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(From Forerunner Commentary)
Perhaps because the Bible is so readily available in the Western world, our culture admires mercy. Ancient Rome did not share our admiration. Romans spoke of four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage—but not mercy. The Interpreter's Bible states that the Romans despised pity! The Greeks held similar views, thinking that mercy indicated weakness rather than strength. Aristotle wrote that pity was a troublesome emotion.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful
In Job 19:21-22 and Proverbs 19:17, the Hebrew word chanan is translated "pity" and means "to incline toward" or "be gracious." Pity is usually tender feeling for another person who is in misery or distress because of some unforeseen, uncontrollable, or accidental crisis. It is similar to compassion but differs with respect to whether the person in distress is sinning. The feeling of pity is motivated primarily by the weakness, misery, or degraded condition of the person being pitied. "We pity a man of weak understanding who exposes his weakness; we compassionate the man who is reduced to a state of beggary and want" (George Crabbe, Dictionary of English Synonyms, 1816) through little or no fault of his own. In contrast, self-pity is self-indulgently dwelling on one's own sorrows or trials.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 10): Self-Pity
English language dictionaries are of limited help in understanding this mercy's biblical usage. In English "mercy" is normally used to mean showing compassion, forbearance, pity, sympathy, forgiveness, kindness, tenderheartedness, or liberality or refraining from harming or punishing offenders or enemies. These synonyms give us some insight on this word; they all express how a merciful person might act. However, none of them specifically pictures what biblical mercy is because the scriptural concept is virtually untranslatable into a single English word.
The Greek word used in Matthew 5:7, eleemon, means essentially the same as its English counterpart, "merciful." However, in all likelihood Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and the idea behind His statement about mercy come from Old Testament—that is, Hebrew—usage and teaching. The word He would have used is the Hebrew and Aramaic chesed.
William Barclay's Daily Study Bible commentary on Matthew states regarding this word:
It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for some in trouble. Chesedh [sic], mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person's skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.
Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together with, and paschein which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he is going through. (p. 103)
Much easier said than done! Having a sense of another's feelings to this degree is very difficult to do because we are normally so self-concerned, so aware of our own feelings, that sensitivity for others to this depth often requires a great effort of the will. Normally, when we feel sorry for someone, it is an exclusively external act because we do not make the effort to get inside another's mind and heart until we can see and feel things as he does. It is not easy to walk in another person's shoes.
The world, from which we have all come, is true to its nature; it is unmerciful. The world prefers to insulate itself against the pains and calamities of others. It finds revenge delicious and forgiveness tame and unsatisfying.
This is where we all begin. Indeed, all too often in the church, worldliness is hardly dormant, revealing itself in acts that show some degree of cruelty. Usually, these cruelties are delivered verbally, but all too frequently, brethren simply ignore the real needs of others.
The mercy Jesus teaches is not humanly derived. He says in Matthew 6:14, "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you." This occurs, not because we can merit mercy by being merciful or forgiving of others, but because we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent. We cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others.
The truly merciful are too aware of their own sins to deal with others in sharp condemnation, so they constrain themselves to deal humbly and kindly with those in need. Nothing moves us to forgive others like the amazing realization that God has forgiven our sins. Mercy in God's children begins by experiencing His forgiveness of them, and perhaps nothing proves more convincingly that we have been forgiven than our readiness to forgive.
Recognizing God's mercy is a key element in motivating our expressions of mercy. Too many people today, even in the church, possess a "welfare mentality." They go through life with little or no gratitude, thinking they deserve the handouts of governments or private citizens. Ingratitude is vital to understanding this because, as long as one is unthankful, his thoughts will center on himself. The merciful person is sensitive to others' needs and takes action to supply them. An ungrateful person, though, insulates himself from others' pains because he is too focused on his own perceived miseries.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful
When we show pity, compassion, and kindness to those in difficult straits, we are practicing the merciful attitude that God expects each of His children to exhibit at all times. Of course, He does not want us to be so soft-hearted that we become an easy mark for those who would take advantage of us, but He does want us to develop a keen sense of discernment that realizes when mercy is a better option than the strict application of rules.
