Mercy is one of the reoccurring themes in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Mercy means to show compassion for an offender or a person in distress. Mercy is illustrated in a number of passages in the Bible and expressly commanded in others.
Mercy in the Old Testament was part of the Abrahamic Covenant between God and Israel. In fact, the willingness of God to extend a covenant relationship with Israel was an act of mercy. The covenant required that the people be faithful to the conditions of the covenant. When they violated the covenant their relationship with God was strained and other negative consequences usually came upon Israel such as natural disasters, economic problems, and political/social upheaval. The consequence of sin was self-destruction and death.
However, God is a God of mercy. Mercy began with God’s provision of the sacrificial system so that a sacrifice could incur the penalty for humanity’s sins. On more than one occasion God demonstrated mercy on behalf of His people in providing for their needs and delivering them from harm. God restored His relationship with Israel when the people repented of their sins. God extended mercy when He committed to be faithful to His promises even when Israel was not.
Mercy was a theme in the Wisdom Literature of the Bible.
The Wisdom Literature consists of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. The plea for mercy was a prominent theme in Psalms. At times, the plea for mercy sought mercy from God in response to repentance. For example, Psalms 40:11 states, “Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me” (NIV). In other instances, the plea for mercy was for deliverance from enemies.
Mercy was identified as one of the essential elements that God desired in a relationship with Him. In Hosea, Israel was away from God though they continued to go through the outward motions of covenant faithfulness. Hosea was told by God to marry a local prostitute named Gomer to illustrate Israel’s relationship with God. Gomer did not stop being a prostitute during their marriage and likely had children by other men. Eventually, Gomer was so diseased and no longer desirable that she was being sold as a slave. God told Hosea to spend everything he had to buy Gomer back from slavery.
Part of Hosea’s message to the people was an explanation for why the nation was struggling and God’s presence was no longer observed in the Temple. Hosea responds, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, NIV).
Micah presented mercy as an essential element in pleasing God. Micah was asked by the people why God no longer blessed their nation and His presence was no longer observed in the Temple. Micah responded, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8; NIV).
God’s desire for mercy continues to be expressed in passages such as the repeating of the Hosea passage, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’Matthew 9:13; NIV).
The Law of Reciprocation much like the principle of Karma means that we receive what we give to others. We like to benefit from mercy, but Christ taught us we must give mercy to others first. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7; NIV).
Mercy is the reason why people can receive the grace of God.
Paul mentions in more than one passage in the Book of Romans that God extends mercy to those He chooses, in the Book of Titus, Paul explains the gift of salvation in another way. In Titus 3: 3-7, Paul reminds the readers that when they had nothing to offer God in the way of goodness that could merit His approval, God extended mercy to them and forgave them of their sins. He also gave them a new spirit or nature that seeks to please God.
This passage alludes to the greatest act of mercy on God’s part when His Son came to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin that God would accept. He did this while we were sinners and had done nothing to merit God’s approval. Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8; NIV)