Loving Mercy

What is Mercy?
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He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? —Micah 6:8

Ted Marten

Mercy is compassion or forbearance shown to an offender or one subject to one’s power. Charity, clemency, grace and leniency are synonyms and usually have some of the same elements as mercy. However, mercy implies compassion that forebears punishment even when justice calls for it.

The Hebrew and Greek words from which mercy is translated give the same tenor of thought as the dictionary definition. Underlying the practice of mercy is a feeling of sympathy and compassion for the plight of others, and a desire to relieve their distress. Having a heart willing to listen to the plight of others, and a willingness to remedy the problem if possible, is a basic requirement for one who wishes to be merciful and thereby receive the mercy promised by our master (Matthew 5:7).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is found in Luke chapter 6. In verse 32 our Lord began by contrasting the difference between dealing with one’s friends and one’s enemies. He said if we do good to those who do good to us, if we lend to those whom we know will pay us back, and if we love those who love us, we are no better than the worldly who do the same things. He said: “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:35,36).

Here is Jesus’ definition of mercy: being kind to the unthankful and those who are evil. God treats those who are unappreciative and those of an evil disposition better than they deserve. He goes beyond strict justice and treats creatures better than they could claim as their just due. We are admonished to do the same.

Mercy Toward Fallen Man

The first example of mercy in Scripture was in the Garden of Eden. When Adam sinned, he and Eve were justly deserving of instant death. Instead, God allowed them to live and procreate so that they and their posterity might learn both the goodness and severity of God and the ultimate result of sin.

Ever since, God has been teaching the concept of mercy to his human creatures by his own example, as well as the human examples he reveals in his word. Through his mercy the human creation has been subjected to the rigor of laboring to provide sustenance: so that they would have less time for evil pursuits and the degradation such things bring. Mankind has not escaped the consequences of sin nor the accompanying degradation, but has also had the opportunity to see the exercise of mercy and its results.

Many of the examples of mercy given in God’s word do not use the word mercy. But in them, we see the act and its characteristics. Mercy is neither a character trait nor a state of mind that one may possess but never use. Mercy is an act motivated by compassion, sympathy, and love.


One example of mercy brought to our attention in the Scriptures is that of Joseph. After he had been sold into slavery by his brothers and had become administrator next to pharaoh, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food because of the famine. Joseph was in a position to exact justice for their past conduct toward him. Instead, Joseph returned good for evil. He had compassion for them, particularly for his father and his younger brother Benjamin. He exercised mercy not only in providing food to sustain them through the famine but bringing them to Egypt to live.

Joseph’s brethren found it hard to believe his mercy was genuine. They were unable to grasp how anyone they had treated so badly could forgive them, be merciful to them, and offer them a prosperous place in the land of Egypt. Their guilt and lack of understanding was so deep-seated that when Jacob died seventeen years later, they thought Joseph would then execute vengeance upon them. They evidently had learned little about the character of their brother. Instead, they still feared that Joseph would treat them as they had treated him.


Moses received mercy at the hand of God and reflected the same in dealing with his brethren. At his birth God shielded him from Pharaoh who sought to kill all the Hebrew first-born males. God protected him from being killed for slaying an Egyptian. God provided Moses with forty years of tranquil existence to prepare him for his role as mediator on behalf of his brethren. Moses must have meditated on God’s providences and mercy toward him, for when he was called at the burning bush Moses was reverential toward God, teachable in his attitude, and humble in his reluctance to accept God’s invitation to deliver the Israelites.

As deliverer of Israel and subsequently their mediator, Moses was the instrument of God’s mercy to them. Through him, God provided the people with manna when they were hungry and water when they thirsted. Moses provided judgment for their disputes and God used him to establish their priesthood.

When the Israelites created a golden calf during Moses’ prolonged absence, God told Moses that his anger was kindled against them. God intended to destroy them and make of Moses’ posterity a great nation in their place. Moses’ reaction was motivated by his compassion toward the people and a concern for God’s honor among the Egyptians and the other nations. He besought God to extend mercy to the people so that God’s character would not be diminished even among Israel’s enemies. Moses had learned the proper course for a mediator: to plead the case of the party that had failed to keep the requirements of the covenant to which they had agreed.

Moses even went beyond requesting God’s mercy for Israel. He offered his own life to secure their release from the penalty of the sin they had committed. Moses had compassion for his brethren and it found expression in the mercy he sought on their behalf.


Another recipient of God’s mercy was King David. God demonstrated his mercy in David’s selection to be king over Israel and in God’s supervision of David’s life before he became king. But the most pronounced example of God’s mercy occurred after David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah.

