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Micah 6:8

Love Mercy


Mercy among Men

It is a sad fact of our time that no longer do we speak of mercy as a virtue, but as a weakness. You have but to look at the emotions portrayed in our movies and television; mercy is a weakness, vengefulness is strength. But it has always been the case: the ways of God will appear foolish to those who follow the ways of the world. We must, therefore, examine the concept of mercy as shown in the Scriptures, so that we might know how it applies to us, both as givers and recipients.

Mercy carries a lot of different names in the Bible: compassion, love, forgiveness – but always carries with it the idea that forgiveness, the covering over of offenses, is a form of love in which God delights – as his children should, too.

Blessed are the merciful[1]

…for they shall obtain mercy. That’s the simple form of it. We can remember this in two ways:

  • Mercy towards others is the key to obtaining mercy for ourselves.[2] This is God’s requirement on us, if we are to be his followers.
  • Conversely, judgment without mercy will be shown to those who are unmerciful.[3]

The matter is summed up simply in the parable of the unmerciful servant.[4] You recall it; the servant is forgiven a huge debt – and immediately goes out and threatens one who owes him money. His master then punishes him all the more severely for his failure to show mercy. Fair’s fair.

Particularly towards our enemies[5]

There is the love of mercy received – and quite differently, there is the love of mercy given. As we shall see, God delights to be merciful. We are his children; do we delight in it also? Do we in fact “love mercy” so much that we are merciful even to our enemies? We should be.

  • We need to forgive as the Lord forgave us (remember the unmerciful servant). It should be part of our character, a virtue with many others.[6]
  • Indeed, we should be those who rejoice in the fact that “mercy triumphs over judgment.”[7] Instead of condemnation, we should offer mercy, even to the worst of offenders.
Mercy is a gift

Some of us are grouches. We don’t like being merciful and we are not particularly pleased to do it. But – I hope this surprises you – mercy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, one of those which is designed to build up the church.[8] Therefore God has shown us that mercy is not something immutable about our personalities, but rather his gift.

  • Therefore, it is to be given cheerfully. We should be pleased to be merciful. (And mindful not to bring it up again).
  • If you lack mercy, remember it is a gift of the Spirit. Ask your heavenly father for the gift of mercy, so that you might be merciful as He is merciful.
  • Like all else, we are to do this in imitation of Christ, who was merciful to us at the Cross – forgiving even those who crucified him.

The Mercy of God

It’s a fact: mercy is part of the character of God. It is one of his attributes; therefore we may say that God is mercy (just as we would say that God is love.)

  • Kindness, justice and mercy – these are the things that God tells us he delights in.[9]
  • Indeed, this is so much a part of his character that the 136th Psalm (in the King James eloquence) ended each verse with, “for his mercy endureth forever.”
  • We’re stuck in time; he is eternal. So the prophet of old put it in terms we could understand: every morning his mercies are new.[10] Even if yesterday was rotten, today his mercies are new.

Because of his eternal character, his mercy never fails. It is always there for us to request. Can the same be said of us, his children?

The balance between wrath and mercy

Of course, God is righteous – and therefore is obliged to deal with the wicked. But even there we see his mercy:

  • The Scripture describes him as “slow to anger,” but rather “abounding in love.”[11]
  • When he does become angry with us, it is only for a little while – but his mercy lasts a lifetime.[12]
  • Even when he disciplines us, we can see his mercy in it.[13] He will not turn away from you if you will but turn back to him.
The court of appeals

If God is merciful, then we should appeal to his mercy.[14] God is not arbitrary with his mercy; rather, he places upon it the condition that we must ask for it.

  • As often happened in Israel, the people as a whole sinned. God makes it clear then that national repentance will bring mercy.[15]
  • He asks of the individual two things: confession, so that you might acknowledge your sin before him, and repentance – so that you might give up whatever is evil in you.[16]
  • If you do, you will find him abounding in love, ready to be merciful.[17]

Taken together, these thoughts lead to a startling conclusion. God is so ready to grant us mercy that we go to the throne of grace (mercy) with great boldness – because we are confident that he is the merciful God.[18]

Mercy upon whom he will have mercy

There is a snare in all this. We can grow arrogant and think, “Well, God always forgives. I can do what I please, then ask forgiveness – and get away with anything.” One barrier to this thought is that God requires not just confession but repentance – turning away from your sin. But there is a greater barrier.

Some of us see God’s mercy as “automatic” – you do this and he does that. The error is in supposing that we have “earned” God’s mercy. Mercy, by its very nature, cannot be earned. Indeed, as shown at the Cross, it is beyond human price. It is only by his great love that his mercy is shown to us.

