it's so interesting how the cry isn't "Heal me, please!" That would be what I would say, right?! Instead, it's clearly an act of faith to call out to someone you can't see & ask Him for mercy. And it's definitely an act of faith to call Him by a Messianic title. Jesus sees that faith & tells them, "Your faith has made you well."
Romans 9:22-24 - What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?
When we zoom out & take into account the whole of chapter 9, we see that Paul is discussing the often-debated topic of election. It's a difficult thing for even the most educated theologians to fully comprehend & explain. Why does He choose one person but not the other? If God sovereignly chooses who will come to Him, why do we need to go & tell them? If He is sovereign, do we really have a free will to choose? If He's so loving, why does He send people to Hell? So many more questions about this subject swirl & get debated & have been discussed since the early church. Paul is talking about God's mercy in this tense context! From that we can see that we are all rebels bound for utter destruction. But God predestined the ones who will be mercifully saved. (And that's about as deep as my understanding can go at this point. Please help me out if you have another insight into this passage!)
Romans 11:30-32 - For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Another deep wade into the theological pools with Paul in this passage. He's talking to a mostly Gentile audience about Israel & the question of what will happen to the Jewish people following their overall rejection of the Messiah. Obviously, there was a portion who believe (Paul is one of them). In the disobedience of the majority of the Jewish nation, God made an opportunity for the Gentiles (who were also disobedient) to receive His mercy. Paul finishes this section with exclamations over the depths & mysteries of God's ways.
Romans 12:1 - I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Based on that incredible mercy of God that Paul just talked about in the previous passage, this is how we should live. In contrast to the animal sacrifices of the OT, we are to live out a life of sacrifice to God. We have been given so much. We were dead in our sins. We were unable to save ourselves. God, in the richness of His mercy, made a way! He has made us alive! How can we do anything else but live for Him?
Romans 12:8 - the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness
Part of a list of spiritual gifts & some encouragement & instructions for using them.
Romans 15:9 - and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
Back again to the topic of the Gentiles & Jews both being part of this redemption story. Paul quotes from OT authors showing that this was always God's plan - that the Gentiles share in His mercy.
2 Corinthians 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
The beginning of a benediction, Paul points to each person of the Trinity. He particularly points to God being "Father of Mercies." This again hearkens back to those traditional prayers that Israel has been praying throughout their history.
2 Corinthians 4:1 - Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
The ministry Paul's referring to is from the previous chapter - preaching the New Covenant which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They saw this ministry as the gift of God's mercy. Despite the persecution that he constantly faced, Paul knew he could continue on because of that incredible mercy.
Galatians 6:16 - And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
"This rule" is that circumcision is no longer a requirement but instead that a person is a "new creation." Paul prays peace (no longer enemies of God) & mercy (forgiveness from God) on those who truly believe, including the believing Jewish brothers & sisters.
Ephesians 2:4 - But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
One of my favorite passages in Scripture, Paul reminds us in the preceding verses that we were dead in our sins, slavishly following our own desires. BUT GOD! His mercy reached even us!
1 Timothy 1:13, 16 - though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,. . . But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Another great passage that shows the contrast between before & after God's mercy!
Titus 3:5 - he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
You should stop right now & read this verse in its context. OK- did that? Now, remember how we've talked about our condition before God's mercy reached down & transformed us from dead to alive, from blind to seeing, from slave to free? Here, Paul is once again emphasizing our inability to save ourselves. It is only by God's merciful regeneration of us that we have been justified & made heirs with Christ.
Hebrews 2:17 - Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
The writer of Hebrews writes this entire book explaining to a group of Hebrew believers how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the OT laws. Here, we see Him referred to as the high priest & the propitiation. Jesus' incarnation was important in these 2 aspects. His incarnation allowed for Him to walk a mile in our shoes, dealing with everyday human problems like exhaustion, hunger, injuries. His incarnation more importantly allowed Him to step into our place & satisfy God's wrath toward mankind.
Hebrews 4:16 - Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Remember way, way back in the OT verses when we talked about the Mercy Seat & how it was where the presence of God would hover? Who was allowed to approach it? Only the High Priest & only once a year, right? Here, the Bible is reminding us that we have no longer have any such restrictions! Jesus' death cleared the record of hostility between God & those who believe on Him. We are no longer cast out but brought near. We don't have to cower in fear of God's wrath. We can approach Him as the beloved children we are.
Hebrews 9:5 - Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Again, the writer is speaking to a Jewish audience who knew all about the history of the tabernacle & temple. He briefly touches on these things to then show how Jesus was the Tabernacle personified. He was God dwelling with man. His blood sacrifice superseded the blood of all of those sheep & goats.
James 2:13 - For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment
James is talking about partiality or prejudice that he was seeing in the church. He's calling them out for their lack of mercy. We who have known such mercy should be the most merciful people, right?
James 3:17 - But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
I remember memorizing this passage with some roommates. I think the one was trying to get the 2 selfish freshmen (I was one of them) to wake up, but it did not work. However, I do still remember these verses & think about them often. Heavenly wisdom (the embodiment of which is in Jesus) is full of mercy. Again, we have received mercy from God. We then should reflect that mercy to others.
James 5:11 - Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Wrapping up his letter, James is talking about suffering & how we can face it without wavering. We can do so by remembering & meditating on God's character, particularly His mercy & compassion. I just love how this reminds me of all the way back in Exodus when God describes Himself in this very way.
1 Peter 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
Peter opens his epistle with this praise of God, reminding the believers of His great mercy in regenerating us to a true & living hope through Jesus. (I wrote a post listing Bible verses about hope & you can find it here!)
1 Peter 2:10 - Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The phrasing of this reminds me of Hosea's child's name, right? We were not even a people, but we have received God's mercy! We've been given a new life & a new identity. We should live differently in light of that.
2 John 3 - Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
These 3 gifts that God has granted to those who believe.
Jude 2 - May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.'
According to the John MacArthur's notes in his study Bible, "mercy & peace" was a common Jewish greeting. Jude added "love" to that greeting "to make this distinctively Christian."
Jude 21-23 - keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Jude is wrapping up his letter with an encouragement for those who must persevere through persecution. And also a reminder to show mercy to those who are struggling with doubts. Walking through trials is a prime time for spiritual attacks that bring doubt. Even authentic believers deal with questions that threaten to shake their very foundations. Some go further in their spiritual struggle, but they still need mercy from their brothers & sisters to bring them back. All done with that wonderful mercy that we've been shown.
Phew! That was a lot! I skipped over a few that echoed similar thoughts to shorten this lengthy list. Feel free to search those out for yourself if you want more reminders of God's mercy for us.
I'm seeing 3 big ideas:
I know that was a lot to read through, & I don't blame you if you only got to read a bit. But would you do me a favor & save it for later? Come back & revisit these verses often. We've only scratched the surface of our understanding of our great God & His divine mercy.
Cheering you on!
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