What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
God expounds eleven attributes: YHWH, El, the Merciful One, the Gracious One, the Longsuffering One, the Mighty One, the Kind and Loving One, the True One, the One who Preserves Kindness, the Forgiving One, and the Chastising One.
God gives Moses, not so much a vision of His power and majesty, but of His love, of how He relates to His creation. The real glory of God is His character, His nature, especially toward His children. His names are signposts of His nature, reminders of what we can expect Him to do as we live by faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)
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
Jesus, really wanting to drive home the importance of being forgiving (Matthew 18:21), tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The story relates how a king, settling accounts with his servants, finds that one owed him 10,000 talents. Barnes' Notes, written in the late 1800s, estimates the value at $15.8 million! Christ's point, of course, is that no one could ever repay this huge amount. Spiritually, we owe Him far more than we could ever repay.
Normally, the servant would be cast into prison and his family sold into slavery until all was paid. But when the servant entreated the king to have mercy on him, the king, "moved with compassion," forgave the entire debt!
The forgiven servant then found one who owed him 100 denarii or about $15. This petty debtor begged for additional time to pay off the debt, but the servant, without mercy, had him jailed until all was paid. The king's other servants heard of this and told the king.
We can learn several lessons from this parable:
1. Our sins are very great.
2. God has forgiven them all.
3. By comparison to the offenses we have committed against God, our brethren's offenses against us are small.
4. We should be so appreciative of being forgiven that we freely forgive others.
5. We must forgive from the heart, not merely in words. When we truly forgive from the heart, it is as if no offense had ever occurred.
6. If we do not forgive, God is justified in not forgiving us.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Consider that this woman caught in adultery is indeed an obviously sinful woman; she had a reputation as a loose woman. The Pharisees had caught her in the very act of cheating on her husband, and that was probably only one of her many sins. We would likely not be wrong in calling her a wicked woman.
In every way opposite to her is Jesus Christ, sinless and perfect. The Pharisees, themselves sinful, attempt to force Him, a Man of unimpeachable character, to condemn a sinner—to them, a foregone conclusion: "And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" (John 8:3-5). However, Jesus' approach to the situation is poles apart; His reaction and attitude throughout this vignette is completely contrary to that of the Pharisees.
In their reading of the Old Testament law concerning the punishment for adultery (Leviticus 20:10-11; Deuteronomy 22:22), this was an open-and-shut case: The woman had been caught in the act, they had two or three witnesses, the law was clear, so there should be a stoning! This appears to be unequivocal. The law does indeed prescribe the death sentence by stoning. What more proof does Jesus need?
Despite everything weighing against the woman, Jesus approaches the matter differently. He clearly understands that the woman had sinned. He realizes there were witnesses to that effect. He knows the law and the penalty, but He does not leap to a verdict of condemnation.
Recall that, for some time, He does nothing but write on the ground (John 8:6). He lets the matter simmer. While the carnal Pharisees agitate for answers and demand action, Jesus patiently waits. God works with us in the same way. We can become infuriated when God fails to answer us immediately after we say, "Amen," but giving us time for things to work out is a consistent pattern with Him. We can be certain that He does this when we are accused before Him, even when we are guilty as charged, as the remainder of the passage in John 8 shows.
Because we are so familiar with the character of Jesus, we can appreciate how shocking His statement in John 8:11 is: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." One would expect a just God to say, "This is the law. This is your infraction, so this is your punishment." But we understand that God is love and that He is gracious and merciful, so when He does not say, "I condemn you to be stoned," we tend to pass over it without thinking.
However, first-century Jews would have been astounded to hear such a thing! They may have been the most judgmental people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. One little infraction of the law was enough to condemn a person. Excommunication was so common a practice that people stood in great fear of the Pharisees (see John 9:22). What Jesus says was a radical concept, one that contradicted everything they had been taught.
Moreover, Jesus had every right—as God in the flesh, to whom the Father had committed all judgment (John 5:22)—to condemn her to death, but He shows mercy. He does not react in anger to reinforce how bad her sin was. He does not even preach at her. He simply commands her not to sin like this anymore, and He lets her go to work it out for herself.
However, He does not pass up an opportunity to teach the crowd: "Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12). He teaches that He, being that Light, has given us an example to follow in situations like this. A sinner condemned to die produces nothing. Only with further life and light will he or she have the chance to repent and grow in character.
That is how God works with us, and are we not happy that He reacts to our sins with patience and mercy? So we should forbear with our brethren (Colossians 3:12-13).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God can forbear with us because Jesus Christ came to this earth and died for all of us. If we repent and ask God forgiveness, then Christ's blood covers all of our sins. Justice has been done. The sin has been paid for by the blood of Christ. God can thus forbear with us and allow us to "get away" with our sins for a while, because if we repent, then Jesus Christ's blood covers our sins, and justice is done. A person died for those sins—our Creator, Jesus Christ.
But if we do not repent, what happens? We die, and the penalty is paid. So this is a kind of legal maneuver by God. His forbearance is allowed under His legal system because Jesus Christ's blood pays the penalty for our sins. He can be merciful and lenient for a while, and whether we repent, or whether we do not repent, justice is ultimately served because a death occurs—either Jesus' or ours. This is the legal basis for why He can be forbearing. He has already taken care of it, one way or the other.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
1 Timothy 1:12-16
Paul uses himself to exemplify the great magnitude of Christ's patience toward us. "Longsuffering" strongly implies forbearance under great duress. As Paul describes it, he had not just sinned in blaspheming and inflicting injury on the saints, but he had done his deeds with a proud, haughty, arrogant, and insolent spirit. He acted in a wicked, malicious, violent way—a spirit of tyranny that greatly aggravated the wrong he did. Other translations render insolent as "insulter," "insolent foe," "oppressor," "wanton aggressor," "doer of outrage," and "wanton outrage."
Paul's aim is to magnify Christ's patience and forgiveness as an example to himself and his audience. The apostle followed Christ's example by in turn exercising patience toward the church. Considering his own circumstance, he undoubtedly felt strongly about this because Christ's forbearance with him opened salvation to him. In response, he passes it on to Timothy and so to us.
In II Timothy 4:2-3, Paul exhorts the evangelist to use this virtue that means so much to our salvation:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience
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