Because of his adultery with Bathsheba and the arranged death of Uriah, God decreed that David and Bathsheba’s ill-conceived son would die, a decree that seems to be anything but merciful. For seven painful days, David lay prostrate before the LORD considering what he had done and recognizing the consequences of his actions. After the son died, David had to live with the knowledge that he had been the cause of his son’s death. This was more difficult than if God had taken David’s life. While David still had God’s favor, for the rest of his life he reaped God’s punishment for his sin. Eventually, David realized that God had been merciful to him. God had not taken his life, nor the life of Bathsheba, nor had God removed the kingdom from David. David’s appreciation for God’s mercy was reflected in the psalms he wrote in which he extols the mercy of God:

“The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy” (Psalm 145:8).

“The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands” (Psalm 138:8).

When David uses the expression “for ever,” it could have meant without end or it could have referred to a time in the indefinite distant future. Here, it likely refers to God’s mercy to be extended to all mankind in Christ’s earthly kingdom.

God’s Mercy Toward Mankind

Mankind’s need of God’s mercy will come to an end when they are perfect and capable of keeping God’s perfect law. This principle is brought to our attention by the apostle Paul: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due” (Romans 4:4, NAS).

After Satan and all of his followers are destroyed, it will no longer be necessary for God to extend mercy to his human family (Revelation 20:7-10). They will have reached human perfection where they can stand before God. They will no longer need to be treated better than they deserve. They will then deserve God’s blessings because God’s law will be written in their hearts and, as a result, they will keep his laws perfectly. But, their appreciation for God’s mercy in providing their salvation will never end.

There is now a group which has received an extra measure of God’s mercy. These are footstep-followers of Jesus, those who have made a full consecration to God and have been accepted by him. These, along with Jesus, will make up The Christ, head and body. They will be the instruments of God’s mercy to mankind. Thus, it behooves the followers of Jesus to learn and practice mercy in dealing with their brethren and the world.

To Love Mercy

The prophet Micah recorded these words of instruction which apply to all who will ever become God’s children. These words are especially appropriate for the prospective members of The Christ: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

God, through his prophet, shows that nothing less than justice can be sanctioned by his standards, yet he couples with it a love for mercy. It is certain that Micah was not referring to mercy extended to oneself, for all would love and appreciate that. The mercy Micah admonishes us to love is the mercy extended to others. If we harbor in our heart a desire for, or a delight in, retribution or vengeance, or if we desire strict justice be applied toward others, we cannot claim a love for mercy (cf., Matthewe 5:38-48).

We grow spiritually when we apply the principles we find taught in God’s word to ourselves. Micah says that God requires that we LOVE mercy, not that we appreciate mercy when we see it practiced by others. To love mercy is more intense than to just be merciful. It means having compassion, sympathy, and love so ingrained in our character that the exercise of mercy will be a natural reaction. And when we see mercy exercised toward another, it will bring joy to our hearts.

When we heard about the U.S. government program to reduce what some people owed on their home mortgages, my first reaction was to consider this unfair to those who had or were faithfully paying what they owed. But think about how that kind of attitude would apply when the Christ is administering the kingdom. Would we resent that mercy was extended to those who have failed miserably in this life, or to those who have cheated others, or caused untold misery and suffering to their fellow man? Or will we rejoice that they are the recipients of God’s mercy?

This is the self-examination that Micah’s exhortation to love mercy should bring to our minds. Herein, we see the difference between loving mercy for others and simply wanting mercy for ourselves and those we think deserve it.

Mankind has a debt of sin they can never repay. It will be forgiven because of the mercy of our heavenly Father extended through his son. The followers of Christ, who have already had their debt of sin forgiven, should emulate this trait of mercy exemplified in our Father and his beloved son. We must love mercy if we hope to have a part in administering mercy to the world during Christ’s earthly kingdom.


Jesus provided an example of his mercy to all of his brethren when dealing with the apostle Peter. Having denied our Lord as Jesus predicted, Peter might have expected some rebuke when he and the other disciples met the resurrected Jesus on the shore of Tiberias (John 21:1-19). Instead, Jesus merely asked Peter a question to which Jesus already knew the answer: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” (verse 15).

Jesus mercifully used Peter’s answer to exhort Peter to abandon the fishing business and spend his life proclaiming the message of the kingdom, to be merciful to his Jewish brethren, and even to extend God’s invitation to the Gentiles. The lesson that Peter learned of extending mercy to those whom he deemed unworthy, must be learned by us as well.

“The exercise of mercy, benevolence, forgiveness, is a blessing, not merely because it is essential to our own forgiveness, and hence to our salvation, but also because this condition of heart which sympathizes with others in their failures and imperfections helps to rid our hearts of certain of the works of the flesh and of the devil, which incline to cling to the Lord’s people long after they have been justified by faith, and even after they have made full consecration of themselves to the Lord and are seeking to ‘walk, not after the flesh, but after the spirit.’ ”—Reprints, p. 2587

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.—Matthew 5:7