The Holy Bible, King James Version


10Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.11 truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Psalm 85:10 through Psalm 85:11 (KJV)

The Mercy Seat

Interestingly enough, this virtue is so important that God gave the ancient Israelites a model, a picture, of his mercy. Take a look at this diagram of the Ark of the Covenant:

Ark of the Covenant



If you will note the lid on this box – for that is what it is, basically, you will see what is variously called the Atonement Cover or the Mercy Seat. It’s a visual aid for us to understand the mercy of God.

The physical item itself

The cover itself has certain physical characteristics which have their spiritual equivalents:

  • It is made of pure gold – symbol of eternity, as gold does not corrode. God’s mercy endures forever.
  • The cherubim – the two angels you see there – are shown as worshiping God. One of the reasons we worship God is that he is merciful, loving.
  • Their wings “overshadow” the mercy seat. We think of sheltering in God’s wings as a picture of being saved and safe.
  • The cover was made from gold given in a freewill offering, not something required of the Israelites. It shows us, therefore, that God’s mercy is free, without price – and given to those who will come to the mercy seat of God.[19]
  • Many times, the Old Testament speaks of God as being “enthroned between the cherubim. The mercy seat is the throne of grace.
  • Finally, it was dedicated and purified with blood, a picture of the blood shed by Christ on the Cross.[20]
The Spiritual Picture

That’s the physical side; there is also a spiritual side.

  • The ark is called the Ark of the Testimony. Inside the ark were the stone tablets of the Law; a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. The Law is the accuser of the people. The manna is evidence of the times they tested God’s patience. The rod is evidence of the time they defied God’s command. All these things serve to accuse the people – and all of them are hidden from God’s view by the Mercy Seat. It is a picture of God’s mercy: our accuser, the evidence against us, are put out of sight by the atonement of Christ.
  • Between those two cherubim, Moses (and later the high priest) met God. The Shekinah, the glory of God, was seen there. This is why the cherubim are shown worshiping God. God’s throne is on the Mercy Seat – which is why we know it as the throne of grace.

This may seem a bit less connected, but with the current interest in the Ark, I would tell you that the chances of its being found on earth don’t seem too high.

  • Jeremiah tells us[21] that men will no longer care about it. This is a prophecy (some believe) of the time when Christ reigns on earth. It will no longer be necessary. The ark was in the Holy of Holies in the Temple; but at the crucifixion the veil of the Holy of Holies was torn in two – from top to bottom, showing that the ark is just the forerunner of the atonement of Christ.
  • It is seen in the time of the New Testament – in prophetic vision, by John, the author of Revelation.[22] John tells us that he saw the Ark – in heaven. Some take this to mean that God has not finished dealing with the Jews; others, simply as a symbol of God’s mercy.

What about us?

So what does all this mean? How am I supposed to live?

Mercy – a character trait of the Christian
  • We are to be the imitators of Christ, who showed us mercy at the Cross.
  • As he showed mercy both to friends and to enemies, so should we.
  • Mercy must be asked for – either as a gift of the Spirit (for others) or as forgiveness (for ourselves).
Mercy shown to the merciful

The constant theme is this: those who show mercy to others will receive mercy from God. Those who don’t, won’t.

God is merciful
  • Much more than he is wrathful.
  • It is so much his character that we can appeal to it – and depend upon it.
  • This mercy is shown to us, and now based upon, the atonement of Christ.
The Mercy Seat, our visual aid

In this object, we see the nature of God’s mercy:

  • It is golden, symbolic of the eternal nature of his mercy.
  • It is his throne – the throne of grace.
  • It is there – at the throne of grace – we are to meet him.

May the atonement of Christ stay between God and our sins. May it also stay between us and the sins of our brothers.

[1] Matthew 5:7

[2] Matthew 6:14-14

[3] James 2:13

[4] Matthew 18:23-35

[5] Luke 66:32-36

[6] Colossians 3:12-13

[7] James 2:13

[8] Romans 12:4-8

[9] Jeremiah 9:24

[10] Lamentations 3:22-23

[11] Exodus 34:6-7 (and many other places)

[12] Psalm 30:5

[13] 2 Chronicles 30:9

[14] Psalm 69:16

[15] 2 Chronicles 7:14

[16] Proverbs 28:13

[17] Psalm 86:5

[18] Hebrews 4:16

[19] Exodus 35:4-12

[20] Leviticus 16:14-15

[21] Jeremiah 3:16

[22] Revelation 11:17

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