Undoubtedly, each of us would lend a helping hand to another who was in physical need, but there are other situations in which a physical need is not apparent that also require us to extend mercy. Particularly, we need to learn to employ mercy in our dealings with each other on a daily basis. To put it into today's language, everyone has bad-hair days, and on some days, even a normally lovable person can be very difficult to live with.
Age differences lend themselves to misunderstandings. We may still carry prejudices that rear their ugly heads from time to time, causing friction. Oftentimes, we just do not think before we speak. Mistakes made in the past can seem to hang over us like a cloud and never go away, and thus we do not feel forgiven, affecting our attitudes. And of course, we all have different backgrounds and came from situations in which we perhaps lived our lives in certain shameful ways. Each of these problems can ignite trouble with our closest family members and friends.
The problem that all of us face in making righteous judgments is that we cannot see into the other person's heart; we do not really know their intentions and attitudes. We have a hard enough time understanding ourselves, let alone someone else! In Jesus' comments about judgment in His Sermon on the Mount, He cautions us about being too critical: "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3). Therefore, if we have to make a judgment call, it is far better to lean toward patience, forbearance, and mercy.
So, when we find ourselves offended by anyone, rather than responding in kind, we should apply the principle of giving a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1), turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), and extending tender mercies (Colossians 3:12).
Satan would like us to hang on to evil thoughts about another, to hold a grudge against a brother, or to arrive at church with a resentful attitude toward a fellow Christian, but Jesus Christ wants us to remember Matthew 18:35: "So My heavenly Father will [pass judgment against] you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." Just as He forgave each of us from the heart, He wants us to learn to forgive others in the same generous, merciful way.
In my forty-plus years in the church, I have made almost all of the mistakes a person can make with his mouth, and realizing this, I have truly appreciated those who have extended mercy and forgiveness to me. They have taught me a great lesson by their spiritual maturity: that I, too, had better extend mercy and kindness to others.
What does God require of us? He tells us plainly in Micah 6:8: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Mercy: The Better Option
No salvation is possible without forgiveness. Our Father cannot forgive our sins on the grounds of justice, and therefore He does so through His tender mercy. He has made Himself our God by giving us grace—undeserved favor. He passes by the transgressions of His people because He delights in mercy. He is so full of pity that He delays to condemn us in our guilt, but looks with loving concern upon us to see how He can turn away His wrath and restore us to favor.
Micah 7:18 adds, "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy." God is love, and love is kind, but perhaps our approach to His forgiveness has been prosaically legal. The Scriptures reveal that God does kindness with intensity of will and readiness of mind. He forgives with all His heart because He delights in mercy! He says, "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies." God's nature works to give mercy, not punish; to create beauty, not destroy; to save, not lose.
Can we not see a lesson in this? Are we anywhere near God's image in this? How many of us, fellowshipping among God's people, are hiding resentment and bearing the seeds of bitterness against a brother because of some offense—or carrying a grudge, or filled with envy, or communicating gossip? Are these things acts of kindness? Does a forgiving spirit that delights in mercy enter into acts that destroy a brother's reputation and widen existing divisions?
One other phrase in Luke 1:78 shows the kind and tender nature of our God: "He visited us." God did not merely pity us from a distance, nor did He allow His compassion for us to remain as an unresolved, inactive feeling. David writes in Psalm 8:4, "What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?" But God did just that!
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed he does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)
God has not merely pitied us from a distance, but He has entered into life, our life, on our level. The Creator stooped from His high and pure abode as glorious God, and veiled His divinity for an abode of animated clay. He assumed our nature, was tempted in all things like us, took our sicknesses, and bore our infirmities for the express purpose of being a merciful and faithful High Priest. He did not enter into our world and yet maintain a status superior to us. He truly walked in our shoes and still went about doing good.
Christ, Paul adds in Galatians 1:4, "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." Who knows how many individual acts of kindness—from the conception of the plan to its fulfillment—are contained within this simple statement?
This is the heart of God's nature. He generously and mercifully gives that others might benefit. Now, because of what He did, this nature is growing in us. By His Spirit He has taken His abode in us to enable us to work out our salvation, and as we yield, our lives are changing, gradually conforming to His image. He dwells in us despite all our provocations, stubbornness, neglect, and rebellions. How often we must disappoint Him, and yet as our High Priest and Intercessor, He stands ever ready to serve us with yet more kindness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
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