"God has been so merciful..."
"He has just surrounded me with His mercy."
"In God's mercy He has...."
After using the word about a thousand times, I was pondering what the word mercy really means. Have you ever done that before? Use a word that you are familiar with and have used before, only to realize that you really couldn't give a good definition of that word? So the words of my 7th grade Language Arts teacher rang in my head: "Look it up!"
A Bible concordance is a wonderful resource. (For those of you unfamiliar with a concordance: it is a reference tool that lists every single word from the Bible, in alphabetical order (ours uses the King James Version), where it is found in Scripture, and shows you what Hebrew or Greek word it was translated from.
So I cracked open the concordance and looked up "mercy", "merciful", "mercies", and "mercyseat" (they are all on the same two pages, anyway!). I found that there are 12 different words in Hebrew that are translated as "mercy" or a derivation of it in the Old Testament, 9 words translated as "mercy" or a derivation of it in the New Testament. You see, much like in our language, Hebrew & Greek words can mean similiar things but have subtle nuances that distinguish them from one another. Take "kind", "nice", "courteous", etc. All convey the same basic characteristic, but each give has a slightly different connotation.
Armed with my previous notion of what mercy is (OK, folks. Let's be honest with our Sunday School answers. "Mercy is when God doesn't give us what we deserve." Or something like that. That's what I have been told/have thought since I accepted Christ.), I looked up all of the references and Hebrew & Greek words. And...wow.
God's mercy is more than just Him not giving us what we deserve (which is Hell. If you don't agree, we can talk about it sometime!).
The word that is most often translated as "mercy" in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word checed (pronounced kheh-sed) It is defined as such: kindness, favor, good deed, pity. [If you want all the references where this word is located, I've got them all. Just ask.]
For instance: my Psalm reading today was Psalm 90. Verse 14 is translated: Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! (NKJV)
Using the "Sunday School" definition, it could be interpreted: "Oh, satisfy us early with Your not giving us what we really deserve, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!"
...but...what was meant was "Oh, satisfy us early with Your kindness...Your favor...Your good deeds..., that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!"
What a richer picture of our Father in heaven! Not that He would just satisfy us by withholding due punishment for our sins, but that He would satisfy our souls with His loving kindness and favor toward us!
Another word that is translated as "mercy" is chanan (get out your phlegmy "ch"! It's pronouned khaw-nan), and it means to bend or stoop in kindess to an inferior, to favor, bestow, beseech, implore, grant, or intreat. It is mostly found in the Psalms: Deuteronomy 7:2, Psalm 4:1, Psalm 6:2, Psalm 9:13, Psalm 25:16, Psalm 26:11, Psalm 27:7, Psalm 30:10, Psalm 31:9, Psalm 37:21,26, Psalm 41:4,10, Psalm 51:1, Psalm 56:1, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 59:5, Psalm 67:1, Psalm 86:3,16, Psalm 119:58,132, Psalm 123:2,3, Proverbs 14:21,31.
For example, Psalm 51:1 reads, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions."
If you're unfamiliar with this psalm, King David of Israel wrote this after being confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba (and having her husband Uriah killed to cover up their indiscretion!). If any man had cause to beg for God not to give him what he deserved in that moment, it was King David. But if you read it with the word chanan, it is like this: "Bend down, stoop down in Your kindness towards me, even though I am not worthy of it, according to Your lovingkindness, according to Your tender mercies (which is actually another word - we'll get to that later), blot out my transgressions." It's like David is crying out, "come near me, because You love me, and take away my sin." Not this picture of a vengeful God who is again withholding just punishment, but David crying out with a broken heart to a God who will hear, respond, and wipe his slate clean. Wow. Just wow.
How many times, when we screw up (royally, or just a little bit) do we get this notion in our finite brains that God is rolling His eyes, wondering "WHAT in the world was she thinking?" while we, on earth, are down on our knees begging God not to chastise us, when in fact, like David, we could be crying out "have mercy on me Lord! Come down and hold my hand, and please take away my sin, as only You can." [Note: sometimes, God chooses to chastise us when we sin. Not because He enjoys it, but because He loves us and wants us to learn from our mistakes.]
(I'll pick one more Hebrew word to write about. I just realized how long this note is getting. Let me tell you, I have pages of notes, and it is all fascinating. I'll probably write more later, about the Greek words. Only God could handpick and plan the words He chose for mercy!)
The last word I'll talk about (for now! There's 9 more!) is the Hebrew word racham (pronounced: rakh-am), and it means "compassion (of the womb), tender love, mercy, pity, cherishing. The connotation is that it is like the tender compassion a woman has toward her child.
Let's go to Daniel 9:9. Daniel is praying for the people of Israel, who are in the captivity in Babylon. "...To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him."
Can you see it!? Not, "To the Lord our God belong an ability not to punish us and to forgive us even though we have rebelled against Him" BUT "To the Lord our God belong a tender compassion and love and mercy for His people and He cherishes us and forgives us, even though we have rebelled against Him." Wow! Wow! Wow!
Are you in awe yet? I am, completely. That the God who would be totally right to punish us for our sin, has chosen to lavish us with tender compassion, love, kindness, favor, and to pursue and implore our hearts to turn our wicked hearts back to Him.
What a merciful God! Truly!
Thankful for His mercy,
for His glory!
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